Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Red Peppers

I hope you aren’t one of those people who envisions the color yellow or orange when thinking of cheese.

kraft-mac-and-cheese 2If you are, I’m sure you have lots of company. How many of us were introduced to macaroni and cheese as a child in the form of Kraft’s infamous blue boxes and the orange cheese sauce? Heck, I enjoyed it then. My mom would add cut-up hot dogs, which probably made a huge difference in boosting the bland taste of that cheese. Then there’s baked cheddar Goldfish, another childhood staple (and a fairly good snack choice). At some point, the color orange became associated with enhanced flavor.

This upbringing was misleading! I was duly educated during a tour of the Cabot Cheese facility a few years ago. Cheese should be white, not yellow! Sure it can be a natural additive that gives cheese an orange hue. And OK, apparently it is added, or left out, to signal where the cheese was made. But in the case of Kraft macaroni and cheese, some people believe the dye his harmful. And when think about the main ingredients, isn’t it a little odd? When was the last time you saw yellow milk?

Now that I have finished my tirade, I am going to tell you about my adapted macaroni and cheese recipe, that happens to come out orange. Ha! It is naturally colored that way because I include the spice turmeric. Someone had recently reminded me about turmeric’s purported inflammation-relieving properties, which made me want to use it.
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I adapted a recently published Cooking Light Chicken-Broccoli Mac and Cheese recipe that has turmeric on the ingredients list, but I left out the chicken and substituted red bell pepper for the broccoli. I also followed some of the methods in another recipe from Betty Crocker that had the same ingredients I wanted to use.
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I had been looking for a recipe that uses bacon, because I had a little left in a package that was expiring. I never hear anyone else dealing with this. Am I the only one in the world who has trouble using up bacon?

Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Red Peppers
Adapted from Cooking Light and Betty Crocker

6 ounces uncooked pasta, such as macaroni (of course), shells, penne, or rigatoni (my favorite)DSC_8697
2-3 slices of bacon, to taste, roughly chopped
1 (about 6 ounces) red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 (about 1 ounce) green onions, sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/4 Cups low-fat milk
, 1% ideal
1 Cup low sodium chicken stock,
OR 1 teaspoon of Better-Than-Bouillon Chicken Base dissolved in 1 Cup hot water
1/4 Cup all-purpose flour
about 1 1/4 Cups (5 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded; I used this amazing cheese
1/4 Cup panko
1 Tablespoon butter

With the two different recipes, there are two approaches: 1. cooking the bacon and vegetables and sauce in a pan and then transferring everything into a casserole dish to bake for awhile, and 2. cooking the bacon and vegetables and sauce in the same pan you will put in the oven to broil briefly. I chose 2. One less dish to wash!

In a medium saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions, leaving out the salt.

Prepare your vegetables of choice, chopping or slicing them down so they aren’t much bigger than your pasta of choice.
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Cook bacon in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until browned. Remove the bacon from pan with a slotted spoon. Pour all but 1 1/2 teaspoons of the drippings out of the pan.

Such a tiny amount of bacon!

Such a sad, tiny amount of bacon!

Add peppers and green onions to the pan and sauté over medium heat for about 4 minutes.
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Add in the garlic and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with turmeric; cook 30 seconds, stirring frequently.

Have your other ingredients measured and ready! Also, preheat oven to broil.
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With a whisk, combine 3/4 teaspoon salt, milk, stock, and flour. Add mixture to pan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook until thickened, about 2 minutes, and then turn off the heat.
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Add pasta mixture and about half of the cheese and toss together.
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Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a dish and combine with panko; sprinkle over pasta mixture. Top with bacon.

Looks like a party, doesn't it?

Looks like a party, doesn’t it?


Broil 2 minutes or until cheese melts and just begins to brown. Watch closely. It might not brown evenly. No worries. The imperfection means it is real food!

Enjoy your creamy and naturally cheesy macaroni and cheese!
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Tuscan Soup

It has been two weeks since we returned from our vacation to Italy and France, and I haven’t yet recovered from withdrawal. I long to return to days of wandering through historic cities in the spring sunshine. The jet lag lasted about five days before dissipating, but these cravings have lingered.

Italy was a feast. My main impression of the food is that people love meat, based on the abundance of meats we tried and encountered. Cured meats and sausage and porchetta. Yes, there was some excellent pasta (mostly enjoyed in a meat sauce), one excellent roasted shrimp “secondi” and two times I ordered a market-fresh (but not necessarily stellar) Mediterranean fish. I should have sought out vegetables more often. In Florence, I enjoyed one outstanding, flavorful chickpea soup, where some of the chickpeas had been blended to create a thickened, creamy base. Sadly, it was served at a restaurant where there service was so poor that I left fuming–we were treated almost as if we were invisible. Later that week, I had a lentil soup as part of a no-nonsense, prixe-fixe lunch at a restaurant frequented by locals, and it was terribly bland and uninteresting–clearly reflecting its place as part of a “value” lunch.

