Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: vegetables

Zucchini

Bell Pepper

Eggplant

Tomato

Bell Peppers, eggplants, zucchini, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes are the vegetables usually used for stuffing. As I looked through my cookbooks, every one of them has a different version of how to stuff a vegetable.  I am sure that in any culture where there is an abundance of farm raised crops, home cooks try to figure out how to utilize the produce and make dishes that have variety, as well as appeal.

As a child, I remember my mother making stuffed green peppers, regularly, because my father liked them. I wasn’t fond of them and I don’t think my siblings were either. Since I am not overly fond of green bell peppers, that was strike one. They were always made with ground beef, rice and tomato sauce. As an adult my tastes for different vegetables improved and, because my husband would often ask for stuffed peppers, I began experimenting with recipes for different fillings and vegetables that we eventually liked.

I still have my mother’s recipe written down on a recipe file card.  It is fading, but still readable. This was pretty much my mother’s way to make

Stuffed Green Peppers:

  • 6 large green peppers
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 of a small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Directions
Cut off the top of the peppers and remove the seeds and membranes.
Cook peppers in enough boiling water to cover for 5 minutes and then drain.
Cook ground beef, onion, and garlic and then drain off fat.
Stir in rice, salt, and half the tomato sauce.  Heat through.
Stuff each pepper with beef mixture and stand upright in an ungreased square baking dish.
Pour remaining tomato sauce over the tops.
Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Remove from the oven and uncover dish.
Sprinkle with cheese and bake an additional 15 minutes.
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Stuffed Red Peppers

As in the recipe above, many recipes for stuffed vegetables call for boiling the vegetable before stuffing.  I don’t do this because this step makes the vegetables soggy and they will spend the better part of an hour in the oven. Also, I feel the vegetables lose nutrients when boiled.

The recipes for fillings I am including here can be used in any vegetable of your choice and there are both meat versions and vegetarian versions.

Preparations of the vegetables before stuffing will vary.

Ingredients

  • 6 medium red peppers
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1-1/2 pounds lean ground turkey breast or lean ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-8 oz package shredded Italian mixed blended cheeses
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs

Directions

Cut peppers in half lengthwise and discard seeds.

In a large skillet, saute onion in oil until tender.

Add the turkey, Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper; cook and stir over medium heat until meat is no longer pink.

Transfer to a bowl; stir in half the cheese, the chopped tomatoes and bread crumbs. Spoon into pepper halves.

Place in a large baking pan coated with cooking spray.

Bake, uncovered, at 325° F for 40 minutes or until peppers are tender.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Return to the oven and heat, uncovered, until cheese is melted.

 Yield: 6 servings.

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked couscous, farro or barley (This would also be a good place to use leftover risotto.)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup prepared basil pesto 
  • 3 large yellow or orange peppers, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
  • 2 cups homemade tomato sauce 
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnish
Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a casserole dish (with lid or you can use foil) with cooking spray and large enough to accommodate all of the peppers.
Combine the couscous or farro or rice and pesto. Stir together. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and if needed.
Fill the halved peppers with this mixture, and arrange in the casserole. Pour the tomato sauce over the peppers.
Cover and bake 45 minutes to an hour or until the peppers are soft but still hold their shape.
Remove from the heat, and serve with some of the tomato sauce spooned over the top.
Sprinkle the tops of the peppers with cheese and garnish with basil leaves.
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Stuffed Zucchini or Eggplant

 Ingredients
4 medium to large zucchini or 2 medium eggplant

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound ground lean turkey or beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 4 ounces of mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 seeded and diced plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 egg, beaten or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 
Directions

Cut the zucchini or eggplant in half lengthwise. Using a melon baller or small spoon, scoop out the flesh from the inside of the zucchini or eggplant. The shells should be about 1/4 inch thick. Be careful not to pierce the shell. Reserve and dice the flesh that has been scooped out.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the ground meat and sauté until lightly browned, stirring occasionally – about 8  minutes. Remove the meat to a bowl.
Using the same skillet, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add in the chopped mushrooms and reserved chopped zucchini flesh. Sauté until tender – about another 5 minutes. Add the ground meat back into the skillet.
Add the wine and diced tomato. Sauté until tomato is soft and heated through. Stir in the pine nuts. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before adding the egg.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  
When the mixture has cooled, stir in egg or egg substitute, Parmigiano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Fill the zucchini or eggplant halves with the mixture.  
Arrange the stuffed zucchini or eggplant in a greased 13x9x2 baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Pour about 1/4 inch of water in the bottom of the baking dish. Place in the oven.
Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until the filling is golden brown and the vegetables are tender.

