Italian Sausage and Zucchini Ragu with Goat Cheese

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Despite the summer coming to an end, there is still an abundance of produce available at local farmers markets.  In particular, I have seen tons of tomatoes, zucchini and basil.

One of my favorite dishes to make out of these ingredients is farfalle with a fresh tomato sauce and steamed zucchini.  I went back to reference this recipe on my Recipe Page and realized that I have actually never posted about it on the blog.  This is a summer staple in my family, so I will make sure to squeeze it in while I still can get all the ingredients!

While I love the above mentioned recipe, I was hoping to create something new with the same of ingredients.

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In addition to the veggies, I wanted to add some of our homemade Italian Sausage to the mix.  Tommy and I have the meat grinder and sausage maker attachments from KitchenAid and enjoy making sausage a few times a year.  One of our favorite varieties is spicy Italian Sausage and it worked quite well in this dish.

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Obviously the homemade part of the equation is not necessary to make this delicious dish.  In fact, if you wanted this to be an entirely vegetarian dish, you could omit the sausage all together and just make it a zucchini ragu.

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I finished the dish with a generous portion of goat cheese because I thought that it offered a wonderful tang and flavor.  Feta would also be a delicious substitute and if you wanted to go more traditional, parmesan is always a welcome addition to a ragu.

Italian Sausage and Zucchini Ragu with Goat Cheese – Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1lb gemelli pasta
  • 1 lb Italian sausage (2 large, 3 medium Italian sausages)
  • 2 large zucchini (I used one yellow and one green), chopped, yields approximately 4 cups
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 4 large tomatoes (approximately 2-3 lbs)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • S+P

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Season with salt and cook the pasta according to package instructions and drain. Return to pot.

In a large sauté pan, add 2 TB of olive oil, add the Italian Sausage (casing removed) and brown for 5-7 minutes over medium heat, breaking up with a wooden spoon into small pieces.

Add the chopped zucchini, stirring and coating with the fat.  Sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes until soft.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a medium sauce pan, heat remaining 2 TB of olive oil.  Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5-10 minutes over high heat until the tomatoes have broken down.  Puree the mixture in a blender or with a hand held blender until smooth.  Add the herbs, salt and pepper to the tomatoes and cook over medium high heat until the sauce has reduced by 1/3.  Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Add the tomato sauce to the pan with the pork and the zucchini, stirring to combine and ensuring that you pick up the pork bits on the bottom of the pan.  Cook everything over low heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add to the pasta and stir everything together. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Serve in shallow bowls and top with goat cheese. Enjoy!

Restaurant Recreation: Chipotle Inspired Burrito Bowl

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I don’t know about you, but one of my all time favorite “fast casual” meals is a burrito bowl from Chipotle.  I think it’s a good compromise between an indulgence and a healthful meal.  I don’t feel guilty loaded up my burrito bowl with lots of guacamole, some cheese and sour cream as long as a I ditch the large (and calorie laden tortilla) and add lots of fresh veggies.

And while Chipotle is never far and is always convenient, I thought that I could make this favorite as a delicious home made dinner.

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The end result was fantastic and a really “fun” meal because you get to choose which ingredients to add and how much of each.  Each “bowl” because personal (ps – if you enjoy this kind of eating, check out my Thai Lettuce Wraps).

As for the various bowl components, I was inspired by my favorite toppings at Chipotle, including:

Three types of salsa: corn, pico de gallo and spicy restaurant style:

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Guacamole and fresh romaine lettuce for some beautiful green color and delicious flavor:

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A bit of cheese and sour cream for some moderate indulgence:

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And finally some fajita veggies, steak carnitas, cilantro white rice and black beans for the main “substance” in the bowls.

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The great thing about this meal is that you can add or subtract any ingredient to personalize it.  Love pinto beans? Substitute them for the black beans.  Prefer brown rice? Replace it for the white. Do you only eat fish or are you Vegetarian? Make some shrimp or skip the meat all together.  You can also whip this meal together in no time if you buy store bough salsa and guacamole.

No matter what ingredients you choose, make sure you line everything up buffet style and allow everyone to make their own bowls!  Each dish will be unique and perfectly catered to each person’s palate.  Enjoy!

