Category Archives: vegetarian

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseAs far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster loved the Oscars. I couldn’t tell you when I first watched them, but I don’t recall ever missing a ceremony. Oscar Night is my favorite holiday. One of my best friends and I bonded over our mutual love of Oscar politics. I put great effort into predicting each year’s nominees and winners. I consider Martin Scorsese’s win in 2007 one of the happiest moments of *my* life. Put simply, I love them I love them I love them.

To that end, it will come as no surprise that I have a traditional Oscar Night meal. If you’ve been around here a while, you know by now that my Oscar dessert is always red velvet (because it’s “red like the red carpet”). The main though? I’ve never posted it. I’ve barely mentioned it. Until now, duh.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseI’ve been making Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheeses for dinner on every Oscar Night since 2005. Why? Because:

A) it’s effing delicious, as all cheesy pesto things are.
B) it’s easy, and that’s important when you’re cooking and watching red carpet coverage at the same time.
C) 20 year old me could afford all the ingredients and churn these out on the illegal electric burner I had in my dorm room. Pesto Mozzarella anything seemed very special to all my college pals and was enough to get them to watch the Oscars with me.
D) this is the height of sophistication in the category of Things I Once Cooked in a Residence Hall That I Still Make.

Anyway…this sandwich. This simple, simple sandwich. I’ve been making it for sixteen years and I won’t go an Oscar Night without it. It’s cheesy, it’s herby. It brings me so much joy on Oscar Night (and any night).Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseLet’s talk ingredients. First things first: get the good sandwich bread. I mean, whatever you have will absolutely work, but might I suggest sourdough? Or something crusty and chewy with an open structure so that some of the cheese melts through to the pan and gets crispy? Can you tell I’ve thought about this a lot???Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseNext up, Basil Pesto. It’s spread on both slices of bread involved in this grilled cheese and is the thing that makes it pop! The pesto pictured is my homemade stuff, but feel free to use store bought. Keep in mind that it’s a primary flavor though, so whatever you choose, make sure you really like it.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheesePesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseYou can’t have a grilled cheese without cheese! I use a mix of equal parts fresh mozzarella and low-moisture whole milk mozzarella that I shred on the large hole side of my box grater. This gives the sandwich the rich flavor of the fresh cheese with the perfect meltability (?) of the more processed stuff.

Don’t want to buy both? Don’t! You can use all of either one with good results. I am just persnickety after sixteen years and like a mix. You can also just slice and layer it instead of grating–whatever you like. A word to the wise: don’t buy the pre-shredded stuff. It just doesn’t melt right.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseThough most grilled cheeses are made with butter, I choose to use olive oil here to keep with the pesto flavor profile. I brush a little on both sides of my assembled sandwich before cooking.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseAnd speaking of cooking, as with my favorite classic grilled cheese, Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese is cooked over medium-low heat so that the bread crisps and the cheese melts at similar rates—no burnt outsides and cold cheese allowed! It’s all gooey, stretchy cheese, garlicky pesto and crispy edges up in here.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseI almost always serve these up with a green salad with cara cara oranges, red onion and balsamic vinaigrette (more “sophisticated” college food), but you do whatever makes you happy. I mean, the Oscars tend to be volatile enough that this sandwich may be the only thing that goes your way come Sunday night. But oh, what a win.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese
makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices sourdough or other good sandwich bread
2 heaping tablespoons prepared basil pesto
2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, grated*
2 ounces low-moisture whole milk mozzarella,* grated (I used Trader Joe’s)
olive oil, for brushing
pinch or two of Kosher or sea salt

Lay all slices of bread on a surface. Spread about a 1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) of pesto over each one. Top two of the slices with the grated cheeses. Top cheese with remaining pieces of pesto-spread bread, “closing” the sandwiches. Use a pastry brush to brush olive oil on exposed plain bread. Sprinkle with salt.

