Asparagus Spinach Pesto

1 bunch asparagus spears (about 1 lb), trimmed of tough ends and halved crosswise

3 handfuls baby spinach leaves

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 C grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

1 C pine nuts

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping

Juice of ½  lemon

½ t fine-grain sea salt

pinch red pepper or to taste

8 ounces of dried pasta or 12 ounces fresh -linguini, fettuccini

 

Bring 2 pots of water to a rolling boil, one large for the pasta and one medium sized for the asparagus.  While the water is heating, put the pine nuts in a single layer in a large skillet. Heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove pine nuts from pan and set aside. You will use 3/4 cup of the pine nuts for the pesto paste and 1/4 cup to mix in whole.  Salt the asparagus water and drop the spears into the pan. Cook for only 2 or 3 minutes, until the spears are bright green and barely tender. Drain under cool water to stop the cooking. Cut the tips off, and set aside, several of the asparagus (diagonal cut about an inch from the end) to use for garnish.  Add the asparagus, spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup of the pine nuts to a food processor.  Purée and, with the motor running, drizzle in the 1/4 cup of olive oil until a paste forms. If too thick, thin it with a bit of the pasta water. Add the lemon juice and salt, taste and adjust seasoning.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the packet. Remember, you’ll need more time for dried pasta and less for fresh. Drain and toss immediately with 1 cup of the asparagus pesto. Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, a dusting of Parmesan, and a light drizzle of olive oil. Serves 4 to 6.


Fattoush Salad

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2 rounds pita bread (8- to 12-inches)

2-3 T olive oil

½ t sumac

Salt and pepper

 

Salad

2 C shredded romaine lettuce

1 large or 2 small cucumbers, peeled and seeded, diced small

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

5-6 radishes, sliced

½ C parsley leaves, chopped

¼ C mint leaves, chopped

5-6 scallions, chopped

 

Dressing

½ C lemon juice

½ C olive oil

1 t sumac

1/8 t cinnamon (optional)

Sea salt to taste

 

 

Toast the pita bread in your toaster oven until dried and crisp but not browned. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Break the pita into pieces and put into the heated oil. Fry briefly until browned, tossing frequently. Remove from the oil and place on paper towel. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and sumac.

 

In a large mixing bowl, combine the salad ingredients. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette and toss lightly. Lastly, add the pita chips and toss one more time. Serves 4-6.

 


Succotash

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Danielle spent a recent Saturday at the U.S. Botanic Garden teaching visitors about succotash and handing out samples and recipes. A Native American food, succotash finds it’s way on to many Thanksgiving tables and was a staple for families during the Depression. Traditional succotash will often include tomatoes, sweet peppers and bacon. The name originated in Narragansett, and translates from the Algonquin Indian language meaning “broken corn kernels.” Butter beans, or lima beans as they are often referenced, are grown throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Carolinas and harvested in August and September. Corn is cultivated copiously all across the United States, yet Americans are among the few cultures who eat sweet corn on the cob, which also originated with Native American tribes.

 

1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)

1 cup fresh butter beans (or lima)

½  medium-size sweet onion, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup heavy cream

1 Tablespoon fresh chopped dill (or 1 teaspoon dried) – optional

Sea salt and pepper, to taste

 

Cut the kernels off the cobs into a large bowl. In a medium-sized pot, cover the butter beans with water and bring to a low boil. Cook until beans are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. While beans are cooking, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and add the onion. Cook until it becomes fragrant and a bit soft, about 2 minutes. Add the corn and stir well, then add the butter beans. Cook another few minutes until corn is tender and then add the cream. Reduce heat to very low and let the cream soak up into the mixture, add the dill. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 2.

 

 

 

 


Harvest Ratatouille with Bacon

Nothing says Mediterranean more than the classic ratatouille. This spin on an old favorite, amped up with chunks of crispy thick bacon, make it a robust meal.

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1 medium-sized eggplant (about 1½ lbs)

2 T olive oil

3-4 medium zucchini (or yellow squash or both, about 1½lbs), thickly sliced

1½ lbs. tomatoes, skin removed and roughly chopped

1 medium sweet bell pepper, largely diced

1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, chopped

12oz. thick cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T Herbs de Provence

Sea salt and pepper to taste

 

Preheat the oven to 425. Peel strips of the eggplant skin from top to bottom, leaving about an inch between each peel. Cut eggplant into large chunks . (If you prefer to leave the peel on, that’s fine, and likewise, removing it entirely is fine). Transfer the eggplant on to a cookie sheet, salt lightly and drizzle with olive oil. Cover tightly with foil, and bake for 20 minutes.

