ratatouille spirals

Ratatouille Spirals

In a weird way, I think this dish is representative of me.  It is a dish that tries to please everyone.  It looks complicated, but is really straight forward.  And you are committed to it, even though it is a bit of a pain in the ass to make.  I saw this recipe in a magazine and knew right away I needed to make it.  I haven’t mastered it yet, because I think the proportions are off a little with both the veggies and/or the size of the pan, but nevertheless, it is still a good dish.  The first time I made it, I followed the recipe and used the anchovies.  The dish got an F.  The kids were coughing and dry heaving, and then my husband, because he still is a child, did the same. So, obviously the anchovies didn’t dissolve, and ruined the dish (for us).  My suggestion to pick around the anchovies got tossed about as fast as the dish did.  How was I ever going to bring back my dish that I was in love with for the strangest reasons?  Thankfully, the opportunity came up when my cooking soul mate called, and we decided to make dinner reservations.  As the night out drew closer, we made the convenient excuse to just get together and cook a meal ourselves.  We met to go food shopping for a menu that was basically nonexistent, with the exception of the spirals I was making.  But at 5:30pm, in the cheese aisle, our menu took shape.  I think that if we didn’t have a clock or a liver, we could have cooked all night.  Ok, so maybe just not a clock…kidding.  So after the cooking marathon, the hour on the clock told us we were tired and the empty bottles of wine signaled the immediacy of going to bed.  However, we had successfully made stuffed jalapeños with Brie, caramelized onion and mushroom ravioli, and of course, I got to make my spirals again.  This time, I substituted fresh basil for the anchovies.  I still didn’t fill the pan with spirals, but what I could fill was my belly and my fridge full of left overs!

zucchini slices

ratatouille spirals  (adapted from Bon Appetit)

3  lbs beefsteak tomatoes, scored with an “X” on the bottoms
3  TB extra virgin olive oil
1  medium onion, diced
2  large garlic cloves, minced
1/2  tsp crushed red pepper
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2  cups cubed country bread
2 1/2  lbs medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick strips
2 1/2  lbs small japanese or italian eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick strips
3  roasted bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch strips
20 – 24  fresh basil leaves
1  lb fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 x 2 inch sticks
freshly grated parmesan cheese

get started on the spirals:

scored tomatoes

In a medium pot of boiling water, blanch the tomatoes for 30 seconds.  Drain them and then slip off the skins and halve the tomatoes crosswise.  Coarsely chop the tomatoes, keeping the juices and seeds.
Preheat the oven to 375.  In a large skillet, heat 2 TB of the oil.  Add the onion, garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and juices and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Cook while stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, on a baking sheet, toss the bread cubes with the remaining 1 TB of olive oil.  Toast for about 15 minutes, stirring once, until golden.
In a colander, toss the zucchini and eggplant with 2 TB of kosher salt (can be done in separate colanders), and let drain for 15 minutes.  Shake out the excess liquid and pat the slices dry.
Spoon the tomato sauce into a shallow 2 1/2 qt. baking dish and scatter the bread cubes on top.

bread in sauce

On a clean work surface, top each zucchini slice with a slice of eggplant.  Blot dry if necessary.  Place a strip of roasted red pepper and then top with a basil leaf.  Place a stick of mozzarella at one end.  Sprinkle each stack with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and roll up.  Stand the rolls in the baking dish and drizzle with oil.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

assembly line

Cover with parchment paper or foil.  Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender and the ratatouille is bubbling.  Remove the parchment paper halfway through baking.  Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.


note:  this dish serves 8 people


italian sausage tortellini soup

Tortellini Soup

Summer vacation is over and school is back in session, so it is time for my behind to get into the swing of dinner planning with the onslaught of homework, practices, and oh yeah…life.  Some people treat the new year as a time for resolutions, but my resolutions have always come during vacation time.  I always seem to reflect over that time as to what I can do better or change when I get back.  This year on vacation, I decided that it was a goal of mine to really try and plan better for a variety of breakfasts for my kids as well as dinner, since it is often just the three of us eating.  I will always have my boxes of mac and cheese at my disposal, but I really wanted to try and cook for all of us this year and not for just the kids.  But cooking dinner for just three people, two of whom are under 5 feet tall, is another task.  It requires being able to chop onions and trying to remember (and explain) what makes a prime number prime.  It also, at times, has you stirring at the stove, all the while instilling fear of what’s to come, because someone was mimicking her brother and so he decided to retaliate with a body slam.  I love dinner time during the week.  It’s chaotic.  But it is a time to savor.  You learn so much just sitting and talking.  So that is what drives me to plan better, and hope that all the other commitments don’t get in the way (I know I am dreaming).  So after doing the guilty pleasure this weekend of perusing Pinterest (I really feel guilty at the amount of time you spend on that site!), I found a recipe that I knew the kids and I would like because of the tortellini, so I made it this week.  I loved this soup, and it doesn’t suck up all the broth like some do after putting it in the fridge.  I definitely would make this again – and hope that no body slams or nerf injuries occur next time I make it.

