Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spinach-Cheese Calzone

Oh. Wow. This calzone has no business being anywhere near a blog with the word "skinny" in its name. It is a perfect dish to convince your skeptical friends that "meatless" does not mean "monotonous."

A giant Spinach-Cheese Calzone in all its gooey glory.

This savory creation is from Molly Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. The original recipe calls for 3 Tbs minced fresh basil in place of the black olives. I was out of basil, but had a can of olives on hand. The olives added a subtle richness, and a bit of texture. They also serve as a reminder that it's perfectly acceptable to use convenient ingredients, and that doing so does not diminish the end result. Not everything needs to be made from scratch all the time, and using unglamorous canned olives in place of their fancier cousins actually worked very well. In keeping with this novel idea that good food can be easy, I used pizza dough purchased in the bakery at my local market. Feel free to make your own dough if the spirit moves you.

  • 1 pkg pizza dough
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 lb spinach, stemmed and minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • generous amounts of black pepper
  • 4 or 5 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup black olives, sliced
  • 1 lb ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  1. Allow dough to rise in its wrapper for one hour.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and saute over medium heat until translucent ~ about 5 minutes.
  3. Add spinach, salt, and black pepper.  Cook, stirring, over high heat just until spinach wilts. Add garlic and cook for about 2 more minutes.
  4. Combine cheeses and olives in a mixing bowl. Add the spinach saute and mix very well.Taste to correct seasonings.
  1. Preheat oven to 450. Grease a baking sheet.
  2. Punch down the dough. Divide into two sections and roll out on a floured surface into 1/4" thick circles.
  3. Place half the filling on one half of each circle, leaving a 1/2 inch rim. Moisten the rim with a bit of water (use your fingers), fold over the empty half and crimp the edges like a pie crust. A fork is useful for a good uniform crimp. Then poke a few holes in the top.
  4. Arrange the calzones on the baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until crisp and golden brown.
  5. Serve hot.
Notes:  Divide the dough into up to 6 circles to make individual calzones. Reheat in the oven. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep them from over-browning. Experiment with different fillings.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Penne Rigati with Grilled Baked Vegetables

This recipe came from a wonderful old Italian cookbook discovered by my intrepid husband. The book is filled with recipes from Italy's northern Emilia-Romagna region. These dishes intrigue me because they are different from the southern Italian cooking that I grew up with, but they share the warmth and comfort offered by all rural Italian cooking. This is the kind of comfort food that is welcome at any occasion.

This is a layered vegetable casserole that can be served alone, or over pasta as a main dish. It is flavored with a battuto, a finely chopped mixture of herbs. Tradition calls for the herbs to be chopped with a mezzaluna, but your food processor will work just fine. The original recipe calls for 2 oz of anchovies, but we substituted an extra clove of garlic and black olives to create a flavorful, vegetarian combination. Dry cured black olives are available at Italian delis, and have a wonderfully rich, smooth flavor.

The cheese is important to this dish. Young pecorino is mild and nutty. Stay away from the aged, salty cheeses like Romano. Ask for it as "young pecorino". Cheese shops stock several ages of pecorino.

Assemble the vegetable casserole early in the day if you like. Keep it covered and refrigerated until about 1 hour before serving.

  • 4 red bell peppers
  • 2/3 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 3 large cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 6-10 dry cured black olives (or Kalamata), chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 5 small onions sliced vertically about 1/4" thick
  • 3 medium zucchini, slices into long strips, about 1/4" thick
  •  1 lb Penne Rigata (a ribbed, tubular pasta)
  • 12 oz young pecorino (sheep's milk cheese), shredded
  • 1 lb penne rigati pasta (ribbed tubes)
  • 6 - 8 quarts salted water
1.  Roast the peppers until well seared on all sides. Skins will blacken. A wood or charcoal fire is the most authentic approach, but feel free to use the broiler. Place the peppers in a paper bag and let rest for 30 minutes. Peel, seed, and dice. Set aside.

2. Prepare the battuto. Chop parsley, garlic, basil, and olives until they are almost a past. Set aside, covered.

3. Lightly oil the onions and zucchini (keep them separate) so that they will brown, and sprinkle them with salt and plenty of pepper. Brown quickly on both sides over high heat in a skillet.

4. Spread the onions in the bottom of a glass baking dish. Top with zucchini. Use a fork to steady the vegetables and cut them into small pieces.

