Stuffed Baked Pears | With Oats, Figs and Honey

I have the most insatiable sweet tooth known to man. I’ve made this lofty claim previously but in the wake of Easter – which essentially amounted to an all out candy-eating gorge fest in my household – it bears repeating. Yes, it’s around the holidays that my tendency to overindulge in sugar really rears its insulin-spiking head. You might recall that huge Christmas cake of ill repute, the one I managed to polish off all by my lonesome, over the course of a few weeks, piece after piece stealthily snatched from the freezer. Well Easter witnessed similar petty crimes, except in this case my victims were a sickening number of chocolate bunnies and eggs.
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Really I have no problem munching on sweet treats over the holidays – it’s fun to be festive and depriving myself of food I enjoy puts me in a dark mood. The issue is that these holiday overindulgences tend to set me off on a rather unhealthy pattern of sugar consumption. Suddenly eating candy after dinner EVERY NIGHT doesn’t seem like too bad of an idea. An apple fritter with that Tim Horton’s coffee? Sure, why not? Pancakes for breakfast on a Wednesday? Oh hell ya! Before I know I’m back on the sugar wheel, consuming way too many sugary confections and always wanting more. Madness!
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So once again, I find myself having to do a self-intervention before I snack my way too far into diabetes territory. That being said, I’m not inclined to completely renounce my dessert habit – gotta keep a little junk in the trunk, right ladies? As such I’ve been searching for recipes that would provide a happy medium – that is, appease my sweet tooth without making feel like I’m ‘on a diet’ and eating like an ascetic monk. A tall order? Perhaps, but I knew that someone out there in the WordPress blogosphere or beyond must possess the answer to this culinary ruse!
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Sure enough, the universe answered my call. A couple of weeks ago I came across this recipe for baked apples on Nicole’s Cauldrons and Cupcakes blog. This is precisely the type of recipe I was after. It contains some seriously healthy ingredients – fruit, walnuts and dates – yet with some sort of sleight of hand tricks you into thinking you’re eating something quite sinful when really the opposite is true. Inspired by Nicole, and eyeing some nice ripe pears on my counter, I set about creating my own baked fruit dessert (or in my case, lunch; it was around noon when I made this). This is what I came up with, which essentially amounts to an inside out pear crumble. Old fashioned oats, dried figs, a dab of honey , pie spices and a little butter are combined, stuffed into a hollowed out pear and baked until fall-apart soft. Simply delicious. I think these baked pears have set me on the path toward better glycemic health – just do me a favour and call security if you see me approaching the ‘danger zone’ (AKA the bulk candy aisle) at the grocery store 🙂
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Recipe: Stuffed Baked Pears | With Oats, Figs and Honey
Makes 4 baked pears
Ingredients:
  • 4 ripe (but not mushy) pears – I used Bartletts
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats (use gluten free oats if you have a gluten sensitivity)
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried figs
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or vegan butter)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or agave or maple syrup) + a little more to serve
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or less if using table salt)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Remove top 1/5th of each pear and set aside – these will be the ‘lids’ for your baked pears.

3. Using a small spoon or apple corer, scoop core from each pear, making sure not to cut through bottom of pear.

4. Place pears in an 8″ x 8″ baking pan and set aside.

5. In a small bowl stir together oats, figs, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

6. Add butter (or vegan butter) and honey (or agave or maple syrup) and mix well until everything is combined.

7. Press oat mixture firmly into pears and top with pear tops.

8. Fill bottom of pan with 1/2 cup of water.

9. Place pan in oven for 30-40 minutes, or until oat mixture is warm and soft.

10. Remove from oven and serve, topping each pear with a drizzle of honey (or agave or maple syrup). Optional: Pair with a scoop or two of ice cream or vegan ice cream.

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Pina Colada Smoothie

Hey everyone! Guess what? The Gypsy Roller – our 30 ft. house on wheels – is on the move! When we packed up and moved to the Okanagan at the end of July our intention was to stay there permanently – and until we could find an actual house to live in we were shacking up in the RV, as regular readers of this blog already know. However, due to a convoluted series of unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances beyond our control, Mike (my significant other) has had to take a position with his company back in the Vancouver area, and as such we’ve been forced to return from whence we came!

