Creamy Sundried Tomato Pesto Comfort Pasta

My mum is a pretty good cook – I know I’ve gone on about Mama Oddsocks’ cooking but my mum can hold her own. When I was growing up she had a few standby recipes for those midweek ‘can’t-be-bothered’ nights that were healthy and still tasted great: various stirfrys (her sauces are different to mine now, but they’re the source from whence mine sprung), variations of meat and three veg, and this pasta.

Now, before I go on I need to confess this – I’m a carbophile. The hungrier I get the more I crave straight, white flour carbs. Rice, potatoes, bread, pasta; it’s all good! Most of the time I tend to eat whole food oriented, low GI stuff but when I haven’t got enough of it – carb binge. And I honestly rarely regret it. Like sugar it’s ok in moderation and pasta is something I could never really give up. I have wholewheat and lower GI varieties on hand, but realistically the dried, semolina-based white pasta is always going to be in my cupboard. I’m ok with this.

So, this pasta. Yesterday found me famished. I’m generally pretty good at bringing enough food to get me through a work day, but sometimes I have a tendency to underestimate my food requirements and not bring enough. Yesterday was one of those days. I know I’m hungry at work when my Pinterest browsing turns to food. I know I’m starving when I start trawling through boards of pasta.

So I got home craving pasta. The muffin and banana I had as soon as I walked through the door to try and stop the desperately hungry crash didn’t even hit the sides. So I went to the supermarket, abandoned plans for burritos and bought stuff for making this pasta. It was exactly what I wanted.

And I ate the leftover pasta straight from the saucepan.

I still regret nothing.

pasta edit

Creamy Sundried Tomato Pesto Comfort Pasta

  • 1 cup dried pasta of choice
  • 3 tbsp sundried tomato pesto
  • 3 tbsp greek yoghurt or pouring cream
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 cup brocolli
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4-5 cherry or sundried tomatoes
  • 1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup zucchini, sliced
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • Olive oil of butter for sauteeing

Method

  1. Cook pasta according to packet directions
  2. Sautee onions, mushrooms and garlic in pan until soft and fragrant
  3. Add brocolli, zucchini, and tomatoes and fry. I usually add a smidge of water (using the pasta water adds something I think but isn’t required) to help the harder vegetables like the brocolli and zucchini along – and I mean a smidge – say, 1-2 tbsp – you don’t want soup!
  4. Lower the heat, add pesto and yoghurt/cream and warm through. Lowering the heat here helps to prevent the cream curdling – yoghurt will always do it a bit over heat and with acidic things like the tomatoes but it can be lessened!
  5. Stir sauce through pasta and top with avocado.
  6. Place yourself in a carbohydrate-filled, guilt-free coma.

Variations

Obviously this recipe is easily adaptable – it’s basically a primavera with a twist. I personally think the combination of the sundried tomato pesto and the brocolli is key here, but realistically you can use whatever you have on hand. This is a great cleaning out the “bits” in the fridge recipe. It’s forgiving and there isn’t really a balance of ingredients you can screw up – it doesn’t matter if you only have one mushroom in the entire thing! However, if you’re looking for ideas, common things I add or change are:

  • Peas, spinach, chard, broad beans, rocket, miscellaneous greenery or herbs
  • Carrots, capsicum (fresh or marinated/charred), eggplant,
  • Can of tomatoes – I usually hold the cream if I’m doing this but it’s not required and you can make a nice lightened tomato sauce with both. Another nice touch is chilli flakes or powder – I love this pasta with red lentils, a can of tomatoes, no cream and a touch of chilli.
  • Borlotti beans, lima beans, lentils

Sweet mushrooms with broccolini

One of the first questions I get asked after people find out that I’m vegetarian, after “where do you get your protein/iron/calcium?”, is “what do you take to barbecues? Do you just eat salad?”

No, usually I just buy some sort of vegie burger or sausage substitute and throw it on with everyone else’s stuff. Problem. Solved.

Except for this one barbecue I went to recently, that pretty much changed my approach to barbecue foods forever. A friend of mine put whole giant field mushrooms on the barbecue – not unusual but certainly delicious! – with some margarine.

And kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce).

These mushrooms blew not only my mind, but the world and all superheroes in it.

mushroom 2 edit

I wanted to recreate them at home, so I preheated the oven and got to work. Now, when I’m not at barbecues just having mushrooms feels kinda weird, so I bought some broccolini for a contrast in colour and texture. And because I wanted an excuse to buy broccolini.

