Weekly Winner – Back in Balance…with bread!

My gluttonous moment has passed and I have put away all my gooey cheese, pasta, and pork products (temporarily, of course –everything in balance).  I am back to embracing salads and my favorite type of salad is one that includes bread.  I don’t care if its croutons or a roll on the side — I’m in.  My all-time favorite, however, is a panzanella salad.  What is better than crunchy bread brought back to life with a little dressing?  OK, yes, bacon… but we’re being virtuous this week, so work with me!!

There were a couple of things that caught my interest with this recipe for Chickpea Panzanella which I found in Cooking Light magazine.  First of course, was the chickpeas.  I adore chickpeas.  The other was the fact that this salad had artichoke hearts.  I cannot say I love artichoke hearts.  I didn’t think I hated them either.  Truth be told, with the exception of spinach artichoke dip, I just haven’t had much exposure to them.  I thought this would be an excellent time to try them out.  Everything else in this salad I know I adored so perhaps this would be the vehicle to win me over.  The salad was excellent.  The artichoke hearts?  Meh.  I can honestly say I would like the salad more without them.  Maybe next time I’ll swap them out for cucumbers or roasted peppers.  My husband can have his dislike for watercress, I apparently dislike artichoke hearts.

Chickpea Panzanella

Serves 5 – (seriously, that’s what they say!)

Ingredients:

1 (8-oz.) ciabatta loaf

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1 (15-oz.) can unsalted chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 (8.5-oz.) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained

3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove and discard crust from ciabatta; cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread bread cubes in an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for 12 minutes or until toasted and golden.

Combine toasted bread, tomatoes, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, feta, onion, and basil in a large bowl.

In a separate smaller bowl, combine oil, vinegar, oregano, pepper, and salt. Stir with a whisk. Pour over salad; toss to combine. Garnish with chopped fresh basil.

Weekly Winner – Digging into a Big Bowl of Goodness

There is little I look forward to more than being able to curl up on the couch with my favorite evening show (or in my case, Cubs baseball) and eat dinner out of a big ‘ol bowl.  More often than not, however; the more comforting and satisfying said Bowl is to eat, the less healthy and virtuous it is to have consumed.  Not in this case. Today I present a big bowl of comfort, joy and about the healthiest thing you can eat for dinner.

I find myself eating like this more frequently than I have in the past.  Rather than a protein, veggie, starch, etc artfully displayed on a plate, I now enjoy throwing a bunch of goodness in a bowl, mixing it up and digging in!  Grain Bowls with Chicken, Spiced Chickpeas and Avocado has a bit of everything and keeps you happy and picking away until the very end.  The chickpeas and the avocado add perceived luxuriousness without any guilt.  Their creaminess is a nice contrast to all the fabulous crunch in this dish and it all of it comes together with a bright herby vinaigrette.  The recipe comes from Epicurious and while they gave a choice of grains to use in this dish, my go-to grain of choice is always farro and that’s what was used here.

Grain Bowls with Chicken, Spiced Chickpeas, and Avocado

Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the chickpeas – 

2 tsp olive oil

1 15.5-oz can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, patted dry

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp kosher salt

For the dressing – 

1-1/2 cups parsley leaves

3/4 cup mint leaves

1-1/4 cups olive oil

6 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp honey

1/2 tsp salt

For the bowls – 

4 cups cooked quinoa, farro, barley or brown rice

4 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 mini seedless cucumbers, halved, sliced

2 avocados, halved, pitted, sliced

4 cups baby arugula

1@ cup pickled red onions

4 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Procedure:

Make the chickpeas – Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook chickpeas, cumin and cayenne, shaking to coat, until heated through.  Increase heat to medium-high and cook, shaking occasionally, until chickpeas are golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels and season immediately with salt.

Make the dressing – Meanwhile, pulse parsley and mint in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add oil, lemon juice, honey, and salt and pulse to combine.

Assemble the bowls – Toss grains (farro in my case) with 1/2 cup dressing in a large bowl.  Divide among individual bowls.  Toss chicken with 1/4 cup dressing in the same large bowl.  Arrange chicken, cucumbers, avocados and arugula over farro.  Top with chickpeas, pickled onions, and sesame seeds.  Serve remaining dressing on side for drizzling.