I don’t want to sound unimpressed with the trip; we loved the vibe of Italy, and savored numerous inspiring dishes. Here’s a small sample of our photos. Hover your mouse over each picture and click to view full captions.


It was rather timely to come across this Tuscan vegetable-based soup recipe last week, on the website Blue Apron, a grocery subscription service. The less fortunate part was that I couldn’t find toscano (also known as lacinato) kale! Tuscan kale is darker green and flatter, without the curly edges, and I really wanted to use it. After trying four stores, I resigned myself to a fact I already knew, that toscano kale is woefully out of season here right now, so I shouldn’t be using it anyway! Regular kale it is.

I will admit that a big part of the recipe’s draw for me was the soft-boiled egg on top–I am such a sucker for a runny egg. Drool. On a side note, is there anything more disappointing in life than when you expect the egg yolk you are being served at a restaurant will be runny and it’s not?

I have made poached eggs many times (they don’t always turn out great) but for some reason, I never made soft-boiled an egg. What an epiphany! It’s a much less messy-and still healthy-way to enjoy the liquid yolk.
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Tuscan Ribollita Soup with Soft Boiled Egg
From Blue Apron
2-4 servings

Part 1 ingredients:
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste

Part 2 ingredients:
about 8 ounces kale (any type)
1 14.5 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3.5 Cups vegetable broth

salt and pepper to taste

Part 3 ingredients:
2 slices sourdough bread
, or 1 large sourdough roll, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 Cup parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs (or more for additional servings)
salt and pepper to taste

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The reason I divided the ingredients into three parts is that you can use your time more efficiently by prepping the ingredients for each part while the previous set of ingredients are cooking. I did all my mise en place at first, which took quite some time, and then I was less occupied during the cooking stages. One could do dishes during those down times, of course.

Firstly, take your eggs out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Perhaps you are one of those lucky ones who has such fresh eggs you don’t need to refrigerate them in the first place? I envy you. Fill a small saucepan with some water and a pinch of salt and set aside for later.
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In a large pot, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium. Add the onion and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add carrots and a little bit of salt and pepper. Cook the mixture for a few minutes, until the carrots have softened.
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Put the small saucepan over heat so it comes to a boil.

To your large pot, add all of the Part 2 ingredients (beans, diced tomatoes, kale, vegetable broth, and crushed red pepper flakes).

See why you need a large pot?

See why you need a large pot?


Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, smelling and tasting to see if the flavors have come together enough for your liking.
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Add the bread cubes, half the parsley, and half of the Parmesan cheese to the soup and stir.
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If you feel there is not enough liquid, it is fine to add a little water (especially if you are using a rich vegetable stock). Let the soup cook, without stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until thickened. Add even more salt and pepper to taste!
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While the soup is simmering, gently place the eggs in the saucepan of boiling water. Cook for exactly 5 minutes. Have a small bowl of cold water ready, and transfer the eggs into the bowl with a slotted spoon. Then run the eggs under more cold water for 30 seconds. Gently peel the eggs (be careful) and set aside.

Fill two bowls with soup and place one soft-boiled egg in each. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.
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That’s what I’m talking about!

Spicy Potato and Cheese Galette

Don’t you love it when things come together? When what you are looking for falls right into your lap? When everything clicks?

I wish I had this experience for something other than cooking inspiration.
In the past week or so, I have been very strict about not purchasing groceries, so that I really focus on using what I have. The reason is that I will be taking a brief hiatus from cooking. I will be otherwise occupied in the coming weeks. You can expect some kind of report afterwards. Let’s just say it is for a fun reason. And I will still be eating well. And let’s also say that I may be enlarging my ecological footprint by taking a plane. OK, OK, so I’m going on vacation! To ITALY and FRANCE! *Excuse me while I daydream*

This has gone OK, this grocery abstinence. One of that last perishable items I faced was a leftover bag of russet potatoes. I should note that I know these take a long time to “perish,” so while I wouldn’t necessarily need to worry about a couple of weeks for potatoes, these have been diminishing for awhile.

Back to talking about how things work out: I popped over to Joy the Baker‘s blog, and what do I see but “Roasted Potato Galette with cheddar and chives.” She made it look and sound delicious…and the fact that she made a Jack Bauer reference hooked me even more. I had been considering homemade knishes, but I felt lazy about mashing the potatoes (if I was truly lazy, I would have avoided a recipe that involved pastry!)

