We got together with longtime friends over the weekend and I was in charge of bringing an appetizer. I wanted something new but easy because I needed to get into my garden and spend some serious time there so I didn’t have time to make something elaborate. Plus our gathering was going to be down by a river so whatever I brought had to be portable and easy to set up. This dip melds a few of my favorite things: artichokes and Parmesan cheese. It takes about 5 minutes to make. How great is that?
I thought about that headline for a few minutes. Hyperbole can bite you in the butt. But I really do think this recipe, which came from the May issue of Real Simple, is the best asparagus I’ve ever made. I grew up in a family where asparagus was an extension of a general mindset. We didn’t waste anything — in and of itself not a bad behavior — but in the world of asparagus that meant the entire stalk was served up. And that meant I spent a fair amount of my asparagus-eating time trying to figure out how to hide the woody end piece that you could seriously chew for 20 minutes and be no closer to being able to swallow than if you’d been chewing shoe leather.
I’m not sure what convinced me to to give asparagus another chance, but somewhere in my adult life, I realized I could cook asparagus and I didn’t have to serve the woody stalk. I could just break it off and guess what? The resulting vegetable was actually tasty and I could swallow it!
So there it is. If you’re not sure about asparagus, maybe because you, too, have some shady asparagus in your past, make this and then decide for yourself. While I don’t know if it will be the best asparagus you’ve ever eaten — after all I don’t actually know what you’ve eaten in the asparagus category — I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Plus this is super easy.
Let us know what you think.
Janet here: I know I’ve been a bit of a casserole stalker in recent weeks of Faith Durand‘s new cookbook, Not Your Mother’s Casseroles, but I can’t help it. Every damn thing I make is killer. (See squash casserole here or her broccoli, cauliflower and onion one here.)
This artichoke and spinach casserole is yet another example. Thanks to the addition of ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan it seems sinfully close to eating a dinner of artichoke and spinach dip (not that I’ve ever considered doing that). The recipe is officially called a tian, which means nothing to me and seemed a little like the debate surrounding a fruit crisp or crumble. I did a little research, though, and it appears a tian originated in Provence and that it’s a casserole that contains cheese and grains and is usually topped with bread crumbs.
The bread crumbs thing should be in this recipe but as you can see from the recipe, mine doesn’t. That’s because I cleverly put the whole thing together — with a lovely layer of garlic bread crumbs on top — popped it all in the oven and realized five minutes later as I was cleaning up the kitchen that, oops, the rice was still sitting on top of the stove. I quickly took the dish out and just mixed the rice in, meaning my bread crumbs were now inside the dish.
It did not ruin the taste one little bit. G, the son who for most of his young life refused to put a single green thing into his mouth, had seconds. ‘Nuff said.
Spinach and Artichoke Tian with Garlic Bread Crumbs
1/2 cup short grain white rice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 16-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 12-ounce packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and drained (I used canned instead and it was just fine)
1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
ingredients for bread crumb topping
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9X13 baking pan.
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the rice. Cook for 10 minutes, then drain. Set aside (but don’t forget about it!).
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it is golden and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for another few minutes, or until the garlic is golden and translucent.
Pat the spinach and artichokes dry with a paper towel. Combine in a large bowl with the ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Fold in the drained rice, cooked onions and garlic, and then the eggs and nutmeg. Spread in the baking dish.
To make the bread crumbs, whiz the garlic, salt, pepper, bread crumbs and Parmesan in a food processor until well combined. Sprinkle evenly over the casserole and drizzle with additional olive oil.
Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until firm and golden. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
As my mom mentioned on Monday, illness has descended upon our household. And despite our best efforts, over a week later we’re still kicking this uninvited visitor around. John was all ready to sit down and write a post for today (it is his Friday after all), but then I made puppy eyes and asked him to make dinner instead. So, I’m sitting in bed with a heap of tissues and he is off scrounging together leftovers from a most excellent visit we just had with family.
Oh man–mentioning a heap of tissues on a food blog is probably something you’re not supposed to do unless they accumulated from patting something fried down. Oh well. My nose, throat and brain are proverbially fried so…deal.