italian sausage tortellini soup (adapted from www.twopeasandtheirpod.com)

1  lb. italian sausage, mild or hot
2  TB olive oil
1  medium onion, chopped
3  cloves garlic, minced
2  tsp dried basil
1  medium zucchini, halved lengthwise, chopped into quarter rounds
1  bay leaf
crushed red pepper
kosher salt and pepper
8  cups chicken stock
2  (15) oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1  lb frozen chopped leaf spinach, thawed
2  (9) oz pkg of refrigerated tortellini
grated Parmesan cheese – optional

italian sausagechopped onion

get started on the tortellini soup:

In a large pot over medium high heat, add the olive oil.  Remove the casings from the sausage and place in the pot.  With a wooden spoon, break apart the sausage into bite size pieces.  Brown the sausage until almost cooked through.  Add the chopped onion, garlic and dried basil.  Cook until the onions are turning opaque, about 4 minutes.

Add in the zucchini, bay leaf, a couple pinches of crushed red pepper (amount depends if you use mild or hot sausage), salt and pepper to taste.  Stir everything to combine.  Add broth and the diced tomatoes and simmer for 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the thawed spinach and stir.  Taste broth and adjust seasoning if needed.

zucchinisausage mixture

Add the tortellini and cook until the tortellini is tender, 8 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf and serve.

soup mixturetortellini at the top

note:  this serves 6-8 people.  Garnish with cheese and enjoy!

bowl of soup

zucchini and summer squash salad

squash salad

Ah yes, there are those foods that garner immediate food porn photos, the dramatic drooling and the obvious filling of one’s plate.  Then there is squash salad.  Recently, when planning an informal dinner party at the house, I told my husband that I would be making a squash salad.  Talk about a lukewarm response, followed by “…and?”.  That made me really want to try this and see if it could pass the party test.  I had a similar recipe from Tyler Florence (not personally…though, that would be SWEET)  which sounds a bit fancier – Zucchini Carpaccio.  I never made it because of how it sounds – blah.  This recipe came from Cooking Light, and intrigued me a little more – probably because of the ricotta salata and prosciutto.  Needless to say, it was a hit, and as a bonus, it’s a fairly guilt-free food.  My husband gave me the nod to add it to my index of party foods.  The following weekend, I bought the ingredients to make it at a friend’s BBQ.  But there I was again, in the kitchen, and when asked what I was making, I hesitated since it doesn’t grab your attention like other party favorites.  I went with the very formal name of “shaved summer squash with prosciutto crisps”.  Call it whatever you want, the plate will be empty sooner than THEY thought.

summer squash

shaved summer squash salad (adapted from Cooking Light)

1  medium zucchini
2  medium yellow squash
pinch of kosher salt
cracked black pepper
2  TB thinly sliced basil or mint
2  TB extra virgin olive oil
1  tsp. grated lemon rind
2  tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3  slices prosciutto, chopped
1/3  cup crumbled ricotta salata or feta cheese

shaved summer squash

pile of squash

get started on the salad:

With a good vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini and squash into strips.  Discard the strips from the center that have a lot of seeds, if you wish (compost!).  Place zucchini and squash in a medium bowl and toss with salt and pepper.  Combine basil, olive oil, lemon rind and juice and stir with a whisk.  Pour over zucchini and squash and toss to coat.  Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add prosciutto and sauté for 2 minutes, or until crisp.  Place salad on a platter and top with crumbled ricotta salata and prosciutto crisps.  Add additional olive oil or lemon juice to your liking!

prosciuttocooked prosciutto

note:  this feeds about six as a family style appetizer.  As a salad, it would feed four people.

summer squash salad