The mushrooms didn’t work out like the first barbecue ones and, I suspect, like all good things were one of those beautiful moments where everything aligns and it’s never going to be that good again. But, you know what? They’re still pretty delicious.

mushroom brocollini edit

Sweet mushrooms with broccolini

  • 3 large field mushrooms
  • 2 tbs margarine or butter
  • 2 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 1 thinly sliced red chilli (optional)
  • 3-4 tbs kecap manis
  • broccolini

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Wipe mushrooms and drop some margarine, kecap manis, chillis and garlic on them. I wouldn’t bother being too fussy with balancing them or mixing at this point – they melt and mingle anyway.
  3. Place in a lined tray in the oven.
  4. Bake for 20-30 minutes until mushrooms are cooked through.
  5. Slice and serve with steamed broccolini

Variations

  • You could probably do these as a sautee with button mushrooms as a side dish

Mama Oddsocks’ African black-eyed peas

I used to be quite anti-beans. And tofu. This is hilarious considering these two things form the basis for my current diet. Now, I’m all about whole foods over processed “fake” meats (though they serve their purpose and Buddhist restaurants can do amazing things with vital gluten flour!). One of the main reasons for my conversion, other than knocking meat out of my diet, was one of my best friends’ mums. She will henceforth be referred to as Mama Oddsocks.

A few years ago Mama Oddsocks made this recipe and, being wary of all things legume to the point of open hostility, I tried to avoid it in my quest to eat everything she’d laid on the table. Somehow, however, I suspect in hindsight polite mention that I hadn’t had any of the black-eyed peas yet, I ended up trying them.

And they were amazing.

I’m certain I had seconds.

Fast forward to now and the pack of dried black-eyed peas in my cupboard. I bought them at least a year ago when I spotted them in a health food shop. Black-eyed peas aren’t something I encounter regularly; I don’t see them in cans in supermarkets or dried in kilogram bags near the soup or Indian pastes. This makes them a “specialty” item in my book – they involve some sort of effort on my part. When I saw them, however, I remembered this recipe from years ago – it left that good of an impression – and bought them for that purpose.

And they’ve sat in my cupboard ever since, overlooked as I made an endless stream of stirfries, soups, stews and curries based around other, less special, legumes. Until I finally got around to getting the recipe from Mama Oddsocks.

Please ignore the fact that they were past their “best before” date when I did finally do that.

I boiled them up at the start of the week, determined that this week was the week and threw them in the fridge. Waiting… again.

I made a pilgrimage to Mama Oddsocks and, over more amazing food, requested the recipe. It was so long since I’d had those beans that Mama Oddsocks herself exclaimed she hadn’t made them in forever and took a while to locate the recipe,  which I scribbled down and took home like a gift from God.

I scrambled to find some paprika (no, I don’t know why I didn’t notice it had run out earlier, either) and got to work. They cooked in a crazily quick time.

And they were better than I remembered – if I’d known they were this quick and delicious they would have been added to the curry rotation ages ago. The seasoning is versatile and definitely not restricted to black-eyed peas, though it gave them a great daal-like quality. I texted Mama Oddsocks gushing praise with one hand and with a fork in the other.

The Scaredy Cook: Mama Oddsocks' African black eyed peas

Mama Oddsocks’ African black-eyed peas

1 onion

  • 2 tbsp cooking oil of choice
  • 375g black eyed peas (soaked or drained)
  • 200g eggplant, diced
  • 1/2 cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 tomato paste sachet (about 50g)
  • 400g tin coconut milk (light works fine)
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste

Method

  1. Sautee onion in oil of choice until soft.
  2. Add cauliflower florets and eggplant and a little more oil and sautee until eggplant begins to soften.
  3. Add black eyed peas, coconut milk, tomato paste and spices. Stir and simmer until sauce reduces.
  4. Serve with rice.

Variations

  • I added eggplant and cauliflower because I had them lying around and they fit well with curries, other things you could easily add or replace include peas, green beans, mushrooms, spinach, sweet potato… you get the idea, right? This is versatile.
  • Legumes – this certainly isn’t restricted to black-eyed peas and in future I probably won’t use them because I don’t often have them on hand. Instead I’m thinking split peas, chickpeas, cannellini, adzuki or kidney beans.
  • Chili – I’m tempted to try fresh red chili in this (I’m a fan of spicy things), or at least experimenting with upping the heat with the cayenne powder. In fact, I may try and max out the spices just to see how far I can push it before it breaks and then pare it back to where I like it. This is the master recipe but probably not the ultimate version.

