Fresh tomato and blue cheese pasta

Cherry tomatoes from Martha's Farm

The farmers markets are currently bursting with tomatoes of all sizes and varieties, from big fat beefsteaks to pints of colorful cherry tomatoes. One of my favorite ways to use up a surplus of tomatoes is with a recipe I call “squish.” Or, if you prefer the more appetizing name, “fresh tomato and blue cheese pasta.” I love this dish because it highlights the fresh vibrant taste of raw tomatoes and it’s incredibly quick to make. The only cooking involved is boiling water for the pasta.

The sauce for this pasta uses only four ingredients: Tomatoes, as much blue cheese as you can stand, fresh basil and olive oil.

Blue Cheese

I usually use cherry tomatoes that I cut in half, although I’ve used larger tomatoes cut into smaller pieces as well. Once all the tomatoes are cut and placed in a large bowl, I use my hands (cleansed with handmade soap, of course) to squish all the amazing juice out of them. I don’t fuss with straining seeds or peeling off the skins or cooking the tomatoes down. On a busy weeknight, who has time? Plus, I love having nice chunks of raw tomatoes mixed in with the warm pasta and creamy blue cheese.

Once I’m satisfied with the amount of tomato juice at the bottom of the bowl, I drizzle in some olive oil and stir in crumbled blue cheese. (If you hate blue cheese, I’m not sure why you are reading this but in case you are still here, I think goat cheese would be equally wonderful.) Add some freshly chopped basil and Bob’s your uncle, you’re done with the sauce. It’ll look a little lumpy and, well, raw. But don’t fret, it’s about to be transformed.

Here’s the important part. Do not drain the pasta when it’s ready. Instead, use a pasta scoop to carefully transfer the pasta from the water, directly into the bowl of tomatoes. The heat from the pasta melts the blue cheese and the little bit of water that gets transferred with the pasta helps make the sauce creamy. Once you’ve transferred all of the pasta, give everything a good stir so the pasta is coated with cheesy, juicy goodness. If you feel the sauce is too dry, add a bit of the cooking water from the pot and stir again. If you seem to have a lot of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, use a spoon to drizzle it over individual servings.

Fresh tomato and blue cheese pasta

This recipe serves about 2 people and on the rare occasion that we have leftovers it reheats well.

Fresh tomato and blue cheese pasta (a.k.a. Squish)

The measurements below are a starting point. If you want more tomatoes, add them. If you want less cheese, use less. Want it to be a bit tangy? Add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. There are a lot of ways to tweak this recipe and make it your own. 

12 oz fresh cherry tomatoes (or any kind of tomato you have on hand)

4 oz container of crumbled blue cheese

3 tbsp olive oil

Chopped basil to taste

2 servings of angel hair pasta

Cook the angel hair pasta according to package directions.

As the pasta cooks, roughly chop the tomatoes. Place tomatoes in a large bowl and squish them with your hands until you have a nice puddle of juice at the bottom of the bowl. Add olive oil, blue cheese and basil and stir well.

When the pasta has cooked, use a pasta scoop to transfer pasta to the bowl of tomatoes. Stir until pasta is well coated. If needed, add a small amount of the pasta cooking water to make the sauce more creamy.

Serve immediately.

Tarragon, parsley and sunflower seed pesto

TARRAGON PESTO

 

A few years ago, I decided to plant a herb garden and one of the herbs I planted was tarragon. I love the way it smells and I have fond memories of a tarragon and red wine vinegar salad dressing my mother used to make. When I planted it, I had grand ideas for recreating that dressing. Sadly, I’ve never been able to duplicate it.

Every year my tarragon plant survives our harsh Cleveland winter and grows back bigger and better than the year before but I haven’t really put the herb to good use in my cooking. This year, all that changed when I stumbled upon the idea of using it for pesto.

I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical at first. Tarragon has a strong, anise-like flavor that can be extremely overpowering so highlighting it in a pesto seemed risky. As I researched different recipes, a common theme was to cut the tarragon with an equal amount of parsley, which has a fresh, bright flavor.

