Crouching Basil, Hidden Kale

We can all eat more greens, but naturally, we often don’t want to.  Sometimes, as refreshing as it is, a big ‘ole salad just doesn’t fill us up the same as a bowl of mashed potatoes.  And smoothies are delicious, too, but what if I want something warm?  I could wilt my greens, but then, I’d have a plate of wilted greens (sorry ya’ll—that texture just doesn’t do it for me!).  How am I going to get my greens when I’m in the mood for comfort food?

Pasta to the rescue!  Growing up in an Italian family, pasta was a staple, and to this day, it is the comfort food I seek more than any other.  Pasta is also easy to prepare and extremely versatile.  Sometimes I toss it with my simple marinara, and other times, my creamy vegetable sauce.  You could even use my nacho cheese sauce to create your own mac.  Today, I’m revamping my pesto formula.

Fresh herbs make for one insanely flavorful pesto, but I’ve found that just about any raw greens will yield a bright and complex pasta sauce.  Thus, I’ve readapted my pesto formula to include the option of greens other than herbs.

Today’s rendition uses kale, which Nolan used to eat raw in a salad like a champ but wouldn’t even consider touching now if it isn’t blended up in a smoothie.  🙂  While smoothies remain my go-to for ensuring my toddler gets all of his nutrients on his pickier days, I’ve gotten creative with hiding vegetables.  Of course, hiding veggies in a bacon cheddar cheese omelet makes that effort moot, so I’ve had to work hard to make this game of hide-and-don’t-seek healthy.

If you need a change from hiding veggies in my super food muffins or smoothies, try out this new take on pesto.  Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: PESTO

Makes about 1 ¾ cups 

  • 1 ½ cups fresh herbs or greens –> I’m using 1 cup kale and ½ cup basil.
  • 1 cup raw nuts –> I’m using cashews
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 5 cloves raw garlic
  • ½ cup citrus juice or water –> I’m using the juice of two lemons.
  • Additional spices (optional) –> I’m not using any.
  • Water/oil as needed for smoothness –> I’m adding water a tablespoon at a time as needed.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, adding water and/or oil as needed. The less oil used, the lower in fat the end product will be.  So flavorful, this pesto doesn’t even need salt!

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Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo

When I first developed my creamy vegetable sauce formula, I had only tried it out with eggplant and wasn’t sure it how it would work with other veggies.  Since then, every vegetable I’ve used—butternut squash, pumpkin, and now cauliflower—has been a success.  Today’s version with one of my favorite cruciferous vegetables redefines alfredo sauce.

In addition to looking the part of a traditional alfredo, cauliflower makes for a super creamy puree when doctored up with some of my favorite flavors.  On another note, you learned about the health benefits of romanesco—brother to cauliflower—in my wonton post, so you already know that including this family of vegetables in your diet is a must.

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Make a batch of this sauce to throw over pasta or my ridiculously easy zucchini noodles, or get adventurous and trying serving cold as a veggie dip (maybe toss with some fresh dill?  I’ll have to try it out…).  Top with fresh veggies or herbs and serve.  Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: VEGETABLE PASTA SAUCE

Yields sauce for one box of pasta

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped raw vegetables –> I’m using cauliflower.
  • ½ cup cashew cream (soak raw cashews overnight, drain, and blend with just enough water to form a thick cream)
  • 2 tbsps nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp acid (i.e. vinegar, mustard, citrus juice, etc.) –> I’m using white whole grain mustard.
  • ¼-1 tsp seasoning (i.e. fresh/dried herbs, spices, etc.) –> I’m using ¼ tsp ground nutmeg.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste –> I’m using approximately ½ tsp salt and several turns of pepper.

Peel (if necessary) and chop your vegetables. Steam, roast, or boil (I’m steaming) to cook.

While your vegetables are cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare your pasta of choice. When the vegetables are finished, combine with all other ingredients (except the pasta, of course!) in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.

Pour atop your pasta (or use in another application) and enjoy immediately for most desirable consistency. It will keep just fine in the fridge, but will dry out a bit.

Pasta

One-Ingredient Zucchini Pasta

Way back when, I thought that my salsa formula was my simplest at just a handful of ingredients, but with only one ingredient required in today’s recipe, I’ve outdone myself!

By now, you’ve probably seen home cooks and bloggers getting creative with alternatives to traditional, flour-based pasta. Sometimes, I’ve just gotta have a big, warm bowl of old school pasta drowning in my marinara or cream sauce. Lately, however, I’ve been making an effort to get back into working out and toning my post-baby body, so I’m not gorging on Italy’s favorite as much as I normally would.

Zucchini, when run through a spiralizer to resemble the shape of spaghetti, makes for a filling and nutritious “pasta” that can hold up to sauces and toppings just as well. Zucchini is a rich source of vitamin C, manganese for healthy bone tissue development, and lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote healthy eyesight. Why not eat more of it, right?!

