Baked Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Figs, and Blue Cheese

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By Freya Bellin

As the weather becomes chillier, I love a good casserole. This pasta dish, though maybe not a traditional casserole, evokes the same warm, melty, heartiness.  And while the list of ingredients may raise eyebrows, they all come together harmoniously: the bite of the cheese, the juicy sweetness of fresh figs, and the crunch of Brussels sprouts. I don’t always love blue cheese, but it served its purpose well here. 4 ounces of cheese, especially a pungent one like gorgonzola, is just the right amount to add flavor throughout, without overwhelming the dish. It seeps into the tubes of rigatoni, and coats everything in a light, cheesy sauce. The almonds add some crunch, but flavor-wise don’t interfere with the rest of the dish. This pasta is well balanced, unique, and makes excellent leftovers. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Italian, Recipes

Sesame Noodles with Spinach and Salmon

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By Freya Bellin

Normally the idea of sesame noodles conjures images of a dense, nutty sauce. Here, a lighter approach is taken, with toasted sesame seeds offering a subtle nuttiness, alongside hearty whole wheat or soba noodles. Tender, wilted spinach soaks up the garlicky soy sauce, and seared salmon is a lovely accent; you can’t beat crispy salmon skin. However, it is truly just an accent. If you’re looking for a little more heft, you may want some additional protein, be it fish or tofu. Either way, the dish comes together quite quickly, and tastes great at room temperature. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Japanese, Recipes

North African Chopped Cauliflower Salad

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By Freya Bellin

Cauliflower is a perfect salad vegetable, as it’s full of nooks and crannies that simply drink up the flavors in a dressing or sauce. This North African style spice mixture adds a warm, sweet element to the zesty lemon juice dressing. It sounds simple enough, but the flavor combinations are really unexpected. The salad is full of textural variety: tender-crisp cauliflower, soft red onions, and leafy parsley. The result is a light, fresh-tasting, complexly spiced salad that could be a lovely side dish alongside a sandwich or some well-seasoned beans, or even a pasta/grain topper. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Recipes, Vegan

Sweet Potato Chips & Tomatillo Pico

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By Freya Bellin

The farmers’ markets are overflowing with produce lately, bridging the gap between summer and fall. Last weekend there were still some rogue peaches, plenty of sweet tomatoes, peppers galore, and the first sightings of pumpkin. 

This recipe reflects that transition perfectly. In an ode to the peppers and bright herbs of summer, this pico de gallo is fresh, spicy, and bright. The tomatillos add a sweet-tart, crunchy element. I couldn’t resist chopping up a couple of small golden tomatoes to throw into the mix. The sweetness was a welcome addition, if you have some extra lying around. Meanwhile, the cumin dusted sweet potato chips are a preview of fall’s warm, sweet flavors. The thinner you can slice them, the better (I got some help from my food processor), but if they’re on the thick side, just make sure to cook them longer. You really want to see some browning and warping before you take them out of the oven; otherwise, they won’t crisp up when they cool. These are perfect for a crowd, and way better than your average old chips and salsa. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Mexican, Produce

Curried Chickpeas with Cauliflower (or Okra) and Chicken

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By Freya Bellin

Okra is an underdog of a vegetable, but I’m a full-fledged fan. It has a crunchy exterior, a tender center, and lots of texture from the seeds inside—which is why I chose to go with the okra variation of this recipe. Its season is short-lived here in New York, so I typically jump at the opportunity to cook with it. 

This dish cooks in phases (first chicken, then chickpeas, then veggies), but it still has all the benefits of a one-pot meal, as the flavors keep building. As the title of the recipe might lead you to believe, the curried chickpeas were a highlight. I couldn’t resist snacking on them once they were removed from the pan: browned, crispy, spicy, delicious. They make a great snack, with or without the rest of the recipe. The coconut, ginger, and curry seasonings add some classic Indian flavors, and the chiles just the right amount of heat. I don’t think this needs sugar (in fact, I seasoned with more salt at the end) but taste as you go. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Produce, Recipes

Tomato Carpaccio

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By Freya Bellin

As the days of summer near their end, I think most of us wish we had just one more weekend at the beach, or one more week before schools starts.  But, almost as a reward for going back to reality, we do get something wonderful this time of year: tomatoes. And they never disappoint.  Plump, juicy, multi-colored, and funny-shaped, early-September tomatoes are a sweet way to say goodbye to summer.

