Spring Garden Pasta

   

Living in Texas it can sometimes be a little difficult to look forward to the oncoming summer, what with its droughts and relentless heat waves. That anxiety is quickly diffused once I glimpse the new crop of garden fresh veggies at the grocery store. Here is a crisp, healthy pasta dish to embrace spring’s bounty and warmer months.   

Spring Garden Pasta

This is a wonderful dish to prepare if you’ve blacked out in a farmer’s market and awoken in your kitchen to find yourself staring hazily at mountains of fresh produce. The first time I prepared this I was craving pasta primavera, but wasn’t wanting something heavy. I cut calories by removing half of the pasta and replacing it with loads of vegetables. Serving the dish slightly warm rather than piping hot really allows the texture and flavors of the vegetables to shine. 

Spring Garden Pasta

Spring Garden Pasta
Serves 4
A healthier pasta dish absolutely full of crisp, fresh veggies.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 tablespoons salted butter
  2. 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  3. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 2 broccoli crowns, cut into florets (about 2-3 cups)
  5. 1 cup carrots, sliced
  6. 1 cup frozen green peas
  7. 10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  8. 2 tablespoons flour
  9. 1/2 cup milk (I used flax milk)
  10. 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  11. 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  12. 1/4 cup fresh basil
  13. 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  14. 1 1/2 cups Maffei fussili (or whatever pasta you like)
Instructions
  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in high sided skillet. Add minced garlic and sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and cover until the mushrooms release their juices.
  2. Stir in chopped broccoli and carrots, cover and let steam for about 7-8 minutes until crisp tender. Transfer veggies to a bowl (reserve any liquid in the pan if there is some) and leave covered while you prepare the sauce.
  3. Meanwhile cook pasta in well salted water according to package directions. I used a refrigerated pasta by Maffei which is 180 calories per 1/2 cup. You want it perfectly al dente or just a hair shy of al dente - you want the pasta to stand up to the crisp veggies.
  4. While pasta is cooking - in the same pan you cooked veggies in melt the other tablespoon of butter. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour - it will be very thick. Let cook for a minute or two to cook off the raw flour taste and then add milk, black pepper, fresh thyme. Remove from heat and whisk well.
  5. Transfer pasta plus 1/2-3/4 cup (depending on how thick you want your sauce to be) of the pasta cooking water to the pan along with all of the veggies, the green peas, and your grated parmesan. Toss well and cover to let the peas warm through. This will also slightly cool down the pasta and veggies. This is ok as the slightly cooler pasta maintains the fresh flavor and texture of the tomatoes.
  6. When the peas are warm add fresh basil and chopped tomatoes, toss well and serve immediately. Ideally your pasta water should have been salted well enough that you wouldn't need additional salt, but feel free to add more if needed.
Calories
  1. 358 calories for 1/4 of the pan as I've prepared it.
Variation
  1. Cooking the mushrooms in a bit of dry white wine (maybe 2 ounces) adds lovely flavor to the dish.
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Spring Garden Pasta

 


Tomato Asparagus Panzanella Salad

   

It’s been over a month since my last post, which means I have all kinds of things I can talk about this time around. A little while back Jah presented me with 3 seats to a local cheese-making class with The Dallas Mozzarella Co.  Jah and I brought my friend Leanna and we had a great time making fresh ricotta, mozzarella, oaxaca, and a fresh olive stuffed mozzarella roll. Of course with all of that unbelievably fresh cheese in my fridge, how could I resist making something like this beautiful tomato asparagus panzanella salad?

 Before I delve too much into the details of salad making (not that this salad has many – it’s so simple), I thought I’d talk a little about springtime in Texas. The telltale sign of spring is when the bluebonnets carpet the landscape. Not wanting to miss one of the prime spots for this surreal display of color, I drove out to Ennis, TX with my friend Chris to be able to photograph the fields at sunrise. Needless to say it was a worthwhile adventure!

Ennis Bluebonnets

After enjoying the brisk air (ok I was freezing ) we hopped back in the car and roamed the country side looking for more lovely photo ops. Along the way we stopped and snacked on the moist double chocolate zucchini muffins I packed for the trip (a recipe I’ll definitely have to share later). We saw deer, rabbits, horses, longhorn cattle, and even a grumpy minidonk! After a brief detour into a local winery we found a gorgeous field blanketed with bright red Indian paintbrush and had to get a shot.