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I personally love zucchini raw, in which case this pasta dish can serve as a slaw. Travis prefers it cooked, so we compromised with al dente zucchini noodles, topped with sauteed onions, garlic, fresh rosemary, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and the “sundried” tomatoes I made in my food dehydrator (check out my pizza bread!).

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Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: VEGETABLE NOODLES

Serves 2 as a light meal

2 medium to large zucchinis or yellow squashes –> I’m using zucchini.

Wash zucchini/squash and cut off the ends. Using a spiralizer or mandolin, cut zucchini/squash into noodles. Dress and consume raw if you wish, or bring a pot of water to boil.

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Place noodles in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and eat, or top with the sauce, toppings, or condiments of your choice.

Leftover Pumpkin Puree?

If you butchered and baked your Halloween pumpkins or stocked up on the canned stuff as it went on sale before Thanksgiving, you probably have pumpkin puree leftover from preparing America’s favorite dinner. You could whip up a batch of my pumpkin super food muffins or incorporate the puree into a savory application.

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I introduced my creamy vegetable pasta sauce to you with the loved and loathed eggplant. At the time, I hadn’t tried the formula with another vegetable, so I wasn’t sure how this pumpkin sauce would turn out. I’m happy to report that it was a success! I served it atop pasta to the guests at my Thanksgiving dinner (which we hosted early because my mom was in town visiting her newest grandson) and it was the most-talked-about dish of the evening.

If you have a blender and a box of pasta, you’re ready for this decadent and healthful pumpkin “cream” sauce to make an appearance at your next dinner. I’m using oat milk in today’s cashew cream, one of the sauce’s star ingredients. Oat milk is naturally on the sweeter side of plant milks, so it compliments pumpkin nicely, as we are often used to using it in sweeter culinary concoctions. Bonus: One serving of this particular oat milk will provide you over a third of your recommended daily calcium and two grams of dietary fiber. Not bad.

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Scoop up your leftover pumpkin and put this quick and easy dinner together in minutes. Nutritious—especially if you use a whole grain or vegetable pasta—and resourceful, I’m happy to help you use every bit of your leftover Thanksgiving eats. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: CREAMY VEGETABLE PASTA SAUCE

Makes sauce for 1 box of pasta*

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped raw vegetables –> I used 1 ½ cups pumpkin puree. (This translates to approximately 2 cups of raw chopped vegetables, since it is already cooked and pureed down.)
  • ½ cup cashew cream (soak raw cashews overnight and blend with just enough water/plant milk/veggie stock to form a thick cream) –> Because pumpkin has a strong flavor, I used extra cashew cream: 1 cup cashews + 1 ½ cups oat milk.
  • 2 tbsps nutritional yeast –> I opted out of this, figuring it didn’t mesh well with pumpkin. It worked out, but for most other vegetables, I would include it.
  • 1 tbsp acid (i.e. vinegar, mustard, citrus juice, etc.) –> I used whole grain mustard.
  • ¼-1 tsp seasoning (i.e. fresh/dried herbs, spices, etc.) –> I used ½ tsp dried sage and ¼ tsp ground nutmeg.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste –> I used ½ tsp salt and about 4 turns pepper.

Peel (if necessary) and chop your vegetables. Steam, roast, or boil to cook. While your vegetables are cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare your pasta of choice. When the vegetables are finished, combine with all other ingredients (except the pasta, of course!) in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.

 

DSC_2572Pour atop your pasta (or use in another application) and enjoy immediately for most desirable consistency. It will keep just fine in the fridge, but will dry out a bit.

 

 

Eggplant As You’ve Never Seen It Before

Oh, eggplant. I’m sure I’m not alone in stating that it isn’t my favorite vegetable. Up until recently, I’ve only been able to think of a handful of ways to make it truly delicious and appetizing. One of those methods includes breading and frying it in classic eggplant parmesan. Totally scrumptious, yes, but this popular Italian vegetarian dish contains so many unhealthy components that the benefits of the eggplant practically become negated.

When Nolan was just beyond eating only pureed fruits and veggies and on to soft whole foods, I thought that eggplant would make for a unique sauce. Since I was so used to pureeing it for him anyway, I imagined that flavoring it up and pouring it over pasta would make it more appetizing for me, too.

I’m happy to report that that early kitchen experiment was a success. When I had leftover cashew cream from last week’s potato salad, I got creative in taking my original eggplant pasta sauce up a notch. The addition of the cashew cream provided for a dairy-like richness that reminds me of an alfredo, sans all of those animal products.

If you, too, are struggling to make the best of the mysterious purple vegetable that, in fact, is nothing like an egg at all, today, you are in luck! While an appealing flavor and texture transformation might be reason enough to make this pasta sauce, the eggplant contains a whole host of health benefits. First, it contains cholorogenic acid, known to prevent healthy cells from mutating into cancer cells and also a key player in lowering bad cholesterol. Secondly, it is low calories, but high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Its blandness—like the russet potato—is an ideal blank slate for something like a pasta sauce.