Spicy Potato and Cheese Galette
Adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Crust:
1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup/1 stick cold unsalted butter
scant 1/3 cup cold buttermilk

    OR

in my case, 2 heaping tablespoons of plain yogurt mixed with 4 tablespoons of nonfat milk to start. Make a splash extra for times like now when we are still suffering through winter’s dry air which leads to extra dry flour

For the Filling:
2 russet potatoes, mostly peeled and sliced into 1/4″ rounds (plus 1 extra for snacking)
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
(to taste)
1/2 Cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped
1 large egg, beaten

Make the crust, which needs resting time.

    Cheater method

:
Cube your butter and then pop it into the freezer to keep it extra cold.
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In the bowl of a food processor, process flour, sugar and salt. Take butter out of freezer and add to processor, pulsing until the butter is distributed throughout the flour in pebbles.

Pour into a bowl. Create a well in the mixture and pour in milk mixture.
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Use a fork to bring together, distributing the moisture throughout the flour. If it’s not coming together, add a little extra milk/yogurt.

Is your lightly floured work surface ready?
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Dump out the shaggy dough mixture. Press it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
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Make the filling:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Move the top rack to the upper third of the oven.
Peel and slice your potatoes.
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Place rounds on the sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on Old Bay Seasoning and toss to coat evenly. Spread the potatoes to minimize overlap as much as possible.
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Bake until tender and delicious, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven.

To assemble the galette:
Beat the egg and set aside. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper with a little oil added and set aside.

Roll the dough into a rough circle about 1/4″-thickness. By no means do the edges need to be perfect. Move the dough to the center of the prepared baking sheet.

Lightly brush the middle of the the crust with egg.
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Add a layer of cooked (and slightly cooled) potato slices to the center of the pie crust, leaving about 2-inches of pie crust surrounding on all sides. Scatter shredded cheddar cheese and chives. (I may have only had freeze dried chives. I hope you can forgive that.) Repeating, adding a second layer of potato slices and cheese and chives. Add more potato slices until it looks about right–remember if you made extra potato like me some will stay out) top with the final portion of cheese and chives.
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Trim edges that are super uneven from the crust, leaving about 1 1/2-inches on all sides. Brush the edges with egg wash. Fold the sides up against the potato stack and gently press to seal. Brush the outside of the pie crust edges with egg wash.

Bake until golden brown and bubbling. Joy said it would take 15 minutes for this–for some reason it took mine about 25. Remove from the oven and observe the bubbling buttery beauty. Dig in.
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Orzo Cucumber Salad

Let’s talk about a basic salad. One that has the very basic formula of vegetable+grain+lemon juice+olive oil+cheese. Are you with me? I worry that you may be bored with something so simple, something I’m confident you have figured out on your own.

Yet I feel the urge to plug for the very basic salad recipe. There’s something so refreshing about the ability to bring together a satisfying and healthy dish that goes only a few steps beyond bagged salad greens and bottled dressing, something I used to use to fill in the blanks of meals and snacks here and there. I much prefer something like this, don’t you?

Take note: this is another recipe with less than 10 ingredients!

Orzo Cucumber Salad
Version inspired by Real Simple Magazine

3-4 ounces cucumber, chopped
~2 ounces another vegetable, like green pepper, chopped
2 ounces Feta/approx. 1/2 Cup, crumbled
3 small scallions, thinly sliced
1.5 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1.5 Tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper

Consider that there are unlimited options for variation here. This other recipe I was considering used sun-dried tomato and red onion. Shallots would work. And if you are fresh out of fresh lemons, champagne or white wine vinegar make sense.

If you're wondering what I am doing with the rest of that sizable green pepper, it is going into this weekend's Super Bowl chili.

If you’re wondering what I am doing with the rest of that sizable green pepper, it is going into this weekend’s Super Bowl chili.


Cook the orzo according to the package directions. Drain; run under cold water to cool and shake well to remove excess water.

Prepare vegetables:
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Aside: as you know, I made a resolution to take prompter action on my task list. One such task was to have the kitchen knives professional sharpened, something we never had done. We have a honing device, like this:
honer
which you’re supposed to use often, and an old electric sharpener kinda like this that never provided satisfactory results. In my singular experience, it is surprisingly easy to find a traveling knife sharpener who picks up the phone, makes an appointment to come to your house at your convenience, and then accepts payment on a per knife basis. Easy peasy.

I have noticed a huge improvement in some cases. For some reason, scallions had been giving me trouble with the duller chef’s knife, and is where I felt a serious difference and ease in making thin slices.
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In a medium bowl, toss the orzo with the cucumber, Feta, scallions, green pepper, lemon juice, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.

Mmm feta. Can't I just eat this?