Quinoa patties

Quinoa patties

I’m one of those annoying quinoa fanatics. I spend time looking up different things to do with it, I’ve used all the exciting colours and usually have them on hand. It’s like a vegetarian cheat code for easy protein and iron and calcium and all things that are good.

So, I love it and, despite flipping things being one of my great cooking weaknesses, I quite like these patties. They’re fairly quick to cook up, a good use of left over quinoa and are one of the few patties or burgers I’ve found that doesn’t involve using a food processor. They’re loosely based on these ones but I found that recipe a bit bland so took the basic idea and ran with it.

Image

Quinoa patties

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 diced onion
  • 2 tsp garlic paste or 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • ½ cup peas
  • 1 capsicum, diced small
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 zucchini, grated
  • ½ cup grated cheese
  • 1 cup steamed cauliflower (mashed)
  • ½ cup spring onions
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp white sugar (or other sweetener)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil for frying (I used rice bran but canola would be fine)

Method

  1. Place all vegetables, cheese and spices in a large mixing bowl, add quinoa, one egg, some of the flour and stir. I had a very organic ratio going as I made these – mainly because I couldn’t fit everything in the one bowl and still stir it. You want the mixture to be a little stiff rather than runny.
  2. Heat oil in frying pan and use a tablespoon to create patties (for reasons of messy hands rather than portioning or shaping!). Fry until golden– about 2-3 minutes each side.
  3. Rinse and repeat, replenishing your mix with flour, eggs, and other mix bits you couldn’t fit in the bowl as you go.

Image

Tip: If you are doing the replenish bowl mixing version like I was it’s important to keep topping up the spices and salt/pepper as well. These burgers get really bland, really fast – err on over-spiced rather than under.

Adventures with Miso Soup

The thing about being a scaredy cook, is you have to face your fears. Domino them, if you will, one at a time.

At least that’s what I’m hoping.

I love Miso soup. It barely hits the sides in terms of fullness but I don’t care – it’s salty and deep and something I run out of the office at least once a week to buy because it’s delicious and cheap.

Naturally I’ve wanted to make miso soup at home for a while. Problem? The information on miso pastes is overwhelming – they’re different colours, made from different things. You can get hard and soft pastes, instant and must-be-refridgerated-lest-it-die. There’s regions and, honestly, miso snobs. There’s miso for sauces and marinades and other misos for soups and other miso that’s for sacrificing to the Gods or something. I’ve stood in health food shops and supermarkets and asian groceries and stared at the array of miso, failing to make a decision. I’ve asked people to enlighten me as to which paste I want and been given the infuriating response of “it’s personal preference”.

I don’t know what my preference is! I just want to make soup that tastes like every Japanese restaurant ever – I want that paste. I mean, I just want soup, is that so hard?!

So, I finally took the plunge. I just grabbed one. In my normal supermarket run I just grabbed the first packet I saw that said “miso”. This week I was making soup – it was happening!

Well, it happened, and, as it turns out, it was the wrong miso. I’m willing to give myself some credit and say as a white, middle-class, self-labelled “scaredy cook” Australian girl who only knows miso soup from sushi restaurants or in take-away Styrofoam bowls I may lack in some cooking knowledge required for the making of miso soup. In this case, however, I think it was the miso.

Miso soup edit

I made soup with soba and wakame and vegetables, I made the dashi stock to mix the precious paste into so I didn’t kill it (boiling miso is a sin, apparently, I suspect because it’s a microorganism and therefore alive like yoghurt and the goodness in it would die if overheated) and was getting excited that I was able to finally turn that delicious workday snack into a fully fledged meal. But it was light. I thought I needed to add more miso paste, that maybe my miso:water ratio was out. So I did… and a bit more… and a bit more. Until it was ridiculous, until I realized that I could probably upend the packet into my soup and it wouldn’t taste right and wouldn’t get any deeper in flavour.

The flavour I had was nice, don’t get me wrong, but what I was tasting was slightly sweet and mellow – I can see how it’d make an excellent dipping sauce for something, a glaze maybe, or a marinade. A reduction, something to accompany or temper something else. I believe I found a sauce miso. Not a soup, miso. Apparently there is a difference.