Ennis Indian Paintbrush

Texas has a bit of a reputation for being a large expanse of dessert… essentially the prototype for every old western ever made. Believe it or not there is green stuff here too! 

But enough about all of that. You’re here for juicy, ripe tomatoes, aren’t cha? Me too, man… me too.

Tomato Asparagus Panzanella Salad

Panzanella is an Italian salad made with bits of bread, often as a means to use that day old loaf you’ve got sitting around. With such simple ingredients quality is really going to make a difference, so make sure to get the best tomatoes you can find. I love to mix varieties for a more colorful presentation, plus it adds a little complexity to the overall flavor. I make this style of salad fairly often whenever I’m preparing food for a large group of people, because it is so easy to multiply out to serve more. 

Tomato Asparagus Panzanella Salad

Tomato Asparagus Panzanella Salad
Serves 6
A simple Itaian salad tossed with cubes of toasted day old bread.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 small Italian baguette, cut into 1 inch cubes
  2. 1 1/2 pounds of mixed tomatoes, chopped (or about 2 pints of cherry tomatoes, halved)
  3. 1 bundle fresh asparagus, tough ends removed and cut into bite sized pieces
  4. 6-8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
  5. 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  6. 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  7. Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Toss bread cubes with about a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with a little bit of sea salt. Bake at 425 for about 8 minutes until nice and toasty. Keep an eye on them as oven temps may vary. I give them a shake in the pan about halfway through.
  2. Combine olive oil, tomatoes, asparagus, fresh basil, and mozzarella in a large bowl and toss well to coat. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
  3. A few minutes prior to serving combine the tomato mixture with the toasted bread crumbs.
Calories
  1. Calorie count for this dish will vary a bit since the measurements are thrown together rather loosely. I find it often falls between 320-370 per serving whenever I make it.
Gouda Monster http://www.goudamonster.com/
Tomato Asparagus Panzanella Salad


Avocado Salsa

   

I’m pretty excited because I inherited Jah’s old laptop and Chris got it all set up for me over the weekend. Now I’ll be able to pop into a coffee shop to write my blog posts (hopefully with a little more frequency) whenever I feel like a change of scenery. The laptop even has Photoshop installed so I can do all of my photo editing and monster doodles when I’m out as well. Today’s post of Avocado Salsa has been brought to you by welcome secondhand technology!

Avocado Salsa

Sometimes you just know when a recipe is good, and this time it was because I made it four days in a row and everyone still loved it. The first time I made this it was simply an experiment – something I needed to throw together in a very short period of time to get dinner on the table quickly. It was well received and requested for dinner again the following night. Once I decided that Avocado Salsa was worthy of its own post, I needed to make it yet another time to get photos… then the battery managed to fall out of my camera, losing most of the pics from the shoot. That of course meant I needed to make it a fourth time, to ensure I had enough shots to share with my readers. I figured I’d take the opportunity to change the mood as well, which is why this photo is dark but the ones from the second session photos are bright. I appreciate both sets in different ways.

Avocado Salsa

Each night we ate the salsa a little bit differently than the last. Day one was on vegetarian chicken fajitas, day two was dolloped over the top of black bean soup, day three was spooned over nachos with queso, and day four was rolled up into soft tacos. Then of course we’d just dip tortilla chips straight into it as well. I love it when a recipe this simple has so many uses.

Avocado Salsa

Avocado Salsa
Serves 4
A satisfying southwestern dip with avocado, cherry tomatoes, and cumin.
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Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 20 grape tomatoes, quartered (about two handfuls)
  2. 1/4 onion, diced (raw or cooked - see notes)
  3. 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
  4. 1/2 tsp olive oil
  5. 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  6. 1/2 tsp salt
  7. 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  8. 1 avocado, diced (choose a ripe but firm avocado)
  9. 1 tablespoon lime juice (I got this much from half of a small lime)
  10. 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Instructions
  1. Combine tomato, onion, jalapeno, olive oil, salt, cumin, and garlic powder in a medium sized bowl. Stir well to combine.
  2. While the tomatoes are releasing their tasty juices, you can chop up the avocado and cilantro. Gently toss them with the tomato mixture and fresh lime juice.
Calories
  1. 83
Notes
  1. If anyone you know is susceptible to indigestion, cooking the onions first will make them very happy - plus it tastes delicious! I broil or grill my onion in the oven before dicing it up if I know I have an onion-sensitive friend eating over.
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Avocado Salsa