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Fortunately we still own a house in Langley (a suburb of Vancouver), but until we can move into it (Mike’s sister and her family are currently there) we’ll continue to live in the RV – OH JOY! For the time being we’re staying at a trailer park in shitsville nowhere about an hour outside of Vancouver. It’s a decent park as far as these places go – but I’ll miss the fancy topiaries and senior citizens in their golf carts at the park in the Okanagan.

Anyhow, until I get the mini fridge in the RV restocked and start cooking in ernest again, I present this lowly (yet tasty) smoothie recipe. I happen to be one of those weirdos who doesn’t particularly enjoy hot climates (it must be my sunburn-prone Irish/Scottish skin and/or something residual from my joy-shunning punk rock years), but I certainly enjoy the flavours of the tropics, especially coconut and pineapple. Both abound in this recipe, which might just telekinetically transport you from whichever wintery climate to currently find yourself to a sun-soaked beach somewhere South of the equator. I’ll be there too – sitting in the shade with my nose in a book 🙂

Recipe: Pina Colada Smoothie

Makes 1 large (approximately 16 oz) smoothie or 2 smaller ones

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 cup pineapple, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (or soy yogurt)
  • 1 ripe banana
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 2-3 large ice cubes

Method:

Place ingredients in blender and pulse until smooth. Pour into a tall glass. Drink!

Red Quinoa, Roasted Beet and Pink Grapefruit Salad | With Hazelnuts and Balsamic Reduction

The Okanagan has been hit with numerous dumps of snow already this Winter – many more than the norm, or so I’ve been told. Over night at least 6 inches of the stuff came down – probably the most we’ve seen fall in one go – and I spent an hour this morning shovelling the RV pad like a champ – huffing and puffing onerously the whole time as I haven’t done any physical activity in months (apart from opening and closing the fridge door). Fortunately the snow was light and fluffy – not the cardiac arrest-inducing, wet and heavy kind – otherwise I’m sure I would have thrown in the towel (shovel?) half way through.

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There is only one Bobcat on site at the trailer part to keep the roads clear when it snows, and the last few weeks it’s been hard pressed to keep up with the demand. I witnessed a dramatic scene this morning as I sat gazing out the window while I drank my morning coffee – one brave sole had endeavoured forth in his golf cart before the roads had been cleared and found himself spinning his tires right in front of our RV. I froze for a moment, wondering if I should ask him if he needed a push, but moments later he managed to back up a few feet and accelerate forward with renewed vigour and was on his way once more.

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After being worked over by the snow shovel this morning I wish I’d kept some of this salad in reserve for lunch today – I actually made it over the weekend and it came together so perfectly we were seduced into eating it in one go. My boyfriend the omnivore even loved it, particularly the quinoa and beet components – he’s all into “super foods” now after watching a show on KCTS9 about the benefits of eating a mostly plant-based diet. Of course I’ve been telling him this stuff since we met but he actually believes me now that he’s heard it from a third party on public television 😉

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On top of looking pretty (I still can’t get over how amazing the intense pink of the grapefruit looks alongside the beets and the quinoa), this salad does everything a good salad should: tastes great, keeps you full for hours, and is super healthy to boot. Everyone already nows that quinoa is good for you, and red quinoa is no exception – it offers the same nutritional benefits as the white variety, but has a richer, more nutty flavour. Beets are high in folates and B-complex vitamins, and grapefruit is a great source of fibre, as well as anti-oxidants vitamin-A and vitamin-C. I added a handful of hazelnuts for some extra crunch, and shallots and fresh dill give a bright, fresh flavour to the salad. The syrupy, tart-yet-sweet balsamic reduction – drizzled on top before serving – is delicious, especially in combination with the earthy flavours of the quinoa and beets. This salad a great option if you’re looking to get your eating habits back on track after the holidays (who isn’t) – without feeling like you’re depriving yourself of the good stuff 🙂

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Recipe: Red Quinoa, Roasted Beet and Pink Grapefruit Salad | With Hazelnuts and Balsamic Reduction

Makes 2 meal-size salads

Ingredients:

For salad:

  • 1 small golden beet
  • 1 small red beet
  • 1/2 cup red quinoa
  • 3/4 cup water (to cook quinoa)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts (I kept them whole but you can chop them if that’s your preference)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
  • 1/2 small red grapefruit, cut into 1/2″ sections
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For balsamic reduction:

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey (or your choice of vegan sweetener)

Method:

Prepare roasted beets: Preheat oven to 400F. Cut beets in half and wrap each half in aluminum foil. Place wrapped halves on a baking sheet and transfer to oven. Roast for 30 minutes, or until beets are tender. Remove from oven, carefully open each aluminum package and set aside to cool. While beets are roasting, prepare quinoa.

