kid-friendly · Recipes

Classic Baked Ziti

I dread the onset of winter with its cold, dark, depressing ways, and anyone with little kids can tell you the havoc daylight saving time wreaks on family sleep schedules. We had an oddly warm fall here in New England; it was 70 degrees out Monday, when I started writing this, and as nice as that felt, I’m ready for the casseroles to start showing up again — even if Mother Nature isn’t. I’ve also been ready to dig into hibernation food for months now!

In that spirit, I’ve made this wonderfully simple Baked Ziti a lot this fall, including for potlucks, Sunday dinner, and for friends with new babies.

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This makes the perfect dish for visiting a newborn: it is comforting, filling, and reheats very easily, and can be eaten with one hand while holding a baby. It can also be frozen if your friends don’t have room to eat it right away. As a bonus, little kids like it, too, which is always an implicit goal of any recipe I post! Georgia simply gobbles this up, and it’s one of Mark’s, favorites, too. Win-win.

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This recipe was inspired by Smitten Kitchen with a few adaptations to make it my own.

Cook time: 30 minutes    Serves: 4-6

Classic Baked Ziti

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound ziti, cooked al dente
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning (I like Wildtree)
  • 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a few handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated
  • 2/3 cup finely grated pecorino (or parmesan) cheese
  • fresh basil slivers
  • optional: red pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS

To start, preheat your oven to 400 F.

Heat a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta very al dente, or at least 2 minutes less than the normal cooking time stated on the box. Drain the pasta, reserving half a cup of the cooking water.

Heat a large skillet over  medium and add a swirl of olive oil until warm, then add the meat alongside the onion, garlic, seasonings and a healthy dose of salt and pepper over medium-hihg for up to 8 minutes, or until the beef is browned, stirring often.

Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for five minutes. Add in the reserved pasta water and then the spinach, cooking until milted (maybe another minute or two). Here, I like to add in some fresh basil, slivered, and maybe a couple fresh tomatoes from my garden if I need to use them up.

Stir in the drained pasta and mix together. Pour half into a 9×13 glass baking dish or lasagna pan, and sprinkle with half the two cheeses; repeat with another half of the pasta then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake in the heated oven for 30 minutes or until nice and crispy and browned on the edges. You can even run the dish under the broiler for a minute if you’d like it extra crispy! Enjoy warm.

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NOTES:

  • You can also use Italian sausage, casings removed, if you prefer the taste.
  • To cook al dente, shave 2 minutes off the cook time stated on the package of pasta. Taking care not to overcook is essential for this not turning mushy!
  • Seasoning the ground beef well with salt and pepper is essential; it’s less important if you opt for Italian sausage.
  • I like to serve this with more slivers of fresh basil and, if you have it, fresh ricotta. But that’s totally optional!
  • I have never tried this week meat substitutes, but it’s certainly possible. Other good substitutions to make it vegetarian would be mushrooms, beans, or lentils.

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Stay tuned for my first holiday shopping guides soon, and some inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner! I’m so excited Christmas is right around the corner. I basically live for the holidays once Halloween is over every year 🙂 Have a lovely, cozy weekend.

Blue Apron · Recipes

Tomato Zucchini Quiche

Boy, do I love quiche. Too bad it isn’t the healthiest thing around! What it lacks in fiber it makes up for in protein, however, and for vegetarians this can be a very good thing. Not to mention it’s a simple meal to throw together on a hot night, and if you toss a light salad alongside, you can make it a balanced dinner that’s budget- and family-friendly. I use pre-bought pie crusts when I’m crunched for time, and zucchini and tomatoes from my garden when they’re abundant. Combine that with some ricotta, eggs, and cheese, and you’re only 20 minutes away from yum.

QUICHE (1)

Zucchini & Tomato Quiche

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large, pre-baked pie crust (or 2 mini), store bought or home made
  • 1 zucchini, diced small
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup skim ricotta
  • 1/4 cup fontina cheese, grated or chopped small
  • salt, pepper & olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425. Set the pie crust(s) out on a non-stick baking sheet to come to room temperature.

Small dice the zucchini and quarter the tomatoes. Dice or shred the cheese if it comes in a block. Peel and mince the garlic and smash into a paste using either the side of a knife, a mortar and pestle, or a zester.

In a medium non-stick pan, heat olive oil over medium-high until hot, then add the zucchini and cook, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes or until browned and soft, then add the tomatoes and garlic paste. Stir for a couple minutes or until fragrant, then remove from the heat.