Heirloom Tomato Burrata Baguette

   

I’ve wanted to make something like this for a while, and whenever I saw the pile of vibrant heirloom tomatoes at the grocery store I knew the time had come. The beautiful variegation is simple to do, but any color of tomato will taste amazing. Only good things happen when you combine fresh tomato, basil, and burrata cheese.

Heirloom Tomato Burrata Baguette

The first time I made this we basically stood over the counter eating it slice by slice until it was gone, accidentally spoiling our dinner. I wasn’t super happy about the photos I took the first time around, so I made this recipe again the following night. We told ourselves that we couldn’t inhale the entire loaf like we did before. Our intentions were good, but so is this bread. The baguette won us over and we ate the whole loaf again. Fans of bruschetta will undoubtedly love it as much as we did. Or just fans of tomato.

Heirloom Tomato Burrata Baguette

If you’re unfamiliar with burrata, it’s basically a pouch of soft stretched mozzarella stuffed with even softer mozzarella and fresh cream. Its flavor is subtle, milky, and awesome. If you can’t find burrata you could always use buffalo mozzarella or even something like ricotta if you prefer to have a spreadable consistency.

Heirloom Tomato Burrata Baguette

Heirloom Tomato Burrata Baguette
Serves 8
A beautiful appetizer made with colorful heirloom tomatoes, burrata, and fresh basil.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 loaf french bread, cut in half length-wise
  2. 8oz burrata cheese
  3. 4 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  4. 4 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  5. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  6. Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Brush the tops of each half of the french bread with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place in oven for about 5 minutes until lightly toasted. If you prefer your bread more toasty just leave it in a little longer.
  3. Spread burrata over each half of the toasted bread. I use my fingers to break up the outer pouch of stretched mozzarella into little pieces. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle lightly with a little salt and fresh black pepper.
  4. Scatter chopped basil over the top of the cheese and then arrange sliced tomatoes on top of that. I used four tomatoes (I got about 4 slices out of each, two for each half) in a purple eggplant color, deep red, orange, and yellow. You could also alternate two colors or just use one color across the whole thing.
  5. Season with a little extra salt and pepper, slice, and enjoy!
Calories
  1. 243
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Heirloom Tomato Burrata Baguette


Spicy Avocado Pizza

   

Sometimes when you’re running low on ingredients, you’re forced to improvise. To make unusual decisions resulting in things you might not ordinarily try if you had say… some tomato sauce or mozzarella cheese around. The results of this culinary ad-libbing has a name… and that name is spicy avocado pizza.  

Spicy Avocado Pizza

Don’t let the spicy part frighten you. While this pizza definitely packs some warmth, the avocado is surprisingly effective at mellowing the heat out once it hits your tongue. The first time I made this pizza I made it with a whole avocado, pepper jack cheese, and no jalapeños. After revisions the pepper jack cheese was upgraded to habanero jack cheese (oh yes), the avocado was cut in half, and sliced jalapeños were scattered across the top.  Cranking up the pepper dial to 11 and halving the avocado resulted in just the balance I was looking for.  So if you have a pizza crust lying around but only have ingredients on hand for guacamole – fear not! This pizza will save you.

Spicy Avocado Pizza

Spicy Avocado Pizza
Serves 3
A perfect balance of peppery kick and cool, creamy avocado - on a pizza!
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 prepared pizza crust (I like thin crust)
  2. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  3. 1/2 avocado
  4. Juice from 1/2 of a lime
  5. Salt, to taste
  6. 3 ounces habanero jack cheese (pepper jack will work as well)
  7. 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  8. 1 jalapeño pepper, sliced
  9. 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven according to package instructions for your prepared pizza crust.
  2. Blend avocado with the olive oil, lime juice, and a pinch of salt. Spread evenly over the crust.
  3. Sprinkle half of the cilantro atop the avocado, then top with shredded cheese.
  4. Scattered sliced jalapeño and quartered tomato over the pizza. Transfer to oven and bake according to package instructions.
  5. Remove pizza from oven and top with remaining fresh cilantro. Slice and serve.
Calories
  1. 301
Note
  1. Calorie information is based on using the prepared pizza crusts by Pizza Romana.
Gouda Monster http://www.goudamonster.com/
Spicy Avocado Pizza