Heat a medium-large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add sandwiches oiled-bread-side-down. Brush the exposed (plain-side-up) pieces of bread with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Let sandwiches cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes. Flip sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the other side, about 3 more minutes.

Remove to plates and serve immediately.

Note:

1. Fresh mozzarella doesn’t grate cleanly, but will still crumble nicely enough on the side of a box grater.

2. Low-moisture mozzarella is the kind that comes shrink-wrapped and is usually near the bricks of cheddar and pre-sliced cheese. Leftovers can be used in pasta dishes or for homemade pizza bagels or English muffin pizzas.

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheesePesto Mozzarella Grilled CheesePesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Easy Cumin Roasted Beets

Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsI have never been a particularly picky eater, but I have spent the majority of my 35+ years hating beets. Hating them. My mom used to serve pickled beets at least once a week, which meant I had to choke down (and I do mean “choke”) one or two with some regularity until I grew up, moved out, and lived a blissfully beetless existence until three years ago. I’d still be beet-free today if it weren’t for a request for them for a birthday dinner.Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted BeetsAs I prepared for this party (remember parties?), I looked online for beet roasting methods and mostly saw the same one: wrap beets in foil, roast them whole, let them cool, rub off the skins with your hands, and slice. It seemed like a lot of time and work for something I couldn’t stand. Instead, I took a gamble and did things the easy way: giving my beets a really good scrub, lopping off the root and tip, slicing them into thick wedges, and roasting them with olive oil, cumin and salt until caramelized.Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsBeing a careful cook, I had to taste the finished beets for seasoning regardless of personal preference, so I scrunched my nose, closed my eyes (?), took a tiny bite and…they were delicious. Earthy and sweet, yes, but also salty, smoky and crisp-edged. I couldn’t believe it—one of my top five all-time least favorite foods! Delicious! Sometimes it just takes the right preparation to change someone’s life (er, palate).Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsNow, I don’t know if I’ve actually changed—you won’t find me eating pickled beets out of the jar anytime soon. But these? I’ve made them at least once a week for the last three years and I freaking love them. They’re so easy and so good, the perfect low-maintenance side dish. I’ll throw a pan of Easy Cumin Roasted Beets in the oven alongside a chicken, serve them with fresh hummus on a casual night in, or pair them with feta and greens for a killer beet salad.Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsDid I just say “killer beet salad”? Maybe I’ve changed after all.Easy Cumin Roasted Beets

Easy Cumin Roasted Beets
makes 6 or so servings

4-5 large beets or 6-7 small-medium beets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, or to taste
chopped cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Scrub beets and dry. Some may have a matte brown portion of their skin–wiping them dry with paper towel or lighter-colored towel is best for differentiating between this and remaining dirt. Do not peel.

Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to trim off the roots and tips. Slice them into wedges (I did 8 each on large beets). Pile on a prepared pan and top with olive oil, cumin and salt. Toss with your hands until everything is evenly coated, then scatter them evenly across the pan, taking care to keep them apart. Wash your hands.

Roast 20 minutes. Use a thin spatula to flip the beets over before roasting for 20-25 minutes more. Remove them to a serving dish. Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley, if desired. Serve.

Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.Easy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted BeetsEasy Cumin Roasted Beets

Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupOver the past couple of years, I’ve learned that a shocking number of people I know and love don’t know how to make one of the simplest recipes in the wide world: Grilled Cheese. It’s not because they’re incapable in the kitchen—it’s just that nobody ever taught them how to make it so that the bread cooks and the cheese melts at similar rates, and the butter doesn’t blacken and smoke up the house.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupLuckily (maybe?), they’re friends with me, a person who will make them a grilled cheese in the moment and then spend four months dwelling on the (non-)event until the middle of January when she decides to write a blog post about the whole (inconsequential) thing. And that’s how we got here. Luckily. Maybe.