In a medium sized bowl, crack the two eggs and whisk; add the ricotta and whisk again, the add the cooked zucchini and tomatoes, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the pie crust(s) and evenly top with cheese.

Bake the quiches in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the fillings are set. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.

Serve warm, at room temp, or even cold straight from the refrigerator!

Notes: 1/4 cup cheese is about one ounce, or 4 TBSP; you can also just eyeball the amount you’d like based on how heavy you want the dish to be. Add more or less to your health and taste needs, and vary the cheese type if you like something else better. You can also add a little more garlic; I did. Don’t want to overdo it, though.

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This recipe came to me in my Blue Apron delivery. Unlike some of their meals, this featured no hard-to-find ingredients or complex preparation steps, so it was easy for us to replicate. I’ve also made more than a few quiche in my day, but even for newbies it’s a pretty hard dish to mess up! Enjoy and stay cool in this drought-level heat wave.

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kid-friendly · Recipes

BLT Pasta Salad

Hot nights call for cold pasta salad! Here, I’ve taken flavors pretty much everyone loves — that of a BLT sandwich — and modified slightly to use a combo of ranch dressing and barbecue sauce instead of mayonnaise for dressing. It tastes light and sweet, and if you use salad bar bacon bits like I did, it’s actually vegetarian to boot. (Did you know most bacon bits aren’t made of meat? It’s true!) This is a sneaky way to get some vegetables into your kiddo for lunch or dinner, too. Consider it Georgia approved!

BLT PASTA SALAD

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound farfalle (bowtie) pasta, cooked and drained
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup bacon bits, or about half package bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled
  • 1 head of romaine or other lettuce variety, chopped
  • ranch dressing and barbecue sauce to taste
  • pepper, seasoned to taste

DIRECTIONS

Put a pot of pasta on to boil and prep the remaining ingredients: chop the romaine, bake and crumble the bacon (or use bacon bits pre-crumbled from the salad bar, as I did, to save time) and dice the tomatoes. This entire recipe is flexible, so add more or less of any ingredient to your preference.

Cook and drain the pasta until it is al dente, making sure not to over-cook so they don’t turn mushy when mixed into salad. Let cool.

Toss together the tomatoes, bacon, lettuce and pasta in a large bowl, and drizzle ranch dressing to coat, using your judgment as to how heavily dressed you’d like the pasta to be. I would start with about a quarter cup and work upwards from there. Season with pepper and drizzle barbecue sauce over top. Toss once more and serve warm, room temp, or cold right out of the fridge. Will keep very well outdoors for a picnic, potluck or cookout. Enjoy!

BLT pasta salad

Recipe inspired by Life in the Lofthouse.

Baby & Toddler · DIY · Grow Your Own Way

My baby isn’t a baby anymore…

…She’s a gardener!! And a pretty tall one at that. Daddy and G spent their day off together yesterday planting “Georgia’s patch,” the raised-bed garden Mark has been cultivating along the sunny side of our house for the past five years. This year, for the first time, Georgia picked out all the plants, including strawberries, hula berries, tomatoes, basil, peppers, lettuce and zucchini, and helped daddy replace the soil, dig holes, label the chalkboard stakes and mulch it all over. I can’t wait to taste everything they grow together!!

One thing we don’t usually grow but which I love to buy and bake with this time of year is Rhubarb. It should be hitting the farmer’s markets soon!! Every year, I make a tangy/sweet Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble, and this year I am dying to try Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Breakfast Bars, which sound delectable.

And speaking of breakfast and yummy baked goods: there’s a new bakery at the Boston Public Market that I can’t wait to check out. Started by a 22-year-old (!) entrepreneur whose commercial kitchen is based in my ‘hood, Malden, Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery started as a short-term pop-up vendor whose bites were so popular she became the first vendor to convert to a permanent, full-time stall. She sells gluten-free, nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free breads, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, and donuts, and locally sources ingredients such as jam, maple syrup, apple cider syrup, fruit, and veggies from farms like Carr’s Ciderhouse in Hadley, Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth, Brooksby Farm in Peabody, and Russell’s Orchards in Ipswich. Check her out!

photo credit: courtesy // #BostonPublicMarket

 Have a great week everyone 🙂

Blue Apron · kid-friendly · Recipes

Tomato, Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Pie

You might call this too summery, but I say we are in the midst of a warm spell and we might as well eat like it. Soon enough, we’ll be back to chili, soups, stews and risotto, so for now: bite into a tangy tomato, and a seasoned bell pepper, and enjoy the creamy goat cheese floating under this tender crust! Before you know it, the winter foods will be back in rotation, and wouldn’t you like to have this recent memory to sustain you through those days of early nightfall and windy, icy commutes? I thought so.