Mmm feta and lemon juice. Can’t I just eat this?


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Enjoy cold or at room temperature.

Having a (meat)ball

I keep having to remind myself to actively rotate through my pantry Asian ingredients. Sometimes I’m tempted to launch some kind of elaborate system for tracking how often I use certain items. Something that goes beyond the blue tape on the utensils and more closely resembles those charts in gas station bathrooms, where workers record the date and time it was last cleaned. I do think that keeping a rough inventory of pantry items is useful for reducing waste (and critical in professional kitchens), but perhaps this idea is a bit extreme for my two-person household. Either way, last week I decided it was time to use Asian ingredients again. I had set aside a recent Cooking Light magazine recipe that utilized a lot of what I had on hand. It also happened to be a meat dish, which I hadn’t cooked lately.

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Japanese Meatballs or “Tsukune”
From Cooking Light

Meatballs:
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 ounces sliced shiitake mushroom caps
1 Tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
, divided
1 Tablespoons minced garlic, divided
1.5 Tablespoons dry sherry
1.5 teaspoons red miso
1 pound ground chicken or turkey*
(or pork, probably)
1/3 Cup panko
1.5 teaspoons cornstarch
scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
, to taste
scant 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 green onions
, thinly sliced
1 medium egg white**

Sauce:
3 Tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
3 Tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons fresh ginger
, peeled and grated
1 chile, such as serrano, thinly sliced
Other ingredients:
Cooking spray
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

**1 large egg white was called for in the original recipe, which called for 50% more meat. I only purchased 1 pound, so I scaled everything back, but I didn’t use less than the 1 egg white. The meatballs were a little wetter and harder to keep together as a result, so I would suggest using less than 1 full egg white for 1 pound meat.

For the meatballs, first prepare to sauté the vegetables by prepping the first four ingredients.
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Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once heated, add oil and swirl to coat.
Add mushrooms, 1.5 teaspoons minced ginger, and 1.5 teaspoons garlic; cook 2 minutes. Add sherry and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes.
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Remove from heat and allow to cool while you chop and measure the remaining meatball ingredients. In a mini food processor, place mushroom mixture along with the red miso. Pulse until very finely chopped, scraping down as needed.
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Combine mushroom mixture, remaining 1.5 teaspoons minced ginger, remaining 1.5 teaspoons garlic, meat, and remaining meatball ingredients (through egg white) in a bowl. Shape mixture into 1 inch meatballs–approximately 24. At this point, if your meatballs are staying together well, you could skewer them onto 6 inch bamboo skewers so that they could be grilled on the stick. I did not do any threading (nor did other reviewers) and I don’t think it’s necessary.
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Chill for 30 minutes.

To prepare sauce, add mirin, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened (this took at least 5 minutes for me).
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Remove from heat. After sauce has cooled slightly, stir in juice, 2 teaspoons grated ginger, and chile. Split the sauce into two bowls, saving anywhere from 2-4 Tablespoons to serve with the finished meatballs.

This chile pepper from my garden might have had a real kick when it was fresh, but after drying out for so long it mellowed out too much! Definitely use a pepper with some heat; it's a crucial part of rounding out the dish.

This chile pepper from my garden might have had a kick with fresh, but after drying out for so long it mellowed out too much! Definitely use a pepper with some heat; it’s a crucial part of rounding out the dish.


Heat a grill pan or a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray or oil of choice. Place half the meatballs in the pan, as will fit, and cook until brown on all sides and 165 degrees F at the center, which should take about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and brush over with some of the sauce. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
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Serve sprinkle with sesame seeds and reserved 2 sauce on the side–the sauce really makes the dish. In fact, I don’t think it would hurt to double or 1.5x the sauce portion of the recipe.

*While delicious, when using turkey in these meatballs instead of chicken I found the turkey flavor to be more pronounced that I would have liked. For my husband and me, turkey brings to mind flavors of Thanksgiving, such as sage and thyme, even when those ingredients aren’t present! Sage and thyme certainly don’t mesh with the other ingredients in this recipe. Use ground chicken instead if you can.

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I continue to make the effort to thumb through recipes from my cookbook collection. This time I sought out Alice Waters’ suggestions for preparing bok choy, which I thought would be an excellent Asian side. I had purchased her newest book in conjunction with a talk she gave at my college’s club. I hadn’t heard her speak at length before, and it was clear that she has unshakeable vision and hope for the future of our food and eating. She is particularly driven, and amazingly optimistic, about things we can do to improve school meals.