One of the things that I’ve really been enjoying about generating concoctions for M in the kitchen is that so many of these dishes are simple and make excellent sides for those of us with bigger appetites and more teeth than an almost one year old. It’s been a cool minute since I spent any time rethinking side dishes, usually whipping up something from a rotation of standards that are yummy but, you know, maybe appearing a little too often on our dinner plates. Anyway, in the past few weeks I’ve come up with two meals for M that are absolutely fabulous. They’re simple, interesting and healthy, too. Give ‘em a try and let us know what you think!
ingredients (for 4)
1 large carrot
a knob of ginger
6-8 T. applesauce (homemade, right? right)
Halve carrot lengthwise and then slice. Put into pan over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil (to prevent sticking) and a dash of salt (to help the carrot cook and to open up flavors). Thinly slice ginger and then mince (do this to taste…we can eat a lot of ginger in this family, but I know not everyone can so start with about a tablespoon and build from there) before adding to skillet. Once carrots have begun to soften (around 10 minutes), add applesauce by the heaping tablespoon, stirring well. If using store-bought applesauce, I’d suggest adding cinnamon to taste, too. Saute until carrots are cooked and serve.
ingredients (for 4)
1 medium zucchini
2 large coves of garlic
freshly shaved aged parmesan
fresh cracked pepper
Peel zucchini. Halve lengthwise and then slice. Place in pan over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt (wait–this sounds really familiar, right? See–I told you these were simple sides). Mince your garlic and add, sauteing until zucchini is cooked. Remove from pan and toss with fresh cracked pepper and parmesan to taste. Serve and watch everyone smile.
Janet here: It was a busy day at work, I had just finished driving nearly 2 hours to get home and I was beat. Since dinner was not going to miraculously appear on the table from the Cooking Fairy I often fantasize about on these kinds of days, I wanted something fast and easy. Time to rummage.
I found a zucchini, some pesto, pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese and pasta. Fifteen minutes later we had a tasty nutritious dinner a thousand times better than the fast food I pondered picking up on my drive. What’s your go-to rummage meal?
1 large zucchini, cut in half and then cut into 1/4 inch slices
2-3 tablespoons pesto (depends on your level of taste)
3/4 pound of your favorite pasta or whatever is in your pantry
pine nuts–I love these so I erred on the side of a lot. It’s up to you
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (obviously other cheeses would work too)
Cook the pasta to al dente. While it’s cooking, stir fry the zucchini in a little olive oil with the pine nuts until just cooked. Take off the heat.
Drain the pasta. Throw in the pesto and toss. Add the zucchini and pine nut mixture. Add the cheese and voila! A little bread if you’re lucky to have some on hand, maybe a salad and you’re good to go.
Rachel here: I am obsessed with eggplant (I know-it’s a picture of a tomato, not an eggplant, but more on that in a bit). Until recently, I counted it as a food I didn’t particularly care for. Our dear friend N came to visit and help us out right after M was born, though, and she put eggplant in lasagnas that she made us. Ever since then I’ve had a hankering. While my mom hates the texture, that’s precisely the thing that I’m so gaga for these days. Anyway, after making stir-fry the other night I found myself with half an eggplant leftover. What to do? Simple. Buy the prettiest heirloom tomato I could find, a delicious loaf of bread and make open-faced eggplant parmesan sandwiches for dinner.
I know, I know. There should be a picture of eggplant and a sandwich in this blog post somewhere. The photos I took, though, fall into the category of epic failure, so instead I’m keeping you hungry with pictures of tomatoes and bread (personally, they’re two of my favorite things). This was a really simple and delicious dinner and I don’t want to turn you off with unappetizing pictures.
loaf of your favorite bread (I bought a loaf of rustic whole wheat sourdough made by the local Acme bakery…so so good)
tomato (heirlooms just came into season here and I won’t by a different kind of tomato until they go out)
salt and pepper
Slice the eggplant in 1/2-inch slices. Rub with salt, pepper and olive oil. Grill. Place bread under broiler and toast (don’t toast too much as you will be placing bread back under broiler later). On top of toasted bread, stack basil leaves, slices of tomato, and piece of grilled eggplant. Shred parmesan cheese generously over the top before placing sandwiches under the broiler. Broil until cheese is good and melted. Devour!