Weekly Winner:  Crispy and Smoky One-Pot Wonderfulness

I love crispy chicken thighs, and I do truly, dearly love any meal that can be completed using only one pan or pot.  Last night’s dinner gave me both of my loves on one plate. Crispy Chicken Thighs with Smoky Chickpeas made for an incredibly satisfying and healthy Tuesday night dinner.

The recipe comes from Country Living and is about the easiest thing you can think of.  Sear some chicken, mix everything up and throw it in the oven until its done.  The real genius here though, is with the yogurt it’s served with.  Just enough cool creaminess to really bring the dish together.

It’s a simple dish – both in preparation, ingredients and execution.  But sometimes simple is the most satisfying – as is this dinner.

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Smoky Chickpeas

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 tsp. canola oil

8 small bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

1/2 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1½ tsp. smoked paprika

½ tsp. ground cumin

1 pt. grape tomatoes

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed

fresh thyme leaves, For serving

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ c. plain Greek yogurt

Preparation:

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat oil in large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook, in batches, skin side down until skin is browned and crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate; reserve skillet.
Add onion and garlic to reserved skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in paprika and cumin and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and chickpeas, and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Nestle chicken into mixture, skin side up.

Roast in oven until the internal temperature of chicken reaches 165°F, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve sprinkled with fresh thyme leaves and yogurt alongside.

Weekly Winner:  A Tasty Twist on Beans & Greens

Beans and greens have been friends forever.  Combinations include: collards, escarole, spinach, kale and chard on the green team and cannellini, kidney, and pinto for the bean team.  Put them together and you’re guaranteed a healthy and generally tasty meal or side dish. However, for it to be really memorable, things needed to be switched up in this old standard.  A recipe I found in Bon Appetit did just that by changing the beans and adding pasta and sausage.  That’s a guaranteed winner in my book!

There are a couple of things that make Sausage, Greens, and Beans Pasta unique.  First: the shape of the pasta – paccheri – which is like rigatoni on steroids.  I’m talking huge, short tubes of pasta goodness.  Second: it trades out the standard beans for chickpeas (always a fan favorite in this house).  Finally, there’s the crumbled fried rosemary sprinkled on top.  Enough of me blabbering on — just trust me.  This dish is special.  It’s got a great combination of textures and flavors and is the perfect thing to curl up to prepare for the craziness of the holiday season.

Sausage, Greens, and Beans Pasta

Serves 4

Ingredients:

⅓ cup olive oil

2 sprigs rosemary

8 ounces spicy Italian sausage, casings removed

1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, patted dry

¼ cup dry white wine

12 ounces paccheri (large tubular) pasta

Kosher salt

8 cups (lightly packed) torn kale

¾ cup finely grated Parmesan, divided

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Procedure:

  1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high. Fry rosemary, turning, until crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
  2. Add sausage to same pot and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 8–10 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.
  3. Add chickpeas to pot and cook, tossing occasionally and mashing some chickpeas with spoon, until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Transfer about half of chickpeas to plate with sausage. Add wine to pot, bring to a boil, and cook until liquid is almost completely evaporated, about 2 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions.
  5. Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer pasta to pot with chickpeas and add kale and 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing often, until kale is wilted, pasta is al dente, and sauce is thickened, about 4 minutes. Add another ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid, then gradually add ½ cup cheese, tossing until melted and dissolved into a luxurious, glossy sauce. Thin with more pasta cooking liquid if needed. Season with pepper, and more salt if needed. Add butter and toss to combine, then mix in reserved sausage and chickpeas.
  6. Divide pasta among bowls. Crumble rosemary over top and sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup cheese.

Weekly Winner:  A Humdinger of a Hummus — Soup!

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before??  Hummus Soup!  It makes perfect sense (not to mention a perfect lunch) but I don’t recall ever seeing a recipe like this before.  I’ve got to admit, among my friends, I’ve kind of become known for my creative takes on hummus — pizza hummus, pumpkin spice hummus, sour cream and onion hummus, buffalo hummus, but honestly I’ve never considered turning it into a soup.

The recipe comes from Cooking Light and has all the fabulous flavors of traditional hummus.  It is creamy without cream and wonderfully lemony and garlicky and simply wonderful.  And super easy to make.  The perfect, finishing touch is the crispy chickpeas and feta. This soup goes down as yet another example of how beige food can be fabulous and amazingly comforting.

