Tomato Basil Orzo Stuffed Peppers

orzo stuffed pepper open

Has anyone else ever dug through the pepper display at the grocery store trying to find the ones that will stand on their own? Please tell me I am not the only one! Normally, I don’t really care what my peppers look like. If I am going to chop them up anyway, what does it matter? Random pointed bottom? No problem. Odd growth off the side that makes 1 pepper look like 2? Just means more pepper for the same price. Throw it in the cart. But when I know that I am going to be making stuffed peppers. Every single one of those babies better stand on its own, and I will dig through the entire display until I find enough that will.

This stuffed pepper recipe is a little different from most as the predominant flavor is that quintessential summer combination of tomatoes and basil. Yes, the tomato-basil combination is coming out here. It’s been warm here for the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been spending every day off swimming (laps) at the local outdoor pool (in training for our triathlon). Definitely enough to make me start craving summer flavors.

orzo stuffed peppers filling

orzo stuffed peppers before baking

This particular recipe comes from Maria at Two Peas & Their Pod. I’ve changed the cooking process slightly using the boil first then bake method. It will make another pan dirty, but by boiling the peppers for just 5 minutes, you can cut 40 minutes off the bake time. A win-win in my book for getting dinner on the table quicker and not heating up the house as much. The recipe is written for 6 peppers. I must measure my vegetables generously because I always end up with extra filling. If you measure like me, you could probably stretch this to 7-8 peppers. Why not? The leftovers make a great lunch. Enjoy!

orzo stuffed pepper close

(Printable Recipe)

Tomato Basil Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth (low-sodium if possible)
1-1/2 cups orzo
heaping 3/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese, divded
1/3 cup fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
6-8 sweet bell peppers of any color

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

To prepare the peppers, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, carefully cut around the tops of the bell peppers to create a hole to use to stuff the pepper. Remove the seeds and stems. When the water comes to a boil, submerge the peppers and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain well in a colander and set aside.

Simultaneously, bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the orzo and cook for 5 minutes (this will only partially cook the orzo). Drain the pasta, making sure to save the vegetable broth. Set both aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the spinach. Cook until wilted. Remove from the heat. Stir the orzo into the vegetable mixture. Mix in 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the basil.

Pour the reserved vegetable broth into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish up to about a 1/2-inch depth (you may not use it all). Place the peppers in the baking dish and spoon the orzo mixture into the peppers. Sprinkle the tops with the reserved Mozzarella cheese. Bake for 20 minutes until heated through and the cheese is melted. The peppers can also be assembled ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to bake. Add an additional 5-10 minutes the bake time if prepared ahead. Serve warm.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Pasta

basil and roasted tomato pasta

I kid you not. I walked out of an exercise class a couple weeks ago at the gym to find a man selling flavored olive oils. In. The. Gym. He had pieces of baguette to sample each kind and everything. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. As a blogger, this was awesome. The food literally came to me!

I sampled several of the different types (he also had a reduced balsamic glaze that was to die for), and ended up settling on a trio of basil, garlic, and lemon-infused oils. At that point, I had a new mission. How I was going to use these for dinner?

I know the flavors in this dish are a little summery, but fall doesn’t officially start until tomorrow. I can proudly say that this dish is entirely my creation, and it turned out quite well if I do say so myself, although it’s hard to go wrong with the tomato-basil-pesto combination.

I started by drizzling the tomatoes with garlic and lemon oil, salt, and pepper and roasting them in the oven to concentrate their flavor. The idea and taste were spot on, but I can tell you do as I say, not as I do. First, I highly recommend lining your pan with parchment paper and not foil. Secondly, keep a close eye on those critters. I cooked mine for a bit too long. Nonetheless, the tomatoes were amazing. I could have eaten them alone for dinner!

basil and roasted tomato pasta2

The pesto I used in here is a recipe I made and froze last year from America’s Test Kitchen’s The Best Light Recipes. I’ll have to share that sometime as well. My husband has since decided to pull up the basil forest growing in our backyard garden, so I may have to wait until the new plant grows a little more.

