Summer Veggie Pasta

Summer Pasta

I went to visit my parents last weekend and came home with a bundle of typical summer veggies from their home garden: zucchini, tomatoes, green beans. This is what I’ve learned about growing zucchini: once it starts producing, you have zucchini to pick nearly every day, and you best pick them when they are medium sized, because if you wait until the next day they’ll be huge. Oh, and huge zucchini are not necessarily better – they are seedy and pithy at the core and better suited to make zucchini boats.

Zucchini wasn’t one of my favorite vegetables growing up – it always seemed to be overcooked and mushy. Unless it was fried. But then everything fried is delicious. Evil and delicious. Eventually I discovered more toothsome preparations for zuchhini, and was finally able to pay attention to it’s flavor. It’s incredible, fresh flavor.

One such preparation was Michael Ruhlman’s Sauteed Zucchini. It makes a fabulous side dish during the summer, when you want something fresh to accompany grilled meats. In fact, it’s so delicious, I wanted it to be a meal all on it’s own, and that’s what we get when we add in the spaghetti. My only complaint was that the minced shallot didn’t swirl up with the rest of the noodles, and were always left at the bottom of my bowl. So I found a way to make onion noodles too.

Summer Pasta
Summer Vegetable Pasta with Zucchini Noodles

Summer Veggie Pasta

Serves 4

Larger zucchini and yellow squash have a lot more seeds at their core, and those seeds will lead to breaks in your squash noodles. Opt for smaller squash, or discard the center seed-filled portions. The veggies don’t take long to cook, so don’t start them until you put your pasta into it’s hot tub. Only boil the pasta as long as the package suggests, and if they are finished before the veggies, drain it and toss with olive oil to keep from sticking (never rinse your pasta).

Ingredients

  • ½ lb. spaghetti or thin spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large carrot
  • ½ red bell pepper
  • 1 lb. zucchini and/or yellow squash (approximately 2 medium)
  • 1 small (or ½ large) red onion
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4-5 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 3 tbsp. good olive oil or butter
  • optional: serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Summer Pasta Prep Work

  1. Start your salted pasta water for the spaghetti.
  2. Use a mandoline to julienne the carrot and squash (discard the seedy core). Slice the bell pepper in long thin strips either manually or with the mandoline. Cut halfway through the onion lengthwise, then slice thinly with the mandoline to create ribbons of onion.
  3. When your pasta water is boiling, add the pasta.
  4. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat with 2 tbsp. olive oil and the minced garlic.
  5. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the carrot, bell pepper, onion and a pinch of salt. Saute until the carrot begins to soften (about 4 minutes) and add the zucchini and cherry tomatoes. Saute 2 minutes more, then add the pasta, drizzle with good olive oil or butter and toss to combine. Season with salt to taste.

Serving Suggestions

This pasta works as either a side or main dish, and shines alongside grilled meats.

Grilled Cauliflower / Grilled Brussels Sprouts

grilled cauliflower

I adore vegetables. My favorites growing up were my mom’s candied carrots and her green beans, and I would easily eat two or three servings. “Eat your vegetables” wasn’t a phrase often directed at me, and the more I learn to cook for myself, the more vegetable varieties I experiment with and add into my repertoire. And when I get to know vegetable-avoiding people, I occasionally take it as a personal challenge to make vegetables for them in a way that will make them go for seconds (and thirds).

These days my go-to starter veggies for new initiates are cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. I know, I know, cauliflower sounds boring, but trust me – it’s so much more than the part of the raw vegetable tray that gets left behind. Cauliflower is an incredibly versatile vegetable, and pairs well with almost anything. But what I really love about cauliflower is how simply and quickly it becomes a dish that converts vegetable-avoiders to vegetable-lovers.

Pan grilled cauliflower on a plate
Pan grilled cauliflower

Oh, and Brussels Sprouts! When I was young, Brussels sprouts seemed to be the vegetable people loved to hate on, but I’ve always liked them – they were like baby cabbages, and my mom seemed to always prepare them that way. But then one day I discovered them grilled, and I don’t know if I’ve prepared them any other way since. Brussels sprouts seem to be very popular lately, and I’m seeing them on menus with exotic preparations involving soy glazes and chili-lime dressings, and while those can be delicious too, you don’t need to go through all that to make them delicious. All you need are olive oil and salt. I once grilled a giant batch for a party we were having, and I think my normally-picky-eating step-daughter ate half the plate by herself. Soon she wanted to (and did) learn to make them herself, and now we eat them at least every other week. She and my husband love the extra charred sprouts, while I relish the slightly crunchy ones. I’m not complaining – I love it!

