Wheatless Wednesday – Cucumber Ribbons with Red Onion, Feta and Mint

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Are you a lover or a hater?  Cucumbers have a reputation for being boring. I don’t agree.  I love cucumbers and this salad, which is refreshing and definitely not boring, brings it!  There is a bit of a kick and crunch with added jalapenos, lemon zest and pistachios. Topped with crumbled feta and a drizzle of red wine vinaigrette and you have a taste sensation. Did you know cucumbers have a secret?  Scroll down for the big reveal.

Lemon Water

I am on the cucumber bandwagon and drink Lemon Cucumber water every morning (recipe HERE) but know there are haters out there, including my future daughter in law.  (For her I make strawberry, lemon, blueberry water or other concoctions)  So, if you avoid cucumber but like the ‘idea’ of this salad, just substitute zucchini.  Win!

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I was gifted a bag of lovely Heirloom Japanese long cucumbers from my friends, Linda and Michael Rosso, and their prolific garden in Sonoma.  Aren’t they fabulous?  Linda tells me that one plant has already yielded 20 of these babies and summer is not over yet.  Linda and Michael own Sonoma Rosso, a California Wine Country getaway in Kenwood, California that offers a one bedroom guest cottage with access to a salt water pool and an organic garden.  Yes, you can keep what you pick! I haven’t been lucky enough to see it yet, but it looks like a beautiful spot for getting away.  Click on the LINK for more information.  Here’s a photo of Michael harvesting ‘my’ cucumbers and other produce from their garden.

Are you ready for a botanical shocker?  You may have heard that tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable.  Well cucumbers fall under that same umbrella.  What?  Tomatoes were a surprise way back when I heard that news – but at least they are sweetish, round and colorful.  This is quite a shocking revelation to me as there is nothing remotely fruity about cucumbers, however they are actually a fruit. Really!  They contain seeds and grow from the ovaries of flowering plants which is the definition of a fruit.  Does this make all vegetables males?  I’m afraid to ask.  Cucumbers are members of the plant family Cucurbitacae, which also makes them related to squashes and melons.  But there is more to cucumber than just water which makes them really hydrating and great to eat in summer.  Cucumbers also contain Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, Folic Acid, Calcium, Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Zinc.  Mind still blown…

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TIPS: Cucumbers have a lot of water which makes them a super healthy snack but in salads, they continue to release water so this salad should only be made just before needed, otherwise it will be sitting is a pool of water.  To store any leftovers, pour off excess water before refrigerating and toss with a bit more vinaigrette and fresh mint to refresh.

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CUCUMBER RIBBON SALAD WITH RED ONION, FETA AND MINT

2 large cucumbers (Persian or other thin skinned cucumber)
1/2 red onion
1 jalapeno (or more)
1/2 cup fresh mint
1/2 cup roasted pistachios
zest from one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

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  •  Using a mandolin, slice cucumbers on the thinnest setting. Cucumbers don’t need to be peeled unless they have thick and bitter skins. Place in a large serving bowl.

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  • Slice onion vertically and add to the bowl with the cucumbers

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  • Chop or julienne mint leaves and add to the bowl

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  • Finely dice jalapeno

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  • Roughly chop pistachios

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  • Add mint, jalapeno, pistachios and lemon zest to the bowl

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  • Whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Drizzle over cucumber mixture and toss to combine.

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  • Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese, if desired. Serve immediately. (This is not a make ahead salad as cucumbers make a lot of water.)

 

Cucumber Ribbons with Red Onion, Feta and Mint

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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2 large cucumbers (Persian or other thin skinned cucumber)
1/2 red onion
1 jalapeno (or more)
1/2 cup fresh mint
1/2 cup roasted pistachios
zest from one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

  •  Using a mandolin, slice cucumbers on the thinnest setting. Cucumbers don’t need to be peeled unless they have thick and bitter skins. Place in a large serving bowl.
  • Slice onion vertically and add to the bowl with the cucumbers
  • Chop or julienne mint leaves and add to the bowl
  • Finely dice jalapeno
  • Roughly chop pistachios
  • Add mint, jalapeno, pistachios and lemon zest to the bowl
  • Whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Drizzle over cucumber mixture and toss to combine.
  • Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese, if desired.
  • Serve immediately. (This is not a make ahead salad as cucumbers make a lot of water.)

