Roasted Asparagus with Panzanella

I took a trip recently to see Jenna and of course it was filled with lots of food and lots of fun. We went to this fantastic new restaurant in downtown Minneapolis called Bar La Grassa. Think hip atmosphere and lots of Italian specialties with a modern twist. You can order everything in a small portion so that you can taste a lot of dishes, which is my favorite way to eat at a new place. Jenna and I died over so many of the dishes, especially the pasta, but this roasted asparagus with panzanella was amazing. I knew I could take a crack at it when I got home and this is what came out. This is a great side dish to any meal and I will absolutely make this over and over again. Hopefully I am doing this restaurant justice with my recipe and thank you for the inspiration! Two notes, try to cut all the veggies the same size. I did it in a small cube. My pancetta had some heat to it, which I loved, but if you can't find that, just add some crushed red pepper before simmering the veggies to add a little heat.

Roasted Asparagus with Panzanella
Forks & Amusement 2010
makes 4 side dish portions

1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
olive oil
2 thick slices pancetta, small dice
2 large slices of your favorite bread, small cubes
1 medium onion, small dice
1 red pepper, small dice
1 small eggplant, small dice
1 zucchini, small dice
24 oz can of whole tomatoes, drained and crushed with your hands
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (you can use red wine vinegar as a substitute)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss asparagus on a baking sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat and arrange them so it is one layer. Roast in the oven until cooked through, but still crisp, about 25 minutes.

In a large skillet or pot, cook the pancetta over medium heat until crisp, stirring often. Remove pan from heat and place pancetta on paper towel lined plate reserving fat in the pan. Return the pan to medium heat and cook bread cubes in pancetta fat until crisp and crunchy, stirring often. Remove pan from heat and add the bread cubes to the plate with the pancetta.

Return pan to medium heat and add a bit more olive oil if there no longer is any oil in the pan. Enough to just coat it. Add the onion and red pepper and cook until just tender. Add in the eggplant and zucchini, tossing everything together, cook until eggplant and zucchini is tender. Stirring often. Add the tomatoes and vinegar to the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze and combine all ingredients. Add the garlic and salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn heat down to medium low and let simmer for 15 minutes. When it is done, all the vegetables should be cooked through, but not so soft that they loose their shape.

Place vegetable mixture in a large serving platter. Sprinkle the reserved crispy pancetta and bread cubes over the vegetables. Top with roasted asparagus and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve hot or at room temperature.



Pizza Round 2: Taking It Indoors

I think I may be becoming an Italian somehow in my brain. All I can think of Italian food, how I can make and what to cook from that amazing country next. I think everyone can pretty much agree that anything from this extraordinary country is delicious and dreamy. You are probably thinking that I must be from this culinary capital, but no, I am an Irish girl who dreams of long summers in Positano and moonlit strolls through the streets of Rome. I recently made my own pizza and am VERY excited about the results. I found a great dough recipe that was easy (I am no baker, so take my word for it) and it can be frozen for later use. Which was an amazing revelation when I easily made this same recipe a week later with no dough-making required. There are a ton of pizza dough recipes out there, but I liked the simplicity of this one and it was delicious.

Basic Pizza Dough
Epicurious December 1996
makes dough for one 12-inch pizza or two 9-inch pizzas

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil

Sprinkle the yeast over the water. Let stand 1 minute, or until the yeast is creamy. Stir until the yeast dissolves.

In a large bowl, combine the 2 cups flour and the salt. Add the yeast mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it to oil the top. Cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Flatten the dough with your fist. Cut the dough into 2 pieces if you want two 9-inch pizzas and shape into balls. Flatten the dough slightly. Dust the tops with the flour. Place the balls of dough on a floured surface and cover each with plastic wrap, allowing room for the dough to expand. Let rise 60 minutes, or until doubled.

At this point you can either use the dough or freeze it. If you freeze the dough, make sure to fully defrost the dough and bring to room temp before rolling it out.

Prosciutto, Fig and Mozzarella Pizza
Forks & Amusement 2010
makes one 9-inch pizza

pizza dough
olive oil
6 thin slices fresh mozzarella (before using, press the slices between 2 pieces of paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible)
2 figs roughly chopped
2 thin slices of Prosciutto
chopped basil for topping
crushed red pepper (optional)
salt and pepper


Preheat your oven to 500 degrees and place pizza stone in middle of the oven to preheat as well for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 9 inch diameter circle, flour the rolling pin if needed. Lightly flour the pizza peel and place pizza on it. Brush the top of the pizza with olive oil. Place the mozzarella, prosciutto and figs on the pizza and sprinkle with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper if using. Slide the pizza into the oven onto the stone and bake for about 15 min or until pizza is bubbling and crust is done. Slide the peel under the pizza and remove from the oven. Sprinkle with basil, slice as desired and eat!




