Spinach and Zucchini Curry

[Spinach and Zucchini Curry]Monday night found me with no dinner plan. There were a couple of aging zucchini in the fridge, still firm but starting to blemish and a purple bell pepper, all from the farm stand near work. I found a package of frozen spinach in the freezer and a vague plan started to form. The result was a curry-like dish.

Spinach and Zucchini Curry
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, mostly thawed (see first direction)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, or pressed through a garlic press
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. sweet curry powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Remove the brick of spinach from the package, place it on a cutting board and cut it into about 20 cubes. This is easiest if spinach is mostly thawed. Transfer cubed spinach to a clean dish towel, twist towel into a ball and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and bell pepper, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat with oil. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the onions and peppers have softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer cooked onions/peppers to a bowl, retaining as much oil in the skillet as possible, and set aside.
  3. Return skillet to medium heat. When oil is shimmering add the zucchini, sprinkle with salt and cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Shake the pan to redistribute zucchini and cook, undisturbed for another 2 minutes. Transfer zucchini to the bowl with the onions and peppers, again retaining as much oil as possible.
  4. Once again return the skill to medium heat. Add the spinach. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the moisture has been released, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until aromatic, probably no more than 30 seconds.
  5. Return the onions, peppers and zucchini to the pan and add the curry and paprika. Stir until spices are distributed throughout the skillet then add the tomatoes, yogurt and water. Stir until the yogurt is fully dispersed into the vegetables, creating a sauce. Cook for 5 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper; adjust as desired.

Notes:
I nuked the frozen slam of spinach for a minute on full power to knock it from brick to mostly thawed. Your mileage, and microwave, may very.

You may wish to remove the seeds from the zucchini. I do this after quartering by just running the knife along where the seeds meet solid zucchini. Seeds aren’t really a problem on smallish zucchini. When the zucchini get to the large size the seeds can turn to mush in your dish.

We served this with white rice.

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Baked Macaroni and Cheese

True confession – one of my guilty pleasures is “blue box” macaroni and cheese. That said sometimes you want something more “grown up”, something with a bit of depth to it. This recipe, based on one we’ve used for years from Joy of Cooking, hits that spot.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni (8 oz.)
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ancho chile powder
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup “red matter” (or 1/2 cup diced onion)
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 oz. Sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 oz. Colby-Jack cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Use 1/2 a tablespoon of butter to thoroughly grease the inside of a 1 /12 quart baking dish.
  2. Bring 12 cups of water to a boil. Add the kosher salt and allow water to return to a boil. Add macaroni and cook per the directions on the package (it was 11 minutes for me). “Al dente”, or even slightly under, is desirable here as the macaroni will bake in the sauce.
  3. While the pasta cooks melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and ancho chile powder; use a whisk to incorporate these ingredients into the butter. Cook the mixture for 1 minute; stirring constantly.
  4. Add the milk and whisk to incorporate. Bring to a simmer and add the “red matter”/onions, paprika, pepper and sea salt. Stir until well incorporated. Cook for 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens.
  5. Add about two-thirds of the grated cheese and stir until melted.
  6. When pasta is ready drain and add to the cheese sauce. Stir until all of the macaroni is coated with sauce.
  7. Transfer half of the macaroni and cheese to your prepared baking dish. Sprinkle about half of the remaining grated cheese over it. Add the remaining macaroni and cheese and sprinkle the last of the grated cheese over it. Distributed the Panko bread crumbs over the entire dish.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the dish half way through cooking to promote even browning.
  9. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Notes:
“Red matter” is a guajillo and caramelized shallot jam that my husband makes in large batches a couple of times each year. We use it in braised greens, stews, stir fries and, mac and cheese. You can substitute diced onion if your husband doesn’t provide you with this bounty.

I turned the broiler on 450°F for 3-4 minutes to help brown the top of my macaroni and cheese.

Orecchiette with Spinach, Hazelnuts and Brown Butter

This weeknight dinner recipe is simple enough that I managed to pull it together even on a night when I was just plain exhausted.

Orecchiette with Spinach, Hazelnuts and Brown Butter
Servings: 3-4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 1 Tbsp. pieces
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 8 oz. orcchiette
  • 3 oz. fresh spinach, rinsed and spun dry
  • 1/2 tsp. dried chile flakes
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Put a large pot with 8-12 cups of water over high heat and bring to a boil.
  2. Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking pan and place in the oven until browned and fragrant, 10-15 minutes. Give the pan a shake every 3-4 minutes. Transfer pan to a cool rack and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Transfer hazelnuts to a clean dish towel, gather up the ends and rub the nuts against the towel vigorously to remove the skins. When most of the skins have been removed chop on a cutting board or in a food processor.
  4. Cook pasta according to package instructions (mine said 11 minutes and that’s what I went with).
  5. While the pasta cooks heat butter in a large skillet over high heat until it begins to brown. Swirl pan periodically to move the butter about.
  6. Add spinach, hazelnuts and chile flakes to the pan; toss with butter and cook for 5 minutes.
  7. With luck your pasta will be ready when the spinach is well wilted. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet along with about a 1/4 cup of pasta water.
  8. Stir pasta into spinach and nuts. Heat until the pasta water has mostly evaporated, creating a light sauce.
  9. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Spoon into bowls and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.

Notes:
I’ve never managed to remove all of the skins from the hazelnuts by rubbing with a towel. Some of the extra skin will flake off as you chop the nuts. Accept the chaos (or pick out the tiny skin pieces).

You can substitute another leafy green, such as Swiss chard or beet greens, for the spinach. You may want to trim off the longer, thicker parts of the stem on Swiss chard and chop it up fine before cooking. I’d avoid heartier greens such as kale or collards in this dish. They take longer to breakdown to an enjoyable texture in my opinion.

Applesauce Spice Cake

This recipe comes from an tattered paperback copy of the Betty Crocker’s Cookbook I received ~20 years ago when I moved out on my own. The recipe language is rather sparse and yet I turn to this book time and again for some very delicious things. This cake is certainly among them.

Applesauce Spice Cake
Servings: 15
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. table salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (I used Ceylon Cinnamon from Penzeys)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cups currants
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup dried tart cherries

Directions:

  1. Place rack in the medium position of your oven. Preheat to 350°F. Spray a 13″x9″ baking pan with non-stick spray and line with a sheet of parchment paper to form a sling along the long sides.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Combine sugar, shortening and applesauce in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low for 30 seconds until it forms a paste. Add the water and eggs; beat on low for another 30 seconds to combine.
  4. Add the dry ingredients, beat on low until just combined and then raise speed to medium high for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the dried fruit and beat on medium for ~30 seconds until well combined.
  6. Scrap the batter into the prepared pan and distribute evenly. A couple of short drops of the filled pan onto the counter will help even out the batter and remove any air pockets that may exist (at least that’s what my mother told me).
  7. Bake for 60 minutes, rotating the pan for halfway through baking. Check doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake. It should come out clean with no damp batter sticking to it.
  8. Allow cake to cool, in the pan, for 15 minutes, on a cooling rack. Slide a knife along the non-parchment sides of the pan to loosen the cake and then remove the cake using the sling. Carefully remove the parchment from the bottom of the cake and allow to cool completely.
  9. Dust with powdered sugar, drizzle with glaze or frost with something flavorful and tasty. Or just eat it as is ’cause it’s pretty darn tasty by itself.

Notes:
You could use 1 type of dried fruit, such as 1 cup of currants or dried cranberries rather than a mix.

The original recipe also called for 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts. I left those out since this was for a potluck event and you never know who will have an allergy.