Prepare quinoa: In a medium saucepan, combine quinoa and water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Let cook for 15 minutes or until quinoa is tender. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Set aside to cool.

Prepare balsamic reduction: In a small saucepan, combine balsamic vinegar and honey (or vegan sweetener) and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often, or until liquid forms a syrupy consistency. Remove from heat and set aside.

Finish salad: Once beets are cool enough to handle, peel away skin. Cut beets into 1/2″ cubes and place in a medium salad bowl. Add cooled quinoa, shallots, hazelnuts, grapefruit and dill. Gently toss to combine. Add olive oil to bowl and toss again. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve, topping each portion with a drizzle of balsamic reduction. Eat!

Whole Wheat Rigatoni with Garlicky Baby Kale and Black Beans

After a marked absence of festivities at the trailer park over Halloween – I think we were the only people who carved pumpkins (and charred the seeds, rendering them inedible) – things are looking more seasonal now that Christmas is imminent. As far as I can tell no one has gone so far as to synchronize their Christmas lights to a Skrillex track, but here and there are unmistakable markers of the season: trees wrapped in lights, an animatronic Santa Claus waving hello from the window of a motor home, a few of those inflatable snowmen here and there, and on the less conventional side of things an illuminated green cactus wearing an illuminated red cowboy hat, planted firmly in a mound of snow in front of a third wheel.

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Despite these blatant indicators that the holiday season is in full swing, it was only three days ago that it really registered that I have presents to buy, baking to do, and meals to plan. With the aid of a bulleted list delineating our plan of attack, my boyfriend and I hit the shops and managed to get all our shopping done in a single day – with the exception of a trip to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of Baby Duck, but that can wait as we won’t be visiting with the recipient of that fine bottle of bubbly until after Christmas.

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Tomorrow I’ll be manically baking truffles and gingerbread cookies and throwing together a vegetarian shepherd’s pie, but I’m feeling pretty confident I’ll be able to get it all done by the December 25th deadline. Like me, you’ve probably had zero time to cook yourself anything approaching a complex dinner this week. Like me, you probably haven’t even wanted to because you’ve been doing a fine job of consuming more than a dinner’s-worth of calories in festive treats munched on throughout the day. This recipe is an example of something I threw together in haste in the midst of my Christmas preparations – a combined attempt to use up the lovely baby kale I’d purchased days earlier and cook something somewhat healthy so as to to erase the memory of that evily-delicious Christmas cake I succeeded in polishing off all by myself over the course of the previous week. I hope ope everyone has a great Christmas, however you’re choosing to celebrate 🙂

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Recipe: Whole Wheat Rigatoni with Garlicky Baby Kale and Black Beans

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat rigatoni (or your choice of gluten free pasta)
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 firmly packed cups of baby kale
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 cup parmesan (or vegan parmesan), grated
  • Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Makes 2 servings

Prepare pasta: Cook pasta according to package instructions, or until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside until needed.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. A garlic and saute just until fragrant and beginning to brown. Add red pepper flakes, cumin and coriander and stir until garlic is coated with spices. Add baby kale and saute just until wilted. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Fold in pasta and black beans. Add lemon juice and lightly toss to combine. Fold in grated parmesan. Remove from heat.

Serve, topping each portion with a small drizzle of olive oil, chopped flat leaf parsley and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

Jumbo Peanut-Stuffed Yams | With African Spices and Couscous

With Christmas approaching and Hanukah underway, the food bloggers here on WordPress are really pulling out all the stops!  Over the last few days my blog feed has been a virtual conga line of drool-inducing recipes. This has had the effect of making me feel somewhat lazy, becuase it’s been a full week since I’ve posted a single recipe of my own, and has also distracted me from the latter task by providing me with an unbroken stream of bars, cookies, slices and cakes of various descriptions to ogle for hours. Even my favourite breakfast item has received a festive makeover in the form of eggnog french toast! It’s all too much for one stomach to handle.

