Archive for May, 2011

Creamy Asparagus, Potato and Leek Soup

We just got back from a week-long vacation (yes, an actual vacation, no working, just vacation) on South Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico. We spent the week on the beach, enjoying each other’s company, celebrating our 4-year wedding anniversary and just relaxing. It was much-needed and absolutely perfect. After a long, busy and very cold winter we both needed some time to do nothing and we definitely needed the sunshine and hot temps. It was also nice to enjoy some summer-esque cocktails and meals, too. There really is nothing like eating fresh gulf shrimp at a beach bar that overlooks the beautiful, crystal blue gulf; cocktail in hand, slathered in sunscreen, wearing a sundress and sandals – all with the person you love most. I am already missing and craving that feeling. However, like many good things, the trip had to come to an end and we had to come back home to life and all of the craziness. Unfortunately, this also meant coming home to cool, almost autumn-like weather. You’d never guess it by looking out the window or feeling the cold breeze, that it is actually spring here in Buffalo.

The temperatures have been in the 40s and 50s and rainy since we got home and I am not sure the sun has shown it’s face once. Strangely, all I have wanted since we got off the plane was hot soup, but I really wanted to take advantage of the beautiful spring produce showing up at the market. I decided to make a big pot of this delicious and creamy spring soup with a gorgeous spring salad on the side. I actually doubled this recipe since I knew life would be a bit crazy (and cold and rainy) this week and it would be perfect for leftovers. This soup was exactly what my body and mind both wanted, hot and creamy, light, healthy and green! It is hard to believe this soup is naturally vegan, it is so creamy, achieved from the potatoes instead of dairy. Topped with spicy dried red pepper flakes, bright green chives from our yard and a drizzle of some really good olive oil, it was absolute nutrient-filled perfection.

We leave for NYC next week for work, hopefully before we go I will both get to the farmers market and the weather will warm up a bit so I can start posting even more spring dishes. Do you have any favorite spring recipes?

Creamy Asparagus, Potato and Leek Soup
serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion, diced
1 large leek, rinsed very well, slice thinly white and light green parts only*
1 pound organic asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 pound organic russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
4-5 cups low sodium organic vegetable broth or low sodium organic chicken broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
Bunch of fresh chives, sliced thin
Additional high quality olive oil to drizzle over top
If you wish the soup to be even creamier you can add in 1/4 cup of greek yogurt (or half and half or heavy cream) just before pureeing

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onions and leeks and cook, covered, until they are soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add in the asparagus and potatoes and cook another 5-8 minutes. Add the broth, herbs and crushed red pepper. Simmer until the potatoes and asparagus are soft, about 15 minutes. If you notice that there isn’t enough liquid you can add water to the broth so it doesn’t get too thick when you puree it.

Ladle the soup into a blender and puree until smooth (be sure not to blend too much soup at once and put a towel over the lid when you are blending so the hot soup doesn’t explode out). Add the pureed soup to a large bowl. Continue blending the whole pot of soup in batches, until it has all been blended. Add the soup back to your pot, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, serve immediately topped with a sprinkle of both red pepper flakes and freshly chopped chives. Drizzle with a high-quality olive oil.

* a quick note on cleaning leeks: leeks tend to have a lot of dirt and grit in them. If you aren’t careful when cleaning them, you may think they are totally clean, start cooking with them and find your entire dish has a nasty grittiness to it. This can ruin a dish. After trimming off the ends (called the beards) and the dark green tops (save these for stocks). You can run them under cold water at this point, or even better, you can submerge the leeks in a large pot of cold water. Swirl them around to really remove all the grit and dirt. Drain well and then cut.

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Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

It  is no secret that I love pasta. More than your regular ‘ol pasta dish made on the stove top, what I love most is a good and hearty, baked pasta dish. There is something so comforting about baked pasta, I am sure it has a bit to do with the extra cheesiness (aka fat and calories), but either way it’s always good. This particular recipe really caught my eye because though it’s traditional in concept, the ingredients are a bit unique. Although I know eggplant isn’t in season, ironically throughout the winter when I looked for it, it either wasn’t in stock or didn’t look very good. This past grocery trip was the first time I saw it there and looking good, in a while.

Loaded with veggies (yes, this does offset the cheese and heavy cream) and full of flavor, this baked pasta really is a meal all in itself. The fresh basil brings a wonderful bright taste to the dish and the fresh mozzarella is creamy and melty but not too over the top. The original recipe called for a whole pound of cheese, but as I was adding the cubes of cheese, I realized that by the time I got to 3/4 of a pound it was more than enough. The pine nut crunch on top is quite the finishing move, it basically tastes like pesto without the oil. It was so good and crunchy, that I think next time I make this I will actually make a bit more of that.

As stated in the recipe below, if you are concerned about fat and calories from the heavy cream (though I don’t think you should be, each serving will have barely 2 tablespoons), you could either go with half and half or whole milk or just hit a few extra yoga classes and enjoy your life. I made this over a weekend for nice dinner and we enjoyed for meals throughout the week, I love dishes like that.

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch (Gluten-free)
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine, March 2011
Serves 8

1 unpeeled large (or 2 small) eggplant (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch squares (I used one yellow and one orange)
2 cups organic grape tomatoes
3 large garlic cloves, divided
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups (firmly packed) fresh basil leaves, divided
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 28-ounce can organic whole tomatoes in juice
1 cup organic heavy whipping cream (you can use less, use half and half or milk if you are concerned about fat and calories)
1 pound organic gluten-free brown rice pasta
3/4 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place eggplant and peppers on a large rimmed baking sheet. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise; add to sheet. Using garlic press, squeeze 1 garlic clove onto vegetables. Drizzle vegetables with olive oil; toss. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender, stirring often, 35 to 45 minutes.

Combine 2/3 cup basil, 1/2 cup Parmesan, pine nuts, and 1 garlic clove in the food processor. Blend until crumbly. Season topping with salt and set aside.
Blend tomatoes with juice, cream, 1 1/3 cups basil, and 1 garlic clove in processor until smooth. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water according to package directions. Only cook until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally; drain. Return to pot or a large bowl. Toss with vegetables, sauce, and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Transfer to 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with fresh mozzarella and pine nut topping.
Bake pasta until heated through, 25 to 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes and serve.

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

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