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This is very easy, but the most critical tip I can share is to assemble the pie right before you put it in the oven. If you put the tomatoes in and let them sit while you prepare the rest of the filling, it will make the crust too soggy to hold together while baking, so it’s critical to prep your ingredients and then put it all together at once before placing into a pre-heated oven. As with most recipes I share involving pie, I use a pre-made, store-bought crust. If you’re looking for a great homemade pie crust recipe, I like this one.

This recipe originally came from my Blue Apron delivery and I’ve recreated it using my own seasonings and garden tomatoes with excellent results. It really is easy and crowd-pleasing, and vegetarian to boot.

Tomato, Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Pie Crust, homemade or store bought pre-made
  • 2 Tomatoes (large beefsteak/heirloom variety)
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • Sweet Peppers (3-4 small ones or one large)
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1 Bunch Basil
  • ½ Cup Crumbled Goat Cheese (or more if you really love it!)
  • 1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar (or sub another kind you prefer)
  • ½ Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • ¼ Cup Panko Breadcrumbs
  • 1½ TBSP Spice Blend: equal parts Flour, Mustard Powder & Dried Thyme

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Peel and mince the garlic (I used a garlic press). Cut out and discard the stem, ribs and seeds of the sweet pepper and thinly slice them into rings. Chop the onion. Cut the tomatoes into ¼-inch-thick slices. Pick the basil leaves off the stems and discard the stems.

In a medium pan, heat some olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the garlic, onion and sweet pepper; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 4 minutes, or until softened and fragrant. Stir in the vinegar; cook, stirring frequently, about a minute or until well combined. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Next, make the breadcrumb topping: while the onion and pepper cook, combine the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs in a small bowl, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in enough olive oil to moisten the mixture slightly.

Layer half the tomatoes onto the bottom of the pie crust in an overlapping pattern; season with salt and pepper. Top with the cooked onion and sweet pepper, half the spice blend, half the goat cheese and the basil; drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes, spice blend and goat cheese.

Evenly top the assembled pie with the breadcrumb topping; season with salt and pepper.

Place the topped pie on a sheet pan. Bake, turning halfway through, 20 to 22 minutes, or until the topping and crust are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Eat all in one sitting with a glass of white wine!

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Other things you can try if the crust comes out soggy: either pre-bake it for a couple minutes on low heat, then proceed with the recipe as usual; or, you can move it lower in your oven and thus closer to the heat source, which may solve the problem. Other solutions might include pricking the bottom of the pie with a tooth pick before baking, and/or lining the bottom of the crust with Parmesan before you add the tomatoes. If you pre-bake and are concerned about the top getting over browned, you can always cover that part with foil while it’s cooking, and it should prevent burning. But again, I didn’t have any issues with sogginess, I just noticed it was a common complaint about this recipe on the Blue Apron Facebook page.

The last piece of advice I would give is something that Blue Apron has taught me, which I must admit has improved all of my cooking: seasoning with salt and pepper throughout the preparation of any dish is essential to making sure it’s fully flavored at the end. You don’t have to be too heavy-handed with it, you just have to keep the seasonings coming at each step of the recipe. That’s definitely true of this pie as well!

Good luck, have fun cooking, and tell me how you’re getting ready for Thanksgiving! I’m cooking a turkey for the first time this year, for our community’s “Don’t Be Alone on Thanksgiving” event, which feeds over 900 people on Thanksgiving each year. Some come in person for the meal at our local high school, while families in shelters and elderly or disabled shut-ins have a meal delivered to their home. I’m using this helpful guide for first timers, although Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) also has an excellent one. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Something tells me cooking the bird will pale in complexity against actually delivering the darn thing to the proper location with a rambunctious two-year-old in tow! 🙂

kid-friendly · Recipes · Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Casserole

Thanks to Dizzy Busy and Hungry (boy if that isn’t an apt name) for inspiring this recipe! I’m always on the hunt for crock pot ideas, since I really only have two go-to recipes — Brown Sugar Kielbasa, and Creamy Chicken Curry — and since they make such large portions, I can only use them here and there or risk revolt from the troops. This one has been a great addition to my repertoire and with minimal prep, I can get it ready all before work and then time it to be done as we walk in the door from daycare pickup.