DSC_2323In other news, you’ll see that this formula calls for some type of acid. I have found that just a touch of something acidic really brightens the sauce, resulting in a creamy pasta experience that won’t leave you feeling heavy and bloated. Today, I’m using white balsamic vinegar; white, simply to maintain that alfredo-like, off-white color. Check out my multi-grain salad formula for more info on the health benefits of vinegar and this brand, which is my go-to:

DSC_2325Truthfully, this formula is in its newborn stages and I’m not sure how it would hold up to substituting different vegetables, but I imagine that it’s the cashew cream that brings it together. Point is, if you pureed nearly any cooked vegetable with the cashew cream, I think that you would achieve a similar sauce (in consistency, at least). Try this out with eggplant first and see how it goes with another of your favorites that you have been fruitless in repurposing. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: VEGETABLE PASTA SAUCE

Yields sauce for one box of pasta

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped raw vegetables –> I’m using eggplant.
  • ½ cup cashew cream (soak raw cashews overnight, drain, and blend with just enough water to form a thick cream)
  • 2 tbsps nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp acid (i.e. vinegar, mustard, citrus juice, etc.) –> I’m using white balsamic vinegar.
  • ¼-1 tsp seasoning (i.e. fresh/dried herbs, spices, etc.) –> I’m using ¼ tsp ground nutmeg.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste –> I’m using approximately ½ tsp salt and several turns of pepper.

Peel (if necessary) and chop your vegetables. Steam, roast, or boil (I’m steaming) to cook. The Baby Bullet Steamer: not just for baby food! 🙂

DSC_2324While your vegetables are cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare your pasta of choice. When the vegetables are finished, combine with all other ingredients (except the pasta, of course!) in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.

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Pour atop your pasta (or use in another application) and enjoy immediately for most desirable consistency. It will keep just fine in the fridge, but will dry out a bit.

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New Formula: Simple Marinara Sauce

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On my mom’s side of the family, I grew up eating authentic Italian cuisine. Buying premade, jarred sauce was sacrilege, and I am not going to be the one to disappoint.

I have clear memories of my mom’s red sauce bubbling away on the stovetop for hours before topping a pasta or filling up a lasagna. Her traditional sauce includes ground beef and although it is delicious, even as a child, I remember picking out the meat.

Today, I have my own totally vegetarian marinara recipe. When I met my husband of nearly four years, he expressed to me that he prefers his Italian cuisine without meat, too. I knew we were meant to be. 🙂 While he likes a sauce that is tarter, I have come to enjoy it best on the sweet side, as my mother adds a little bit of sugar when she’s making hers.

I used to make this recipe with canned tomatoes, simply because it’s quicker and will yield a slightly smoother sauce. After reading an article about the most dangerous foods you can put in your body and seeing canned tomatoes on the list, I have since opted for the path of more resistance. What’s so bad about canned tomatoes? Cans are lined with BPA, and while some canned products do not contain enough acid to leach very much of this chemical into the food itself, tomatoes do and they will.

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So, I now puree my own tomatoes and the cooking process takes me a little longer. What’s the expression…Nothing that is worthwhile is easy? Something like that. Trust me, your sauce will be delicious and even though you are really really really starting from scratch, this recipe is still quite simple and will be ready in no time. Use this sauce with your favorite Italian dish or try it out with my vegan pizza. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: MARINARA SAUCE*

  • 1 ½ pounds tomatoes –> I’m using a combination of vine ripe and roma.
  • ½ of a small yellow or white onion –> I’m using yellow.
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp sweetener (optional) –> I’m using turbinado sugar.
  • 1 ½ tbsp dried fennel fronds (or a small handful of fresh) –> I’m using dried.
  • 1 tbsp dried basil (or a small handful of fresh) –> I’m using fresh.
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano (or a small handful of fresh) –> I’m using fresh.
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste

*Today, I’m making a double recipe, so don’t be discouraged that the amounts listed above don’t match the pictures. I’m just doubling everything. 🙂

Thoroughly wash your vegetables so that you can save the scraps for homemade veggie stock. Coarsely chop your tomatoes and onion. Throw them into a blender with your garlic, herbs (not the bay leaf), and seasoning and puree until smooth.

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Pour into a pot on the stove, add your bay leaf, and simmer on medium low for 1-2 hours, or until your sauce reduces by approximately one third.

When I am just over the halfway mark, depending on what I’m going to be using the sauce for, I finely dice vegetables that I don’t anticipate my two-year-old being eager to eat and throw them in the pot. Today, I’m sneaking in some asparagus.

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I’ve pulled one over on Nolan a few times with great success. 🙂 You can skip this step if you want to keep this recipe extra simple.

Remove the bay leaf and your sauce is ready!

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If you’re feeling adventurous and like to plan ahead, quadruple the recipe and freeze in containers the perfect size for a box of pasta. When “there’s nothing to eat” strikes, you’re ready for a quick pasta dinner!