Hope you enjoy this!

Printable Recipe

Roasted Tomato Basil Pasta

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tsp. garlic-infused olive oil, divided
2 tsp. lemon-infused olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
8 oz. whole wheat pasta
1-2 Tbsp. basil pesto 
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the halved cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchement paper. Drizzle with 1 tsp. of each olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast until the tomatoes have started to dry. This was about 25-30 minutes in my oven, but if you want them to be more like sun-dried tomatoes, this will take longer.

Boil water and prepare pasta to al dente preparation according to package directions. Drain. 

In a large skillet, add the remaining 1 tsp. of each oil, the pesto, and the lemon juice. Add the pasta and stir to coat each of the pieces. Let the pasta “cook” in the skillet for a few minutes. Add the prepared tomatoes, basil, and feta cheese. Heat through and serve with a small sprinkle of feta cheese.

Cheesy Basil Stuffed Chicken Breasts

It has been almost two weeks since I have posted on here. I have my reasons (solid 19 day stretch at work), but it is what it is. We’re all busy. I am currently on day 14 of 19, and I promise that I will try to be better. We have certainly still been eating, so I should keep posting 🙂  In a peace offering for my absence, I am offering up this recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.

While it may be a little hard to offer you a serving of this dish in person, I am not kidding when I tell you this recipe rocks. In her post, Mel talks about wanting to dream about this dinner forever. I am with her! The ingredients themselves seem fairly basic, something that would be the makings of your standard weeknight meal. I am not sure if it is one ingredient that stands out or if it is the combination of these ingredients together, but the finished dish is hands down one of the best dinners we have made (I say we because my husband actually made this dish, although I have to get some credit as I picked out the recipe). 

My take on this one: Just make it. Please! And call me when you do, as I’ll be over for supper as soon as I get off work 🙂

(Printable Recipe)

Cheesy Basil Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe and from Cook’s Country Cookbook: Rediscovering America’s Home Cooking

1 cup part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup minced basil, divided
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
salt & pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (on the thicker side in order to stuff them)
3 Tbsp. lowfat mayonnaise
1 cup whole wheat Panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine the shredded cheese, 2 tablespoons of the minced basil, cream, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Cut a pocket in the thickest part of the chicken breast. Stuff with cheese mixture and seal using a toothpick to help close the slit if necessary. Transfer the stuffed breasts to a 9×13-inch pan and spread the tops evenly with mayonnaise.

In a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs, remaining garlic, remaining basil, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the chicken breasts, pressing lightly to adhere.

Toss the tomatoes with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Arrange the tomatoes in the baking dish in and around the chicken. Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and the chicken is cooked through (registering 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer), about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

Pesto and Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches with Fresh Mozzarella

While we may be a few weeks out from the official “first day of summer,” I think summer may have hit the country in the past few days. I am used to the 90’s, but I saw them all across the weather map this evening on the news. The whole thing was red! 

When it is warmer, I try to avoid making meals in the oven, especially anything that needs to bake longer than say 20-30 minutes, so we end up grilling out quite a bit. In fact, we’ve been grilling a lot this year including things that wouldn’t be your traditional grill fare – vegetables, bread, and even some fruit. This was a recipe that landed in my email inbox from Cuisine at Home, and I think it was the launchpad for our current grilling obsession.

I did adapt the recipe a little. We ended up using a french loaf rather than the ciabatta because the store was randomly out of ciabatta that day. Lately, I’ve been into making my own bread more, but with boards, it just wasn’t going to happen. The french loaf worked fine, although I would like to have these again with the ciabatta – this may be my excuse to have them again soon 🙂 My other change contradicts the oven thing a little, but I broiled the assembled sandwich for a minute or so after it was done because I wanted to help the cheese melt just a little bit more. As a side note, grilling the vegetables is pretty easy, but keep an eye on the bread. It will get toasty quickly on the grill!

