Vegetarian Carbonara with Spinach

This healthy carbonara was unbelievably creamy. It was also absolutely loaded with fresh spinach. Amazing!

The purpose of the smoked gouda topping was to mimic the smokiness of the missing pancetta or bacon in this lighter, vegetarian version of “carbonara.” I thought is was equally delicious with and without it.

This recipe is from The New York Times, contributed by Kay Chun. I used whole wheat spaghetti and increased the garlic. It was a quick and delicious weeknight dish.

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 7-8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 pound fresh baby spinach
  • red-pepper flakes, to taste, optional
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan (2 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup grated smoked Provolone or Gouda (1 1/2 ounces)
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden, about 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Reserve 2 cups cooking water and drain the pasta.
  3. Return the pasta and reserved cooking water to the pot and heat over low. Add the butter and onion-garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until most of the liquid is absorbed and sauce is slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach, season with salt, plenty of pepper and red-pepper flakes, if using, and stir until spinach is wilted.
  5. Stir in the Parmesan and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper.
  6. Divide the pasta among 4 bowls and top each with 2 tablespoons smoked cheese. Finish with more black pepper, if desired.
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Roasted Shrimp with Salsa Calabrese

Did I mention that I met Bobby Flay this summer? It’s true! It was fun but really not that exciting. 😉 He came to our mall for the 10th anniversary of his first “Bobby’s Burger Palace” restaurant. I stood outside in a huge line in 90+ degree heat with my kids and friends for the opportunity to meet him. I think that I waited so long to share this news because the photo of me with Mr. Flay is terrible. I was also too shy to ask him to write to “the brook cook” in my new Bobby Flay cookbook. Ugh. Overall, we all had good time, I bought a great cookbook, and we got free milkshakes. 🙂

Now seems like the time to share this dish because it’s from his “Fit” cookbook, healthy and tasty. Perfect for the season of resolutions and dietary changes.

The recipe is adapted from Bobby Flay Fit: 200 Recipes for a Healthy Lifestyle by Bobby Flay with Stephanie Banyas and Sally Jackson. I used graffiti eggplant instead of Japanese, grape tomatoes instead of plum, and increased the garlic. I made the dish a little more caloric by serving it over brown Basmati rice. Cauliflower rice would also be a nice option- or without rice as in the original recipe.

Yield: Serves 4

  • 2 graffiti eggplants or 4 Japanese eggplants, about 1 pound, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 12 grape tomatoes or 2 seeded plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, to taste, preferably Calabrian
  • 5 T olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped, plus whole leaves for garnish
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used 21-25 count)
  • 1 tsp ground fennel
  • brown Basmati rice or cauliflower rice, for serving, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the eggplant, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and 3 tablespoons of the oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
  3. Spread the vegetables on a large, parchment paper-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring a few times, until soft and lightly golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.
  4. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor and purée until almost smooth. Add the vinegar and 1/4 cup of water, and continue processing until smooth.
  5. Add the basil and the parsley and pulse a few times to incorporate while still leaving flecks of herbs. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and transfer to a bowl.
  6. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the fennel and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Spread the shrimp in an even layer on a large, parchment paper-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Roast, turning once, until pink and firm and just cooked through, about 8 minutes.
  8. To serve, spoon sauce over prepared rice, if desired, or in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Top with about 5 shrimp and garnish with whole basil leaves.

Note: The vegetable sauce can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Bucatini with Burst Cherry Tomatoes & Basil

My kids are back in school! I can get back to sharing dishes that we enjoyed this summer (and probably last spring as well). I have quite a few to share. 🙂

This is a fabulous, restaurant-indulgent, late summer pasta dish. The real beauty of it is that it could be made in any season to bring back the taste of summer. It was also quick and easy to prepare- the best combination. The cheese adds creaminess to the finished dish but can easily be omitted for a vegan version.

This recipe was adapted from Bringing it Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating by Gail Simmons with Mindy Fox. I used grape instead of cherry tomatoes, bucatini instead of spaghettini, and modified the proportions. I am definitely going to make this dish year round. Great.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 pound bucatini, spaghettini, spaghetti, or angel hair pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1 small red onion or 1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
  • 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds (about 3 pints) grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups loosely packed torn basil leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 2-4 T finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz) fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
  • coarsely ground black pepper
  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-salted boiling water until al dente. (Simmons recommends 2 T of kosher or fine sea salt in 4 quarts of water.)
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 12- or 14-inch skillet or wide, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the onion, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the red pepper flakes, then stir in the tomatoes and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until most of the tomatoes have burst, 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, drain the pasta.
  6. Add the pasta, along with the reserved pasta cooking water, to the pan with the sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the pasta is coated, about 30 seconds, then stir in the basil and parsley.
  7. Divide the pasta among serving plates. Dollop with the ricotta and sprinkle with Parmesan and black pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired, and serve immediately.

Tomato-Braised Gigante Bean Gratin (Pizza Beans)

This dish could or should be a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen called the dish “pizza beans” to make it more appealing to her kids- so I did the same. 😉 She also had the genius suggestion of serving it with garlic bread, giving it even more appeal. Perelman described it as “a mash-up of a giant-beans-in-tomato-sauce dish from Greece and American-style baked ziti, with beans instead of noodles.” Heaven!