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Lots of dishes on the savoury side of things have caught my eye lately as well. Emmy Cooks has been posting a series of savoury oatmeal recipes, all of which look fantastic. I tried her Savoury Oatmeal with Black Pepper, Blue Cheese and an Olive Oil Fried Egg for breakfast this morning and it ruled. This Hearty Miso Soup on the Spontaneous Tomato blog is also incredible (in a warming, Winter-appropriate kind of way) and is healthy enough to (almost) justify eating my mum’s butter-laden Christmas cake for dessert several nights straight.

I’m not sure whether it’s a blessing or a curse to be the recipient of an ENTIRE Christmas cake (the thing must weigh at least 5 pounds), especially given the fact that I’m the only one in the household (make that trailer) who will eat it. My boyfriend won’t go near it (like many he sits firmly on the anti-Christmas cake side of the fence) and the only solid items baby Hunter is interested in putting in his mouth these days are Cheerios and cardboard. (Not that I’d feel particularly great feeding him cake containing synthetically-died cherries anyway). Alas, it’s looking like it’s up to me to make sure the Christmas cake gets eaten. Talk about a #firstworldproblem!

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There are lots of other recipes I’ve bookmarked to try as well, but today I’m finally back with a recipe of my own in the form of these jumbo peanut-stuffed yams! When I was visiting with my mum last week in Vancouver we got to talking about stuffed potatoes, and I thought it would be interesting to try preparing yams the same way. Yams are my kind of food: starchy and sweet, yet they have a low glycemic index rating and thus have less of an effect on your blood sugar than potatoes, and keep you feeling full longer.

However, I didn’t want to give my yams the usual butter/green onion/cheese treatment, as one would a potato. I love African yam and peanut soup and thought I could capture the same combination of flavours in a stuffed yam. This I did by combining onion, ginger, lots of garlic and peanut butter with some of favourite spices – red chili flakes, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and turmeric – and some couscous for added texture. A few handfuls of cilantro folded in at the end gives that refreshing flavour that only cilantro can give, and a dollop of yogurt on top (I used the thick Mediterranean stuff but feel free to use fat free or soy yogurt if that’s your preference) works well to cool off the spiciness of the dish.

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The only issue with this recipe is that by adding bulky ingredients like couscous to the yams, I had quite a bit of yam mixture left over after filling up the skins (which you can also eat, by the way, for extra fibre!). But this is hardly a problem in the real sense of the word, and can easily be rectified by saving the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. They might even be good pan fried in a bit of coconut oil for breakfast! And one more thing – the yams I used for this recipe really were large (hence the ‘jumbo’ in the title), so I only used two. If you only have smaller yams at your disposal, use four of them 🙂

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Recipe: Jumbo Peanut-Stuffed Yams | With African Spices and Couscous

Makes 2 large stuffed yams or 4 smaller ones

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup uncooked whole wheat couscous (or use one cup of cooked quinoa if you’re wanting a gluten free option)
  • 1/2 water (to cook couscous)
  • 2 large yams (or 4 small ones), scrubbed clean
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 cup unsalted natural peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
  • 1 398ml can diced tomatoes, preferably organic
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt or soy yogurt (optional for garnish)
  • Salt to taste

Method:

Prepare yams: Preheat oven to 400F. Using a fork, poke several holes in yams then place in a baking pan. Place in oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until yams are tender all the way through. (The yams I used were very large so I microwaved them for 5 minutes each before putting them in the oven). Once yams are cooked, remove from oven and set aside to cool. While yams are baking, prepare couscous.

Prepare couscous: Bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add couscous to water and stir well. Cover and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 minutes. Once couscous is cooked, fluff with a fork and set aside until needed.

Finish stuffed yams: Once yams are cool enough to touch, remove top 1/5th of each yam and scoop out flesh (leave a little flesh on the skin so the yam doesn’t completely collapse). Place flesh in a bowl and set aside. Keep skins in reserve.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Add ginger and garlic and saute just until garlic begins to brown. Add all spices and stir until they coat other ingredients. Add peanut butter and stir until melted. Fold in diced tomatoes. Lower heat slightly and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Fold in yams, then cooked couscous. Finally, fold in chopped cilantro. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary.

To serve, fill each yam skin with yam mixture and top with a dollop of yogurt or soy yogurt. Eat!

