Pantry Staple Pasta Sauce

We returned from a short vacation Friday night and Saturday was filled with all the errands except for grocery shopping. As a dinner time approached I turned to the cupboard to see what kind of thing I could cobble together.

Lentils and chickpeas provide a bit of protein in a vegetarian dish. We served it with some grated Parmesan cheese, cracked black pepper and a splash of extra virgin olive oil.

Pantry Staple Pasta Sauce
Servings: 4+
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
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Farro with Pesto, Zucchini and Red Bell Pepper

The idea for this recipe came from one of the recipe mailing lists to which I subscribe. I liked the concept of pesto with farro. I changed up the add-ins and served this warm.

Results were mixed. One person felt it didn’t need the pesto, another adored the pesto. Most just gobbled it up. 🙂

Farro with Pesto, Zucchini and Red Bell Pepper
Servings: 8-10
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour


  • 4 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 cups uncooked pearled farro
  • 2 zucchinis (see directions for prep)
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and 1/2″ dice
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 8 oz. prepared basil pesto
  • 4 oz. pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 oz. fresh basil, thinly sliced


  1. Bring water to a boil in a 4-quart sauce pan. Add the salt and bay leaves; stir until salt is dissolved. Add the farro and stir. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes.
  2. While the farro cooks prep the zucchini. Remove the stem end and then cut into quarters lengthwise. Remove the seeds from the center of each quarter and then slice into 1/2″ wedges. Combine with peppers and set aside.
  3. When farro is ready drain it and transfer to a large bowl. Mix the zucchini and pepper mixture into the farro. Gently fold the pesto and half of the pine nuts into the mix.
  4. Just before serving garnish with the remaining pine nuts and fresh basil.

Pearled farro will cook faster than the semi-pearled variety, which is what I normally use. My regular brand (Bob’s Red Mill) was out of stock at the local megamart where I normally pick it up. Luckily I found another brand close at hand.

The original recipe that sparked my recipe can be found at

Seared Zucchini with Beans

Despite having hosted our friends for dinner for many of the Saturday nights over the past 20+ years I still find myself stumped fair to regularly on what to make for dinner. As a result I will often add “2 vegetables” to my grocery list with no real plan and hope for inspiration while in the produce section. Here are the results from such a recent inspiration.

Seared Zucchini with Beans
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes


  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 red onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
  • 3 zucchini, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 28 oz. can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend
  • 1/2 cup water.
  • kosher salt and black pepper


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent; about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, stirring it into the onions and cook until fragrant, which should be less than a minute. Push the onions and garlic to the edge of the skillet.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and increase the heat to medium high. Add the zucchini and spread it out into a single layer. Allow it to brown on this side, untouched for 3-4 minutes. Now sprinkle the zucchini with salt and stir it to redistribute the pieces. Cook for another minute.
  4. Add the beans, spice blend and water. Stir everything together and cover. Reduce the heat to low and allow it to cook until the beans are warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste.

You can really use any type of bean here that you like. Hominy probably wouldn’t be my first choice but if you rinsed it then it would work.

If you don’t have the Mural of Flavors spice blend you can mix together 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp. ground coriander and the zest from a lemon or orange. Use 1 teaspoon of that and save the rest.

Zucchini Pancakes

[Zucchini Pancakes]In my ongoing quest to find ways to use zucchini I decided to make some zucchini pancakes this past week. My dad used to make something like these during the summer when I was growing up. They were particularly good with a little Romesco.

Zucchini Pancakes
Servings: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes (plus 30 minutes wait)
Total time: 1 hour


  • 2 zucchini, about 1 pound each
  • 1 shallot
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. ground sumac
  • 1/2 tsp. ground Aleppo pepper
  • 1 egg
  • kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided


  1. Rinse zucchini, halve across the middle and grate on the large holes of a box grater. Sprinkle with kosher salt (maybe a 1/2 tsp.) and place in a strainer set over a bowl. Allow liquid to drain for at least 30 minutes. Transfer drained zucchini to a double layer of paper towels, blot dry and move to a fresh bowl.
  2. While the zucchini rests you can also grate the shallot on the small holes of a box grater and add to the strainer with the zucchini. Then combine the flour and spices in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Finally lightly beat the egg to combine the yolk and white.
  3. When ready to continue mix the zucchini/shallot with the flour/spices and egg until it comes together as a batter. There’s still plenty of liquid in the zucchini to supplant the egg.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until it no longer bubbles. Add 4 pancakes to the skillet (I used a disher), flattening each so they are about 3″ in diameter. Cook for 2-3 minutes on the first side, flip and cook for 2-3 minutes on the second side. Both sides should end up golden brown.
  5. Transfer pancakes to a platter and sprinkle with a bit more salt. Repeat the pancake cooking process with the remaining butter and batter. Serve warm.