Bok Choy Sautéed with Ginger and Garlic
From The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters

1 bunch of bok choy or 2-3 bunches of baby bok choy
2 teaspoons olive, coconut or other vegetable oil
4 garlic gloves, smashed
2 1-inch slices of ginger, peeled and smashed
Salt to taste
A splash of fish sauce

Remove blemished leaves from bok choy plants. Slice a small amount off the base and half, quarter, or leave whole, depending on the size. Soak in a bowl of water to loosen grit, rinse, and drain.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil, then garlic and ginger. Cook until the garlic starts to darken in color and then add bok choy. Cook for several minutes, stirring and tossing, until it reaches your preferred level of tenderness.
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Season with a splash of fish sauce and a smidge of salt.

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Top Brassica

DSC_6230It’s cruciferous vegetable season. Who is excited? This is good stuff. Well, at least some of it. I don’t think all brassica (turnips, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, etc.) are created equal in terms of flavor. But apparently some portion of the population can use genetics as an excuse for disliking the taste of these foods. Brassica plants contain something similar to the bitter compound phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), and scientists found that humans have dramatic variations in PTC sensitivity, with some people being “taste blind.”

I won’t let you use your genetics as an excuse! We humans can overcome nature when we want to.

Somewhere along the way in reading my cooking magazines, email newsletters, and online media, I came across a recipe for using cauliflower as pesto. For some reason (genetics?), I liked the idea of obliterating the cauliflower and transforming it into something mostly unrecognizable.

Part 1:
Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto
From The Washington Post

Kosher salt
6 to 8 ounces dried linguine
or other thin pasta
plus reserved pasta water
1 small (13-ounce) head cauliflower
1/2 Cup unsalted almonds
(or pine nuts)
2 or 3 dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I used oven-dried tomatoes from my garden that had been frozen)
1-ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or other similar hard Italian grating cheese, chopped
1 medium clove garlic
1 Tablespoon capers
, drained and rinsed
Small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves
Crushed red pepper flakes
, to taste
3-5 Tablespoons olive oil, to taste
2 to 3 teaspoons sherry vinegar, to taste

Cook linguine according to the package directions in a large pot of salted boiling water. When draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Keep pasta warm while preparing the pesto.

Cut the cauliflower into chunks, placing them in the food processor as you work.
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Stop when the bowl is about halfway full to allow space for processing (it is much easier to do this in two batches rather than forcing all the cauliflower in and having to pulse and stir repeatedly-trust me).
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Pulse until crumbs appear couscous-like. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
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DSC_6252Toast the almonds in the oven or in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until lightly browned, paying close attention and stirring to avoid burning. Cool, then put in the food processor. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, the cheese, garlic, capers and parsley. Process to a chunky bread-crumb consistency, then add the mixture to the mixing bowl with the cauliflower in the bowl.
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Stir in the oil, 2 teaspoons of the vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and crushed red pepper flakes to form a pesto-like mixture. The yield is several cups, likely more than you need for 4 servings of pasta.

Add the pasta and toss to coat. Add as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to create the desired consistency. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, adding the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar as needed. I found that the recipe needed extra oil (which could be added in an earlier step also). It may be more accurate to gauge the flavor and texture once everything is stirred in with the pasta.

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit!

Part 2:
I had all this leftover cauliflower pesto, and I didn’t want to keep eating it with pasta. Fortunately, I remembered hearing that you can use a cauliflower mixture as a pizza crust.

Cauliflower Pizza
Adapted from Quick, Cheap Kitchen

Pizza crust:
Approx. 2 Cups of my leftover cauliflower pesto mix, or just raw cauliflower ground in a food processor
1 egg
1/4 Cup shredded mozzarella
3 Tablespoons of flour

dried Italian seasonings to taste, around 1 teaspoon. I used a bread dipping seasoning mix (basil, parmesan, onion powder, garlic powder) plus oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Toppings: Whatever you want! My example:
2-3 Tablespoons prepared basil pesto
2/3 Cup swiss chard stems
Olive oil

3/4 Cup cherry or grape tomatoes
A sprinkling parmesan cheeses

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Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Microwave cauliflower in a glass bowl for about 8 minutes. Let it cool some, and then transfer to a cheese cloth or clean dish towel to squeeze out any excess water.

My cauliflower mixture was already pretty dry..

My cauliflower mixture was already pretty dry..


DSC_6287Mix together cauliflower, egg, mozzarella, herbs and spices in a large bowl. Spread the cauliflower crust out into a big pan using a rubber spatula. You can use a Silpat, parchment paper, or grease the pan and scatter with cornmeal or semolina. Bake the crust about 10-15 minutes. You will see the crust star to get very dark on the sides.
Mmm browned cheese bits.

Mmm browned cheese bits.


