Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Pecorino

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Now that the holidays are over, I’m trying to eat sensibly again.  More vegetables, more whole grains, less meats.  And not eating cookies and pies for breakfast, you know what I mean?

I generally find it difficult to incorporate vegetables into my meals during the colder months.  In the summer, there is a wide variety of fresh vegetables readily available, which makes it easier for me to quickly whip up a salad for lunch and dinner.  It’s been getting pretty cold in this neck of the woods, so I prefer something heartier that warms me up and leaves me satiated after eating it.  If you’re in the same boat, this is the recipe for you.

In a fit of what-should-I-eat-for-dinner(?) desperation (nary a snack in sight), and halfway through ordering from Seamless, I realized that I had a head of cauliflower in the fridge that needed to be used up soon.  I couldn’t just eat cauliflower for dinner, so I decide to add some pasta and toasted breadcrumbs to the dish to make it more wholesome and substantial.  If you have whole wheat pasta on hand, that’s even better!

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Roasting cauliflower gives it a sweet and nutty flavor which, standing alone, makes it a great side dish.  I actually ate a fair bit of it and enjoyed it even without the pasta.  I’m all about vegetables with a crunch.

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Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Pecorino (serves 4 to 6)

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cauliflower head, cut into florets
1 lb dried penne
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tbsps capers, drained and patted dry
1 tsp red pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
½ cup plain or seasoned breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat an oven to 400°F.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine balsamic vinegar, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and garlic.  Pour the mixture over cauliflower florets and toss gently.  Roast cauliflower on a baking sheet, stirring every 10 minutes, until the florets appear browned on the edges and tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes total.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, based on the package instructions.  Drain and return the pasta to the pot.  Add the roasted cauliflower and cheese, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.

Warm remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the capers and fry for about 30 seconds.  Add red pepper flakes, parsley, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper, and saute until golden brown, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

To serve, sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over pasta and cauliflower, and top with additional cheese if desired.

*Cauliflower is best roasted on a baking sheet instead of a glass baking dish.

*I didn’t add cheese the first time I made it, but felt that the dish could have benefited from something a little sharper, like Pecorino Romano.  If you’re not a fan of Pecorino, feel free to substitute with a milder cheese like Parmesan or Grana Padano.

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Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

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When the days get shorter and the temperatures start to drop, my thoughts turn to cozy flannel pajamas, snuggling down under a blanket with a good TV show or movie, and hearty foods like rib-sticking stews and luscious, creamy casserole dishes.  Every year around this time, I get the urge to experiment with canned pumpkin and working it into both savory and sweet dishes.

I’m a firm believer that everyone needs a good mac ‘n cheese recipe up their sleeve.  Quick, easy, and satisfying.  What could be better?  The sage and nutmeg give the dish a seasonal flair.  And the fact that this dish is loaded with pumpkin puree- which lends a creamy texture without the addition of cream- makes you feel slightly better about it as you spoon a second, generous helping onto your plate.

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Please gloss over the fact that I topped mine with some bacon bits.  A girl’s got to have some bacon, right?

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Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese 
(Serves 8)

1 pound macaroni (or other small pasta like shells and bow ties)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
10 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
¾ cup pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring water to boil in a large pot and cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

In a pan, melt the butter over low heat and add sage and flour.  Stir together and cook for about one minute.  Add milk, whisking constantly, until no visible clumps remain and the sauce is thickened.  Add cheese and stir until it is melted into the sauce.  Stir in pumpkin puree, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and mix until macaroni is coated.  Sprinkle bacon bits over the pasta and serve hot.

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Fried Fish Tacos with Avocado Lime Cream

Tacos have always been a favorite go-to meal of mine.  They are simple, versatile, and have the potential to be healthy if you load them up with fresh vegetables.  I don’t cook or eat fish that often, but when I do, this is one of my favorite methods of cooking fish.

I strive to cook during the weeknights as much as possible, but I can’t say I meet this goal all of the time.  If you’re trying to juggle a busy schedule, convenience and ease in the kitchen are greatly appreciated.  Recently, I discovered these Kraft Fresh Take mixes that are very helpful in creating a delicious meal in a snap!  So when you arrive home from a long day of work and are ready for dinner, definitely give it a try!

The package comes with a bag of bread crumbs and a bag of shredded cheese.  The instructions on the back of the package suggest using water to help the coating stick to the surface of the meat or fish you’re using, but I find that an egg coating works much better.  Just dip, coat, and deep fry (or bake if you’re not into fried foods).

Fried Fish Tacos 
(serves 4)

1 tsp smoked paprika
Kraft Fresh Take in Southwest Three Cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 lb tilapia fillet, cut into 4- by 1-inch strips
2 qts vegetable oil
8 flour or corn tortillas

Add smoked paprika to the bread crumbs and set aside.  Moisten the fish fillets with egg wash, and coat with the bread crumbs.

Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a stainless steel pot over medium heat until temperature reaches 375°F.  Fry fish in batches until fish is golden, about 4 minutes.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Sprinkle shredded cheese over the fish fillets while they are still hot.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Lightly coat flour or corn tortillas with cooking spray, and add the tortillas to pan, one at a time.  Cook both sides until lightly toasted.

To serve, assemble tacos with tortillas, fish, accompaniments (salad greens, lettuces, sliced radishes), and avocado cream.  Serve immediately.

*I fried a large batch of fish fillets, so by the time I was ready to put the cheese over them, they were already warm.  In that case, you can just put it in the oven or broiler for a minute or two to melt the cheese.

Avocado Lime Cream

1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled and pitted
¼ cup sour cream
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
Salt, to taste

In a bowl, mash avocado, sour cream, and lime juice until smooth.  Add cilantro and season with salt to taste.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.