White Bean and Leek Stew with Fresh Herbs | Served on Creamy Polenta

I can’t believe it, but the three of us have been holed up in our 30 ft. recreational vehicle for a full four months now. I’m not mathematically inclined, but I was paying enough attention in elementary school to know that that’s an entire third of a year, folks! Those who read my initial posts on this blog may recall my many anxieties about making an RV – and by extension a trailer park – our temporary home. For instance, I anticipated taking on the ways of my neighbours and making polyester caftans my preferred leisure wear. That hasn’t happened, although I do find myself forfeiting skinny jeans and other such restrictive articles of clothing for track pants with increasing frequency, which suits me just fine. I also had a disproportionate fear of having to ignite a pilot light in order to use the oven. This I now do with an expert flick of the Bic lighter, and without visions of a ball of flame spewing forth from the oven and singeing off my eyebrows.

There are, however, a few things about trailer park life I haven’t taken so kindly too. Right up at the top of the list – and I realize a food blog is hardly the place for toilet talk so I’ll keep this short – is the special (not in a good way) ‘quick dissolve’ toilet paper you have to use so as not to clog the RV’s plumbing system. It’s one-ply, and it’s rough (although the package claims otherwise), and it’s so thin that you can’t even get it off the roll without it tearing. It’s not like I demand a luxuriant lilac-scented 4-ply tissue to be happy, but this stuff is ridiculous. Think the bathroom at a gas station and the toilet paper they provide you with there – only WORSE. There, I’ve vented. Now I’ll move on.

Another thing I’ve had to adjust to is RV’s small hot water tank. I’ve never been one to dawdle or sing or engage in protracted contemplations in the shower, but before we moved into the RV I’d take it for granted that I could lather up, wash my hair and shave without running out of hot water. It was a nasty awakening the first time I showered in the RV and the thing went cold on me in the process of rinsing the shampoo out of my hair (so not impressed). It took a few tries but finally I managed to get it down to a science, which looks something like this: Turn water on, get wet all over. Turn water off, lather. Turn water on, wet hair. Turn water off and lather hair. Turn water on and rinse hair. Turn water off and shave. Turn water on and take a final rinse. Sometimes the water still runs out on me and it kind of sucks – and don’t even get me started on the crappy water pressure – but I’m coping.

There are other annoyances I’ve detailed in previous posts – the lack of storage space, the barely long enough bed, the cold floor. But hey, we knew it wouldn’t be perfect. What the RV does have in its favour is a fully functional – albeit miniscule – kitchenette, a place for me chop vegetables and dirty cookwear to my heart’s content. And that, at the end of the day, is keeping me occupied, if not entirely sane, while forced to live in a confined space. On that note – a few words about this dish. Or one word, really: polenta! This stuff is crazy delicious, and in the process of making it today I wondered why I don’t eat it like, all the time. Its smooth texture and mild flavour makes it the perfect creamy companion for the light, fresh flavours of the stew. I love cooking with fresh herbs; they go hand in hand with the leeks, shallots and tomatoes and really work wonders to brighten up the taste of the stew. Try this recipe if you want to inject a little Spring into your Fall. I’m sure at this point we all need a little bit of that!

What are your favourite dishes that use cornmeal? Please share your recipes and ideas!

Note: I made the polenta using a combination of dairy (parmesan) and nondairy (almond milk, vegan margarine) ingredients, but depending on your preference you can make it using exclusively vegan (or lacto-ovo) ingredients. I’ve outlined both options in the ingredient list below.

Recipe: White Bean and Leek Stew with Fresh Herbs | Served on Creamy Polenta

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

Creamy Polenta

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (or unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (or vegan margarine)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or vegan parmesan), grated (plus a bit more for garnish)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

White Bean and Leek Stew with Fresh Herbs

  • 1/2 cup dried white beans (I used navy beans; great northern beans would work well too)
  • 2 leeks, diced (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 small shallots, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • Pinch of red chili flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10-12 grape tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock (low sodium if preferred)
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare white beans: Soak beans for about 6 hours in a few cups of water. Drain beans and rinse thoroughly, then place in fridge until you’re ready to begin making the stew. To cook beans, place them in a medium saucepan with 3 cups of water (don’t add salt as it prevents the beans from cooking properly). Bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover saucepan and cook until beans are tender but still firm, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Set aside until needed.

Finish stew: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter (or vegan margarine) in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and shallots and saute until soft. Add garlic and saute just until golden brown. Add red chili flakes and coriander and stir until incorporated with other ingredients. Fold in tomatoes and white beans. Add vegetable broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let stew simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and fold in parsley and oregano. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Set aside and prepare polenta.