Anyway…Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupI make Grilled Cheese for dinner at least once a week because a) it’s easy and I don’t have to think about it too hard, and b) I always have sandwich bread, butter and some sort of melting cheese (usually extra sharp cheddar). It only takes a couple of minutes to butter two pieces of bread and layer cheese in the middle. You’ll notice I don’t use sliced cheese here—that’s simply because I prefer to buy the brick and slice it myself. Do whatever works for you, with the exception of pre-shredded cheese because it’s coated in an anti-caking agent that prevents proper melting. You do not want to impede proper melting on a Grilled Cheese!Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupAs far as cooking goes, I think it’s a pretty human thing to want to cook crispy foods over the highest heat for a couple of minutes, but when it comes to Grilled Cheese (and so many other things), it’s best to ignore that thought, turn down the flame and take your time. Whereas 3-4 minutes over high will yield cold cheese between burnt slices of bread, 7-8 over medium-low will give you perfect melted cheese and buttery, golden edges every time. Those extra four minutes make all the difference in the world.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupBoom! That’s all you need to know to make a basic Grilled Cheese. You can change up the cheese and bread depending on your mood, but as long as you butter the outsides of the bread instead of melting butter in the skillet and cook things low and slow, you will always have perfect Grilled Cheese.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupAnd what’s Grilled Cheese without Tomato Soup? This combination is a classic for a reason—the tang of tomato pairs perfectly with the rich, cheesy, crispy sandwich, making for a simple, satisfying meal.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupAs with Grilled Cheese, my go-to Tomato Soup recipe is easy as can be. Whole peeled tomatoes are crushed by hand, then simmered in vegetable stock with carrots, onion, garlic, tomato paste and spices before being puréed until velvety smooth. Easy peasy.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupTwo things to note:

• I prefer to use canned whole peeled tomatoes instead of fresh. This is for a few reasons, but mainly because canned tomatoes give consistently delicious results. I love fresh tomatoes, but they are only in season for a few months of the year and January isn’t one of them.
• You’ll notice I like to add a pinch of baking soda at the end of cooking to neutralize some of the acidity, but you may also use a teaspoon of sugar or honey. Whatever works for you.Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupSo there you have it—one of the simplest meals in the world, explained. Maybe you knew all this or maybe you didn’t. Either way, I hope you treat yourself this weekend. I know we could all use some comfort. No “maybe” about it.Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices sandwich bread (I like Dave’s Killed Bread White Bread Done Right)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
small pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter
4 ounces extra sharp cheddar or other melting cheese, thinly sliced

Spread 1/2 tablespoon of softened butter over one side of each piece of sandwich bread. If using unsalted butter, sprinkle butter with a small pinch of salt.

Turn 2 pieces of bread plain-side-up. Lay sliced cheese evenly over each plain side. Top cheese with remaining pieces of bread, buttered-side-up, so that the buttered sides of each slice of bread are on the outsides of the sandwiches.

Heat a medium-large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the other side, about 3-4 more minutes.

Serve immediately, with tomato soup (recipe below), if desired.

Tomato Soup
makes about 4 servings

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-large Spanish onion, diced
3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
1/2-1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, divided
4 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled & sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or a pinch of ground cayenne)
4 cups vegetable stock (I use Better than Bouillon)
small pinch of baking soda or teaspoon of sugar, optional
chopped parsley, optional

Place tomatoes and any liquid in a mixing bowl. Use your clean hands to crush the tomatoes. Set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and pinch of salt, and cook for 5-7 minutes, until onion is starting to turn translucent but nothing has browned. Add minced garlic and cook about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until starting to darken.

Stir in red pepper flakes, hand-crushed tomatoes & their liquid, followed by vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 20-25 minutes, until carrots have softened.

Purée soup with a hand blender. Alternatively, let hot soup cool for 15 minutes before transferring to a high-powered blender and puréeing. Be careful, as hot liquids expand during blending.