Ground meat is notoriously hard to photograph in an attractive manner, but I did my best here because this was easy and tasty and I really hope you try it! I used ground turkey, but you can absolutely go with beef instead. 

Since the recipe only calls for half a box of macaroni, I opted to boil the entire container and then use the other half to make scratch mac n’ cheese. I just threw in some butter and milk, added Wildtree mac n’ cheese mix and some shredded organic cheddar from the fridge, melted it in the same pan I used to boil the pasta, then topped it with bread crumbs and popped it under the broiler for less than two minutes. Voila: two different dinners for the price of one.

Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Casserole

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 ounces (half a box) whole grain or fiber-enriched elbow macaroni
  • 1 pound ground turkey (I used 80/20 lean)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 24 oz. frozen veggies with cheese sauce (I used Target brand; any will do)
  • ¾ cup low-fat shredded cheddar
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped (I actually used 4 or 5 roma, chopped)
  • 2-3 pickles, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 TBSP ketchup, plus however much more you’d like on top

DIRECTIONS 

Cook the pasta until just becoming tender (about 5 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Mix the turkey, ketchup, and onion in a large bowl. Add the frozen veggies and cheese sauce, shredded cheddar and pasta, and mix until combined.

Place the entire mixture into the your crock pot and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 8-9 hours.

Serve with chopped tomatoes and pickles on top, plus a little extra shredded cheese!

Options: You can of course make this with ground beef instead of turkey. Turkey is healthier but tastes less “juicy” than beef does, which in turn makes this taste more like a turkey-burger casserole instead of a true cheeseburger casserole.

This recipe originally ran on Hungry Girl, which calls specifically for frozen cauliflower with cheese sauce as the veggie. Mark hates cauliflower so I subbed carrots and broccoli and it tasted just as good; go with whatever you prefer and can find at the store.

As for toppings, just pick whatever you would put on a burger! So obvious picks are pickles, tomatoes, cheese, ketchup and onions, but you can also shred some lettuce, or barbecue sauce, cilantro, hot sauce, honey mustard, or mayo — there are endless possibilities. Next time, I’m hoping to try some caramelized onions, or maybe pan-fried shallots with a flour coating, or perhaps even some jalapeno slices or a pepper jack cheese.

The great thing about this recipe is that it conveniently ‘hides’ a lot of veggies, which is something I said I’d never resort to with my child, but lo and behold here I am.

I really hope your family enjoys this one. It reheats extremely well and makes good use of late-summer/early fall tomatoes. (Although we still have so many that I’m doing this on Saturday to preserve them for sauce all winter!) And, of course, the best part is that casseroles travel very well to daycare and preschool, and the texture of this makes for very toddler-friendly eating. Plus, what kid doesn’t like cheese and ketchup??

Have a great rest of the week everyone, and if you have good slow cooker recipes to share, tell me in the comments below!

Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Garden-Fresh Tomato Sauce

Georgia’s party was this past weekend! The weather was gorgeous, the party was a success, and mama is tired. This is a recipe I made last week, while trying to use up even more of our garden tomatoes, which are ripening at the rate of dozens per day (!!) I like a chunky sauce but in this heat I don’t want to simmer it for hours, so I use a base to get me started, then just add tomatoes, fresh basil and seasonings. This time, I decided to see how shallots in butter would taste as a foundation for a quick summer tomato sauce, and I really liked the way it turned out. Here’s the recipe!

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I chose to make it with frozen turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s mixed into the sauce, with a side salad featuring additional tomatoes from our garden. Greens were just one head of romaine that I picked up at a sidewalk stand on my way home. The pasta pictured is penne, but you can use anything.

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Garden-Fresh Tomato Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 12-oz. (1 lb) can of crushed tomatoes as a base
  • 1 package frozen meatballs (or fresh) if using, such as Trader Joe’s
  • Handful of fresh basil, quantity to your taste, torn into smaller pieces (with stems removed)
  • 1 shallot, peeled and diced, then soaked in water for at least 5 minutes
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • ~ half a dozen fresh tomatoes, sliced and seeds removed (scrape out with a spoon)
  • salt, pepper and any other seasonings to taste

DIRECTIONS

Place the frozen meatballs in a medium sauce pan if you are making this sauce with them included, then pour in the entire can of crushed tomatoes and heat over medium-low, covered, while you chop the tomatoes from your garden, farmer’s market or CSA. I used between 5 and 6 smaller tomatoes, but eyeball it. You always want to have more sauce than not enough.