Hummus Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups vegetable stock

1 3/4 cups water

1 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

2 (15-oz.) cans unsalted chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and divided

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

6 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

Procedure

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add vegetable stock, 1 3/4 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer. Set aside 1 cup chickpeas; add remaining chickpeas to stock mixture. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium-high. Add reserved 1 cup chickpeas; cook, stirring occa­sionally, until toasted and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in cumin and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Pour stock mixture into a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure lid on blender, and place a clean towel over opening in lid. Process until smooth. Add tahini and lemon juice; process until smooth. Ladle soup into 6 bowls; drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and sprinkle with cheese and toasted chickpeas.

Weekly Winner:  Keeping My Cool with Crunchy Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

Summer was very slow to arrive in Chicago, but once it did, it hit with a vengeance.  It has been brutally hot here this past week.  Hot enough that the idea of cooking anything for lunch, not to mention actually consuming something warm, was inconceivable!  I didn’t even want to boil water to cook pasta for a cold pasta salad.  My solution?  Sliced Cauliflower Salad with Chickpea Dressing.

I’ve had this recipe for quite a while, just floating in my “want to try” pile and this past week I finally got around to it.  I wish I had tried it earlier, just so I’d have had more opportunities to eat it.  It makes a lot, and was so good and unusual that I wound up eating it for two days straight!  For lunch the first day, as a side for dinner that night and then again as a snack the second day.  And I’m still not tired of it!  It’s bright, lemony, crunchy and has just the right amount of creaminess thanks to the puréed chickpeas in the dressing. A word of caution:  whatever you do, do not skip the diced, raw tomatillo on top!  It’s the perfect citrusy bit of crunch.  The recipe comes from Food and Wine Magazine.

Sliced Cauliflower Salad with Chickpea Dressing

Serves 6

Ingredients:

For Chickpea Dressing-

1/4 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed

1 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp tahini

1/2 cup parsley leaves

1/2 cup mint leaves

1 cup canola oil

1/2 tsp sumac

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Kosher salt and pepper

For the Salad-

1 medium head cauliflower, cut into large florets and thinly sliced (4cups)

1 small head romaine chopped (about 6 cups)

1/2 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed

1/2 cup parsley leaves

1/2 cup mint leaves

kosher salt

1 medium tomatillo – husked, rinsed and cut into 1/4-inch dice

Procedure:

  1. Make the dressing. In a blender, combine the chickpeas, rice vinegar, garlic, lemon juice, tahini, parsley and mint.  With the machine on, slowly drizzle in the oil and blend until a smooth, thick dressing forms.  Add the sumac and red pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper.
  2. Make the salad. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower, chickpeas, parsley and mint with the chickpea dressing. Season with salt and toss again. Transfer the salad to a platter and top with the tomatillo and serve.

Weekly Winner:  A Peculiar Little Pasta

I honestly did not know what to expect with this pasta dish.  It was one of the few recipes that, having read it, I just couldn’t imagine what it was going to taste like.  I knew I liked everything listed in it, but could not fathom the final outcome.

Orecchiette with Sausage, Chickpeas and Mint.  Who thinks up these things?  Apparently Food and Wine Magazine does.

So when a free night arrived, I decided to whip this up.  It all seemed a tad beige to me and I happened to have some spare baby arugula in the house so I threw that in for a bit of color.  Then I read the final line of the recipe: “Dollop with yogurt”. What?!?  Why?!?  I was actually going to forgo that step.  Then I did a quick taste test with and without the yogurt.  OK, seriously, these recipe creators know what they are doing!  It was way better with the yogurt!

Granted, it may not be much to look at, but it is one tasty pasta dish.  It is oddly appealing and somewhat addicting.  It’s the type of dish you just keep going back for one more forkful.  Do try it, but definitely don’t leave out the yogurt!

Orecchiette with Sausage, Chickpeas and Mint

Ingredients:

1 lb orecchiette

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 pound loose sweet Italian sausage

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cup small mint leaves

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Salt

Pepper

Plain yogurt, for serving

Procedure:

  1. In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the orecchiette until al dente. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.
  2. Wipe out the pot and heat the olive oil in it. Add the sausage and cook over moderate heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned and nearly cooked through, 7 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chickpeas, orecchiette and reserved cooking water and toss over moderate heat until the pasta is hot and coated in a light sauce, about 2 minutes. Stir in the mint and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Dollop with yogurt.

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