Taste soup and add salt as desired. If soup is too acidic, stir in a small pinch of baking soda or a teaspoon of sugar. Garnish with parsley and serve, with Grilled Cheese (recipe above) if desired.

Leftover soup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Grilled Cheese & Tomato SoupGrilled Cheese & Tomato SoupGrilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Although I have never publicized it this way, I have privately referred to this time of my blogging year as “Savory January” for some time now. You see, every January since starting this site, I (mostly) switch focus from sweets to weeknight meals, sides and other savory pursuits. It’s not for weight loss, “cleansing” or any reason beyond keeping things interesting—I cook as much as I bake, and those recipes deserve their moment in the blogging sun, too. Is switching up my blog POV for one month a year weird? Sure. But I like variety, and also this is my website and I can do what I want.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Pasta e Fagioli has been one of my favorite recipes for years and years. At its most basic, it’s a vegetable soup with pasta and beans, but it’s so much more! It’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s hearty, and it’s dang delicious. Oh, and it’s vegetarian—vegan without the cheese, gluten-free depending what kind of pasta you use. Yesssss.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}I made this Italian staple all the time when I first moved to NYC, but moved on to other things because that’s just how cooking goes for me. I make something regularly for a few weeks/months/years and then I completely forget about it for a few more weeks/months/years. In this case, I remembered Pasta e Fagioli on the last night of our Maine trip this past October. We had some produce to use up, and we had some tomato paste, beans (aka fagioli), pasta and cheese ends lingering…and well, when life gives you lemons, you know.

Long story short, I used up ingredients, was able to feed my people in under an hour start-to-finish and also became obsessed with Pasta e Fagioli again. We’ve been back in Brooklyn for three months and I’m still over here making this every couple of weeks. The heart wants what it wants.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Making Pasta e Fagioli is super simple and you probably have most of the ingredients already. The method is nearly identical fo the way I make Sausage, White Bean & Kale Soup because why fix what isn’t broken?

Start by cooking the mirepoix (French term for carrot, celery & onion) for about ten minutes. You’re not going to get any color on it, but this is where the flavor building begins. Add some garlic, and then coat it all in tomato paste and let it caramelize for a few minutes. Add some herbs (fresh or dried), vegetable stock and water, and let that all simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the vegetables are soft. Finish it all off with a couple of cans of white beans and a bunch of kale (or any hearty green) and let them warm through, then combine the soup with cooked pasta in individual soup bowls. All that’s left to do is grate some parm over the top and call it dinner.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}If you’re wondering why I cook the pasta separately from the rest of the soup, it’s because I’m a single lady who eats a lot of leftovers and hates mushy pasta. I do this with chicken noodle soup as well—by keeping the two components separate, the pasta doesn’t overcook or get waterlogged and sad. If you have a group to feed or will otherwise not have leftovers (or maybe like your pasta really soft?), feel free to toss it in the pot with the beans and kale.

Pasta e Fagioli takes less than an hour start-to-finish and keeps like a dream. I made a big pot on Sunday night and have been reheating it for quick dinners when I get home from work. Let me tell you, it’s taking the edge off the post-holiday blues.Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}
makes 4-6 servings

For pasta:
water
Kosher or sea salt
splash of olive oil
1 1/2 cups small pasta (farfalline, ditalini, elbows)

Soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium carrots, peeled, sliced into thin half-moons
3 ribs celery, trimmed, thinly sliced
1 medium-large yellow onion, diced small
1/2-1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, divided
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
4 cups vegetable stock
4 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 bunch kale or chard, stemmed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 15-ounce cans cannelini or other white beans
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for topping
grated parmesan cheese, for topping (optional)

Fill a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot 2/3 full with water. Bring to a boil. Salt well and add pasta, cooking according to the package directions. Drain pasta and return to the pot. Drizzle lightly with olive oil to keep it from sticking together whil you prepare the soup.