While the crust is browning, prepare toppings.
I sautéed my swiss chard stems in olive oil.
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And halved the tomatoes from my garden (this is the last of the ripe ones!)
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Add the pesto, swiss chard, halved tomatoes, and cheese. Lower the oven temperature to about 375 degrees and return the pizza to the oven to bake for about 10 more minutes, until the cheese is melted.
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Got it just in time.

Got it just in time.

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The result was wonderfully indulgent. There must be a significant amount of “good fats” in each serving. It’s basically eating pesto on pesto after all! I had no trouble finishing the whole pizza myself in two days. That’s pretty impressive for cauliflower.

Italian-American Wedding Soup

This recipe is brought to you by the letter E…for escarole. Escarole, that vegetable that makes me groan, because it tastes so bitter raw. Which means I have to make an E for effort to cook it, and when I do, I always feel the need to do something complicated instead of simply sautéing it. Yes, I know this is MY problem.

I was surprised to discover that escarole is a fairly normal ingredient to add to Italian Wedding Soup. The Italian-Style Wedding Soup flavor of Campbell’s used to be one of my favorites as a kid. Yet I’m not sure I have had soup by the same name since then, and I had never made it at home. Of course, it is just a name, and there’s a good chance I have had a chicken-broth-based-vegetable-soup-with-meat-and-sometimes-pasta. Did you know that “wedding soup” was a mistranslation, and the original Italian phrase actually meant “married soup,” because of how well meats and green vegetables marry together? Now you know.

I really enjoyed how this came out using the slow cooker. The meatballs were so tender. Each vegetable added something interesting to the overall flavor. And with the chicken broth base, it definitely came out tasting like comfort food.

Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

DSC_6095Because I only had 1 pound of ground beef instead of 1.5, I scaled most of the entire recipe down by 25%–including using 3/4 of my 2 beaten eggs. I’ll spare you that silly instruction on the ingredient list (I probably could have gotten by with just 1 egg).

Besides keeping close to recommended ratios for keeping meatballs together, the recipe is, of course, flexible. If you increase the greens, like I did, be sure to compensate with added broth.

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs (I used panko run through the food processor, but it would have probably worked in its original form)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
(I used 1 pound, as mentioned earlier)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
(I used 6)
3 large carrots, chopped (I used 3/4 Cup)
2 pieces of celery, chopped (I used 1/2 Cup)
1/2 onion, chopped (I used 1/4 Cup)
2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed (I used 1 tsp dried)
3/4 teaspoon dried basil (I used 1/2 tsp)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used 1/2 tsp)
2 bay leaves (I used 2 small Long Island bay leaves collected during a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill)
1 small head escarole (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips (I used 6 ounces sliced escarole and 3.5 ounces of a mysterious green from my CSA I believe was mustard greens)
1 cup small pasta (I used whole wheat orzo because I had it – 3/4 Cup)
Fresh oregano sprigs (optional)

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Escarole

Escarole

Mustard greens?

Mustard greens?


In a large bowl, combine eggs, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.
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Add ground beef; mix well.
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Shape mixture into about forty 1-1/4-inch meatballs.
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Now it is time to choose your method for browning the meatballs. One possibility is to use a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil, and brown meatballs, half at a time, draining on paper towels. I tried this for the first half, and turning the meatballs was a challenge. It was much easier to bake them in oven at 350, turning once, for 10-15 min total.

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine broth, carrots, dried herbs and spices, if using (oregano, basil, garlic powder etc.) the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently add meatballs.
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Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 hours, or on high-heat setting for 3 hours, stirring in fresh oregano (if using), pasta, and greens during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
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Ladle into bowls. Garnish if desired. Sit back and enjoy.
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Hearty and Heart Healthy

You knew the anchovies were going to make another appearance.
It came time to use up the rest of those anchovies, and at least some of my parsley, in a somewhat traditional pasta dish. I also wanted to use up tomato sauce I had made due to the bunches of cherry tomatoes I keep harvesting from my garden–in late October no less!

I transplanted one of my outdoor parsley plants to an indoor pot in the hopes it could produce for me in the winter.  It hasn't been looking great!

I transplanted one of my outdoor parsley plants to an indoor pot in the hopes it could produce for me in the winter. It hasn’t been looking great!


It is nice when something comes together I wasn’t expecting. This salty, toothsome dish packed a flavor punch. I ended up using one of the tiny dried out chilis I had on hand, something I also grew in a planter and don’t use very much, because I thought this recipe could benefit from some extra spice. Red pepper flakes add a nice touch in tomato sauce. Since I had fewer anchovy filets available than one of the original recipes suggested, I threw in capers to fill it out.