The result was surprisingly delightful. (Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take pictures but it looked like pesto.) Blending up the tarragon with the other ingredients helped to mellow out the flavor, while still giving a slight anise note. Since tarragon is part of the sunflower family I used sunflower seeds instead of traditional (and expensive) pine nuts and they gave it a nice nutty texture. You’ll notice the recipe doesn’t include garlic, which seems like blasphemy when talking about a pesto recipe. I left it out for fear of having too many strong flavors but I think you could add a clove or two and still have a wonderful dish.

Tarragon, parsley & sunflower seed pesto

1/2 cup tightly packed fresh tarragon

1/2 cup tightly packed parsley

4 tbsp sunflower seeds

2 tsp lemon juice

6 tbsp olive oil

Add the first 4 ingredients to a food processor or blender. Start blending on a low speed and gradually add the olive oil until the pesto is a creamy consistency. You may need more or less olive oil, depending on the consistency you’re going for. If needed, increase the mixing speed to fully incorporate the ingredients.

Just like any other pesto, you can serve this immediately on pasta, as a spread for bruschetta or as a fancy homemade pizza sauce. It also freezes very well. I plan to use my left-over pesto the next time I make my quick and easy pesto salad.

Have you tried making pesto with something other than basil? Share your experiments in the comments. I’m always looking for new recipes!

 

Decadent (and healthy) chocolate smoothie recipe

Healthy chocolate smoothie

Image credit: 2013-06-13 11.33.30, by griotsnet on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

I’ve been on a green smoothie kick for two months now and I love it. Having my smoothie every morning has become a vital part of my day. I can’t wait for that first delicious sip and I’m craving (and eating) more fresh and healthy foods.

Sometimes, though, I still crave chocolate. Chocolate cake? Yes, please. Chocolate chip cookies? I’d steal one out of Cookie Monster’s mouth. And because I know I’m weak, I try not to have these things in my house to tempt me. So, when I found out that I could make a smoothie that is the healthy equivalent of a chocolate milkshake, I was all in.

Eating healthy is wonderful but it’s even better when it tastes like you are eating something sinful!

Decadent Chocolate Smoothie

2 servings.

1 cup spinach

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (almond, cashew and soy milks also work well)

1 banana

1 tablespoon almond butter

1 tablespoon 100% unsweetened cacao powder (it’s in the baking aisle)

1/2 teaspoon ground ceylon cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg

Add all ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth and enjoy!

Break out of the pumpkin rut with 4 unique winter squash recipes

Winter squashImage credit: A bit of squash by Ruth Hartnup, on Flickr. CC by 2.0.

You know by now that autumn is the season for all things pumpkin. It’s in everything from coffee to cereal to dog treats. (Really, dogs? You too?) I even saw pumpkin pie spiced Pringles in my local grocery store. (You took it too far, Pringles. You took it too far.)

With all the pumpkin hype, it’s easy to forget that the winter squash family is full of equally delicious, healthy and versatile options. From acorn to butternut to carnival, there’s a squash for every taste and every meal. I think I’ll stock up on squash at my local farmer’s market this weekend and try some of these unique recipes!

  • Butternut squaffles – Looking to sneak more vegetables into your kids? Hide it in waffles! They don’t have to know their delicious breakfast treat is good for them. 
  • Warming winter squash soup – There’s nothing better than soup for lunch when the weather turns cool. This might become my new go-to lunch soup. (Sorry, creamy mushroom soup. I still love you, too.)
  • Acorn squash with chile-lime vinaigrette – This is my all-time favorite acorn squash recipe. It’s easy to make and full of complex flavors. 
  • Vegan pumpkin pie hot chocolate – For all of the pumpkin lovers, I had to include this amazing hot chocolate. Relax around the fire pit with your family and friends and sip this delicious treat.

What’s your favorite winter squash recipe? I’m always looking for suggestions. Leave them in the comments or take part in the discussion happening on Facebook.

Celebrate apple season with 3 delicious recipes

IMG_3105

The leaves are starting to turn and the weather is cooling down here in Ohio. Fall is upon us and with it comes apple season! I’ve been an apple lover my entire life. As a kid, we used to go to an apple orchard near Mansfield called Apple Hill Orchards. There was nothing like munching on fresh picked apples in the back seat of the car on the drive home.