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Zucchini "Pasta" Salad

PS: Sorry for the terrible pictures! My camera is not cooperating!

In an effort to bring all of you something light and lovely for what has become a very hot week for most of the country, I put together this fast and fresh salad. I call it "pasta" in the title because essentially you are making zucchini ribbons that almost seem like noodles. So feel free to use this technique with any of your favorite pasta salads and watch the carbs disappear (everyone knows my love of pasta, so by no means will it be disappearing for too long). I like to pair a light, lemony salad like this with something rich like a grilled steak. This is also a great addition to antipasti platter, which is my new favorite dinner lately. Pair this salad with the ricotta crostini I wrote about last week with some fresh Italian meats and cheeses (I like Genoa salami, hot salami, prosciutto, Parmesan, provolone, and Gorgonzola). Add in a bowl of olives, fresh bread and side of gardinara and arrange on platters on your table with an Italian wine of your liking. This is a great way to bring some variety to a meal without a lot of cooking. This is great for a romantic night at home for two or a summer get together for a crowd.

Zucchini "Pasta" Salad
Forks & Amusement 2010
makes 4 sides

juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 large zucchinis sliced with a vegetable peeler into long thin ribbons (see photo)

1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese shavings (You can make these with the vegetable as well)

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Taste it and add in more of what you think it needs, especially olive oil if tastes too tart for your taste. Place the zucchini ribbons in a serving bowl and add in the lemon mixture in stages tossing the ribbons well until they are all coated (you might not need all of the lemon mixture, taste it!). Sprinkle the Parmesan shavings on top and serve.



Take a Trip on the Spice Trail

I don't know if you have noticed, but I don't enjoy bland foods. Flavor is so key and I like big, bold taste. I go through bottles of cumin at an unbelievable rate which makes me think I should be exploring beyond that rich smokey flavor. But, instead of substituting, I am expanding what cumin can do for me. I just can't give it up! So I came up with this easy recipe for chicken tenders which could be used as a fun appetizer for a party or an entree for your family. Curry powder is a strong taste, but not spicy, which many people think it has to be. I added some heat, but for those that can not take it or want to serve this to their little ones (I am a huge fan of exposing kids to new flavors!), just don't add it in the marinade. Enjoy your trip to the East!

Yogurt Marinaded Curry Chicken Skewers
Forks & Amusement 2010
makes appetizers for 6 or entrees for 4

12 oz plain yogurt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/4 pounds of chicken tenders (you can also do this with breasts if you prefer)
wooden skewers
cilantro for garnish (not in the picture, I forgot it!)

In a bowl combine all the ingredients and coat the chicken well. Place everything in a large resealable plastic bag, massage the marinade into the chicken, refrigerate for 1 hour or can be done day before.

In a shallow dish with water, soak enough skewers so that each piece of chicken has its own. Do this at 30 minutes before you take the chicken out of the fridge.

Preheat a grill at high heat. brush some oil on the grates or non-stick spray to make sure chicken will not stick. Take the chicken out of the fridge, skewer once piece on each stick. Place the skewers on the grill (test one and if it seems to be sticking, place some foil on the grill and place chicken on foil) and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side until cooked through. (I usually cut one open to make sure it is done)

Place skewers on a platter, sprinkle with a little cilantro and serve. You can do this ahead of time and serve at room temperature as well.



Ricotta and Rosemary Crostini

This appetizer was so delicious and easy. It hardly needs words. A few simple ingredients and poof!, you are star in your kitchen. This crostini would be prefect for a party or just a snack. I have had about a hundred of them and am still making them every afternoon for myself. If you are going to pass for a party, I would use small rounds of baguette or you can even buy the ready-made toasted bread points as a short cut. I made mine big and thick and it, which made it more of a four bite dish. This flavor combination is fresh, creamy and sweet. The honey is a real surprise and it goes perfectly with the ricotta.

Ricotta & Rosemary Crostini
Forks & Amusement 2010
serves 4 for a starter

Toasted or grilled slices of bread brushed with olive oil, I used a rustic Italian bread and just popped it in the toaster. You could also broil it or grilling it would be delicious. Whatever you have time for!

3/4 cup Whole Milk Ricotta
Rosemary, a couple of sprigs chopped
Salt and Pepper

In a bowl, combine the ricotta with some of the rosemary you chopped and salt and pepper to taste. Top the bread with the ricotta mixture and drizzle with honey.

How simple is that?! This is amazing and I am off to make more for myself!


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