Pasta Oreganata With Garlic, Anchovies and Tomatoes
Adapted from a combination of Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipe in Bon Appetit and a New York Times recipe

1-2 Cups of chunky tomato sauce, previously made, such as Smitten Kitchen’s fresh tomato sauce
6 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
4 Tablespoons of olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 dried chili, finely chopped (optional)
1 Tablespoon capers
1/4 Cup plain dry breadcrumbs
1 Tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley
, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
Large pinch dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces of linguine or spaghetti
, I use whole wheat
additional chopped parsley leaves
small fresh basil leaves
(optional)

Set the oven temperature to 400°. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place breadcrumbs and herbs in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. oil over; stir until mixture resembles damp sand.
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Bake until golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Set aside.
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Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Put about 3 Tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat; a minute later, add garlic. Cook garlic so it bubbles gently. When it is lightly browned all over, add anchovies.
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Cook, stirring occasionally, for about a minute, until anchovies begin to fall apart. Add capers, if using.
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Add tomato sauce and chili. Adjust heat so the sauce bubbles nicely, and cook until mixture cooks down and comes together a little, about 5 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.
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Add drained pasta to skillet; toss to coat, adding reserved pasta water by 1/4-cupfuls if dry. Remove from heat; stir in basil. Drizzle with remaining 2 Tbsp. oil. Divide among bowls. Top each with oreganata and extra parsley.
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Appetizing Appetizers

You know how it is when you go out to a restaurant, you read over the menu, and you wish you could order a dinner made up of entirely of appetizers? Appetizers can be the most interesting and appealing options. It happens to be the same case sometimes with the food I cook at home! That is my excuse for providing two disparate appetizer recipes in this week’s blog entry.

The truth is, I did a good job cooking last week, including main dishes, but I did a poor job managing my time overall. After spending the days in front of a computer at work, I avoided the computer at home, even when there were important things to do there, including this blog! And I still managed to get an insufficient amount of sleep.

Anyway…I was excited to get eggplant in the farm share, because I had this article filed away for reference. I selected the below recipe, and used up the rest of my homemade garam masala!

A continuation on my garam masala notes: some grocery stores, like my beloved Wegman’s, have a bulk spice section, where you have total control over how much you commit to getting at once. I found great spices at a natural food store, also in Ithaca, called Greenstar. I’m not sure if Whole Foods has this option–it may depend on your area. You can also buy a small portion online through Penzeys (they give recipe suggestions too) or Amazon.com (woo hoo “Add-On Item”) or even eBay.

Baingan Bharta
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s New York Times recipe

1 pound eggplant
1 tablespoon lime juice
1+ tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion
, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small fresh chile like a jalapeño, or more to taste, seeds removed as desired and thinly sliced
1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, plum, grape or whatever type you have, chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
or to taste
2-4 tablespoons cup chopped cilantro, including stems, or to taste
1 teaspoon garam masala

I like this method of cooking the eggplant, which I never have tried before. In fact, after reading this article, I realized that, as far as I can remember, I may have only cooked eggplant in the form of “parmesan,” or something closely related. I certainly enjoy it other ways, including the eggplant fries at Ithaca Ale House and baba ghanoush. It was good to branch out at home. And it certainly wasn’t hard!

As you can see, I was really stretching it with the last of some cilantro which had been wilting in my fridge.

As you can see, I was really stretching it with the last of some cilantro which had been wilting in my fridge.


Prick the eggplant with a thin knife or grill skewer.

Broil or roast on a heated cast-iron pan in the hottest possible oven, checking every few minutes to turn as necessary so that the skin turns black and the eggplant collapses. Don’t forget (if you’re me) that every time you open the oven you are in danger of setting off the smoke detector. It should be done in about 20 minutes. You can also do this over a grill set to high heat.
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When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, it is extremely easy to peel! Cut away the hard stem.
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Chop or mash in a bowl, with lime juice.

I put another kitchen tool to use! This actually probably mashed the eggplant more than I would have wanted.

I put another kitchen tool to use! This actually probably mashed the eggplant more than I would have wanted.

Add oil to a skillet set to medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until it is golden brown, 5-10 minutes depending on your temperature control.
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Add the garlic and chiles and cook for another minute.
Add the tomato, turmeric and salt. Cook until the tomato is soft, 5 minutes or so.
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Stir in the eggplant purée and cook, stirring, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and garam masala and turn off the heat.
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Serve hot with warmed pita bread, naan or another type of Indian flatbread.
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Next up: I followed another blogger’s recreation of one of the many tempting recipes from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook: Scallion Biscuits with Whipped Goat cheese and Tomato Salad. I’ll let you read it here because she already includes helpful substitution suggestions (like for me, I used variations of milk and half and half in place of the whole milk and whipped cream in parts of the recipe). Also, because I have decided I mostly hate the process of working with cold butter to make pastry, I employed the cheating method: cutting the butter up into small pieces, putting them in the freezer to get super cold, and using a food processor to combine the butter and flour and then make the dough.

