Wednesday, September 21, 2016

12 Seasonal Favorites

It’s the end of September, and the real, calendar-based autumn is here. The big fresh summer taste of tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans might be fading away (although there still seems to be plenty of zucchini!), but they’re being replaced with other delicious wonders. Here are12 late-season favorites from The Messy Apron Archives that I go to year after year to accommodate changing tastes that come with changing weather, and make the most of what’s in season.

For me, salads get heartier in late September. Here are 3 that feature seasonal ingredients like apples, spinach, cabbage, and cauliflower.

While cool salads are still welcome, warmer, comforting dishes are becoming more so as well. Here are 4 warm dishes, including quick pan-cooked meals and savory tarts that help make late-season greens, bell peppers, and potatoes into delicious meals.

This time of year tends to be a busy one for me, so complex breakfasts have to wait for weekends off. This one is worth the time it takes to put together, especially since the leftovers provide breakfast for a couple more days.

Don’t forget seasonal fruit desserts! While all of the desserts and snacks in this list of apple recipes are delicious choices, the 3 listed below are on my mind right now. Plums and grapes deserve a mention this time of year, too.

Apple and Cranberry Crisp (with or without the cranberries)

Apples, pears, cabbage, greens, peppers, plums, and grapes are the centers of my meals and other eating experiences in late September. I’m enjoying them all while I can, because winter squash and hard-core comfort foods will demand my attention soon!


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Zucchini Ricotta Carbonara

My garden is still producing zucchini a little bit faster than I can use it. I’m continuing to make and freeze zucchini bread, but I’ve got to stuff zucchini into a few more places if I’m going to get rid of it all.

This is a pretty simple pasta application, inspired by pasta carbonara with chopped zucchini thrown in. Instead of the usual creamy, just-cooked scrambled eggs, however, this dish has a big scoop of ricotta cheese. I don’t know if the ricotta is any less heavy than the eggs would have been, but it sure is good.

The zucchini and ricotta are both fairly mild-flavored ingredients, so the bacon is really allowed to take over. And it’s everywhere in this dish. Not only is cooked bacon tossed in with the pasta, cheese, and zucchini, but the zucchini is cooked in rendered bacon fat, and some of that fat is stirred into the ricotta before it even goes into the dish. The original recipe called for some olive oil instead, but I thought, “Why? I have all this bacon fat!”

I was surprised by how much I liked this simple supper dish. I was afraid that a combination of relatively bland ingredients like ricotta and zucchini would just end up weirdly mushy and pasty. It’s not, however. In fact, the cheese is creamy with the pasta and the zucchini, properly cooked, is just firm and fibrous enough to add some chew. And as far as flavor goes, it’s bacon all the way. I suppose that’s just fine.

Zucchini Ricotta Carbonara
Adapted from Fine Cooking Aug/Sept 2014

8 ounces linguine (or other long pasta)
3 slices thick-cut bacon (or 4-5 thin slices), coarsely chopped
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon black pepper, divided
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound zucchini, halved lengthwise (or quartered if large) and thinly sliced
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil, plus more for garnish
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

1. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Keep warm.

2. While the pasta is cooking, place the bacon in a large (12-inch) skillet. Cook over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towe1.

3. Pour about 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat into the ricotta cheese. Add ¼ teaspoon black pepper to the ricotta mixture and stir well. If there is more than about 3 tablespoons bacon fat in the pan, pour off enough to leave just about 3 tablespoons. Return to the heat.

4. Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring constantly for about 30-45 seconds, or until fragrant, but not yet browned. Add the zucchini and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 8 minutes.

5. Add the cooked pasta to the pan. Stir in the ricotta mixture, basil, and remaining pepper. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking water if necessary to loosen the mixture. Stir in the Parmesan and cooked bacon, tossing all together to combine well. Serve sprinkled with additional Parmesan and basil.

Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Pasta Carbonara with Garlic Scapes and Garlic Chives (substitute the garlic scapes with a few cloves of minced garlic); Pasta with Zucchini, Corn and Fresh Mint; Pasta with Yellow Squash, Corn and Bacon

Monday, September 12, 2016

Cheddar Bacon Bean Salad

I save recipe clippings. Forever. Their pulp fiber mass takes up a rather burdensome part of my life. That’s why I’m so happy that I can now get my favorite food magazines as digital subscriptions on my e-reader/tablet. Now I can bookmark or “scrapbook” recipes like this Cheddar Bacon White Bean Salad for years without them taking up much of a footprint or gravity well in my life!

This salad was from Eating Well magazine and I saved it for over a year before getting around to trying it. I knew it was going to be good and part of me “just couldn’t wait” to get this combination of ingredients onto a fork. Clearly I could wait, but I shouldn’t have. This salad is fabulous.

Actually, much of its fabulousness has to do with is somewhat indulgent nature. Sure it’s loaded with healthy white beans, walnuts, and some vegetables. But it’s real darlings are the cheddar cheese cubes and bacon. They make it rich, hearty, salty, and smoky.

Those indulgent ingredients shouldn’t get all the credit for making this salad delicious, though. The dressing is loaded with roasted garlic, its mellow flavor permeating every tasty bite. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of garlic here. Once you roast it, which involves wrapping whole heads in foil and cooking them in the oven, it’s flavor is not the least bit harsh or overwhelming. The soft, melty roasted cloves also contribute significantly to the creamy nature of the dressing, which is enhanced by the flavors of cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and fresh thyme.

I think this hearty bean salad would be at home on the table just about any time of year. You could swap vegetables or even make it vegetarian by leaving out the bacon. You could then use smoked cheddar to get back some of that unique flavor. Since the garlic roasting does take some time (although you could do that a few days ahead), I like to make this salad a main dish to keep my meals simple in the area of preparation. I also think it would be pretty good as part of a tailgating buffet spread. The batch is large, so I make up a big bowl and have it for a few meals, including brown-bag lunches. In that case it serves as a wonderful make-ahead meal all on its own.

Cheddar Bacon White Bean Salad
Adapted from Eating Well, May/June 2015

2 medium-size heads garlic
3 slices thick-cut bacon (4 or 5 if using thin-cut)
½ cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
¾ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
5 cups cooked white beans (about 3 15-ounce cans) rinsed and drained
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Peel off the outer papery skin of the garlic clove, keeping the cloves intact. Cut a slim slice off the top of the garlic heads, exposing a small part of the tops of the cloves. Place the heads on a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to wrap them completely. Drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil over the exposed cloves. Wrap the garlic heads tightly with the foil. Place in preheated oven and roast at 350 F for about 1 hour, or until very soft and just beginning to brown. Cool completely. (This can be done a few days ahead. Keep the roasted garlic in the refrigerator if storing for more than a few hours.)

2. Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp. Drain, cool and chop. Set aside.

3. Heat the walnuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat until just beginning to brown. Stir frequently and watch carefully to prevent burning. Remove from the heat. Set aside to cool.

4. To make the dressing, squeeze the cooled roasted garlic out of the skins and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, thyme, salt and pepper. Process until well-blended, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. With the machine running, slowly pour the 1/3 cup olive oil through the opening in the top of the lid. Process until very smooth, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

5. In a large bowl, combine the white beans, bell pepper, and celery. Pour the dressing over and toss to coat. Stir in the bacon, walnuts, parsley and cheddar. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 6-8 main dish servings.