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Roughly dice your shallot and let it rest in a cup of water that just covers it (yes, I used a baby food bowl!) which helps them to get a little less sharp. In a small skillet, heat a tablespoon (approximately) of butter (or your choice of a substitute spread, such as Smart Balance) over medium-low until melted. Add the shallot to the butter and cook for a few minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper, until translucent. Turn off the heat.

While the can of crushed tomatoes and meatballs simmer, add any seasonings to the  sauce pan and keep covered over low while you boil water to cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse under cold water so it stops cooking.

Add the shallots (including the butter) and freshly-torn basil to the sauce. Season with salt, pepper, and your choice of other spices such as garlic powder, oregano, sugar, etc. I used a hearty Italian-style blend. Cover again and let simmer a little while longer. If the sauce looks too thick, add a splash of water or olive oil; if it looks too watery/thin or there isn’t enough, you can do what I did — throw in some leftover pizza sauce, which I always keep on hand — or add more garden tomatoes to bulk it up. Really, this is a very flexible recipe and you can sort of play it by ear!

I like to add in some more freshly shredded basil right at the end, and then more on top of the plate when I serve it. But I REALLY like basil, and there is a LOT in Mark’s garden right now. Pretty much, once the meatballs are cooked through (aka fork tender), this is ready to eat! I don’t mix the pasta and sauce together in one pan, but rather plate the penne and pour some sauce and meatballs over it, and finish with my side of salad. As Georgia says, “deeee-licious!”

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Basil: It goes with everything.

You can serve this however you like, with or without a side, and I’d bet you could also add meat to the sauce as well if you wanted to brown some sausage or ground beef up with the shallot. I almost threw in some roasted eggplant, too, but it was so hot I didn’t really want to put on the oven to bake it. Penne was great but any pasta you prefer will do just fine! This came out tasting like I’d simmered it for hours, when in reality it is done as soon as the fresh tomatoes have broken down to your liking. The longer you cook it the more they will fall apart and liquify, but they taste good no matter how chunky you leave them. I myself prefer them to hold a little bit of form. I also added my favorite spaghetti sauce seasoning, the organic blend from Wildtree, which added so much flavor.

I hope you like this! Party photos and recap coming soon! 

I can’t believe we have a two year old…this feels like just yesterday (although this doesn’t). Here she is on her birthday, at two minutes, one year, and two:

 

Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Ladies and gentlemen, we have tomatoes! (+ caprese salad)

After all that midnight watering, Mark’s garden is peaking right now, with basil, eggplant, and — most excitingly — tomatoes simply bursting all of a sudden!

and they are irresistible, just like someone else we know…

 

“mommy, a-mate-o’s!”Must be the new gardener we brought on board.

 Abundant tomatoes = caprese every night!

and, because I’m being so good by having salad, buttered bread alongside.

 

My mind was blown when I realized that supermarkets now sell pre-sliced fresh mozzarella balls (!!) which cuts the prep time for this salad down to almost nothing.

To assemble: layer sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil (whole leafs or shredded; it’s just a matter of how you like it) in a plate and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then season lightly with pepper and salt. Want to get a tad fancier? Make a balsamic reduction by simmering the vinegar in a pan with some honey for about ten minutes until it turns syrupy. A good rule of thumb is 4:1 balsamic and honey to make a tasty reduction, so for example you could use 1 cup vinegar with 1/4 cup honey and have some left over. Or, you can just buy balsamic reduction 🙂 This salad is served as a main dish for lunch in Italy or as a starter at dinner, not as a side as we usually serve salads in America. Some recipes omit the balsamic altogether, keeping only the olive oil, and some add only pepper, not salt. Its colors are meant to evoke the Italian flag and you can find this on the menu almost everywhere in Italy, because it’s so filling and healthy. As with most fresh recipes, the better ingredients you can find (freshly cracked pepper, good olive oil, heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella), the tastier this will be.

Fantastico! Happy eating!

Recipes

Skillet Gnocchi with Sausage and Tomatoes

Hi everyone! What a whirlwind couple of weeks. I was off for half of last week planning the Georgia Peach party — photos coming soon! — and having fun in Boston with visiting family. Now, Georgia has had the stomach flu for two days straight, and Mark and I have been alternating staying home with her…and next week we will be flying to Myrtle Beach for vacation with Gramps and Nan! So here’s a quick and easy recipe I tried and loved recently. It’s perfect for using up all those late summer tomatoes and extra basil from the garden. Enjoy!