I served this as a first course for guests on Friday. And then I had leftovers for lunch on Saturday!
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Note that both of these recipes used tomatoes…from my garden…more on that soon!

Here I am with the entrée I served.
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Love Affair with Zucchini

I could barely contain my excitement when I came across coveted squash blossoms while visiting the Ithaca Farmer’s Market last weekend.

These lovely, edible, light orange flowers of the zucchini plant are a delicacy, for sure, because as far as I know, they are only available for a short time in the summer. There is something special about eating a flower, especially when it has the potential for preparation as a feature in a meal, rather than a garnish.
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I had to wait a day to cook them, so they did wilt a little bit. But I already had ricotta in my fridge, planning ahead for this very time when I would get to stuff the flowers.

Rather appropriately, I also had zucchini itself in my fridge. I added it to a Smitten Kitchen recipe I saw a few weeks ago, “One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes.” I had been dying to make this recipe, mostly because I stinkin’ LOVE farro. (So chewy and yummy…shaped kind of like orzo pasta but with a denser texture, as a grain. Barley is somewhat similar). But also because Deb gave a very useful guide for one-pan cooking, based on her reliable testing. You see, most people (including myself) expect that the grain gets cooked in its own pot, and then the vegetables sauteed separately in second pan. Not her!

Full disclosure: I did use a second pan to saute my zucchini, since I thought it might benefit from a little sear and pre-softening, in case it became soggy when dropped directly into the main pan. I had looked over one of Smitten Kitchen’s other recipes with zucchini first for inspiration. That recipe has the squash ending up in a tart, and it does call for using a saute pan. At least I used that same saute pan for frying the blossom, which made me fairly efficient at minimizing the dishes pile in my sink!

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Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta

adapted from Gourmet on epicurus
Can be served with your favorite tomato sauce for dipping.

1 Cup ricotta, freshly made is best, and whole-milk is better, but part-skim (I used) is fine
1 large egg yolk
1/4 Cup fresh mint or basil or a combination, finely chopped
2/3 Cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
12 to 16 large zucchini squash blossoms
1/2 Cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 Cup chilled seltzer, club soda, or beer
Vegetable oil for frying

Equipment recommended: frying/candy thermometer.

For the filling, stir together ricotta, yolk, herbs, 1/3 cup parmesan, and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

You may end up with extra filling, so feel free to scale it down to match the approximate number of blossoms you have. Yes, I realize that involves using part of an egg yolk–you could cook and eat the rest (why not?). Otherwise, I think that eggs are inexpensive and biodegradable enough that you aren’t being too wasteful if you discard a portion.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.


Carefully open each blossom and fill with ricotta filling, gently twisting end of blossom to enclose filling. I wouldn’t recommend using a spoon. The process will be so much easier if you can get your hands on something with a tapered tip which you can insert into the flower. Some reviewers did use the Ziplock bag-with-a-corner-snipped-off method.
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Whisk together flour, remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and carbonated liquid in a small bowl.
I didn't want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.

I didn’t want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.


Heat 1/2 inch oil to 375°F in a heavy skillet sized to fit half your blossoms. Meanwhile, dip blossoms in batter to thinly coat.
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Fry coated blossoms in batches, gently turning once, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes total.
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Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain. (Check the temperature of the oil so it comes back up to 375°F between batches.) Season with salt. Serve alone or with tomato sauce.
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Farro with Summer Garden Vegetables
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1.5 Cups water
3/4 Cup semi-pearled/whole farro
1/2 medium onion
(I used about 3 ounces)
2 cloves garlic
4 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
4 ounces zucchini
, diced
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Basil leaves, cut in chiffonade, for serving
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Place water and farro in a medium saucepan to presoak while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add a little olive oil to a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add diced zucchini and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
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Add to saucepan with farro.

Cut halved onion in half again, and very thinly slice it into quarter-moons. Add to pot with farro. Thinly slice garlic cloves and add to pot.

Halve tomatoes and add.

Fresh from my front-yard garden!

Fresh from my front-yard garden!


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Add salt, pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan.
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Turn on heat to medium-high and set a timer for 30 minutes. Bring UNcovered pan up to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Check the farro’s texture after 30 minutes–it should be tender, but will be still chewy, and most of the water should be absorbed. If you let your heat get too high and the water boils off, you may have to add extra liquid.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with additional olive oil, basil and parmesan.
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It’s a zucchini + pasta/grain craze! Melissa Clark of the New York Times also used zucchini and tomatoes this week in her recipe.

Having the plant and the flower together!

Having the plant and the flower together!