My husband and I enjoyed this dish very much. We are already big fans of Greek Gigante beans, by the way. 🙂 With the name “pizza beans,” my kids were expecting pizza, but the flavors in the dish were more like minestrone soup. It may have been more well-received if I had simply called it by the original title, Tomato & Gigante Bean Bake. 😉

This dish would also be wonderful as a cold-weather comfort food casserole. The recipe was adapted from Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant & Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman, via smitten kitchen.com. I used a pressure cooker to cook the dried beans, incorporated the pressure cooker bean liquid as well as beet greens, and increased the amount of garlic. I plan to make it again in the winter and give it a different title. I’m sure it will be more well-received. It will be served with garlic bread, of course.

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 large or 2 regular carrots, diced
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white or red wine, optional
  • 4 ounces (115 grams) curly kale leaves, beet greens, and/or mixed baby greens, coarsely chopped
  • 2 1/4 cups (550 grams) crushed tomatoes (28-ounce or 800-gram can minus 1 cup; reserve the rest for another use)
  • 1 pound (455 grams) giant white beans such as Italian fagioli corona, Greek gigante/gigandes, Royal Corona, or large lima beans
  • 3/4 cup (175 ml) vegetable broth or pressure cooker bean liquid, as needed
  • 1/2 pound (225 grams) mozzarella, coarsely grated
  • 1/3 cup (35 grams) grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons (5 grams) roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish, optional
  • garlic bread, for serving, optional
  1. To use a Pressure Cooker to “Soak” the Beans: Place 12 cups of water, 3 tsp of coarse salt and the dried beans in a pressure cooker. Raise to high pressure (2nd ring) for 2 minutes. Release pressure using the natural (water) method. Drain the beans.
  2. Cook the Beans in a Pressure Cooker: Place the drained beans with 9 cups of fresh water in the pressure cooker. Drizzle with vegetable oil. Cook on low (1st ring) for 3 minutes. Release pressure using the natural (water) method. Drain the beans reserving the bean liquid.
  3. Heat the oven to 475 degrees, preferably on convection.
  4. In a 2 1/2-to-3-quart (ideally oven-safe) deep sauté pan, braiser, or shallow Dutch oven, heat the olive oil on medium-high. Add the onion, celery, and carrots. Season well with salt and black or red pepper. Cook, sautéing, until the vegetables brown lightly, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more.
  6. Add the wine, if using, to scrape up any stuck bits, then simmer until it disappears, 1 to 2 minutes.
  7. Add the kale/greens, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until collapsed, then add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.
  8. Add the beans, and, if the mixture looks too dry or thick (canned tomatoes range quite a bit in juiciness), add up to 3/4 cup broth/bean liquid, 1/4 cup at a time.
  9. Simmer the mixture together over medium for about 10 minutes, adjusting the seasonings as needed.
  10. If your pan isn’t ovenproof, transfer the mixture to a 3-quart baking dish.
  11. Sprinkle the beans first with the mozzarella, then the Parmesan, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned on top. If you’re impatient and want a deeper color, you can run it under the broiler.
  12. Finish with parsley, if desired. Serve with garlic bread.

Sheet Pan Crispy Mushroom-Parmesan Sandwiches

I must confess that we’ve eaten these delicious sandwiches on a couple of occasions already. They are a fabulous variation of the more common vegetarian alternative “parm” sandwich, eggplant parmesan. Worth using the oven in the summer! 🙂

This recipe was adapted from Meatless Sheet Pan Suppers: 100 Surprising Vegetarian Meals Straight from the Oven by Raquel Pelzel. I served them with both challah and potato rolls, on different occasions. The original recipe recommends sub rolls. I modified the proportions, used part-skim mozzarella, and substituted fontina for the provolone cheese. Fabulous!

Yield: 4 sandwiches

  • 8 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp plus a pinch of kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup grated low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated fontina or provolone cheese
  • 6 T finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 4 large or 6 medium portobello mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup store-bought or homemade marinara sauce (I used Trader Joe’s Marinara Sauce with Barolo Wine), or more, as desired
  • 4 rolls, such as challah, potato, or sub rolls
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. Combine the olive oil and garlic in a microwave safe bowl, and warm in the microwave at high power until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 to 45 seconds.
  3. Pour 3 T garlic oil into a small bowl and add the panko bread crumbs and a pinch of kosher salt. Rub together with your fingers to combine and set aside, reserving the remaining garlic oil. (Add up to an additional tablespoon of garlic oil, as needed.)
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the mozzarella, fontina (or provolone), and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses.
  5. Place the mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl and toss with 2 T garlic oil and the remaining 1 tsp kosher salt.
  6. Transfer the mushrooms to a parchment paper-lined, rimmed sheet pan and roast until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Do not flip them. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and set aside.
  7. Line a second sheet pan with aluminum foil (or the same pan if it is cool enough to handle). Adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat the broiler to high.
  8. Open the rolls and lightly brush the interior of each with some of the remaining garlic oil.
  9. Place the rolls, face up, on the prepared sheet pan and broil until the bread is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Watch carefully! Remove the rolls from the oven, keeping the broiler on, and divide the tops of the rolls among 4 plates. Leave the bottom of the rolls on the sheet pan.
  10. Arrange the mushrooms over the bottom halves of the rolls and top each with 2 (or more) T marinara, spreading it out a bit.
  11. Divide the cheese over each mound of vegetables and return the sheet pan to the broiler. Broil until the cheese is melted, 1 to 3 minutes, watching carefully.
  12. Sprinkle the reserved panko bread crumbs evenly over the cheese and return to the broiler until the crumbs are golden and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes.
  13. Transfer each portion to a plate and top with reserved roll top. Serve hot.