Restaurant Recreation – Chipotle Inspired Burrito Bowl – Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs pot roast (brisket will work too – anything that shreds)
  • 1 TB chili powder
  • 1 TB cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 TB salt
  • 1/2 TB freshly ground pepper
  • 1 TB garlic powder
  • 1 TB onion powder
  • 1 Bottle of Mexican Style Beer (Modela is great)
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 5 TB of vegetable oil
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheese
  • 2 heads shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 28 can of black beans
  • S+P to taste
  • Pico De Gallo
  • Guacamole
  • Corn Salsa

Directions:

To make the carnitas, mix the chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder together in a small bowl.  Rub all over the pot roast and allow to sit for 30 mins to an hour. Once you have allowed it to sit, heat 3 TB of vegetable oil in a large dutch oven over high heat.  Once hot, brown the meat on each side for 4-5 minutes per side.

Add the beer, 2 cups of water, 1 sliced onion and peeled garlic cloves.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low.  Cover and cook the beef for 3-4 hours until it falls apart and you can easily break apart with a fork.

While the beef cooks, you can prep all the other ingredients and place into individual bowls.  To make the rice, add the 2 cups of rice, 4 cups of water and about 1 TSP of salt to a medium sauce pan.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Once finished cooking, fluff the rice with a fork and add the cilantro. To make the fajita vegetables, add 1 sliced onion and the sliced bell pepper to a saute pan with 2 TB of oil. Cook until they are tender and slightly browned. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve everything together buffet style and let people build their own bowl! Enjoy!

Grilled Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sauce Vierge

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While watching the Today Show the other day, I saw Chef Eric Ripert prepare a poached halibut dish with a fresh heirloom tomato salad.  The poach technique was actually one that I would like to replicate, but unfortunately, I didn’t find any fresh halibut at the grocery store.  So instead, I opted to change the protein, but honor the remaining parts of the dish.

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In reality, the tomatoes were so delicious that you could have paired them with shoe leather and this dish would have still been good.  There is just nothing better than summer heirloom tomatoes!  I got a mixture of green zebras, orange tomatoes and a red/green variety.

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The sauce used to top the tomatoes and chicken was sauce vierge or virgin sauce.  I have no idea how the sauce got its name, but it is an incredibly easy preparation and works really well over the fresh tomatoes.

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The base of the sauce is a fruity olive oil that then gets infused with lemon juice, lots of fresh herbs (I used basil and parsley, but dill or tarragon would be great), shallots, capers, olives and bit of salt and pepper.  The end result compliments the fresh tomatoes and grilled chicken and makes it the quintessential summer meal.

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Grilled Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sauce Vierge – Serves 4 (inspired by Eric Ripert’s Today Show Recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 lbs of your favorite bone-in chicken pieces (I choose drumsticks and thighs)
  • 2.5 lbs your variety variety of heirloom tomatoes
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 3 TB olive oil for marinating chicken
  • Juice of 1 lemon for marinating chicken
  • 2 TB paprika for marinating chicken
  • S+P for marinating chicken
  • 1 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped (about 2 TB)
  • 2 TB capers
  • 1/4 cup green olives
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • S+P to taste

Directions:

To make the sauce, combine the high quality olive oil with the basil, parsley, shallot, capers, olives, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Allow to sit for 30 minutes and allow flavors to marry.

To marinate the chicken, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and paprika in a large bowl, Add the chicken and massage the marinade into the meat.  Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes while you pre-heat the grill.  Cook on high for 7-8 minutes per side until the juices run clear.  Allow to rest for 3-4 minutes.

To assemble the dish, slice the tomatoes and place them overlapping in a circle.  Crumble goat cheese over the tomatoes.  Add the chicken on top and pour over the sauce vierge.

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Hazelnuts, Fresh Basil and Arugula

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Tommy celebrated a birthday this past Saturday – the big 29!  Because we were going to be in Cape Cod on his actual birthday, I wanted to make him a special dinner prior to our departure.

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The appetizer portion of our dinner featured one of Tommy’s favorite foods – beets.  The guy just can’t get enough of the variety of colors and sizes available at the farmers’ market.  As such, I have been making lots of beet salads this summer.

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My favorite beet salad preparation involves using creamy goat cheese, crunchy hazelnuts (sometimes called filbert nuts at the grocery store) and fresh basil.  I then drizzle everything with a homemade balsamic mustard vinaigrette.

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Now don’t be intimidated by the “homemade” vinaigrette.  It is literally the easiest dressing one could possibly make as it involves olive oil, balsamic, dijon mustard and salt and pepper shaken up in a mason jar.  And it is so good, you would never even consider using the bottled stuff again.

For Tommy’s birthday, I also added some farm fresh arugula to the mix because the peppery lettuce really makes everything better.