Autumn Minestrone

   

Few dishes are more comforting than a piping hot bowl of soup during the chilly months. I love making soups and stews; not only are they almost completely foolproof, they are also easily customizable. Whatever leftover veggies are in the fridge can be tossed into a pot and transformed into a hearty meal – it’s awesome.

Autumn Minestrone

For this minestrone I used Pomi brand boxed tomatoes because I love the flavor as well as the fact that they are not cooked with salt. One box of Pomi tomatoes is about the same as two 14oz cans, and you can substitute accordingly. Keep in mind that you may want to tweak the salt in the recipe if your canned tomatoes contain sodium. Also feel free to use more pasta. I choose to go fairly light to focus on the vegetables and keep the calorie count low.

Autumn Minestrone

Autumn Minestrone
Serves 6
A warm, comforting soup that is full of vegetables and low in calories.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 teaspoon olive oil
  2. 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  3. 2 stalks celery, diced
  4. 1 cup carrots, chopped
  5. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  6. 4 cups stock
  7. 1 28oz carton chopped tomatoes (or 2 14oz cans)
  8. 1 can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
  9. 1/4 teaspoon salt (adjust depending on the sodium content of your stock and tomatoes)
  10. 1 sprig of rosemary, stem removed and leaves minced
  11. 1 bay leaf
  12. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  13. 1/2 cup small, dry pasta (I used cavatelli)
  14. 2 cups kale, chopped (or other green of choice)
  15. 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Instructions
  1. In a deep soup pan heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add onion, celery, and carrots and cook until onions are slightly translucent – about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add stock, tomatoes, and all of your seasonings. Bring soup just to boiling, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  3. Add pasta and kale, cooking for another 10-12 minutes (or however long your pasta needs to cook based on package instructions).
  4. Just before serving stir in fresh parsley.
Calories
  1. 148
Optional olive bread crouton topping
  1. Cut olive bread into 1 inch pieces and toss with a small amount of olive oil to coat. Spread onto a nonstick baking sheet and put into a 400F oven for about 15 minutes or until the croutons are dry and crunchy.
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Autumn Minestrone


Rosemary Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese “Fries”

   

The classic pairing of grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of my all time favorites. It’s something that I – and most other people I know  – grew up eating, so as adults it has evolved into no-fuss comfort food. Nostalgia aside, it’s incredibly easy to make a more grown-up version of this dish that will make you want to throw away your can opener and forget the name Campbell’s (except don’t toss the can opener because you need it for the tomatoes). I grow basil on my balcony because I love it so much and it’s almost always the flavor used in tomato soup, but if you’ve never made your tomato soup with rosemary you’re in for a real treat. It’s particularly wonderful when fall starts to roll around because rosemary has a savory, evergreen-like aroma that reminds me of the upcoming holidays. The soup itself is very low calorie (less than 80 per bowl) but I still wanted to find a way to trim down the calories on the grilled cheese front. In the end I decided to make open-faced grilled cheese “fries” so that each person only got one slice of bread instead of two. Not only is it a little bit healthier, but they are the perfect finger food for dunking into a piping hot bowl of soup. But yeah… I still ate two slices of bread because the fries were too delicious. Oh well… I tried!

Rosemary Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Fries

While making this for lunch today I didn’t remember until the very end that my immersion blender was broken. I ended up transferring the soup to the food processor to puree it which made me realize how much I LOVE my immersion blender. If you don’t have one of these and you find yourself making a lot of stove-top soups and sauces I highly recommend getting one. It makes your life so much easier! Doing it in the food processor or in the blender works fine though, just make sure that you’re careful as the hot liquid can splash around and make a mess – especially if you overfill the basin.