Asparagus Frittata with Burrata & Herb Pesto

I used to be able to bribe my husband to eat a frittata for dinner by serving it with roasted potatoes… unfortunately, that bribe has worn thin. :/ A frittata topped with burrata was an easy sell! 🙂 This dish could be served for any meal of the day.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by David Tanis. The burrata brought it to the next level. Next time, I would make half of the pesto. We ate it with roasted potatoes and green salad. Nice.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

  • 1 pound (1 small bunch) medium asparagus, tough bottoms removed
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup basil leaves, plus a few small basil leaves for garnish
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 balls of fresh burrata, about 1/2 pound total, at room temperature
  1. Rinse asparagus, and pat dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces on the diagonal, or into julienne strips if preferred. Set aside.
  2. In blender or small food processor, purée olive oil, basil and parsley to make a thin pesto. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Put a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or other nonstick omelet pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add butter and swirl to coat pan, then add asparagus. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring for about a minute without browning.
  4. Quickly pour in eggs and stir with a wooden spoon, as if making scrambled eggs. Tilt pan and lift mixture at the edges to allow any runny egg from the top to make its way to the bottom. After 3 or 4 minutes, the frittata should be mostly set. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  5. Lay a lid over the skillet, and turn off the heat. Leave for a minute or so, until frittata is moist and just done. (Alternatively, place pan under a hot broiler for a minute or so.)
  6. Set whole burrata in the center of frittata. Drizzle with herb pesto. Pierce burrata with tip of a knife and spoon contents over frittata.
  7. Cut frittata into wedges and serve directly from pan, garnished with basil leaves.

I’m sharing my burrata frittata at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #227 this week, co-hosted by Lizet @Chipa by the Dozen and Jhuls @The Not so Creative Cook. Enjoy!

One Year Ago: Three Cheese Crepe Manicotti

Two Years Ago: Buckwheat Crepes with Asparagus, Gruyère & Prosciutto

Three Years Ago: Asparagus with Fava Beans & Toasted Almonds and Seared Scallop Bites

Four Years Ago: Gnocchi with Bacon & Tomatoes

Five Years Ago: Vidalia Onion Tart and Spicy Roasted Shrimp & Broccoli Rabe

Lighter Eggplant Parmigiana

My food blog friend Sally @Bewitching Kitchen inspired me to make this lighter version of classic eggplant parmigiana. The eggplant is breaded but oven-baked instead of fried. It was quite delicious. 🙂

I served the cheesy eggplant over pasta with sauce, per my husband’s request, but it really wasn’t necessary. We ate it with spicy and garlicky sautéed broccoli rabe and roasted asparagus on the side. I used my new favorite jarred sauce, Trader Joe’s Italian Marinara Sauce with Barolo Wine, as a shortcut. This recipe was adapted from The Kitchen, contributed by Jeff Mauro, via Bewitching Kitchen.com. Great!

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 medium to large eggplant
  • 2 eggs, beaten with a teaspoon of water
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 24 ounces jarred tomato sauce (I used Trader Joe’s Marinara Sauce with Barolo Wine)
  • slices of fresh mozzarella cheese (about 1 pound)
  • 1/2 pound of prepared pasta, for serving, as desired (I used Capunti pasta)
  1. Heat a rimmed baking sheet – empty – in a very hot oven, 450 F to 500 F, preferably on convection.
  2. While the baking sheet is heating, peel the eggplant, cut crosswise in 1/2 inch slices. Place on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
  3. Put the eggs, water, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
  4. Mix the breadcrumbs and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in another bowl next to it.
  5. Dip each eggplant slice into the egg wash, but allow just one side to get wet with the mixture.
  6. Next, dip it in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing to coat, and carefully place on a rack with the crumb side up.
  7. Make sure you have the tomato sauce warmed up and ready to go, and the cheese slices also nearby.
  8. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and drizzle the olive oil to coat the hot surface.
  9. Working quickly, add the eggplant slices with the crumb-coated side down. It will stick to the oil and start to get pretty hot right away.
  10. Add the tomato sauce on top, cover with cheese, and place in the oven, reducing the temperature to 375 F, preferably on convection.
  11. Cook for 20 to 25+ minutes. When the cheese is starting to get golden brown at the edges, the eggplant will be done. (Additional sauce can be added on top of the cheese halfway through the cooking process, if desired.)
  12. Serve immediately with your favorite side dish.

Two Years Ago: Oaxacan Pork Picadillo Tacos

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