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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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Penne with Deconstructed Zucchini Pistou

I came across a recipe recently for a classic Provencial dish, Penne with Zucchini Pistou, and I couldn’t wait to use the zucchini from our garden and make it. I had planned on making this dish last night after we got home from a long day at the studio, but I was so exhausted from all the late nights of work and travel. So, I instead decided I would simplify the dish and deconstruct all the bold flavors from the South of France that were featured in the original recipe and make it my way.

Pistou is to the French what pesto is to Italians, and I really love pesto, so I knew this recipe was a win. The only major thing missing from my recipe that was in the original was 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream, which is also part of the reason I decided to change the recipe up. Since we didn’t have any on hand and I didn’t feel like hitting the grocery store, I decided to skip it. I, of course, made this with gluten-free pasta and I served it with a beautiful green salad, made completely from our garden. This was the first salad of the season and it made me so incredibly happy.

This is a fantastic vegetarian entree or would make a lovely side dish as well. I can’t wait to make it again from the original recipe, heavy cream and all! Yum. Oh and if you are even thinking about leaving the toasted pine nuts out, or skipping the toasting step, you are CRAZY! Those toasted pine nuts make this dish!!

Penne with Deconstructed Zucchini Pistou

Penne with Deconstructed Zucchini Pistou

Penne with Deconstructed Zucchini Pistou
serves 4

8 ounces uncooked organic brown rice penne pasta (or whatever pasta you prefer)
4 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 cups zucchini, sliced and quartered
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped roughly
3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded
2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Boil water with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt in a large sauce pan over high heat, cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain over a bowl and reserve 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid, rinse pasta in hot water, drain. Leave in colander.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add pine nuts and toast until golden brown, tossing often so they don’t burn. Remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

In the same large skillet heat 2 teaspoons of oil, over medium-high heat. Add 2 cloves garlic and zucchini to pan, saute 5-10 minutes until tender and golden. Salt and pepper to taste.

In a large serving bowl, add the pasta, zucchini, pine nuts, chopped basil, the last 2 cloves of minced garlic and 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Toss to combine and mix. Add the cheese to the pasta mixture and slowly add the reserved liquid as needed to coat the pasta and make it creamy. Toss again, salt and pepper to taste and top with a bit more shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

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The mojito is one of my go to summer cocktails. But, as with everything, I love all the variations on the classic. This is one of my favorites and considering we had grabbed some fresh picked strawberries while we were out in the country and my herbs are growing out of control in our yard, this was a no brainer.

I love the sweetness from the strawberries and the spiciness from the basil. It is perfectly light and refreshing, the perfect Springtime twist on an old classic.

Strawberry Basil Mojito
serves 1

5 strawberries, hulled
5 fresh basil leaves
1/2 tablespoon organic pure cane sugar (or 2 oz of simple syrup)
2 oz white rum
ice cubes
club soda

Slice the strawberries and place at the bottom of a tall glass along with the basil leaves. Add sugar or simple syrup and muddle the mixture. Stir in the rum and top with ice. Top off with club soda and garnish with strawberry slices and basil leaves.

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It has been hard to find good pizza crust since I have gone gluten-free, I have found a couple that come close, but most are thin and end up very crispy. I don’t mind that style of crust, but I have just missed a good thick and hearty crust. This was the first time I have ever made gluten-free pizza crust, completely from scratch. This crust was just that, thick, doughy and airy. So good. I came across this recipe in a book called The Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook by Mary Capone. I picked it up at this adorable, locally owned shop in Loveland, Colorado called Granny’s Gluten-Free Zone, I strolled in their randomly looking for this book after my friend Jane told me about it. I wish the crust had a bit more crisp to it, but I also think I probably could have left it in the oven just a few minutes longer, I was just way too excited and didn’t want to over bake it.

This toppings for the Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Pizza are perfect, I have made this so many times. I don’t like a lot of stringy, melty cheese on my pizza, which is how this pizza came about in the first place. The goat cheese gives the perfect the tang, the caramelized onions and shallots add an almost sweet element and of course the tomatoes and basil are a classic combo.

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Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza (Gluten-Free)
Serves 2-3

Gluten-free Pizza Crust

1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp quick-rising yeast
3/4 cup warm water (about 110° F)
3/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp fresh rosemary, basil or oregano (I went with basil and oregano)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease.

In a small bowl, combine warm water, sugar and yeast. Stir until just dissolved. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside in warm are for 10 minutes. Mixture will form a foam head of about 3/4″.

Using your food processor (which is how I did it and it worked surprisingly well), add all dry ingredients: flours, potato starch, xanthan gum and salt, directly into the processor bowl. Blend in the processor, about 1 minute. If using a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients, and whisk together until well combined.

In another small bowl, whisk olive oil, eggs, and vinegar until blended. Add egg mixture and yeast mixture to dry ingredients, mix until combined.

Blend dough in the food processor for 2-3 minutes. Dough will be sticky and soft, it doesn’t seem much like dough at all. Add in the herbs and gently pulse or mix to combine.

Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Dip your hands in water or olive oil and shape the dough into a round shape about 1/4″ thick. Place in a warm, draft-free area and let rise 40 minutes. Dough should double in size.

Brush top with olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of course salt.
This recipe can also be used to make gluten-free focaccia if you spread it to 1″ instead of 1/4″.

Toppings

2 teaspoons olive oil
salt
1 small onion, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, sliced thinly
1/2 cup fresh basil, sliced
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
2 oz mozzarella, shredded
red pepper flakes
fresh parmigiano-reggiano

Preheat the oven to 400° F

Caramelize the onions and shallots. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add the thinly sliced onion and shallots, stir to coat them with oil. Spread the onions and shallots out evenly in the pan, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, sprinkle salt over the onions. Let cook for 20-30 minutes. Stirring as they stick, being careful to not let them burn. If you stir them too often, they will not brown. When they are caramelized, remove the pan from the heat.

Build your pizza. Sprinkle the minced garlic over the oiled pizza crust. Place a thin later of tomatoes on top of the crust, then lay a thin layer of the caramelized onions and shallots down. Sprinkle the fresh basil evenly over the top of that and then evenly sprinkle the shredded mozzarella, you just want a very light layer. Crumble the 2oz of goat cheese evenly over the top and sprinkle on faa pinch or two of dried red pepper flakes.

Bake the pizza. Place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust is a golden brown and the cheese is melted. Cut into 8 wedges. Lightly grate fresh parmigiano-reggiano on top, garnish with fresh basil.

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