 

Meatless Monday – Crostini with Fava Beans and Lemon Ricotta

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Working with fresh fava beans is a labor of love, so this makes a perfect dish for someone you love, like your Mother! What a wonderful Mother’s Day breakfast, brunch  or appetizer for that special lady in your life! I love this combination of  crusty toasted ciabatta topped with a creamy ricotta flavored with lemon and parmesan and then piled high with fresh fava beans, spring onions, lemon zest, basil and mint.  Mmmm….It’s pretty too, especially adorned with a sprig of purple basil from my garden!

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Fava beans must be removed from their large outer pod and then skinned, a two step process which is time consuming but well worth it, for the resulting beans are tender and delicious – and only available for a few weeks every year.  If you don’t want to spend the time or you can’t find fava beans, you can substitute fresh or frozen edamame, lima beans or peas.

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Fava Beans are not only delicious, they are nutrient dense, which means they provide a lot of nutrients for a relatively small number of calories. Fava beans, also called broad beans, are very high in protein and dietary fiber and loaded with beneficial antioxidants, vitamins, important phytonutrients and minerals, including iron which is harder to come by for those on a vegetarian diet.

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TIPS:  In figuring out how many Fava beans to buy, keep in mind that one cup of fava beans turns into about a half cup once they are shelled.  A large bunch of pods (1 pound) will yield only about a cup of shelled beans depending on size.  The smaller beans are sweeter and more tender than the larger ones and cooking times vary but only by a minute or two.

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CROSTINI WITH FAVA BEANS, SPRING ONIONS AND LEMON RICOTTA

1 large bunch(1 lb) fava beans(or 1 cup shelled edamame, peas or lima beans)
1 spring onion or 2 scallions (white part only)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
6-8 slices ciabatta or sourdough bread (or about a dozen baguette slices)

Ricotta Mixture:
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
2 Tbsn lemon juice (reserve lemon zest)
1/2 teaspoon salt

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  • Remove fava beans from their outer pod by cutting or bending the tip and ‘unzipping’ them by pulling the side string off.

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  • The shells also need to be removed.  Either slice and peel them off and then boil the beans for 1-2 minutes (depending on their size) or  boil in their shells for 3-4 minutes and then remove the shells by cutting or squeezing them out.  Either way, it’s a two step process. Very young fava beans may not need to be shelled and can be eaten raw or par boiled for 30 seconds.

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  • Run cold water over cooked beans to stop the cooking process and set aside.

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  • Combine all Ricotta ingredients and set aside to let the flavors develop.

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  • Thinly slice the spring onion and slice mint and basil into ribbons (also known as chifonnade)

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  • Combine fava beans, onion, mint, basil, lemon zest and olive oil in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

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  • Broil bread slices in a single layer for several minutes on each side until golden brown.

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  • Top each slice of bread with ricotta mixture and then top with a spoonful of fava beans.

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  • Serve whole or cut in half at room temperature (and kiss your Mom).

Crostini with Fava Beans & Lemon Ricotta

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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1 large bunch fava beans(or 1 cup shelled edamame, peas or lima beans)
1 spring onion or 2 scallions (white part only)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
6-8 slices ciabatta or sourdough bread (or about a dozen baguette slices)

Ricotta Mixture:
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
2 Tbsn lemon juice (reserve lemon zest)
1/2 teaspoon salt

  • Remove fava beans from their outer pod by cutting or bending the tip and ‘unzipping’ them by pulling the side string off.  The shells also need to be removed.  Either slice and peel them off and then boil the beans for 1-2 minutes (depending on their size) or  boil fin their shells for 3-4 minutes and then remove their shells by cutting or squeezing them out.  Either way, it’s a two step process. Run cold water over cooked beans to stop the cooking process and set aside.
  • Combine all Ricotta ingredients and set aside to let the flavors develop.
  • Thinly slice the spring onion and slice mint and basil into ribbons (also known as chifonnade)
  • Combine fava beans, onion, mint, basil, lemon zest and olive oil in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Broil bread slices in a single layer for several minutes on each side until golden brown.
  • Top each slice of bread with ricotta mixture and then top with a spoonful of fava beans.
  • Serve at room temperature (and kiss your Mom).