Vegetarian stuffed tomatoes or zucchini make excellent side dishes.

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Stuffed Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 large tomatoes – a thin slice cut from the top and the insides scooped out and reserved
  • 1 cup cooked farro or rice or barley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped plus extra for garnish
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated plus 2 tablespoons for topping
 
Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place olive oil, onion and garlic in a large saute pan over medium heat, and saute until onion is soft but not browned – about 5 minutes.
Add tomato insides, parsley, basil, oregano and simmer another few minutes until thoroughly heated – about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add cooked grain of choice and the 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Fill tomatoes with stuffing until overfilled and top with  the additional grated cheese.
Place in  an oiled baking dish, and bake until cheese begins to melt and the filling browns – about 20 minutes.
Garnish with basil leaves.

Spinach Stuffed Zucchini or Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 large summer squash or zucchini or 6 medium tomatoes with top cut off and the insides discarded
  • 2 (10 oz) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 oz  low-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon  pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut squash lengthwise in half  and remove some of the center flesh to make room for the filling and place in a  greased 9 x 13 pan. If using tomatoes, cut off a thin layer from the top and scoop out the insides.
Heat oil and saute onions and garlic over medium heat until soft. Add spinach, cream cheese, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes, stirring until cheese is melted and everything is heated through. Spoon evenly into shells, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.
Bake the squash for 30 minutes and the tomatoes for 20 minutes. Larger squash may take an additional 10 minutes or more. Test the side with a knife to see if tender.

regional pastaWith over 500 different types of pasta available, it is not only, one of the most popular foods in the world, but it  can be served in hundreds of different ways. The drying process is also a key to the flavor of pasta. Slow drying at low temperatures helps to preserve the nutty flavor of the durum wheat. This method of slow drying pasta is an art as well as a science, since drying times vary depending on the shape of the pasta and outdoor relative humidity levels and temperatures. This subtle difference of a slow-dried pasta can be tasted best before you add the sauce.

There is archeological evidence that noodles existed in China about 4,000 years ago. Spanish colonists brought pasta to the U.S, but it wasn’t until the large immigration by Italians in the last half of the 19th century that pasta gained popularity. By the 1920’s, pasta was a comfort food throughout America.

Pasta is a healthy food.  It is a source of complex carbohydrates, thiamin, folic acid, iron, riboflavin and niacin, and it contains only negligible amounts of fat, cholesterol, or sodium. Fettuccine Alfredo is high in calories from heavy cream, butter and Parmesan cheese.  Make pasta healthier by serving it with a tomato-based sauce that contains clams, shrimp, peppers, mushrooms, chickpeas, or other low fat foods and flavorings.

A one cup serving of cooked pasta contains about 40 grams of carbohydrates. And in the context of a balanced diet, 40 grams of carbohydrates is not over doing it. It is the same amount of carbs as in a cup of rice, for example. The problem is that, when it comes to pasta, we seem to think that a larger portion is the norm. For example, a one-cup serving of rice looks perfectly appropriate to us—actually generous, but put one cup of pasta in front of us and it doesn’t look right at all.  

If you’re trying to figure out how much to cook, a serving of dried pasta is about two ounces. For long, thin shapes, that’s a bundle the size of a dime. For smaller shapes, it’s about a half cup.  You can also mentally divide up the box. Each one pound box contains about eight servings.  Once it’s cooked, a serving of pasta equals one measuring cup, or about the size of your fist.

Italian Portion of Pasta

American Portion of Pasta

Different Types of Pasta

You can vary the type of pasta you serve based on your nutritional needs or what other ingredients you are going to combine with the pasta.

Alternative Grain Pastas: This category includes Kamut® (a whole grain pasta), spelt pasta (made with 100% spelt flour) and quinoa (an ancient grain pasta similar to rice).