Heat olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion and a pinch of salt to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until starting to soften (about 10 minutes). Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir to coat. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, until tomato paste begins to darken. Add bay leaves, thyme, optional red pepper flakes, vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables are soft (but not mush).

Remove bay leaves. Add beans and kale and let cook 5-7 more minutes, until greens have wilted a bit. Stir in parsley. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

For serving, place about 1/2 cup of cooked pasta in each bowl. Top with soup and stir together. Garnish with Parmesan, if desired.

Soup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.

Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}Pasta e Fagioli {Italian Pasta & Bean Soup}

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Mashed Sweet PotatoesI’ve wanted to make Thanksgiving for years and years, but my family usually travels for this holiday. That said, I guess next Thursday is my lucky day…or something. Yes, since traveling is inadvisable at the moment, I am staying put and taking this excuse to make the whole turkey dinner in my apartment. This is obviously not how I imagined my first time making Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s what’s happening. And it might be a little messed up to say this, but I’m kind of excited about it. I mean, I’ll be bummed not to be with my parents, older sister and sister-in-law (and the dogs), and I would definitely like for this period of world history to get over and done, but I am really excited to make Thanksgiving.

The menu is still in the tentative planning phase, but I know for sure that I am making J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Turchetta and smaller batches of the cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and caramelized Brussels sprouts from my archives. Oh, and the best dang Mashed Sweet Potatoes you can get anywhere.Mashed Sweet PotatoesI can’t believe I’ve made it this many years without posting this recipe.

Creamed Kale? ✅
Dinner rolls? ✅
Two kinds of stuffing? ✅✅
Every cheesy appetizer under the sun? ✅✅✅✅✅
Mashed Sweet Potatoes? ❌

Truly, it’s bonkers. When I first moved to New York a thousand thirteen years ago, these were my go-to contribution to various Thanksgivings and holiday dinners, and they were a hit on every table they graced. These are seriously the *best* holiday sweet potatoes ever. Marshmallows be damned. (But not really.)Mashed Sweet PotatoesMashed Sweet PotatoesMy mom got the original recipe from her friend, Amy, and then passed it on to me. I’ve twisted the it a little since then, but only a little, because they were already pretty dang perfect. The secret? An entire brick of cream cheese and an entire stick of butter. Yes, I know that’s a lot of dairy and a lot of dense calories, but this recipe also makes a lot of sweet potatoes. Please resist the urge to cut back or use low-fat ingredients—it’s just not worth the effort without the real deals. This is holiday food, not everyday food (although I would never judge you for eating them with every meal for four days straight…ahem).Mashed Sweet PotatoesAs you might imagine, these Mashed Sweet Potatoes are…beyond. Beyond creamy. Beyond delicious. So beyond that it’s simply beyond me why anyone wouldn’t throw these on next week’s menu right now.Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
barely adapted from my mom’s friend, Amy
makes 10-12 servings

4 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed & peeled, diced into 1-inch pieces
cold water, to cover sweet potatoes
2 1/2–3 teaspoons teaspoons Kosher or sea salt, divided
1 8-ounce brick full-fat brick-style cream cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
chopped parsley, for garnish

Place diced sweet potatoes in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add salt and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-high and let simmer until sweet potatoes are fork tender. Remove from heat.

Carefully drain water by pouring sweet potatoes through a colander. Return sweet potatoes to the hot pot. Use a potato masher to begin to break up sweet potatoes. Add all pieces of cream cheese and butter, along with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Mash to combine, using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to scrape down the sides of the pot as necessary. Do not over-mash. Taste for seasoning, then stir in more salt by the 1/2 teaspoon and pepper as desired.

Remove to a serving dish and serve immediately with chopped parsley, if desired. Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

If you’d like to make Mashed Sweet Potatoes ahead, spread them into a medium-sized casserole dish. Let cool completely, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove them from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Then place covered dish in a 350F oven for 30-40 minutes, until hot. Serve.Mashed Sweet PotatoesMashed Sweet Potatoes