These could also make a tasty appetizer. Just make smaller pancakes, say 1 1/2″ diameter, and top them with a dollop of sour cream plus some finely chopped chive or caviar.

Farro and Cauliflower Salad

My introduction to farro might have been almost a decade ago however I was reintroduced to it earlier this year via the local megamart deli counter. They sell a farro salad with finely chopped vegetables that was quite tasty. Once I located a good source of farro I started experimenting with combinations for salads until I found one I liked.

Farro and Cauliflower Salad
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 20 minute
Total time: 25 minutes


  • 1/2 head cauliflower
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 red pepper
  • 4 oz. shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh herbs such as chives or parsley
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups cooked farro
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the cauliflower into small pieces, no bigger than 1/2″. Toss with the tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Prep the rest of your veggies. I quarter the zucchini, removed the seeds and then cut it into 1/4″ pieces. Same goes for the red pepper. I also cut the shredded carrots into smaller pieces.
  3. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until just fragrant. Transfer to your serving bowl and set aside.
  4. Make a basic vinaigrette from the shallots, mustard, vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Combine farro, veggies and herbs with the pine nuts. Toss to combine and then drizzle with the Vinaigrette. Toss some more until well combined. Enjoy.

Both the farro and cauliflower can be prepared in advance, even the day before.

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


  • 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


  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.

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.

Zucchini Brownies

I have dinner with my mom at least every couple of weeks. She shared a zucchini brownie that a friend of hers passed along and it was pretty good. I had a zucchini and thought I’d see what I could come up with. The results were pretty good, though more a snack cake than a brownie.

It is amazing to me how well the zucchini is absorbed into the finished product. If I didn’t know it was there I don’t think I’d be any the wiser.

Zucchini Brownies
Servings: 12
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes (plus cooling time)


  • 2 cup shredded zucchini
  • 270g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1/2 tsp. espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup chocolate chips


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prep a 13″x9″ pan by spraying it with vegetable spray, lining it with a piece of parchment to make a sling and then spraying it again with vegetable spray.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, soda, salt and espresso powder and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl mix the sugar and oil together. Beat in the egg and vanilla until combined.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and stir until combined. It won’t turn into a batter, more like lightly moistened sand.
  5. Add the zucchini and chocolate chips; stir until well mixed. The batter will moisten up as you stir. You want it to just come together; a small pocket or two of dry ingredients won’t be a problem.
  6. Transfer to the prepared pan and press to the edges. Bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees at the halfway mark.
  7. Allow brownies to cook in the pan for at least 1 hour.

I shredded the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater.

I stand by the lightly moistened sand analogy. Shocking how much liquid the zucchini provided and how it goes from nothing-like-brownie-batter to a geez-this-is-thick-brownie-batter in less than a minute.

I drew inspiration from several recipes I found online including The Best Zucchini Brownies, Chocolate Zucchini Brownies and one at

Ratatouille with Roasted Eggplant and Summer Squashes

One of my co-workers “donates” his excess produce to me. This week it was a couple of mid-size eggplants. My mind went to ratatouille. The farm next to the office yield everything else I needed.