Occasionally, I’ll make the trek down to mid-Ohio just to get a gallon of their unpasteurized apple cider. The best part of the visit is filling my own jug from one of their spigots while dodging the ever-present bees and wasps that are trying to get a quick taste of the sweet juice. I’ve had a lot of cider in my life and none of it has ever come close to the complex flavor of Apple Hill’s cider. It’s a dark and cloudy cider with a tangy yet sweet taste. It’s pure unadulterated apple goodness!

Closer to home, I love going to Patterson’s Fruit Farm in Chesterland. I begin stalking their website in August to find out when their Honeycrisp apples will be available. This year, I noticed that they’re selling huge bags of “ugly” apples and I’ve been thinking about buying a bag. But, before I do, I need to form a plan for using them so I’ve been looking around for ways to use up a large quantity of apples.

Here are a few ideas I found:

How do you celebrate apple season? Share your ideas in the comments section or on our Facebook page. 

3 mouthwatering tomato recipes

Cherry tomatoes on the vine

Normally, late August is the time to lament the end of tomato season in my garden. But thanks to a late start to summer this year, my tomato plants are just now starting to produce. This past week, I ate my weight in cherry tomatoes. I’m a “pluck it off the plant and pop it in my mouth” kind of tomato eater but sometimes a few lucky tomatoes actually make into my house. When that happens, I like to try delicious ways to incorporate them into dinner.

There are around a eleventy billion tomato recipes floating around the internet and, while most of them are OK, they often lack the wow factor that homegrown tomatoes deserve. So, when I’m looking to cook up a delicious and easy meal with my homegrown beauties, I turn to one place: The Smitten Kitchen blog. It’s clear that Deb Perelman, the mastermind behind the blog, has a deep love for tomatoes. Search for the word tomato in her blog and you get around 2000 results. For me, three of those recipes stand out from all the rest. If you are dealing with a bumper crop of tomatoes this year, try one of these recipes. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

  • Scalloped tomatoes with croutons – This is, without a doubt, the best thing I have ever eaten. And to think, I almost let my phobia of wet bread stop me from trying it. The trick for me is spreading the mixture out in a thin layer in a large casserole dish so the croutons dry out while baking. Do not skip the poached egg! 
  • Mediterranean baked feta with tomatoes – You can use any feta with this recipe, but I recommend treating yourself to a high quality hunk of the salty Greek treat. You won’t regret it.
  • Roasted tomatoes and cipollini – Simple ingredients and easy to make, this dish packs a huge amount of flavor. I serve mine over black beans.

Now, please excuse me while I run out to the local Greek store for feta. In the meantime, feel free to share your favorite way to use homegrown tomatoes.

Garlic scape, basil and almond pesto

Garlic scape and basil pesto

Garlic scape, basil and almond pesto on Instagram

If you follow Emmet Street Creations on Instagram, you know that I have been somewhat obsessed by a culinary delight known as a garlic scape. Last fall, I planted around 30 cloves of hard neck garlic in my garden for the sole purpose of harvesting the scape.

The garlic scape is the flower that grows from the bulb of hard neck varieties of garlic. As it grows, it forms a graceful curl.

Harvesting the scape allows the plant to put its energy into growing the bulb. The scape has a very mild garlic flavor and can be used in any way that garlic can be used. I’ve roasted them whole with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, diced them to add flavor to roasted asparagus and I’ve frozen a bunch for future use.

So far, my favorite way to use them is in pesto. You can make pesto with only the garlic scape, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan. But, I love basil pesto so I incorporated basil as well. For a twist, I used almonds instead of pine nuts.

Garlic scape and basil pesto

10 to 12 garlic scapes, roughly chopped with the bulb removed

1 cup tightly packed basil leaves

1 cup chopped almonds

1 cup parmesan cheese

1/2  to 1 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Add the first 4 ingredients to a food processor or blender. (I used my Vitamix.) Start blending on a low speed and gradually add the olive oil until the pesto is a creamy consistency. I ended up using the entire cup of olive oil but you may prefer less. If needed, increase the mixing speed to fully incorporate the ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can serve this immediately on pasta, as a spread for bruschetta or as a fancy homemade pizza sauce. It also freezes very well. I plan to use my left-over pesto the next time I make my quick and easy pesto salad.