Janet here: When I want to make a fast guilt-free dinner that’s nutritious, I make my favorite kind of pizza: broccoli pizza with cheese. I prefer my pizza without red sauce and love making up different concoctions of goodies to put on top. The options are as vast as your imagination. As I’ve noted before, broccoli is my absolute favorite vegetable; I only allow myself to serve it twice a week so there isn’t a family mutiny, but if I lived on my own (and cooked, which is another story), I would eat broccoli all the time.
Anyway this pizza makes use of pre-made pizza dough from the store — I said this was an easy meatless meal, remember? — but if you prefer to make your own, go for it. I have done it, but with pre-made dough (I like Trader Joe’s) so ubiquitous these days, I’d rather put my time into something else. Anyway, this meal literally takes minutes, which means your Monday can be meat-free and easy.
serves 2 with a little left over
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium head of broccoli cut up into bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, diced but not too finely
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (or more if you like garlic)
spices: I use everything from red pepper flakes to oregano, basil, salt and pepper, all to taste
3/4 cup crumbled feta
1 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
Let the dough sit out for 20 minutes to reach room temperature. While that’s happening, saute the onions until they are translucent, about 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic. Saute for 1 minutes. Add the broccoli and seasonings. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is just cooked (I like my veggies crunchy and remember you will be baking this so it will be cooked further). Put aside.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the pizza dough on a floured surface to roughly a 12-inch diameter. Place the dough onto your sprayed cookie sheet or pizza stone. Add the broccoli saute. Top with the cheeses. Bake for about 10 minutes, depending on how crisp you like your pizza crust.
Rachel here: When John and I were first together, one of our favorite things to do was cook. Prior to meeting John, I worked in restaurants and lived alone. Outside of work (where I was heartily fed), I mainly subsisted on grits and fruit. Though I would definitely relate differently to cooking for myself now than I did then, at the age of 19 or 20, my top goal in eating at home was to generate as few dirty dishes as possible. Anyway, enter John. Here was a man who not only enjoyed but excelled at cooking, who wanted to make me dishes of food I had never tried and who genuinely enjoyed eating. On our way home from work, walking our bikes instead of riding so that we could talk, we’d more often than not get to talking about dinner and stop by the grocery store en route to pick up the various ingredients we’d need to make whatever had struck our fancy. To shop and eat in this fashion felt incredibly luxurious. Fast forward five years and, as a general rule, we no longer spend our afternoons and evenings planning and generating whimsical meals. We are busy, busy bees these days and no longer live nearly across the street from a fantastic grocery as we did in our earlier days. Still, though, one of my favorite ways to spend the twilight hours of a weekend home with John is over a completely homemade meal that we have prepared together. The food tastes and feels so good and I couldn’t ask for better company.
This past weekend afforded us just such a window to get into the kitchen together. A few years back, John convinced me that homemade pasta is significantly better than its store-bought counterpart and, though we usually end up eating the latter for its convenience, this weekend John taught me how to make pasta by myself. It is surprisingly easy, though it does take a little muscle, and we generated two lasagnas from our endeavors, one for dinner and one for the freezer for the days after M makes her grand debut. If you’ve never tried your hand at pasta making before, I highly recommend that you give it a whirl. It is simple and satisfying and really, truly the best way to eat pasta.
In a large bowl, form the all-purpose flour into a well. Crack the egg into the center of the well and stir with a fork. As you stir the egg, it will gradually pull flour in. Keep at this until you are completely unable to stir anymore. At this juncture, add a teaspoon of water. Once all of your flour has been combined with another ingredient (either egg or water, or both), turn it out onto your countertop. Knead, twist and fold diligently until the dough becomes incorporated. Add more water, no more than a teaspoon at a time, whenever you are convinced that there isn’t a single additional drop of moisture to be utilized towards forming a coherent ball of dough. This kneading process should take at least 15 minutes (in my experience). Once you have a ball of dough, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for 45 minutes. Roll it out as thinly as you desire (either using a pasta roller or a rolling pin) and then cut into your desired shape. I folded my dough, dusting it with semolina flour between layers so the pasta wouldn’t stick to itself, before cutting so I could get uniform shapes. Voila! Cook as you would normally cook pasta, though you should know that homemade pasta will cook noticeably faster than the dried store-bought stuff.
For our lasagna, we mixed chopped scallions and basil in with the ricotta (along with some salt and pepper) and sauteed spinach and mushrooms with garlic before layering everything with parmesan cheese and tomato sauce. Yum! What will you do with your delicious pasta?