Meatless Monday – Pasta Primavera with Summer Squash, Peas and Arugula

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Primavera means Spring in Italian and the popular Pasta Primavera traditionally is pasta, usually spaghetti but other pasta shapes can be used, tossed with a variety of spring vegetables like asparagus, tomatoes and fresh herbs.  In spite of it’s name, it doesn’t mean you can only make this for dinner in the spring.  Pasta Primavera is a very versatile dish which allows for a wide range of vegetables to be used when they are at their best and their cheapest.  Throughout the year, the dish will change depending on whatever is in season.  I typically sauté whatever fresh vegetables looked the best at the market with garlic and olive oil, then braise in a bit of vegetable broth to make a nice sauce.  If my husband isn’t around, sometimes I will swirl in a spoonful of plain yogurt to add creaminess, then top with parmesan.  Yum!

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Today’s pasta has the gorgeous baby squash and zucchini that I couldn’t resist at the market due to their pure cuteness, as well as peas.  I didn’t see any good fresh peas so I used frozen, which are a good option.  They are frozen right after picking so sometimes they are actually fresher than ‘fresh’ peas that have been sitting around for a while. If you are using fresh peas in a pod, choose pods that are smaller.  The large pods are often filled with over mature peas that are tough and woody and only good in soups and stews.   The smaller pods usually have younger, sweeter peas.   I also added fresh basil and mint plus cherry tomatoes and lemon zest from my garden.

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To make this a healthier dish, use a whole grain pasta.  It’s easy to find good pasta made from whole grains like rice, quinoa or amaranth, all of which provide more protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber than pasta made from white flour. Don’t be fooled by packaging on regular pasta that says ‘fortified with iron or other nutrients’. That just means that nutrients like B vitamins  were removed during the refining process, and some of them are added back in.   Whole grain pasta has come a long way from when it used to be soft and gluey, so give it a try if you haven’t.  Livestrong suggests going half regular and half whole grain pasta if you’re having trouble making the switch to whole grain.

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Pasta Primavera with Summer Squash, Peas and Arugula

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

3/4 lb dried penne pasta
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas, shelled
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1 small summer squash, thinly sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 red chili pepper(or dash of red pepper flakes – optional)
1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into ribbons
1/4 cup fresh mint, cut into ribbons
1-2 cups arugula or spinach
2 large shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsn lemon zest
3 Tbsn butter, olive or coconut oil
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
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  • Saute the shallots, chilis and garlic in butter or oil until soft, several minutes.  Add vegetable broth and let reduce.
  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to directions.  Drain and reserve 1 cup pasta water.

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  • Add zucchini and summer squash to the shallot mixture and cook 2 to 3 minutes.  Then add peas.

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  • Add cooked pasta to vegetable mixture and stir to reheat.  Add a bit of pasta water if needed.

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  • Add cherry tomatoes, arugula, basil, mint and lemon zest and let wilt.  Add salt if necessary.  Depending on the saltiness of your vegetable broth, it may not be needed.

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  • Top with fresh parmesan, if desired.

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Meatless Monday – Zucchini & Apple Spirals with Basil & Mint Salad

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I have always wondered how to make a ‘noodle’ several feet long, like the one in Lady and the Tramp.  Well now I know the secret.  My mother in law gifted us a vegetable spiraling machine for our anniversary (Well there is no special gift or gem for 28 years of marriage, go figure! So why not a vegetable spiraler…)   I couldn’t wait to try it out – and the result is awesome.  I experimented first with zucchini and got spirals over 6 feet long.  How cool is that?  Then I spiraled some apples and fell the rest of the way in love. It is easier than a mandolin, no peeling or coring and my fingertips and knuckles remained intact.  I decided to cut the zucchini spirals into shorter pieces to make it easier to serve, but it could be fun to make each 6-8 foot strand into it’s own serving.  Your surprised diners could have their own Lady and the Tramp moments…
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Photo Credit:  http://www.kitchenmemories.com
 
