Ricotta Bruschetta with Roasted Tomatoes & Spicy Honey

This slightly spicy appetizer could also serve as a light lunch with a chilled pinot blanc. Go easy on the calabrian chili paste, it’s strong and hot but balanced beautifully with the honey. Make sure the ricotta is at room temperature, as it’s easier to whisk in the oil. Depending on the size of the cherry tomatoes (and your bread slices), each slice of ciabatta holds about 6 to 7. Serves 6.

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Recipe

Bruschetta:
1 c. ricotta, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. olive oil
6 thick slices of ciabatta
6 fresh basil leaves

Tomatoes:
42 cherry tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 sprigs fresh basil, torn
2-3 T. olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

Spicy Honey:
1/2 c. honey
1-1/2 tsp. Calabrian chili paste
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 T. water

To Toast the Ciabatta: Heat oven to 400-degrees. Put the ciabatta slices on a sheet pan and roast for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned – keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn (which can happen quickly!). When they come out of the oven, rub a cut clove of garlic over each piece, and then brush some olive oil on both sides. Set aside.

For the Tomatoes: These also go into a 400-degree oven. Spread the tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil, and salt on a small rimmed baking sheet and toss well to coat. Roast until they have popped, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

For the Spicy Honey: Combine the honey, Calabrian chili paste, salt and 2 T. water in a small nonstick skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat to cool completely.

For the Bruschetta: Whisk together the ricotta, salt and 2 T. olive oil in a bowl. Spread the ricotta on the ciabatta slices. Add 7 tomatoes each and drizzle with the spicy honey. Top with the basil sprig (you could also chop the basil and scatter over the top).

— Giada de Laurentiis, Food Network

White Gazpacho with Cucumber and Grapes

With the string of seemingly unending 90-degree days we've had lately, it's good to have a refreshing, chilled soup! This white gazpacho makes a wonderful first course, followed by a colorful Salad Nicoise. If you have a Vitamix or other high speed blender, it makes preparing this recipe a breeze. A garnish of toasted, sliced almonds and halved grapes, with a drizzle of good olive oil makes you look like a rock star!

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Recipe

1-1/2 lbs. Persian cucumbers, ends trimmed and sliced
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, pressed
1-1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. serrano chile, chopped (taste first for heat, then adjust as you desire)
3 T. olive oil
1 lb. seedless green grapes (reserve a few for garnish)
8 oz. Greek-style plain yogurt
freshly ground pepper
Sliced, toasted almonds for garnish (optional)

Put the cucumbers, lemon juice, garlic, salt, serrano chile, olive oil, and grapes in your Vitamix and puree until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and whisk in the yogurt and add a few grinds of black pepper. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 5 or 6 hours. Serve garnished with a few sliced grapes, sliced toasted almonds, and a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Serves 6.

– Anna Thomas, "Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore"

Thai Butternut Squash & Pineapple Curry

I must admit that I have never cooked with Thai red curry paste, so I thought I'd give it a go ... and I'm glad I did! Delicious. I was a bit cautious and added just one tablespoon, but I think I could have safely added 1-1/2 or 2 tablespoons. You could also add some chicken, or experiment with additional veggies (spinach, red pepper, etc.). As you can see below, I had just baked some yummy pumpkin cake donuts, but that story is for another time!

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Recipe

1 T. coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
1-2 T. Thai red curry paste
1 clove garlic, smashed and chopped
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
1 can coconut milk (I used Trader Joe coconut cream)
3/4 c. vegetable stock
2 c. green beans, trimmed and cut in thirds
8-ounce can pineapple, drained, cut in chunks
1/4 c. chopped coriander + some for garnish (or Italian parsley if cilantro's not your thing)

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and fry the onion for about 5 minutes until softened.  Stir in the red curry paste and garlic to coat the onions and cook for a minute. Add the butternut squash and beans, stir well, then add the coconut milk and stock, stirring to combine. Bring to a bubbling simmer, then turn heat down to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes until the squash is tender and the sauce has reduced a bit and thickened.

Stir in the pineapple and cilantro and cook for another 5 minutes until the pineapple is warmed through. Serve over rice and sprinkle with some more chopped cilantro. Serves 4. 

Chocolate + Earl Gray Pudding

I love chocolate pudding. Add an Earl Gray tea component, some melted chocolate and maple syrup for sweetener and you've got yourself a dessert! Look for silken tofu (the really silky, extra soft kind) at an Asian market for the best quality (I got mine at Uwajimaya). It doesn't need much time in the fridge to set up, a few hours tops. And it's vegan! 

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Recipe

1/2 c. boiling water
1 T. loose Earl Gray tea (or use a tea bag)
12-oz. silken tofu, drained
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3.5 oz. Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate bar, broken into pieces (+ extra for garnish if desired)
1/4 c. maple syrup
Red Ridge Farms Vermont Maple Sea Salt (or other flaky sea salt)

Add the boiling water to a cup and steep the tea for 30 minutes to get a nice strong taste. Use a tea ball to make straining easier, or use a tea bag.

Wrap the tofu in a clean towel and press it to get rid of as much moisture as possible. Transfer to a food processor. Add the steeped tea and vanilla and process until smooth.

Put the chocolate pieces and maple syrup in a heatproof bowl over simmering water and let it melt, whisking until smooth. Add to the food processor with the tofu/tea mixture. Process on high until silky smooth.

Transfer the pudding to 4 ramekins, bowls, or festive dessert glasses and refrigerate for a few hours to set up to a thicker pudding consistency. To serve, sprinkle with the salt. Add some grated chocolate if you like – use a vegetable peeler to shave off some nice curly pieces.

– based on a recipe by Anna Jones

Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower

This recipe is a great way to celebrate cauliflower! It's first sautéed in a hot pan, then combined with cooked pasta shells, fresh sage, a hint of lemon, and lots of cheese with a crunchy topping. Easy and delicious! Can be assembled up to 24 hours prior to baking, keep covered in the refrigerator.

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Recipe

3/4 lb. small shell pasta (such as Barilla)
Olive oil (about 1/2 cup total)
large head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
3 T. fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
2 T. capers
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 c. grated Fontina cheese (I used Trader Joe's Quattro Formaggio Shredded Cheese Blend)
8 oz. ricotta
1/4 c. creme fraiche
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
6 T. freshly grated Parmesan
3 T. parsley, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400-degrees.

Fill a large saucepan with water, add 2 T. kosher salt and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 6 minutes (or according to package instructions). Drain and put in a large bowl. Add 3 T. olive oil and stir. Set aside.

For the cauliflower, heat 3 T. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower in one layer and saute for 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Pour into the bowl with the pasta. Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper and mix well. Stir in the 2 cups of grated Fontina cheese. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10x13x2-inch rectangular baking dish. Mix the ricotta and creme fraiche in a small bowl, then spoon it over the pasta mixture, spreading somewhat evenly. Then add the rest of the pasta/cauliflower mixture on top.

Combine the panko, Parmesan, parsley and 1-2 T. olive oil in a small bowl, and sprinkle it evenly on top of the casserole. Bake for 30 minutes.

– Based on a recipe by Ina Garten