Janet here: What I plan to do with the delicious lasagna I now know is waiting for me, not M, is eat it and enjoy every last bite. I know for a fact that homemade pasta is absolutely the way to go, but the likelihood that I will add this to my culinary life in the near future is, well, zero. I will, however, promise to fill the hole in the freezer that is made when I eat Rachel and John’s lasagna.
Janet Here: We decided to see what each of us would come up with for an appetizer featuring spinach to kick off this week’s blogging. I happen to be a spinach fan but only use frozen spinach — I just can’t deal with all that cleaning. Anyway, I decided to go for my tried-and-true artichoke dip and add some spinach. It’s that whole theory that if you add spinach, this appetizer is actually good for you. (It’s a myth I know, but work with me here.)
My artichoke recipe comes from Tony Clark’s New Blueberry Hill Cookbook, a cookbook I bought after spending a weekend cross country skiing and eating gourmet food at Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen, Vermont. If you’ve never been there, I highly recommend checking it out; the skiing/hiking is great, the bed and breakfast homey and casual, and the food is unbelievable. (They keep a jar filled with fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies that are so good it’s hard not to eat one every hour.) Anyway, here’s Tony’s basic recipe with my spinach and cream cheese addition. You can make it either way and then just listen to the rave reviews. It’s a seriously easy recipe that takes minutes.
Baked Artichoke Dip (with Spinach)
1 16-ounce can of artichoke hears in water, drained
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, blend the artichokes, mayonnaise, and cheese. (Or if you’re like me and don’t have a food processor, dice up your artichoke the best you can and figure no one will care.) Put in a shallow serving dish and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for about 20 minutes or until it’s heated through. Voila!
Rachel here: So, though my mother believes that life can be filled with joy and yet somehow devoid of meat (although she does occasionally eat chicken and fish…tune in Wednesday for more on that), I fiercely disagree. And so, for my take on the spinach appetizer challenge, I decided to include prosciutto. My idea spawned from frequent visits to the sushi place up the street from my house (Kansai at 4345 Telegraph in Oakland, CA in case anybody’s in the area and looking for very reasonably priced and yummy sushi) that serves this appetizer of, for lack of a better way to describe it, spinach logs with peanut sauce. I wasn’t feeling particularly peanut-y at the time, though, and so I decided to take the spinach logs and go in a different direction. What I ended up with was spinach mixed with roasted sliced almonds, shallots and brie wrapped in prosciutto. They are less cumbersome than they look and function quite well as a finger food. When I made them the recipe yielded 12 prosciutto-wrapped spinach rolls, though you could certainly make them smaller to get more bang for your buck. Anyway, it’s the first time I’ve made this recipe, so feedback is extra welcome (particularly since my mother won’t even touch this one due to its delicious cured meat component).
Prosciutto-wrapped Spinach Rolls
20 very thin slices of prosciutto di Parma
brie (approximately 2 oz.)
sliced almonds (approximately 3/4 c.)
one shallot, minced (approximately 2 generous T.)
spinach (approximately 1/3 lb.)
2 T. butter
Salt and pepper
Blanch, drain and chop the spinach, making sure to set 24 whole leaves aside (de-stemmed). Set aside. Roast almond slices. In a non-stick skillet (this is key because spinach is very inclined towards sticking), melt butter and add chopped spinach. Season with salt and pepper and add a hearty squeeze of lemon. Add shallot. After a minute or so (once the shallot has had a chance to start cooking), begin adding the almonds to taste. When you have arrived at a balance that satisfies your palate (as I mentioned in a previous baking post, cooking is pretty experimental for me), remove ingredients from heat and immediately place in a mixing bowl. Add about half of the brie, stirring until completely melted and blended.
Take one of the whole spinach leaves you reserved earlier and place a heaping spoonful of the spinach mixture on top of it. Add an additional dab of brie before placing a second whole spinach leaf on top. Carefully separate a piece of your prosciutto and wrap the entire thing up, making sure to cover the ends so the insides don’t ooze out (the whole spinach leaves should help ensure everything is contained on the top and the bottom). When done, serve immediately with a wedge of lemon. If preparing ahead, I recommend warming these in the oven for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!