5. Sprinkle the battuto on top of the vegetables. Top with the roasted peppers.

Preheat the oven to 375. About 20 minutes before serving, drizzle 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables. Bake 20 minutes, or until the oil bubbles around the edge of the baking dish.

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Drain thoroughly. Add the baked vegetables and aboout 1/3 of the cheese. Toss, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Pass the remaining cheese at the table.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Blue Corn Muffins

My friend Billy Allen gave me the blue cornmeal that became the focal point of our New Year's Day dinner. We had the requisite black-eyed peas and greens, but the Blue Corn Muffins stole the show. Billy is a great guy, down-to-earth, smart, dedicated to his family, and a model of sustainability. He and his family grow much of their own food, and he is always looking for ways to improve the crop, but not at the expense of the environment. A real conservationist, Billy has devised a number of ways to save water not only when it comes to growing plants, but also in subdivisions of the future. He grew and ground the corn meal, so that made it extra special.

Blue Corn Muffins

1 cup blue cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour or any flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeno (optional)
1 egg beaten
1 cup milk

Combine liquids and slowly add to combined dry ingredients. Oil pan.

Bake at 425 F. for 15-20 minutes, until top and sides become golden brown.

This recipe will make 6 large muffins or one 8-inch square pan of cornbread.

Adapted from Gourmet Sleuth

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ginger Brandy Cheesecake

Wow! I rarely make desserts, but this recipe was irresistible. I made this for Christmas Eve.

I am excited to finally own my very first spring form pan. This one is Nordic Ware, and was only $10.00. It did not leak one drop.

I discovered that cheesecake - at least this one - is not very difficult, and it is not very complicated, but for some reason, it took me forever to assemble the ingredients. I am attributing that to a lack of organization, and do not think it is an accurate reflection of the difficulty level of this recipe.


2 cups ginger snap crumbs (make them in a food processor or blender)
5 Tbs melted butter
Mix together well. Press into botton of a 10" springform pan. (I used a 9 inch and it turned out fine.)

12 oz cream cheese, softened, lowfat OK
1 1/2 cups sour cream or yogurt or a combination
4 eggs (can omit some or all yolks)
1/4 cup honey or sugar, adjust to taste (I used honey)
1/4 cup brandy or cognac (they are the same thing)
2 Tbs finely grated ginger (I use a little hand held cheese grater)
a dash of salt

1) Preheat oven to 350
2) Whip everything together until smooth.
3) Pour onto crust in springform pand. Bake for 40 minutes or until center is firm to the touch and edges are slightly brown. Cool completely before removing pan rim and glazing.

GLAZE (optional, but delicious!)
2 Tbs cornstarch
3/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbs honey or sugar
1 Tbs brandy or cognac
1/2 tsp orange rind
candied (crystalized) ginger cut into strips (optional)

1) Place cornstarch in a small saucepan. Whisk in the orange juice.
2) Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until smooth and glossy. About 5 minutes.
30 Remove from heat, whisk in remaining ingredients except the candied ginger. Pour hot glaze onto cooled cheesecake, spreading it evenly. Garnish with candied ginger strips. Chill thoroughly before serving.

About Vegetarian Skinny

I am not yet a vegetarian. I am famous for my Christmas standing rib roast and big-as-your-head meatballs. Fortunately for me, I am also a big fan of vegetables, because recent events have nudged me toward exploring something new. Would life be significantly different if I gave up meat?

It started like this: In the past couple of years, I have met lots of new people who are vegetarians. I did not meet them all at once or in one place. It just happened that an increasing number of people in different parts of my life did not eat meat. As I became more aware of meatlessness as a possibility, I began seeing inviting vegetarian menu options all over the place. Also, almost without exception, my vegetarian friends seemed healthy and fit both mentally and physically. I know there are many factors that play into this, but this is a food blog, not a sociology paper. I call this state of being “vegetarian skinny”, and I decided to try it for myself.
Secondly, I am a cook. So I was intrigued by the challenge of creating a meatless menu that my husband would enjoy and could also be suited to entertaining. (Please note, my husband is a pleasure to feed. He gamely tries every experiment I have ever asked him to eat.) Ironically, I was looking for a braised short ribs recipe in “Gourmet” magazine, when I got totally creeped out by a “Beefscapes” advertisement. It made me feel the same way 6th grade Biology class did when I learned what eggs really were. I could not eat eggs for ages after that. I actually wrote to the Beef Council about it, but they seemed to think that everyone else liked the ads. Then a vegetarian friend loaned me a copy of the fabulous Moosewood Cookbook and I’ve been on a roll ever since. 