Here’s some pictures of my soup but I won’t include the recipe because I wasn’t happy with it – I’m including this entry, though, because it’s the first in my miso quest. This is happening. I’m hunting down the next miso paste, I’m upping my research, I’m going back to my oracle (Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian), I’m buying a whisk, I’m doing everything short of going into the local restaurant and asking (and I’m not even writing that off as an option) because it’s a challenge now. It’s possible, I just don’t know how yet.

I may be a scaredy cook, but that doesn’t mean I get to back down and not try again when something doesn’t work the first time.

Roast Vegetable and Israeli Couscous Salad

My mum introduced me to this salad a few Christmases ago. My extended family has a habit of forgetting I’m vegetarian – admittedly because I usually forget to remind them – but, whatever the reason, when everyone else is enjoying crazy amounts of fresh seafood I’m either stuck with whatever salad is served on the side or waiting for vegetables when the roast comes out. (Useful tip for newer veggos: food availability at things where people have forgotten you don’t eat meat gets better as the meal progresses, climaxing at dessert).

Salad 1

I have no idea where she found this, but in doing so she achieved two amazing things at once. One, she gave me something hearty to eat two or three serves of at Christmas and still leave room for pav, and two, she introduced me to Israeli couscous.

For the uninitiated, as I was, Israeli couscous is little round pasta (the packaging lies, it’s not actually couscous) that’s roasted so that it remains uniquely al dente and chewy in texture. It’s also low GI – everyone wins! You can usually find it in either the pasta/asian food aisle of the supermarket or, as my local supermarket did for reasons known only to themselves, next to the bread. Like other small pasta like orzo or ziti you can make great little starchy side-dishes with it, use it instead of rice, quinoa, or couscous as under saucier dishes or, like here, use it to bulk up other dishes like salads, soups or stews.

I love the chewiness of Israeli couscous, and it works really well with the contrasting textures in this salad.

Salad ingredients edit

Roast vegetable Israeli couscous salad

  • 1 large beetroot (or 2 smaller ones)
  • 2 parsnips
  • 1 swede
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 zucchinis
  • ¼ red cabbage
  • 5 mushrooms
  • 200g fresh spinach
  • 400g can chickpeas
  • 250g Israeli couscous
  • Olive oil for roasting
  • Mixed herbs
  • 1 tsp garlic paste or 2-3 cloves fresh garlic (peeled)

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200˚C
  2. Largely dice beetroot, parsnips, swede, onion, eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms.  All of these veggies are going to be roasted together so be aware when chopping that things like the beetroot and swede should be diced smaller and the mushrooms and zucchini should be bigger (case in point, most of my mushrooms were halved) to ensure relatively even cooking time. Alternately you can put your quicker to roast things in at a later point to your longer to roast items, but I’m lazy and prefer to organize it so it all works in the one pan.
  3. Place all veggies in roasting pan, drizzle liberally with olive oil, drop in your garlic and add a tablespoon or so of mixed herbs. Mix well and place in oven.

Tip: Cover with aluminum foil for the first stage of roasting – it keeps heat in but won’t burn the tops of things like your onions. Take it off for the last 5-10 minutes to let everything crisp up.

  1. While your veggies are roasting shred your cabbage, wash and dry your spinach, drain and rinse your chickpeas and set aside.
  2. Add couscous to boiling water to cook – stir it fairly regularly because it has a tendency to clump together, which I quite like because I’m a carbophile, but for this salad you want to keep it all fairly separate. It usually takes about 10 minutes to cook but don’t stress too much about overcooking because it’s really forgiving and doesn’t tend to get waterlogged like pasta does it you don’t pull it out and chill it at the right time. Once cooked, set aside.
  3. Wait for your veggies to finish roasting, check them every now and then to turn, nibble and generally check they’re doing ok. I used this time to make the quinoa patties.
  4. When your roast vegetables are done mix together with your set aside ingredients: the couscous, chickpeas, spinach, and cabbage

Variations

  • My mum originally did this with mustard seeds instead of mixed herbs and that worked a treat
  • Obviously the vegetables can be swapped and changed as you like. I wouldn’t recommend things like potatoes but pumpkin, capsicum, corn, green beans, carrots… get inventive or use whatever you have on hand!
  • This version doesn’t have a dressing but if I was going to I’d think a mustard dressing or a balsamic vinegar-based dressing would be your best bet

Salad 2 post edit

This salad is great not only for Christmases when there’s prawns from one end of the table to the other but I’m also loving it for work lunches. There’s something about having a purple plate that makes people pause and ask what you’re eating. I served it with quinoa patties to make a full meal, though arguably there’s so much bulk in this salad it’s a meal in itself.