The simpler, the better, when it comes to using ultra-fresh tomatoes in cooking. I love this tomato carpaccio because it sounds so basic, but the flavors come together in a bright, zesty way. I went for the mozzarella variation, which takes a classic combination like tomato and mozzarella and adds a surprise element of peppery arugula, rather than the standard basil. The simple salt, pepper, and olive oil seasoning complements this salad perfectly. Just proof that when you have amazing produce, it speaks for itself. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

Tomato Carpaccio

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Posted in Italian, Produce

Spicy-Sweet Green Beans

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By Freya Bellin

Asian-style green beans are pretty classic—usually stir-fried with soy sauce and something spicy. These green beans build on that concept, by adding an almond-based paste and employing a less-fried (less-greasy) cooking method. The result is a super crisp and bright green bean, coated with a nutty, sweet, spicy, irresistible sauce.

The almond-chile paste is the real highlight of this recipe. I used the full 2 tablespoons of oil (if not more) when processing the mix, and I still ended up with a pretty chunky mixture, so don’t expect it to get super smooth. And it doesn’t need to be—the texture and crunch was actually really nice.  The heat from the chiles will also calm down a bit once you add soy sauce and honey, so it’s ok if at first the paste tastes a little spicier than you might want it. I had some sauce leftover in the pan, which I started spreading on veggie burgers and sandwiches. In fact, you may want to make a little extra on purpose. It’s pretty addictive stuff.  Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook

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Posted in Produce

Melon Gazpacho (in Cucumbers)

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By Freya Bellin

I love repurposing food to be functional. These cucumber cups are a fun way to slurp a shot of gazpacho (or a shot of tequila, if you’re so inclined – cucumber chaser?)  Mine were a little leaky, but it was no problem – just drink quickly!  I also think that leakiness could have been prevented by scooping out a bit less cucumber flesh.

The gazpacho here is worth making, cucumber cups or not. The pure melon version in the main recipe is almost like a dessert, the half-melon/half-tomato variation is a surprisingly delicious mix of sweet and tangy, and the Bloody Mary version is perfect for a Sunday brunch. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Produce, Recipes

Bowties and Bulgur

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By Freya Bellin

An old classic like pasta salad could always use a little refreshing. This one channels a traditional Greek salad, and to much success. If you know you like bulgur, I would try doubling it straight off the bat and cutting down on some of the bowties. The texture combination is really great, but it gets lost if you don’t have enough bulgur in the mix. The cooked tomatoes flavor the rest of the dish with a light tomato sauce, and the olives add a nice brininess. You might experiment with smaller tomatoes, halved, in place of the larger wedges. The small ones, like grape or cherry tomatoes, are usually a little sweeter—a nice counterpoint to peppery arugula—and it would cut down the cooking time a bit as well. Be sure to let this sit before serving to allow the arugula to wilt and the flavors to meld. I enjoyed it most at room temperature anyway—perfect for leftovers. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Italian, Recipes

Zucchini Risotto

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By Freya Bellin

I had always assumed that risotto was difficult to make—and that by some magical gift only chefs were able to turn measly rice into something rich and creamy. Yet it turns out that risotto, aside from needing a lot of attention, is actually pretty easy to prepare. This one is untraditional in that it uses a short grain brown rather than the standard Arborio, but I hardly noticed the flavor difference at all. It was still starchy and creamy but also delicate, thanks to the grated zucchini that truly just melts into the rice. The flavors are bright and summery: while the lemon is quite strong, it’s very well balanced by the fresh basil. You may try using a bit less than a lemon’s worth of juice and adding more to taste. I say to go for the cheese, butter, and basil. They all complement each other nicely and add a little richness. As for the egg variation? Definitely a success. Most savory dishes can benefit from a runny yolk, and this was no exception. Sprinkle with salt and pepper before serving. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Italian, Recipes