For this salad, I decided to add some spiraled apples to the zucchini to add a bit of sweetness and color.  I chose Fuji since they don’t turn brown as quickly as other varieties and I love their red skins.  I also really like the combination of fresh basil and mint in summer salads, especially with a honey, citrus vinaigrette.  To make this filling enough for a main course, I added avocado and pepitos which provide nutrients and good fats that help us feel satiated.  I also sliced up some sugar snap peas to add crunch.  This salad would be good topped with blue cheese, goat cheese or feta, if desired, for an additional protein boost.  
 
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Zucchini & Apple Spiral Salad with Basil and Mint

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

 3 medium zucchini
salt
1 Fuji apple (or other firm apple)
1/4 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) or pine nuts, pistachios or hazelnuts
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
1 firm avocado
Salt
10 basil leaves
10 mint leaves
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup avocado oil (or other light oil)
1 scant teaspoon honey (or more if you like it sweet)
Freshly ground black pepper
 
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  •  Cut the ends off the  zucchini and spiral or shred into thin strips using a mandolin or grater.  The spiraler is definitely the easiest!   Cut spirals into desired lengths if needed (about the length of a strand of spaghetti).  Put the spirals in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and let sit for 10 or 20 minutes.  Taste.  If too salty, rinse, drain and pat dry.  No need to rinse if the taste is fine, just don’t add more salt later without tasting first.

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  • Dry toast pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds) on medium heat in a small skillet for a few minutes, until golden.  Add to zucchini when cool.

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  • Cut basil and mint into ribbons.  An easy trick is to stack the leaves and slice thinly cross wise. Add to zucchini. (Leave a few for garnish)

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  • Remove strings from sugar snap peas and cut lengthwise into julienne strips and add to the zucchini.

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  • Whisk oil, lemon juice, honey and apple cider vinegar together and set aside.
  • Spiral apple (core first if using a mandolin) and add to the zucchini.  Gently toss with a bit of dressing to keep from turning brown.
  • Core and chop avocado and add to the zucchini mixture.  Add a bit more dressing and gently combine.
  • Taste for seasoning and add salt if desired.

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Wheatless Wednesday – Tabouleh (Grain Free)

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Raw-Vegan-Potluck.  My friend, Karenna Love,  invited me to a vegan potluck at her house.  I love all things food related and immediately knew what I was going to bring – until I re-read the invitation.  Somehow I missed the ‘raw’ part.  I make a lot of vegetarian and vegan food but other than green salads, I generally cook some or all of my foods.  I was stumped. All my go to foods like grains, beans and legumes need to be cooked.   I thought about going out to my garden and picking fresh produce for a salad but other than lettuce and chard, nothing else is ready yet.  Then I remembered how well cauliflower stood in for wheat in my Cauliflower Crust Pizza Recipe and decided to make a traditional tabouleh using cauliflower ‘rice’ instead of the usual couscous or bulgur.  The result is delicious and, even though I know better since I ground up the cauliflower myself, I would swear it’s cooked  bulgur wheat not cauliflower.  This is a great recipe for those on gluten or wheat free diets – even for my Paleo friends.    I would definitely make this again-on purpose!

Why eat raw?  Eating fruits and vegetables raw ensures that you get 100% of the vitamins and minerals, including beneficial enzymes.  Cooking can make some foods easier to digest but some of the vitamins and minerals (and all of the enzymes) are lost in the process.  I’m not quite ready to throw out my pots and pans just yet, but I do see how adding more raw foods into our diets is a worthy goal.