 

While the eggplant is cooking, heat a Dutch oven (or a large deep skillet) and sauté the bacon until fairly crisp. Transfer pieces to a bowl. If there is more than 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings left in the pan, pour off the excess. Add the onion, garlic and peppers into the Dutch oven. Cook until lightly softened, add the zucchini and Herbs de Provence. Cook the zucchini until it begins to soften, about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil, drop in the tomatoes to release the skin. Rinse immediately in cold water and peel the skin from the tomatoes. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, transfer them to the Dutch oven and cook for about 5 minutes.

 

Remove the eggplant from the oven, add it to the Dutch oven; add the bacon pieces. Let the ratatouille cook together another 20 minutes; adjust the seasoning for salt and pepper. At this point the ratatouille can sit in the Dutch oven off the heat for several hours, allowing the flavors to meld. Serves 6-8.

 

 


Mediterranean Summer Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Figs and Kasseri

Combining thyme and mint in one dish is common throughout Greece and Turkey. Look for the best summer tomatoes you can find, it will make the salad shine. Pomegranate molasses is found in most supermarkets or any middle eastern grocery store.

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1½ lbs heirloom tomatoes, chopped into ½ inch dice (2-3 large)

½ pint (about 8) figs, quartered

1 t fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1 T fresh mint leaves, chopped

¼ C red onion, finely chopped

6 C baby arugula or mixed seasonal greens

1½ C crumbled Kasseri cheese (or Feta)

 

Dressing

Juice of 1 lemon

2 t pomegranate molasses (or good quality balsamic vinegar and 1 T honey)

¼ C olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large serving bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients except the cheese. Whisk together the dressing and pour it over the salad. Toss well. Add the cheese and toss lightly. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

 

Note: make it a main course by adding chunks of cooked chicken.

 


Mediterranean Lentil Salad with Black Olives & Mint

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1 C dried French lentils (lePuy) rinsed well and picked over

1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed

2 bay leaves

¼ t dried oregano

1 cinnamon stick or ¼ t. ground cinnamon

 

Combine the lentils, garlic, oregano, bay leaf and cinnamon in a saucepan and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then cover, lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 20-25 minutes. Drain the lentils well and discard the whole spices.

 

¼ C olive oil

1 T rice vinegar (can substitute apple cider vinegar)

2 T fresh lemon juice, more to taste

1 t lemon zest

½ t ground cumin

Sea salt and pepper to taste

 

In a separate bowl, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin and salt together. Toss the lentils with this vinaigrette and let stand while preparing vegetables.

 

1 red pepper, diced small

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced small

¼ C pitted black olives, sliced in half or quarters (Kalamata or Moroccan)

3 T fresh mint, chopped

½ C (2 ounces)feta cheese, crumbled

 

Add the chopped vegetables to the lentils, stir gently. Adjust seasoning for salt and pepper or fresh lemon juice.


Tomato Salad with Corn, Squash and Roasted Onions

This is a go-to summer best. It travels well so it’s a great one to take along to the potluck invitation. It’s also best eaten within 24 hours.

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2 medium sweet onions

5 T olive oil, divided

Sea salt

1 yellow summer squash

2 ears corn, blanched

2-3 scallions, finely chopped

2 C Sun Gold tomatoes (or other small, sweet tomatoes)

Coarsely ground black pepper

2 t sherry vinegar

1 t honey

10 large basil leaves

 

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel and slice the onions into 1/2-inch rings, and then arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the onions with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt, and smush everything around to coat the onions on both sides. Roast them for about 40 minutes, flipping them over halfway through, until they’re brown and soft. Let the onions cool and then roughly chop them. Set aside.

 

Dice the squash into ¼ inch pieces and put it in a large bowl; you should have about a cup. Strip the kernels from the ears of corn and add them to the bowl with the squash. Finely chop the scallions and add to the bowl. Halve the tomatoes (or quarter them if they’re bigger than a cherry) and add them to the bowl. Add the chopped roasted onions, a tablespoon of olive oil and a few pinches of sea salt and pepper. Stir everything together gently.

 

In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar with the honey; whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir about two-thirds of the dressing into the salad, taste, adding more if you like and adjust for salt and pepper. Roughly chop the basil, stir it into the salad and serve. Serves 6.