Finally, I just read In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. This is a thought-provoking read about what has happened to our “food” and the quality of the Western diet. At one time my work was connected to the food industry, so I can attest to much of what he is saying.

VegetarianSkinny is not meant to try to convert anyone, but rather to find satisfying meatless options for everyone. So, as a means to creating new possibilities and perhaps seeing some health benefits, I will be working on putting together a series of tantalizing vegetarian recipes that are comprised of readily available and easily recognizable ingredients.

See you soon!

pan-seared polenta

The wonderful thing about greens is that there are so many different kinds. Whether you stick with familiar spinach or venture into more esoteric varieties, greens are packed with vitamins, easy to prepare, can be dressed up for the most elegant dinners, and they taste great. Greens are a good source of iron and vitamin K. They also come prepackaged. Use this recipe for any kind of greens. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Beet greens: with their ruffled green leaves and deep red stalks, beets are beautiful. They pack an unbelievable energy boost. Feeling a bit tired? These are the greens for you.
  • Turnip greens: tangy, but subtle flavor. Substantial without being overpowering. Matte, dark green leaves with lots of texture.
  • Collards: a Southern New Year's Day tradition along with Black-Eyed Peas. A tougher leaf than turnip greens, so require a little longer in the pan. Collards are best after the first cold snap, which sweetens them up a bit.
  • Swiss Chard: rivals beets for beauty with rich green leaves and bright red stems. Cook stems first, as they take longer than leaves.
  • Spinach: with its smooth, glossy green leaves, spinach makes a pretty presentation. Don't overcook this frequently abused leafy green veggie.
Sauteed Greens

Yield: 2 servings
  • 1 T. Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (red is attractive)
  • 1/4 cup nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, sugared pecan pieces)
  • 1 lb greens
Optional finishes:
  • drizzle a small amount of sesame oil on cooked greens and toss
  • add crumbled Feta cheese and toss (especially good with pine nuts)
Heat olive oil in skillet. Saute onion on medium-low heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add greens and saute until just wilted. Add nuts, toss and saute for another minute or two, taking care not to let the greens get mushy. Greens should be tender, but still retain their individual leaf shapes.

Greens make a great side dish, but can become a main dish if served over rice or another grain.

Pan-Seared Polenta with Spicy Tomato Basil Sauce

Polenta is an ancient cornmeal dish that was eaten by peasants in Europe and by the native people in the Americas. It is very similar to the cornmeal dishes found in Africa. Although it is frequently referred to as a Traditional Italian dish, it was eaten only in Northern Italy and can honestly be claimed as a traditional dish in many countries.

Despite its humble origins, polenta was "discovered" by the in crowd and is frequently found at the most la-de-da soirees. Isn't it great when something is healthy and stylish at the same time? How often does that happen?

Polenta is essentially corn meal mush. A bit like grits, really. It makes a wonderful foundation for flavorful sauces and toppings. You can make it at home, and I will do that next time. It is a time consuming process, so for this experiment, I purchased an Italian polenta that comes in a giant tube like the cookie dough comes in. It had been a long week, and I wanted something good, but reasonably quick.

This was our first experience with polenta, and we both knew immediately it would not be our last.
Pan Seared Polenta with Spicy Tomato Basil Sauce

Spicy Tomato Basil Sauce
  • 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes, divided
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced (any onion can be used)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, finely crushed
  • crushed red pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped and divided
  • 1/4 cup wine (dry white or red both work well)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
Place 1 cup crushed tomatoes in blender. Add pine nuts. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.

Heat oil in large skillet or heavy pot. Add onion, garlic, fennel seeds and crushed red pepper. Saute about 5 minutes or until onion is soft. Add the remaining crushed tomatoes, half the basil, the oregano and the wine. Add the tomatoes and pine nuts from the blender. Cook 5 to 6 minutes so that the flavors blend. Stir in remaining basil. Serve over pan seared polenta. Garnish with basil leaves and good Paremsan cheese.

Pan Seared Polenta
  • 6 - 8 polenta rounds, sliced about 3/8" thick
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • olive oil
Dip the polenta slices in egg, then dredge in bread crumbs. Saute in olive oil, about 4-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

Adapted from bon appetit January 2010