We really enjoyed this dinner, and if you are like us, you’ll find yourself finding new reasons to grill vegetables after having this 🙂 Enjoy! 

(Printable Recipe)

Pesto and Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches with Fresh Mozzarella
Adapted from Cuisine at Home

2 red bell peppers cut into quarters
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips
1 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips
1 red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 loaf ciabatta or french bread (16 oz), sliced in half, lengthwise
1-1/2 to 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup purchased basil pesto
8 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch slices

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Place onions on a metal skewer so that the skewer pierces each layer; this will help keep the rings from falling apart when grilled. Brush the peppers, zucchini, squash, onion, and cut sides of the bread with olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

Grill vegetables until tender, 3-5 minutes on each side. Grill bread until toasted, 1-2 minutes on each side. Preheat the oven to broil. If desired, slice bell peppers into strips. 

Spread pesto on one side of cut bread. Remove the onion from the skewers and separate into rings; place over pesto. Layer mozzarella and other vegetables over onion. Top with the remaining side of the ciabatta loaf. Broil for 1-2 minutes keeping a close eye on the bread to make sure it doesn’t get too brown. Cut loaf into eight sandwich wedges.

Spaghetti al Limone

It has been a little while since I made this dish, but I feel like it is right in line with the spring flavors right now. For me, this was actually a recipe that came about to use several things that I hanging around the kitchen. While I was home over my Christmas break, I had some family friends gift us several bags of local (ie. grown in their backyard) lemons, tangelos, and grapefruit. We devoured the other fruit plain, but I really wanted to find a couple recipes to showcase the fresh lemons. One of the recipes that I settled on was these muffins. This is the other.

This recipe turned out really well and held up really well to a couple of substitutions that I made to use up a couple of things in my kitchen. This doesn’t really surprise me since it is a CI recipe. The ingredient list and cooking process is actually really simple. You cook the pasta, bring the sauce together in a separate pan, and mix the two together. Quick. Easy. Delicious. My changes were that I added some shredded Rotisserie chicken to our dish since I had some around and used feta cheese rather than Parmesan because that’s what we had in the kitchen. Even with my changes, it made for a great meal and definitely showcased my lemons! I would like to try it out again using the actual Parmesan to see how that affects the flavor. Enjoy!

(Printable Recipe)

Spaghetti al Limone
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Jan/Feb 2011

table salt
1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
1-3/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 Tbsp)
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1  lb. cooked, shredded chicken 
1 ounce (1/2 cup) finely grated Parmesan cheese (I used feta)
ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. shredded fresh basil leaves

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large stockpot or Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta to boiling water; cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. Reserve 1-3/4 cups cooking water, drain pasta into colander, and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in now-empty Dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallot and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until shallot is softened, about 2 minutes. Whisk 1-1/2 cups of reserved pasta cooking water and cream into pot; bring to simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Remove pot from heat, add pasta and chicken and stir until coated. Stir in remaining 3 tablespoons oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, cheese, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. 

Cover and let pasta stand 2 minutes, tossing frequently and adjusting consistency with remaining 1/4 cup reserved pasta water if necessary. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, drizzling individual portions with oil (if desired), and sprinkling with  more cheese (if desired).

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

roasted tomato and basil soup2

I am at a bit of a crossroads… Over the last few months, I had saved dozens and dozens of soup recipes. Soup can be such an easy meal and always sounds great while winter is bringing its wrath outside. On the other hand, I now live in Phoenix. It was 87 degrees in today. Not exactly soup weather. Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not complaining about the weather. We’re just going to have soup anyway =)