For the grilled cheese sticks I think using a combination of cheeses is the best way to go, but use whatever you have around. For mine I used a mix of sharp white cheddar, a colby-swiss blend, and mozzarella. The sharp cheddar gives it a nice pungent flavor while the other cheeses give an ooey gooey melty consistency. I used a total of 5 ounces so it would be a little under a serving of cheese per person – another area where I was trying to skim off a few calories. The bread I used was a white Italian bread with a subtle open crumb. The shallow holes end up creating yummy cheesy pockets of awesomeness, and in some cases the cheese oozed through and browned a little on the bottom when grilling – perfect.

Rosemary Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Fries

Rosemary Tomato Soup
Serves 6
Warm, comforting tomato soup infused with the scent of fresh rosemary.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
35 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
35 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 teaspoon olive oil
  2. 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  3. 1 cup grated carrots
  4. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  6. 1/8 teaspoon salt
  7. 5 cups vegetable stock
  8. 1 31.5 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
  9. 1 bay leaf
  10. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  11. 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  12. Salt, to taste (use more or less depending on the sodium content of your stock – I didn’t need any extra salt for mine)
  13. 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Instructions
  1. Heat olive oil in soup pan on medium high heat. When hot add onions, carrots, garlic, rosemary, and the 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Let cook for several minutes until the onions are just slightly caramelized.
  2. Pour stock into the pan, making sure to stir well to get all of the caramelized bits off of the bottom. Add entire can of tomatoes, bay leaf, and additional seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove bay leaf and rosemary sprig from the soup. It’s ok if any rosemary leaves fell off while cooking, as they will be blended in when you puree the soup. Turn off the heat.
  4. Using either an immersion blender or food processor, puree soup to desired consistency.
  5. Transfer back to pot stir in the heavy cream. Serve immediately.
Calories
  1. 79
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Grilled Cheese "Fries"
Serves 6
Fun twist on traditional grilled cheese – perfect for soup dunking!
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 5 ounces shredded cheese (I used a blend of sharp white cheddar, colby-swiss, and mozzarella)
  2. 6 slices of good bread
  3. 2 tablespoons butter, melted
Instructions
  1. Preheat a skillet on medium high heat and turn on your oven’s broiler.
  2. Brush each slice of bread with the melted butter on one side. I had a little extra butter leftover and just poured it into my soup pot – yum!
  3. Place your bread, butter-side down, onto your hot skillet. Put shredded cheese on top and allow it to get nice and seared on the bottom.
  4. Transfer the bread slices to your oven to brown the cheese. It happens pretty quickly so take care not to let it burn.
  5. Put cheese bread on cutting board and let cool a couple of minutes before slicing into sticks. Top with fresh black pepper.
Calories
  1. 191
Gouda Monster http://www.goudamonster.com/

Rosemary Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Fries


Tomato, Mozzarella & Crouton Salad

   

My favorite salad in the history of EVER. We had friends over one night and I had to make this salad because it is one of my go-to recipes for dinner party type situations. I’m not really classy enough for a dinner party but I can do a dinner party type situation alright. This salad is amazing because it’s so easy to make with just a few ingredients, and it’s simple to double or triple depending on how many people you are serving. Or how much the people you are serving love tomatoes, because if you love tomatoes you’ll want to eat a ton of this.

 

Tomato, Mozzarella & Crouton Salad
Serves 6
This salad is a must try for any tomato lover!
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
22 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
22 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 Pints Cherry Tomatoes, halved
  2. 2 7oz Packages Bocconcini, cut into bite sized pieces
  3. ½ Cup Fresh Basil Leaves, chopped
  4. ¼ Cup + 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  5. 1 Clove Garlic, cut in half
  6. 7-8 Large Slices of Good Bread (I love Parmesan bread for this)
  7. Salt & Pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Toss the cherry tomatoes, bocconcini, basil, and ¼ cup olive oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper according to your own tastes and toss to coat.
  3. Brush each slice of bread with remaining olive oil, rub with cut end of the garlic clove, and sprinkle with salt. Bake 10-12 minutes, until crispy.
  4. Cut toast into 1×1 inch pieces and toss with the salad just before serving.
Calories
  1. 499
Notes
  1. For a more attractive presentation and complex flavor, use different varieties (and colors) of small tomatoes.
Gouda Monster http://www.goudamonster.com/