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This recipe inspiration comes via thekitchn.com.

Skillet Gnocchi with Sausage & Tomatoes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. gnocchi
  • 1 package chicken sausage, any flavor, sliced into coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • a handful or two of fresh basil, julienned
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

First, heat a medium size pot of water to boiling and cook the gnocchi for two or three minutes, then drain; toss with olive oil in a room-temp bowl and set aside.

In a large cast-iron skillet (or dutch oven, like my Le Creuset), heat a light drizzle of olive oil over medium. Add the sausage and cook over for a few minutes or until they start to brown. Push the sausage to the side in the skillet and turn the heat up to high.

With the skillet very hot, add the tomatoes face down, cramming if you have to. Cook for a couple of minutes or until they are blistered.

Stir in the sausage. Cook for a few more minutes or until the sausage and tomatoes are both browned. Finally, add in the gnocchi and stir until just combined but before the tomatoes have broken down.

Remove from the skillet and stir in the basil strips. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

TIPS

  • You can use a non-stick or other type of skillet, but you won’t achieve the same browning effect as cast iron.
  • You can use any type of sausage you like, including spicier varieties or even imitation sausage links to make this vegetarian-friendly. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carry great options for meat-free “sausage” links.
  • I love making this as colorful as possible by grabbing orange and yellow tomatoes, if you can find them.
  • Don’t let the tomatoes cook too long or you’ll very quickly find that you have a sauce instead! You want to take them off the heat just before this happens.
  • Be careful not to heat the cast iron skillet too high at the outset. The cardinal rule of cast iron is that it heats up VERY fast, and is very difficult to cool down from there. ‘Medium’ on cast iron is probably going to feel like ‘high heat’ on nonstick.
  • I wouldn’t personally add cheese to this, but you can if you want!
  • Heats up well as leftovers, and tastes great with Pinot Grigio on a hot night 🙂

PSST — speaking of pasta, tomatoes and basil! — a new book I’m excited about just got released for pre-order. I already love Chloe’s Kitchen, so why wouldn’t I race to grab Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen? She’s the inspiration for my creamy Vegan Pesto, Vegan Spinach and Artichoke Dip, and more. Even if you aren’t vegan, her recipes are always simple and fun, and great for adapting your favorite guilty recipes to be lower calorie as well as safe for friends with lactose intolerance.

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Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Recipes

Homemade Salsa

Just in time for March Madness! Make enough to get you from the Sweet Sixteen to the Final Four, and you won’t be sorry. Here’s what you need:

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Tomatoes, canned jalapenos, fresh cilantro, and — my secret ingredient, cribbed from The Pioneer Woman’s salsa — two cans of Rotel. Here’s her original post, where she also makes some killer nachos. This fresh salsa is awesome with heirloom tomatoes from your garden or the farmer’s market, but regular old supermarket tomatoes will do just fine, too.

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Homemade Salsa

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups tomatoes (about 3 heirloom) or 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 2 cans (10 oz) Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies, mild or medium
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • jalapenos to taste (start with a few slices and add if needed)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • juice of 1 lime

Directions

Using a large food processor or blender, combine all the ingredients until you get the consistency you desire. I err on the side of chunky and not smooth. Test the seasonings, refrigerate for an hour and serve! This makes a pretty good-sized batch, so you can definitely bring plenty to a party and still have leftovers (or, if you have a huge family, just eat it all at one sitting).

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I used this handy guide to figure out how many garden tomatoes would give me the same quantity as a 28 oz. jar of the whole canned variety (the answer: about 2 1/2 cups). So if you have no choice but to sub in the canned kind, that’s the size you want to grab.

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This salsa has a satisfying smooth yet chunky texture with a tiny bit of heat, but not too much. In my opinion the fresh cilantro really makes it, but you can certainly adjust to your preference if cilantro isn’t really your thing!

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***IMPORTANT!!!*** If you are considering canning your salsa, please consult a guide such as the Ball Canning Book or a reputable reference for proper food preservation — this website is a good place to start — because you can’t just take any old salsa recipe and throw it in a hot water bath to preserve it long-term. There are USDA guidelines over the ratio of acidic foods to alkaline ingredients to prevent spoilage and growth of dangerous bacteria. Unless you are using a pressure canner, please be very careful while canning salsa or similar sauces! Mine are pictured in Mason jars because I gave them out as gifts the day after I made them, so they’re safe to keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks.

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Want to learn how to make jam? Check out my how-to guide for fruit preserves.