salsa! (or was it a waltz?)

When life hands you lemons you make Limoncello (well at least I do). And when life hands you a bounty of tomatoes, hot peppers and onions you make… Salsa!

The calendar may read October but my garden is still churning out a summer’s share of the aforementioned vegetables. I’ve made countless batches of tomato sauce, sliced, diced and sautéed peppers and onions for every dish imaginable and made a super spicy simple salsa (say that three times fast), yet I still have plenty more vegetables left to use.

The traditional raw salsa I made was really fresh and delicious, but I wondered what would happen if I took the same ingredients and roasted them. I often slow roast tomatoes and serve them as appetizers along with herbed olives and cheese and I love how roasting broccoli turns the ordinary into extraordinary, so I was intrigued by the idea of a slow roasted salsa. As expected it was delicious with a depth of flavor the raw ingredients alone could never have achieved, although it struck me as more of a caponata and less like a salsa. Regardless of what you call it, I ended up with way more of this spicy little number than I thought we would eat with chips or enjoy in tacos. So, what did I do… Made soup of course!

We consume gallons of soup in our house. Once the weather cools off I often roast a chicken for dinner on Sundays, which means I always have a bit of leftover bird to do something with during the week. Soup is usually my solution and this spicy chicken and black bean soup was a particularly delicious creation.

It would appear that roasting is the never fail dance in 3/4 time method of cooking!

Spicy Chicken & Black Bean Soup
This soup is the perfect busy weeknight dinner.

spicysoup3

2 cups roasted tomato-chile salsa (see recipe below)
4 cups chicken broth (homemade or store-bought)
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 cups leftover chicken
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 tbsp. lime juice
diced avocado, for garnish
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish
tortilla chips, for garnish

  1. In a large stockpot add the salsa, broth and the spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a medium simmer. Add the beans and let simmer for 15 minutes covered.
  2. Uncover and add the chicken and frozen corn and allow to cook until everything is heated through, about 8-10 min.
  3. Remove from the heat, stir in the lime juice (don’t skip the lime juice, it really adds a wonderful freshness to the soup), adjust the seasonings and serve garnished with avocado, fresh cilantro and shredded cheddar cheese with a few tortilla chips on the side.

Roasted Tomato-Chile Salsa
Roasting the vegetable and adding a little raw onion at the end makes this the perfect salsa.

2 1/2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
1 lg. onion, quartered
1 head of garlic
1/2 lb. fresh Poblano chilies
3 fresh Habanero chilies
2 tbsp. olive oil
a handful of cilantro
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 cup finely diced onion

  1. Turn the broiler on to high. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and set aside.
  2. Break the head of garlic into cloves (leaving the skins on) and place in a large bowl. Add to the bowl the tomatoes, the quartered onion and chilies and drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Toss to cover each vegetable in oil and place in a single layer on the prepared pan. Broil until the skins begin to blister and pop (the peppers will be ready before the tomatoes.)
  4. Remove the charred vegetables from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the stems from the Poblano peppers, tear in half and wipe out as many seeds as you can (don’t make yourself crazy trying to get them all.)
  5. Add all the vegetables, fresh cilantro, salt and lime juice to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is chopped but the salsa is still chunky. Stir in the diced onion and allow to chill before serving. Store in glass jars in the refrigerator.
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Poor Man’s Pasta

There are some nights when I just don’t feel like cooking, the other night was one of those nights. I didn’t want to break down and (gasp!) order out so I took a look in the pantry to see anything jumped out at me. Well there was pasta; but I’m so tired of red sauce and I had a dozen of eggs set to expire; but I just made quiche over the weekend. Hmmm…

What if I mix the pasta and eggs together to make a “poor man’s” carbonara? (Poor man’s because I didn’t have any meat to add— typically bacon or pancetta). I always have plenty of garlic on hand, there were a couple of shallots just waiting to be used and a can of fire roasted tomatoes to add a little color and veggie appeal. Yes, I think this throw together meal was beginning to take shape. But the question still loomed as to whether it would be good or not. But I figured it was worth a try. What’s the worst that could happen… everyone hates it and we all eat pb&j’s instead.

