I love giving you 15-minute recipes, but once in a while there comes a dish that is worth the extra effort. This Layered Summer Vegetable Torte is just that. Yes, you have to grill some vegetables and make a simple vinaigrette, but this is a hearty, delicious, veggie-centric showstopper. Every summer I have a few recipes that I put on repeat when I entertain at home, and this was one of my go-to’s from the Summer of 2021 and now it’s back in the rotation!Continue reading
Sometimes, a little freshening up is in order. I put this chopped grilled vegetable salad on my weekly dinner planner and when I pulled the image for it, I cringed a little. The photo did not do it justice at all. This salad is one of my absolute favorites and one that I posted almost 5 years ago. In all fairness to me, I didn’t even know how to use a camera when I started this blog, and although I am still no photography expert, I think my images have improved since 2011. So I thought I would pull this post from the archives and give it a facelift, especially on the eve of Memorial Day weekend when you might be inclined to make a fantastic, crowd-pleasing salad such as this one.
Do you remember the Dunkin Donuts commercial from the ’80s, where the guy wakes up super early in the morning every day and says, “time to make the donuts” ? That’s how I felt yesterday morning when I stumbled out of bed as the sun came up because it was “time to make the lunches.” Oy. How is it that I love to cook, but I dread making school lunches?
This isn’t a post about school lunches though. I’ll still post my kids’ lunches once a week on Instagram and Facebook so we can all share ideas. I just can’t believe it’s the beginning of school and I have not eaten what I think is enough tomatoes! Or eggplant. Or peaches. So now I’m on a mission to eat as much summer produce as I can before it is gone. And the first day of school is my warning bell.
I saw a post on Instagram the other day asking who was excited for pumpkin season? Uh, not me. What’s the rush? I would be delighted to eat watermelon and plums for a bit longer thank you. I want to make more of this Lentil and Grilled Eggplant Salad. I taught this salad in a class last year and I became obsessed with it, making it for friends and family all summer long. It has many of my favorite foods like grilled eggplant, which is much better than eggplant cooked any other way, in my opinion; hearty, protein-rich lentils, which are my favorite vegetarian protein source (Mr. Picky’s, too); and of course, the best of summer, ripe, juicy tomatoes.
I love the earthy, assertive flavors in this salad and especially the delicious, mustard-y vinaigrette. Dijon and lentils are great pals. This would be a perfect salad to bring to a Labor Day BBQ, especially if you don’t eat meat and make to ensure a vegetarian option. Or make this for dinner with something green on the side and you’re done. I’ve also added some goat cheese or feta for an extra salty bite. Many of my students like the precooked lentils from Trader Joe’s which would make this even easier to put together. Because I’m all about easy if it will make me cook something at home instead of getting take out. Gotta run — it’s already that time of day. Time to make dinner!
Place the lentils and the wine in a medium saucepan over medium heat and simmer until the wine has been absorbed.
Add the stock or water, onion and garlic to the saucepan with the lentils and bring to a boil over high heat, lower to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until lentils are tender.
Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper together in a small bowl and reserve.
When the lentils are done, drain and pick out onion and garlic pieces and discard. Place lentils in the serving bowl and pour a tablespoon of the dressing onto the warm lentils and stir gently to combine. Reserve remaining dressing.
Turn your grill on to medium-high heat. Brush the eggplant and red onion with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill the eggplant and onion until tender and slightly charred (not burned).
Chop the grilled vegetables into bite-size pieces and add to the lentils. Add the chopped tomato, parsley leaves and walnuts.
Toss the salad with the remainder of the dressing and taste for salt. Serve warm or room temperature.
I feel like my universe is in a state of transition right now. Although I’m sensing this shift in energy in lots of people, not just me. We’ve transitioned from vacation to school, about to move from summer to fall, and we’re starting to change what we wear. It’s natural for us to adapt from warmer to cooler weather by adding an extra layer or wearing warmer clothes. We can think of food in the same way. It has the ability to warm us up or cool us down. Even the way you cook or don’t cook your food can change how “warming” or “cooling” it is. The most cooling form of a vegetable is its raw state, which is why I favor lots of salads and raw soups like gazpacho in the summer. But today we had the first break in our heat wave and as I scoured the farmers market feeling a little chilly in my short sleeves, I had a hankering for roasted vegetable lasagne.
But before you think of the lasagne you eat in the dead of winter — the heavy, cheesy, carb-y, stick-to-your-ribs-and-thighs kind — think again. Let’s call this one “Transition Lasagne.” It’s warm, flavorful and satisfying, but it’s mostly vegetables with a mere couple of ounces of pasta in the entire pan, so it’s super light too. I also use mozzarella only on the top layer and no one seems to have noticed the difference. If you’ve made lasagne before, you follow the same basic steps of layering except here we use thick slices of roasted vegetables in place of sheets of pasta. There’s still one layer of pasta, though. I tried this with all veggies and it was a little too watery. The top layer of blanched collard greens is really pretty too. I got the idea from NY Times columnist, Martha Rose Shulman, who published a beautiful “Lasgana with Collard Greens” a few months ago. Just like Ms. Shulman’s, not only is this lasagne lighter and fresher than the traditional, but no doubt more healthful too.
This is exactly what I wanted on a day like today and my family was pretty psyched when they came to the table, too. Mr. Picky psyched about vegetable lasagne? Ok, no, he wasn’t. He picked it apart, scraping the cheese off both the pasta and the zucchini so that it was more palatable to him and the eggplant came over to my plate. This is actually progress. Last year he wouldn’t have eaten any of it! Does this make me crazy? Not really. Because I know that transitioning to being a good eater doesn’t just happen with a change in the weather.