Let’s go back to Karenna Love, founder of wonderful website VeganGreenPlanet, and her Raw Vegan Potluck.  I have to admit to a few apprehensions about going to a vegan event when I’m not even vegetarian.  But then I realized that GMD is all about pushing myself out of my comfort zone, so I went.  It was an interesting mix of caring and non-judgemental people and great food.   I’m so glad I stepped out of my box. My Tabouleh was well received, which after one taste, I knew it was yummy and potluck worthy. The speaker, Mikaele Holzer, health coach and cleansing expert at Green Your Spirit  was pretty interesting and very personable.   I learned a lot about vegan food, cleansing, and detox.  Both  are amazing women-check them out.

Grain Free Tabouleh

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 head cauliflower

1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, small dice

1 seedless cucumber, small dice

1 1/2 cups fresh parsley, minced

3/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced

1/2 cup fresh mint, minced

1/3 cup olive or avocado oil

3 Tbsn fresh lemon juice

3/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

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  • Remove leaves from cauliflower and break into florets.  Discard leaves, core and stem.  Using a food processor, blend florets into ‘rice’.  Or you can use a hand grater.  Scoop into a large bowl.

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  • If you are using a food processor, you can mince the parsley, cilantro and mint by machine as a shortcut.

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  • Add the rest of the diced vegetables and minced herbs to the cauliflower.

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  • Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and pour onto salad. Toss to combine.  Adjust seasoning (add salt or lemon juice to taste).
  • Serve immediately or let rest in the refrigerator.  Flavors will continue to develop over several hours.

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Meatless Monday – Bow Ties with Broccoli Pesto

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Is it time to put away the roasted root vegetables and bring on the fresh herbs?  Well maybe not quite, but it’s feeling and looking more like spring.  The days are longer and new growth is peeking out from under last year’s dry brush.  Forget-Me-Knots and California Poppies adorn the hillsides and instantly make me feel happy.  Perhaps they are working in cahoots with Pharrell on his happiness project.  For those few who haven’t heard Pharrell’s “Happy” song (if that’s even possible) click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM  (Or maybe you just want to listen to it while you read the rest of this post which is fine because I listened to it while I was writing it).  More on the garden this Friday so gardeners stay tuned.

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Spring Pasta Recipe:  My son, Dylan, loves pesto on pasta, pizza and sandwiches (and he just came home for spring break), so this Vegetarian Times  recipe for Broccoli Pesto caught my eye. I actually loved this pasta! I could stand at the kitchen counter and eat the pesto by the spoonful (and just maybe I did).  It’s delicious and simple.  It tastes like it has cheese and/or something creamy. but it is vegan and fairly low calorie.  I used pine nuts (instead of hazelnuts because I wanted a creamier sauce).  I left them raw for the pesto and dry toasted as a topping.  The combination of herbs, including fresh mint, make it taste spring fresh. The addition of broccoli is a nice twist which also ramps up the nutritional value of the meal. As a Superfood, broccoli is low in fat and calories (only 31 per cup), rich in vitamins, minerals, beneficial phytochemicals and a good source of fiber.  Somehow it doesn’t taste like broccoli so you  may be able to slip some extra veggies into someone you love.  My Carb-fearing husband had three portions!  I will definitely make Pasta with Broccoli Pesto again.  Store any leftover pesto in a container and pour a thin layer of olive oil on top to prevent it from turning brown.

Bow Ties with Broccoli Pesto

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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Ingredients:

6 Tbsn hazelnuts, plus more for garnish (or pistachios/pine nuts)
2 cups broccoli florets
12 oz farfalle pasta (bowtie)
1 1/2 cups loosely packed parsley leaves
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsn olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 cup mint leaves
4 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp capers, rinsed and drained
5 large garlic cloves, peeled

 

Directions:

  • Put large pot of salted water on to boil.
  • Toast hazelnuts (pine nuts) in dry skillet, 3 – 5 minutes, or until golden.  Let cool.
  • Add broccoli to boiling water and cook 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove broccoli with slotted spoon.
  • Add farfalle to broccoli water and cook according to package instructions

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  • Drain farfalle, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water.
  • Process nuts, broccoli, parsley, oil, mint, lemon juice, zest, capers and garlic in food processor or blender until smooth (Add some of the cooking water if it’s too thick).
  • Toss farfalle with pesto and reserved water (if needed).  Garnish with toasted nuts, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil(if desired).

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