Durum Semolina Pasta: This is the best choice for wheat-based pasta. Durum wheat is a high-gluten, exceptionally hard wheat, while “semolina” refers to the milling texture (that of fine sand). If your pasta has a rich ivory color approaching yellow, you can be sure it is made with durum semolina.

Egg Noodles: They may be delicate, but egg noodles absorb sauces more readily than regular durum noodles. These are best eaten with light sauces.

Gluten-free Pasta: The primary ingredients used as flour in gluten-free pasta are brown rice, corn, a combination of corn and quinoa, potato and soybeans.

Whole Wheat Pasta: This pasta choice offers nutrition and a rich, nutty flavor that stands up to robust sauces. Since production varies, if your first experience with whole grain pasta doesn’t meet expectations, try another brand before giving up on this healthy pasta choice. Vegetable combinations are best used with this type of pasta.

How To Cook Pasta

The term “al dente” in Italian  literally means “to the tooth” and can be best translated as “chewy” or pasta that is boiled just to the point of being cooked through, yet remains firm. Americans prefer their pasta to be cooked longer. This is unfortunate, because the length of time pasta is cooked can have quite substantially different effects on blood glucose and the softer the pasta, the higher the glycemic index.  (The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical scale used to indicate how fast and how high a particular food can raise our blood glucose (blood sugar) level.)

For 1 pound of pasta, use a pot that’s at least 8 quarts. When the water has boiled, salt it generously—about 2 tablespoons.

  1. Add the pasta; stir it right away so it doesn’t stick. Push longer pasta down into the water with tongs or a spaghetti fork to make sure it’s totally submerged. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  2. When the pasta begins to soften, try tasting it. If you bite into a piece and see a thin, starchy line inside, keep boiling.
  3. To achieve the al dente texture, cook the pasta a minute or two under the recommended cooking time.
  4. Drain the pasta in a colander. Don’t rinse, the starch that remains on the pasta will help the sauce adhere.

Save a cup of the boiling water before you drain the pasta. The starch in the water will help thicken the sauce and help it coat the pasta.

Pasta Pot with Built in Strainer

I have an oval Dutch oven that I like to use to cook spaghetti.

My family certainly likes pasta with a tomato based sauce and we always have plenty of that on hand. In order to eat less meat and less fat, I have also accumulated a number of recipes that utilize vegetables, fish, citrus flavorings and low-fat sauces. Here are some recipes that are good for you:

Penne with Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 1-9 oz package frozen artichokes, defrosted
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oz sun-dried tomatoes, in oil, drained and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 12 ounces penne, cooked and drained ( or any short pasta of your choice)
Directions

Combine artichokes, water and lemon juice in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until tender. Cool artichokes, then cut into thick slices. Reserve the artichoke cooking liquid.

Cook and stir 3 tablespoons garlic and 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat until golden. Reduce heat to low. Add artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes; simmer 1 minute. Stir in artichoke liquid, red pepper flakes, parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes.

Stir together the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
Pour artichoke sauce over pasta in large bowl; toss gently to coat.
Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese mixture.

Pasta with Asparagus and Shrimp

Pasta with Asparagus and Shrimp in Lemon Sauce

This recipe can be adapted to whatever vegetables are in season and your protein or herbs of choice.

Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 lb large ( any size is fine) shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound short curly pasta, such as corkscrews, fusilli, chiocciole (small snails) or small shells
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated and the juice from the lemons (should be about 4 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Lemon slices for garnish

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the asparagus and cook until tender but firm. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon to a bowl and reserve.
  2. Bring the water back to a boil, drop in the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook about 1 minutes.  Add the shrimp and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and cook until the shrimp are cooked through (just pink) and the asparagus are warmed, about 2 minutes more.  Add the lemon juice and toss. Remove from heat.
  4. Return the pasta to the pot and toss it with 1/2 of the Parmesan, 1/2 of the parsley, lemon zest, remaining olive oil and reserved cooking liquid. Season with salt and a generous sprinkling of coarsely ground fresh pepper.  Pour into a serving bowl.
  5. Arrange the shrimp and asparagus on top and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley. Garnish with lemon slice.

This recipe is under 350 calories per serving.



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