Pan Grilled Brussels Sprouts
Pan Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Leftovers

Brussels sprouts aren’t very good if they’re even slightly over-cooked, so you probably don’t want to keep any leftovers unless you like them cold. But there is something you can do with leftover grilled cauliflower: Mashed Caulitatoes. But that’s another post (coming soon!).

Mashed Caulitatoes
Mashed Caulitatoes (recipe coming soon)

Grilled Cauliflower / Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Serves 3-4, or more, depending on the size of the head

These can be prepared on the stove top or the grill, and are equally delicious either way. Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts compliment each other well, so if you are looking for additional variety, they can easily be prepared and served together. If you are grilling, prep the vegetables in larger pieces so they don’t fall through the grates; if you are pan grilling, make sure not to overcrowd the pan – prepare in batches if necessary.

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets OR 3-4 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed & halved (leave smaller sprouts whole)
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt

Grill Directions

  1. Prepare your grill for direct grilling over medium to medium-high heat (higher heat – more char).
  2. Drizzle the vegetables with enough olive oil to lightly coat, and toss with a pinch of salt.
  3. Spread the vegetables directly on the grill in an even layer and cook to desired tenderness (approximately 5-10 minutes).
  4. Transfer vegetables to a serving dish and drizzle with olive oil, season to taste, and serve immediately.

Pan Grilling Directions

  1. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add 2-3 tbsp. olive oil and cauliflower or Brussels Sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and crisp edges begin developing. Add additional olive oil, ½ tbsp. at a time, as needed to keep skillet and cauliflower moistened.
  3. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt, transfer to a serving dish, and pour remaining olive oil from the pan (there should only be a tbsp. or so) over the finished vegetables. Serve immediately.

Serving Suggestions

These pair well with just about everything – roast or grilled meats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc. I’m particularly fond of Brussels sprouts with grilled cheddar-Swiss sammies or albacore-Swiss tuna melts.

Guacamole Salad with Mango

guacamole_salad

I don’t usually have chips in the house – I find it’s a good way to keep myself from eating them. But occasionally we have guests, or are guests, and I inadvertently find myself camped out near the snack table. I’m a sucker for crudité platters, particularly the carrots, cucumber, and olives, and especially if the dressing is hummus or a mixture of homemade ranch and blue cheese. But my great love on the snack table is guacamole.

Guacamole is not, for me, a dip for my chip – the chip is a vehicle to transport the most obscene scoop of guacamole I can manage. I still wind up eating way too many chips, and since much of my family is the same way with guacamole, the entire bowl usually disappears within 5-10 minutes.

When I saw this recipe on Barefoot Contessa, it was too good to pass up. I tried it her way, and it’s good, but the avocado looked a little sparse, drowning in the other elements. I was immediately inclined to double the avocado – make it more guacamole-like. The salad was a huge hit. Some ate it like salad, while others ate it like a chunky dip, but everyone raved.

This became my default contribution at house parties. Then one day, someone mentioned it would be lovely with mangoes… and I’ve made it with mangoes ever since. They provide a brightness that accompanies the avocado beautifully.

Leftovers

Sadly, this doesn’t keep that well for too long. You can certainly eat it the next day or so, but the avocados are going to lose their color and will instead be a drab brownish green. So eat up!

Guacamole Salad with Mango

Serves 8-10
Inspired by Ina Garten’s Guacamole Salad
Allowing the red onion, jalapeño, and minced garlic to sit in the lime juice a few minutes allows them to soften a little in texture and flavor, and impart their flavor to the dressing. If you prefer them to have a strong bite, just mix everything together at once. But definitely keep your avos whole until right before serving, else the salad may start browning by the time your guests see it.

Ingredients

  • 2 limes, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup small diced red onion
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded & minced
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and ½-inch diced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 mangoes, peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup good olive oil
  • 4-5 ripe Hass avocados, seeded, peeled, and ½-inch diced

Directions

  1. Whisk together the lime zest, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
  2. Mix red onion, jalapeño, and minced garlic into the lime-spice mixture and let marinade at least 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add grape tomatoes, bell pepper, black beans and mango and pour olive oil over top, and mix vegetables to incorporate well.
  4. When ready to serve, dice and add avocado, mix gently, and season with salt to taste.

Serving Suggestions

This makes an excellent side for carnitas, all Mexican food, and  just about anything grilled (oh, it’s glorious over grilled fish), and doubles as a chunky dip.