Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rigatoni Primavera

Basil, salt, carrots, spice, carbs, and cheese. These are a few of my favorite things. I kid you not, I could eat this dish every day. Here's how it breaks down:

The main ingredient of this meal is a given: Carbs. I may be a girl, but really... Who doesn't love pasta? 

The star of this meal: a certain green herb that I can't seem to get enough of. And no, it's not what you're thinking. I'm talking about basil. I could put it on top of anything... and I do! I love it. Love. (I even tried basil gelato in Rome, which I'd probably only trust the Italians to do right. It was amazing). 

Go ahead and add ice cream to my list of vices. 

Then there's carrots. I'm not sure if cooked carrots were a childhood favorite of mine, but for some reason, I could have cooked carrots every night for the rest of my life. They're just so good! I realize it's a little weird that a 20-year-old college student is obsessed with carrots, but I can bet that my kindergarten homies would all agree on the simple fact that carrots are just yummy... 

...with a dash of salt. I hate to admit it, but I may be a salt addict. Along with basil, salt goes on just about anything. 

And cheese. Praise Allah that vegan options exist and taste good! You'll probably figure out soon that I rarely make a meal without it. 

Finally, I like things spicy. Not too hot, but just enough to wake up the palette. Whether it's hot sauce, cayenne pepper, or red pepper flakes, a little zip is almost always necessary. 

Put it all together, and you really have the perfect meal. This Rigatoni Primavera is loaded with veggies (and vitamins--woo!), so it's healthy. I like the addition of carrots because it's a little twist compared to traditional pasta dishes, and the basil gives it an addicting freshness. Needless to say, rigatoni and cheese make it a little splurge-worthy, so you could definitely make it with whole wheat pasta or brown rice pasta. But come on, the white stuff is just too good! After all, in life and in diets, perfection can be wearing. 

Rigatoni Primavera
[1/2] lb rigatoni
[3] cups fresh spinach leaves
[1] cup diced carrots, peeled and in quarter-inch pieces
[1] can diced tomatoes 
[1/3] cup yellow onion, chopped
[1] tsp minced garlic 
[1/2] tsp red pepper flakes
[2] tbsp fresh basil; julienned
[1] tbsp olive oil
vegan parmesan
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Cook pasta to package instructions until al dente. Sauté onions in olive oil on medium low heat until tender, then add garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes then add tomatoes, spinach, carrots, red pepper, and a little more salt. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add pasta and stir to combine. Top with parmesan and lots of fresh basil. Then, understand my obsession. 

The perfect bite. Libby thought so, too.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ooey Gooey Grilled Cheese Sandwich

You know those days that just feel blah? It's cold, it's raining, and thought of putting jeans on in place of your sweatpants makes you cry a little? You wonder, "Would anyone judge me if I showed up like I woke up?" Maybe you had class today, maybe you had work, but the only thing you're thinking about now is risking a third speeding ticket so you can get home and change right back into your pj's. And oh, yeah... indulge in some comfort food.

Despite the picture I'm painting here, this is not a plug for Pajama Jeans. You know, "Looks like denim... but feels like pajamas!" If the infomercial made you briefly consider how clutch that'd be, you are not alone, my friends. Unfortunately, that's one guilty pleasure that's a little too guilty. There are standards, people.

On the contrary, this is a plug for a guilty pleasure that ranks at shame factor: zero... something even more comforting than Pajama Jeans... I'm talkin' about grilled cheese.

Grilled cheese is the ultimate comfort food, and I'd debate anyone on that. It's warm, melty, cheesy, and just an all around feel-good food. Paired with a hot cup of tomato soup, and even the nastiest day can turn around. There really is nothing better.

This grilled cheese is so satisfying. The bread's crunchy, the tomato makes it hearty, and the cheese takes center stage.

And guess what?

It's vegan.

So put on your pj's, get comfy, and indulge. Sans guilt.