Well good news, the peanut butter never saw the light of day and I now have a tasty new option for those too tired to cook a feast kinda nights!

Poor Man’s Carbonara
This pasta really can be made with whatever you have on hand. I used fuselli, but any shape pasta will work. Fresh tomatoes would work just as well as canned and sweet onion could easily replace the shallots. And if I had some, a little fresh basil sprinkled on top would have been a nice finishing touch.

1/2 lb. pasta of your choice
4 tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 large shallots, sliced thin
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
3-4 eggs, beaten
1/2-3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
reserved pasta water
crushed red pepper, optional

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook pasta according to package directions. (When you put the pasta in the water start making the sauce.)
  2. Heat the oil in a large high sided frying pan, add the sliced shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, and let the garlic and shallots cook until they’re transparent.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and allow everything to cook for 5-6 minutes or until the tomatoes begin to soften.
  4. Drain the pasta but reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the drained pasta to the tomato mixture in the frying pan. Add the beaten eggs into the pan and gently toss the pasta and eggs together, allowing the eggs to cook slowly and coat the pasta.
  5. When the eggs are cooked turn off the heat and add the parmesan cheese and enough reserved pasta water to make a creamy (but not too thin) sauce. Gently toss the pasta to fully combine the all the ingredients.
  6. Serve with crushed red pepper and additional grated cheese. Enjoy!

oh so easy hors d’oeuvres

If you were to ask me what I think the most challenging part of planning a dinner party was I’d have to say the hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. I truly feel like they can set the pace for the rest of the meal. If your hors d’oeuvres are uninspired and lame, you can be pretty sure your guests will be anticipating the same out of your dinner. And if they’re overly fussy and complicated your guests may pass on them all together. But… when done right they’re capable of making even the most last minute of gatherings feel like a special occasion. I bet you never realized what a slippery slope hors d’oeuvres could be!

I’ve been known to serve fancy little wonton wrappers with pesto and goat cheese, homemade sweet bean piroshki and yummy curried butternut squash soup as an hors d’oeuvre or first course, but sometimes complicated and fussy is precisely my goal. However a casual get together calls for much simplier fare, something along the lines of freshly steamed shrimp with cocktail sauce, spinach dip with crudites, or a lovely antipasto plate with some tasty cheese, fruit, herb roasted olives and slow roasted tomatoes. I know, that last part sounds eye-rollingly complicated, right? Well I’m here to tell you it’s not, not at all. And the best part is that the olives and tomatoes can be made ahead of time so all you have to do is arrange yourself a little platter of tasty morsels on the day of the party and hors d’oeuvres are served!

Orange + Herb Roasted Olives
I used a mixture of small brined Nicoise, Picholine and Kalamata olives and large green Italian Cerignola olives for this recipe.

olives

2 cups assorted olives (3/4 pound)
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. orange juice
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp. grated orange zest

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a small bowl toss together all of the ingredients except for the orange zest. Roast until sizzling, stirring half way through, about 15-20 minutes.
  2. Remove thyme and rosemary springs and transfer the olives to a bowl, toss with the orange zest. Serve at room temperature.

*adapted from food & wine

Slow Roasted Plum Tomatoes
These are delicious paired with a little cheese, on a sandwich or just as is. Typically I use fresh herbs over dried whenever possible, but in this case since the goal is to dehydrate and reduce the tomatoes I prefer to use dried herbs.

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2 lbs. plum tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
dried thyme
garlic powder
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 225°F. Slice each tomato in half and place them cut side up on a baking sheet.
  2. Drizzle each half with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 3 hours.
  3. After 3 hours has elapsed drizzle each half with balsamic vinegar and continue to roast for another 2-3 hrs or until they become very flat and wrinkled (this will all depend on the size of your tomatoes). Let cool and serve or refrigerate for a later use.