1 ½ pounds of zucchini, about 3 medium, trimmed and cut lengthwise into ½-inch slices
Olive oil for brushing on vegetables
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large collard green leaves
3- 3 ½ cups of marinara sauce (depending on how saucy you like it)
15 ounce container whole milk ricotta
1 large egg (helps to bind the ricotta)
½ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, divided
4 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles or your favorite gluten-free pasta, cooked and drained
4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese, about 1 cup
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper.
Slice the stem off the eggplant and with a vegetable peeler, peel a few strips off the eggplant so that you don’t get 2 end pieces that are all peel. It will be hard to cut through the lasagne otherwise. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into ½-inch slices. Arrange the eggplant in one layer on one baking sheet and the zucchini in one layer on the other. Brush both sides of the vegetables with oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt and the collard leaves. Pull them out after 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg and 6 Tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.
Spread ½ cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking dish. Arrange the roasted eggplant slices on top of the sauce in one layer, squishing them together a bit so there aren’t too many open spots. Take ⅓ of the ricotta mixture (about ⅔ cup), and with a spoon gently spread it over the eggplant slices. Spread ⅔ - ¾ cup of marinara sauce over the cheese mixture.
Next, spread half the remaining ricotta mixture over the pasta sheets (I usually hold the pasta in my hands to do this.) Arrange the pasta in one layer over the eggplant/cheese/sauce and top with another ¾ cup of sauce.
Repeat with the zucchini slices, remaining ricotta mixture and ⅔ - ¾ cup of sauce.
Finally, place the collard greens in one layer on top. Spread ⅔ - ¾ cup of sauce on top of the greens, then sprinkle the mozzarella cheese and Parmesan over the sauce. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden. You can broil the top if it doesn’t brown enough. Lasagne is easier to cut (use a serrated knife) if you allow it to sit for a few minutes.
You can replace one of the layers of vegetables with a layer of pasta, if you prefer. You can also make this “cheesier” by adding a sprinkle of mozzarella in between each layer.
Vegetables can be cooked the morning of or the day before to save yourself some time.
Ok, my kitchen is more or less back together except for a few cabinets, and I couldn’t be happier. Never mind that every other room in the house has its contents spilled out into random hallways or in the living room which we never use. It doesn’t even bother me that we are all still sharing one bathroom … I can cook again! Takeout everyday was putting me in a cranky mood — and when Mama Bear ain’t happy, no one’s happy! I think the novelty of eating out even wore off with Mr. Picky, although my husband keeps trying to remind me that I was “only” inconvenienced for five days. Talk to the hand, dude. Listen, I had to make a fruit crisp on the front porch Wednesday.
I did a great big shop at the grocery store and the farmer’s market on Tuesday and I was giddy with all the possibilities. I think one of the reasons I get so excited when summer produce hits the stands is that I wait for it all year long. Local peaches, corn and tomatoes are special! I especially have a thing for summer tomatoes, and I’m hoping you do too, since there are lots of tomato recipes in the pipeline. You know that once you’ve had a truly vine-ripened, sun-kissed tomato, you can never go back to those hard, tasteless orbs from the supermarket that have nothing to do with a real summer tomato. I remember as child going into my father’s garden in the summer with a salt shaker to eat tomatoes with salt right off the vine. Heaven.
Tomatoes make this girl’s heart grow fonder when they are paired with basil. This classic combination is a favorite of mine and one I use in so many different dishes. Just this past week, I posted recipes for pasta with cherry tomato sauce, as well as a frittata with garden vegetables, including tomato and basil. In last summer’s classes, I taught pasta alla checca, which is a raw tomato and basil sauce. Of course, the traditional salad on every Italian menu is a Caprese, which is nothing more than alternating slices of good quality tomato and mozzarella cheese with basil, olive oil and salt. Several years ago I was in Italy with my family visiting a friend of my father’s on the Amalfi Coast. We had all eaten a large lunch that day and weren’t really hungry for a full dinner, so our hosts pulled tomatoes and basil from the garden, freshly made local mozzarella from the fridge, local olive oil and olives, and some bread from a bakery down the road. I know it may not sound like much, but every ingredient was the best I had ever had, and to this day I consider that meal one of my favorites ever.
One of my go-to side dishes in the summer is simply grilled or roasted eggplant slices. Occasionally I’ll add some mint and feta, but a few years ago I taught this recipe, which is essentially eggplant-meets-Caprese. Eggplant is such a sponge and loves all that juicy-tomato-and-olive-oil-goodness. I don’t eat very much dairy, so instead of big slices of cheese, I have added a few cubes mixed in with the tomato and basil mixture. In this photograph I used fresh buffalo mozzarella, which is a little milkier and lighter tasting, but you can use whatever cheese you’ve got, including burrata, feta or goat cheese — or none at all! I usually try to teach my girls to eat like civilized ladies, but I have found myself many a time eating this with my hands as an eggplant taco. Like the other night when we couldn’t find the flatware. It’s probably still in the living room…
2 medium eggplant, unpeeled, sliced crosswise into ¾-inch slices
2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil + more for brushing eggplant
Sea salt and black pepper
2 cups chopped, seeded tomatoes
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 small handful fresh basil leaves, julienned
4 ounces (or more if you like) fresh mozzarella, cubed
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking pans or cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place the eggplant slices on the paper and brush them generously on both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper, then roast for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool.
Mix together the tomato, garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the basil. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.
To serve, arrange the cooked eggplant slices, slightly overlapping, on a serving platter. Scatter the mozzarella chunks on top and spoon over the salsa. Remove the garlic cloves.