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If you are concerned that your family and friends might not love beets that much, I would suggest buying light colored ones.  The lighter the beet, the more mild the flavor (think white, yellow or light red.  The deep purple ones definitely have the strongest flavor).  I have served this salad to self proclaimed non-beet lovers and have gotten rave reviews! So I really encourage you to try this yourself, even if you aren’t sure about this sweet root veggie.

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Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Hazelnuts, Basil and Arugula – Serves 4 as an Appetizer

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sized beets, any color, sliced
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil, chopped
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • 4 cups arugula
  • 1/2 cup balsamic
  • 2 TB dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • S+P

Directions:

To cook the beets, place them in a large sauce pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.  Once at a boil, add a small handful of salt, cover and cook on low heat for 30-45 minutes (depending on size of the beets) until they are fork tender.  Drain, cool, and peel the beets.

To make the dressing, add the olive oil, balsamic, mustard and salt and pepper to a small jar and shake vigorously to combine.  You can also whisk everything in a bowl, but I find the jar method to be more fun!

To toast the hazelnuts, add them to a dry sauté pan and cook on medium high heat until they are slightly toasted (make sure not to burn!).  Allow to cool slightly and then peel.  Hazelnuts have a very thin skin on them that comes off easily once they are toasted.  Carefully give them a medium chop.

Once the beets have cooled, slice them into 1/3 inch slices.  For a nice presentation, I like to overlap different colors of beets on top of each other.  If serving on individual salad plates, it looks nice to arrange them in a circle. If serving on one large platter, I arrange the overlapping beets up in long straight lines.

Season the beets with salt and pepper and drizzle with the enough dressing so that there is a bit on each bite.  Top with the chopped hazelnuts, crumbled goat cheese and fresh chopped basil.

In a separate bowl, mix the arugula with enough dressing to coat, but not over dress! Toss together and then add on top of the beets.

Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Chicken, Black Beans and Corn

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Recently, the farmers market has been chock full of a variety of peppers – spicy habaneros, various colors of bell peppers, banana peppers (that I have been pickling and enjoying on sandwiches) and my personal favorite, poblanos.  I find that farmers market poblanos are particular delicious because they have a little more spice than the ones you find in the grocery store.

The problem with my love for poblanos is that it often leads me to making Chile Rellenos.  While chile rellenos are absolutely the delicious, they are not the most low calorie dish given that they are stuffed with cheese, breaded and fried.

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So when I bought a few poblanos this past Saturday at the market, I wanted to put them to use in a healthy way.  The result was a Mexican themed stuffed pepper that was full of flavor and healthful ingredients including lean ground chicken, fiber packed black beans and fresh sweet corn.

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And because everything is better with at least some cheese, I topped the peppers with a combination of (homemade) smoked cheddar cheese and queso fresco.

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The end result was so flavorful and filling and will definitely be a repeat in my house!  Serve these up with salsa (I made the Pioneer Woman’s Restaurant Style Salsa, but store bought would be great), sour cream or Greek yogurt and Mexican style rice.

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Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Chicken, Black Beans and Corn – Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 8 poblano peppers
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (about half of a medium onion)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/3 – 1 1/2 lb ground chicken, beef or soy meat
  • 28 ounce can of black beans, drained and rinced
  • 2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed, or 2 cups frozen corn
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 3 TB chile powder
  • 2 TB cumin
  • 1 cup of shredded cheese (Monterey jack, cheddar, queso fresco, oaxaca would all work well)
  • S+P to taste
  • Canola oil

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven on the high broiler setting.  Rub the poblanos with canola oil and place on a baking sheet.  Broil until the poblano skin is blackened.  Remove from the oven and place in a paper bag or a bowl topped with plastic wrap.  Allow to steam for 5 minutes and remove.  Peel the skin (it should come off easily).  Allow the peppers to cool slightly and then cut a 2 – 3 inch slit in each pepper and remove the seeds.  Set peppers back on the cooking sheet.

To make the filling, pour about 2 TB of canola oil into a large pan and heat over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion is softened slightly. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the ground meat and break up with a wooden spoon.  As you are breaking up the chicken, season with the salt, pepper, chile powder and cumin.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the chicken begins to brown.  Add the corn, beans and cilantro and stir everything to combine. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and turn off the heat.

Allow the filling to cool slightly and then stuff the peppers.  Top the peppers with the shredded cheese.

Cook the peppers for 5 minutes in a 400 degree oven and then broil for 1 minute to brown the cheese.  Serve with Mexican rice, salsa and sour cream!

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