Vegan Grilled Cheese

[2] slices hearty whole grain bread; I used an organic loaf
[2-3] oz. cheddar style soy cheese
[2] slices tomato, 1/2 inch slices
[2] tsp vegan butter; I like Earth Balance

Spread each slice of bread with 1 tsp of the vegan butter. Toast the bread on medium heat, one slice topped with the cheese. Cover and let cook until the cheese has melted. Add tomato. Devour. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Simple Mediterranean Salad & A Tale from Tuscany

I have to admit something. It wasn't long ago that I couldn't tell you the difference between a Pinot Grigio and a Pinot Noir, even if my favorite heels depended on it.

Now, I'm no expert by any means, but spending a semester in the wine capital of the world helped my odds a little... or at least taught me a thing or two.

I won't get into what I've learned about wine so far because, frankly, it's not a whole lot. This post is about something slightly less trendy-- olive oil.

What many people don't know is that olive oils can vary just as widely as wines can. The Filippo Berio that you buy in a typical grocery store has a completely different color, flavor and use than a Californian olive oil straight off a vineyard. 

But it's the olive oil that I tasted in Chianti [insert eye roll here] that hails from a different world altogether. 

While I was abroad, I had opportunities that had previously only lived in my dreams or in the movies. When I traveled to Florence, I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to a tiny village in Tuscany where... brace yourselves... an Italian duo, who spoke zero english, cooked us an authentic Italian meal paired with wine made right there at the private villa. It's okay, I'd hate me, too.

The first course was a simple bruschetta (toasted bread) drizzled with the most beguiling olive oil that I'd ever tasted. It was slightly spicy, lustrously bright in flavor, yet it was light enough to dispel any anxieties over fat content. I wanted to lick the plate, and if no one were watching, I probably would have.

An olive in its purest form is the culprit in donning out a healthy dose of attitude. I innocently volunteered to taste the small, green bud after it was freshly picked from a nearby tree, and I soon realized my ill fate. 

I had expected to be met with the tender and salty snack that I love so dearly. What I actually got was nothing short of offensive-- a hard, bitter, horrifically spicy nugget of ew!

I made the mistake of thinking that the black ones tasted different, and you can probably guess how that turned out-- I digressed from any lady-like manners I had to spit it out asap...twice. How could such a tiny berry so aggressively my palate? My mouth burned until lunch.

Oh, but lunch? For once, words escape me. 

Except that I had seconds, and thirds, and I think fourths. Hands down, it was the best pasta I'd ever had in my life, with a basil pesto sent from the Italian gods. The experience was unforgettable. 

I'm not about to claim that this recipe for Simple Mediterranean Salad will be the best lunch of your life, but it brought my right back to my time in Tuscany. I bought two bottles of the olive oil and gave two bottles of the Chianti wine as Christmas gifts to my family. I kept one bottle of the olive oil for myself and cherish it as if it were liquid gold.

The best thing I recommend to you, if you've never ventured past the stuff on your grocer's shelves, is to find a specialty food store and ask about the oils they carry. Prices range with quality, but a good olive oil just may change the way you cook.

Simple Mediterranean Salad

[1] tbsp finishing olive oil (a flavorful oil that doesn't need to be cooked)
[1] tbsp fresh lemon juice
[1] tsp lemon zest
[1/2] tsp dried mint; more if you use fresh
[1] small zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch half-moon shapes
[1/2] tbsp pine nuts, toasted
[1/4] cup mixed olives, chopped; use whatever varieties you like best
a couple leaves of fresh basil; chopped
fresh cracked pepper

First, mix the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, mint, and pepper in a bowl with a metal fork or whisk. Then add the chopped olives, zucchini, basil, and pine nuts. Combine all ingredients and top with a little more fresh basil.

Then close your eyes and imagine yourself on a villa in Tuscany.

View from the villa in Chianti
View from the top of Montefioralle (named the most beautiful village in Italy)