Prepare polenta: Bring milk (or almond milk) to a gentle simmer. Whisk in cornmeal then switch to a spoon and stir until liquid is fully absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in butter (or vegan margarine) and parmesan (or vegan parmesan). If polenta is too thick, stir in a bit more liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

To serve, place a few spoonfuls of polenta in a bowl and top with stew (remember to remove bay leaf). Sprinkle with parmesan and freshly ground black pepper, then eat!

Zesty Spaghetti Squash alla Puttanesca

My mum has a real knack for creating fantastically flavourful dishes out of just a few simple ingredients. She’s not a vegetarian, and while she didn’t take kindly to it when I stopped eating meat as a teenager, eventually she warmed up to the idea of meatless cooking. Which is great for me, because she’s very good at it. Whether it’s a pizza with a homemade crust and topped with artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes and spinach, or a hummus with lots of garlic, lemon and olive oil, her cooking isn’t complicated but always tastes great. I’m lucky to have grown up in a household where meals were mostly made from scratch; it made me enjoy cooking from an early age and instilled in me a long lasting appreciation for fresh ingredients.

Another dish she makes often is puttanesca pasta, her version of which combines many of my favourite Mediterranean flavours: salty kalamata olives, pungent capers, sweet plum tomatoes and ample amounts of garlic and lemon. An olive oil, of course. It’s a simple, rustic dish that doesn’t require precise measurements and my mind never fails to be blown that such basic ingredients go into creating so flavourful a dish. Leave it to the Italians to figure out winning flavour combinations! For years my mum’s puttanesca has been my go-to recipe when I’m in the mood for a warm, starchy meal (which is often, especially this time of the year).

For years I assumed ‘puttanesca’ refers to the combination of ingredients used in the sauce. It wasn’t until recently that I looked into the etymology of the word and learned the dish (which originated in Naples in the 1960s) has a salacious history! Apparently ‘puttanesca’ translates as – and I hope my mum isn’t reading this – ‘in the style of the whore’! How’s that for a conversation starter around the dinner table? There are various theories as to why such a name would be ascribed to the dish, but the one I like best is that the pasta doesn’t take much time to prepare, so working girls could whip it up for themselves between clients without disrupting business for too long. Boo ya!

Seeing as squash are everywhere right now – and British Columbia squash are frigging delicious – I thought I’d put a different spin on my usual puttanesca recipe and use roasted spaghetti squash in place of pasta noodles. Don’t get me wrong now, I’m an unapologetic carbohydrate fanatic (is there such a thing as a vegetarian who isn’t?), so rare is the time that I make a concerted effort to reduce the starch content of a dish. I guess it’s the bold flavours of the capers and kalamata olives – and not scrimping on the olive oil – because I didn’t miss the carbs one bit! That being said, I think a fresh, crusty roll of some sort would work well on the side here 🙂 A roll and a bottle glass of red wine! Next time I’m making a liquor store run before making this recipe…

Note: I happened to use a rather small spaghetti squash for this recipe, but if you have a larger one on hand simply increase the amounts of the other ingredients accordingly 🙂

Recipe: Zesty Spaghetti Squash alla Puttanesca

Makes 2 meal-size servings or 4 smaller ones

Ingredients:

  • 1 small-ish spaghetti squash
  • 4 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoons red chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
  • 2 small shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 grape tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/4 cup capers (I used the ones packed in brine)
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
  • 1/4 parmesan (or vegan parmesan), grated
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Roast spaghetti squash: Preheat oven to 400F. Cut squash in half length wise and scoop out seeds. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over each squash half and season with salt and pepper. Place squash cut-side down on a baking sheet and cook for 40 minutes or until flesh is tender. Remove from oven. Once squash has cooled enough to handle, scrape flesh from rind (making strands as long as possible) using a fork. Set aside until needed.

Finish puttanesca: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until soft. Add garlic and red chili flakes and saute just until garlic is golden brown. Add tomatoes, capers and olives and cook until tomatoes have softened. Reduce heat to low and add to squash, oregano and parsley to skillet and gently toss to combine with other ingredients. Remove from heat.

Serve, topping each portion with a sprinkle of parmesan (or vegan parmesan) and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!