In reality, this is a soup that would be great in the summer when fresh garden tomatoes are readily available. Not that it was bad when we made it in March. I am among the “tomato soup lovers.” It has always been one of my favorites but is just one of those things that I have never tried to make at home. I wish I hadn’t waited so long. Roasting the tomatoes before adding them to the soup does add an extra step in preparation but do not skip it. It gives a depth to the flavor that I have never tasted before from any of the canned varieties and absolutely makes this soup. Keep this in mind the next time old-man winter decides he hasn’t quite left us yet. Paired with a warm, gooey grilled cheese sandwich, it doesn’t get much more comforting than this. Now, I just need to get better at finding ways to make soup more photogenic =) Enjoy!

roasted tomato and basil soup roasted tomatoes
roasted tomato and basil soup before blending

(Printable Recipe)

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Originally from Baking Blonde. Adapted from Annie’s Eats

3 lbs. ripe tomatoes, halved with seeds scooped out 
3 Tbsp. plus 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. salt 
1-1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. butter
2 c. onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic,minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes, undrained
2 c. fresh basil leaves, torn
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
4 c. low-sodium chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the tomato halves, 3 Tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Toss well to combine. Spread out the tomato halves on a large baking sheet lined with foil. Roast the tomatoes for 45 minutes.

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat, combine the remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil with the butter and heat until the butter is melted. Add the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened slightly, about 7-10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, 40 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until completely smooth. Alternatively you can use a blender or food processor. If you do, be sure to vent the steam and be careful not to spill the hot liquid!

Basil on FoodistaBasil

Chicken Pesto Pizza

It has definitely been no secret on this blog that the hubby likes pizza, but since I’ve been apart from him for school, it hasn’t really been something that’s been on my menu. Not only would a whole pizza take me a week of suppers to eat on my own, but I’m also apart from my breadmaker and a little scared to try rising the dough on its own in a bowl. 

Enter Trader Joe’s prepared pizza dough. Right around their grand opening I scored some whole wheat pizza dough from TJ’s for less than a dollar! Not too bad! While I’d like to get around to making my own again once I make it home, this one would definitely be a great substitute for those emergency pizza cravings. My husband has also been using it to make pizza on his own, and he says that the garlic one is great. 

This pizza is one that I crafted after finding the dough one night. I’ve been on a pesto kick lately, and it sounded like it would make for a good base to a pizza recipe. I added chicken, sliced tomatoes, and Mozzarella cheese to this one, but next time, I think I want to add chopped artichokes to it as well. The pesto idea was definitely a hit. We’ll be recreating this one more than once.

The only complaint I have is the baking temperature. The hubby and I have found that the dough packages here in Nebraska differ in temperature from those in AZ. Ours say to bake it at 350 degrees while his say 450. This is somewhat of a debate as the hubby thinks I just read the package wrong, but I am sure that it said to bake at 350 degrees. 350 is definitely not hot enough to fully cook the crust in the middle, so I say go with your normal pizza method. We like to roll the dough out on parchment while preheating a stone in the oven at 450. Placing the dough helps cook the dough from the bottom up so that you don’t end up with a soggy middle in your pizza.  My other home pizza tip is that if you like your cheese a little browned just switch the oven to broil for the last minute or so of baking. Enjoy!

(Printable Recipe)

Chicken Pesto Pizza
The Cookin’ Chemist Original

1 pkg. prepared pizza dough or 1 recipe of homemade dough
1/4 – 1/3 c. pesto
2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1-1/2 c. Mozzarella cheese
2 roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
artichoke hearts, chopped (optional)
other vegetables (optional) 

Place a stone pizza pan or stoneware pan in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. 

On parchment paper, roll or stretch out the pizza dough to desired thickness. Spread with pesto and top with chicken, tomatoes, artichokes, and other vegetables if desired. Cover with Mozzarella cheese. Remove the pan from the oven and place the pizza (while still on the parchment paper) on the hot stone. Alternatively, you can use a pizza peel if you have one. Bake for 11-14 minutes or until the crust starts to turn brown. If you want to brown the cheese, switch the oven to broil and let it cook for no more than 1-2 minutes. Slice and enjoy!