Ratatouille with Roasted Eggplant and Summer Squashes
Servings: 12+
Prep time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Total time: 4 hours – only about 45 minutes is active time


  • 2 mid-size eggplants (about 1 3/4 lbs. total), cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 tsp. table salt
  • 3 zucchini, approx. 1″ in diameter (about 1 1/2 lbs.), cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 summer squash, approx. 1″ in diameter (about 1 1/2 lbs.), cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, 1/2″ dice
  • 2 bell peppers, seeded, 1/2″ pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 Tbsp.)
  • 1/4 tsp. red chile flakes
  • 2 lbs. cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper


  1. Toss the eggplant pieces with the table salt and place in a large colander set in a bowl or pot. Cover with a paper towel and rest for 3 hours. Thoroughly rinse the eggplant to remove excess salt and transfer to a salad spinner. Spin 2 or 3 times until eggplant is dry.
  2. Adjust the racks in the oven so that one is in the upper third and the other is in the middle. Preheat the oven to 500°F (or 475°F if you have a convection oven). Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl combine the dried eggplant, zucchini and summer squash with about 1/4 cup of oil and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Split evenly between the 2 baking sheets and spread into a single layer. Season with black pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating pans and stirring vegetables after 10 minutes. Remove from oven to cooling racks and hold.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the onions and peppers, sprinkle with kosher salt, stir to coat with oil. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the garlic and chile flakes. Stir to incorporate and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the whole cherry tomatoes, stir to combine. Cook for about 5 minutes, again stirring occasionally. Some of the tomatoes will burst and others will remain whole. It’s ok.
  6. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the roasted vegetables and herbs and carefully stir to combine. Taste, adjust salt and pepper as desired.

This came out pretty well if I do say so myself. The veggies stayed fairly cohesive while the onions and peppers basically melted into the background. That said there’s room for improvement. I think I would only roast the veggies for 20 minutes in the future to leave a bit more bite to the veggies.

This recipe is based on past experience with technique learned from Cook’s Illustrated. Additional inspiration was found in Alice Waters’ Ratatouille.

Zucchini Quick Bread

It’s summer time and the gift of excess produce is in full swing. This past week a co-worker sent me home from work with 4 abnormally long cucumbers, 2 large zucchinis and a crock neck yellow squash. Since were heading to a get together later today I thought I’d make zucchini bread to bring along.

In the back of my head is the thought that one of the hosts is vegan. So I did a little web crawling and combined a few dairy and egg free recipes with my favorite zucchini bread recipe and came up with the following. Enjoy.

Zucchini Quick Bread
Servings: 2 loaves
Prep time: 45 minutes (see notes)
Total time: 2 hours (plus cooling)


  • 1 zucchini, approx. 2 lbs.
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Trim the bloosom end off of the zucchini. Coarsely grate it on a box grater. Transfer to a salad spinner and fluff to aerate. Allow to sit for 30 minutes. Spin vigorously to remove excess moisture. Empty liquid and repeat until no liquid accumulates in the bottom of the bowl. Set aside.
  2. While grated zucchini drains you can preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease the bottom of 2 loaf pans (mine are about 9″x5″.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and spices) in a bowl and whisk until the spices are well distributed.
  4. In a large bowl mix together the applesauce, sugars, oil and vanilla until well combined.
  5. Add 2 1/2 cups of grated, drained, zucchini to the wet mixture and stir to combine. Then add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. A few bits of dry flour is OK.
  6. Divide batter between the 2 prepared loaf pans. Bake for 65 minutes, rotating the pans 180° half way through cooking.
  7. Transfer to a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and allow to cool completely before slicing.

The long prep time is to allow the excess liquid to drain from the grated zucchini. Getting rid of some of the liquid in the zucchini helps to lighten the final product .

Since this quick bread has no eggs it will be denser than other quick breads. Of course the zucchini by itself will often make this a dense bread.

We keep two types of cinnamon in the house, both from Penzey’s. We tend to use Ceylon in most quick baked goods (quick bread, cakes, cookies, etc.) while the Vietnamese is used in savory things or yeast breads.

Curried Zucchini

A co-worker gives me some of the bounty from his garden and earlier this week he gave me a green and yellow summer squash. It seemed more zucchini than yellow squash to me. It was also the perfect candidate for a curry application.

Curried Zucchini, White Rice with Aji Dulce and Pan-fried Chicken

Curried Zucchini, White Rice with Aji Dulce and Pan-fried Chicken

In this instance the curry refers to the use of sweet curry powder rather than a curried stew. Though it probably would have been good in a stew with a few other veggies.

I served the curried zucchini over white rice cooked with aji dulce, a dried pepper a co-worker brought Ted from South America. I opted to have some pan-fried breaded chicken breast with this as well.

Recipe under the cut