Accidental Vegetarian: Panzanella

Meatless Monday and sharing a bottle of wine over dinner, is a tradition we have recently slipped into, as it is the one evening neither of us has to rush off to do something else. We are discovering that vegetarian food does not have to be boring. It’s actually surprisingly easy to find recipes for dishes that you would cook or order in a restaurant, because you want to eat it, not because it is vegetarian. Italian cuisine offers up many such pleasures. Panzanella is light but satisfying, and pairs well with a good Chianti Classico.

Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad)
Serves 4

adapted from the several dozen but all very similar recipes on the web. David Rocco inspired me to try it after he prepared a version on Dolce Vita.

Ingredients: Salad

9-10 cups of day old rustic bread such as Italian crusty, cut into large cubes….1-2 inches
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 a large sweet onion, cut into thin slices
1 cucumber, peeled, cut in half, then quarters, then chunks
1 cup fresh basil, chiffonaded
Parmesan for serving

Ingredients for Dressing:

1/3 cup good quality olive oil
3/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
good pinch of Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Method:

1. Combine bread and half of the marinade, toss and let sit to marinate for 10 minutes.

2. Add the remaining marinade and other ingredients. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Serve with Parmesan cheese if desired. Salad does not keep so eat up!

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Accidental Vegetarian: Rustic Pasta

Eating vegetarian appeals to me on many levels: It’s healthy and lighter generally, and, as an animal lover I do struggle with eating mammals at times. Rob and I consciously buy from local farmers where possible. I want to know where my meat came from, that it was raised with care and an eye to it’s quality of life, and without antibiotics and hormones  But bacon is so damned delicious and my resolve to eat less meat fades in the light of a frigid Ottawa winter. A steak cooked medium-rare and served up in a Thai coconut curry sauce or a pork and green chile stew is just that more comforting and soul sustaining than a tofu stirfy or portabello burger, in the grip of a -32 windchill. So, when I stumble across a recipe that coats the mouth with such satisfying, savoury richness and flavour and delivers that feeling of being sated, sleepy and happy AND it is vegetarian, I am very happy.

This recipe was shown to my daughter Hannah by her friend, Bridget (Hi, Bridget!) when they were in their late teens.

Rustic Pasta with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic and Thyme

Ingredients:
1 sweet onion, medium chop
2 pints of cherry tomatoes. A mix of varieties is nice. Buy the sweetest ones you can.
2-3 large cloves of garlic, sliced thin (I use a hand held mandoline)
A glug of good quality olive oil. I use Frantoia (alla Mario :))
A couple of sprigs of thyme, remove stems. You can use any woody herb on hand such as Rosemary or sage. Lightly chop to bruise herb.
Salt and pepper
Rustic pasta like garganelli
Parmesan or Pecorino for serving

Method:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss onion, tomatoes (halve any large ones), garlic and thyme with a good glug of olive oil (don’t skimp, it’s a large part of the finished sauce), salt and pepper to taste. Roast in oven for about 40 minutes. Tomatoes should have  blistered and lightly charred skins. Turn oven off and leave to keep warm. Cook pasta. Stir tomato sauce and serve on top of pasta. Sprinkle with fresh grated cheese. You can easily adjust this recipe to serve as many people as you like.

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Roast Chicken with Thai Spices

I was menu planning for the week ahead on Friday and was inspired to create this dish by one of the plump, juicy local chickens from Winfield farms that I had in my freezer. Roast chicken of any kind is comfort food on a blustery winter day. I love the warm, spicy flavours prevalent in Thai cuisine and felt they would compliment a chicken nicely. Rob suggested making a yellow curry sauce and so it came together.

Thai Spiced Roast Chicken with Yellow curry Sauce and Coconut-Mango-Coriander Jasmine Rice

Ingredients for Chicken:
1 3 1/2 to 4 pound chicken
1 tsp Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste
2 limes
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
fresh ground pepper
A handful of coriander

Method:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse chicken and set on a rack in roasting pan. Whisk together green curry paste, juice of 1/2 a lime, fish sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. Baste chicken with spice mixture. Stuff some fresh coriander under the skin and place a handful of coriander and three lime halves in the cavity of the bird. Roast for about an hour and a half.

Ingredients for Yellow Curry Sauce:
1 tsp Thai Kitchen Yellow Curry Paste
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Can of coconut milk

Method:
Heat all ingredients together in a sauce pan over medium low heat. Serve with chicken.

Ingredients for Coconut-Mango-Coriander Jasmine Rice:
1 cup Jasmine or other white rice
Can coconut water with pulp
1/2 cup diced mango (frozen is fine)
1/4 cup chopped coriander

Method:
Using favourite method, make rice with coconut water instead of of water. When rice is done toss with mango and coriander.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.