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

Ingredients:
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.

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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

Ingredients:
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.

Christmas Soup Series: Jamie’s Minestrone

Growing up we had quite a few Christmas traditions. Starting the day after Thanksgiving, we’d get up early to grab donuts before heading to the Christmas tree farm to pick out/cut down our tree. We also had a paper nativity scene that doubled as an Advent calendar. My brother and I would alternate days of putting up each character, often squabbling over who would get to put the star up over the manger on Christmas Eve.

One of the other traditions that I still continue – soup on Christmas Eve. The kind has changed over the years (there was a time when I would have a can of Campbell’s chicken and stars because the rest of the family was having oyster stew…), but the idea of soup has stayed constant. We’ve done stews, chili, homemade chicken noodle, and even played with the idea of bread bowls, but it’s always homemade and always great! Plus, it is low stress as you can put it in a crockpot and forget about it. Bonus that it leaves room for Christmas cookies 🙂

As I don’t have too many Christmas cookie recipes to share with you this year, I thought I would let you in on our little tradition and offer up a few soup recipes leading up to Christmas Eve. 

The first soup is a classic – minestrone. I have made this recipe a couple of times, and I really enjoy it as it is everything a minestrone soup should be: great flavor and loaded with vegetables. The recipe calls for red wine. If you are worried about including alcohol, it could certainly be replaced with some additional broth, however if you can, I would strongly suggest you include it. I love the flavor red wine adds to soups. One thing to note is that the pasta will continue to soak up the liquid (even when fully cooked), so cook it al dente and only add it a few minutes before serving. This is especially important if you are making the soup in a crockpot! For the leftovers in this case, I have just been adding a little bit more broth as needed when I heat it up. 

Feel free to join in if you want. It’s a fun tradition to start! Enjoy!

(Printable Recipe)

Jamie’s Minestrone
Adapted from allrecipes.com

Ingredients:
1-1/2 Tbsp. olive oil 
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, chopped
2 cups chopped celery
5 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cups chicken broth (can use vegetable broth to make vegetarian)
2 cups water
4 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
1 can (14.5oz) low-sodium kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh green beans, trimmed into 1-inch pieces
2 cups baby spinach
3 small zucchinis, quartered and sliced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup small whole wheat pasta, cooked al dente
shredded Parmesan cheese for serving

In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add onion and saute for 4-5 minutes. Add celery and carrots, saute for 1-2 minutes.

Add chicken broth, water, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. If using, add red wine. Reduce heat to low and add kidney beans, green beans, spinach, zucchini, oregano, basil, and salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, the longer the better.

Cook pasta separately until al dente according to package directions. Drain and add to soup. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Crockpot directions: Follow the first step through cooking the onions. Add the sauteed onions and garlic to the crockpot with the rest of the ingredients except the pasta, spinach, and Parmesan cheese. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Cook the pasta until al dente as directed above and add to the crockpot with the spinach just before serving. The heat will wilt the spinach. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Lighter Macaroni & Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes

I was talking to my mom the other day, and she was telling me that they are absolutely getting a bumper crop of tomatoes off their 3 plants right now. It hasn’t gotten cold enough there to kill off the plants yet, and the plants are churning out tomatoes like crazy. Sounds like my eggplant plants! 

I spotted this dish several months ago when Natalie posted it on her blog, Oven Love, but I think it is quite appropriate right now with the change in seasons. While it is a lighter take on macaroni and cheese, there is certainly enough cheese and carbohydrates in here to land it squarely in the comfort food category. The summer link comes through the tomatoes – just in case you have the same bumper crop that my parents do 🙂

It has been several weeks since we made this dish, and in looking through my pictures, I am thinking that I want to add it to the menu again soon!  Natalie suggests making it in individual ramekins, however I didn’t have enough small ramekins for the entire dish, so I simply made it in a large casserole dish. In changing it to a larger dish, I would do 2 things differently next time. One, add more tomatoes. I love how roasting tomatoes brings out their flavor, and I definitely could have done with more tomatoes in here! Two, roast the tomatoes for a little longer. Since the tomato slices were only roasted in the oven for 20 minutes, they were still pretty soft.  I wouldn’t want to take them all the way to “dried” tomatoes for this dish, but I think I would rather have them somewhere in the middle between soft and water and fully dried. This may fully be a personal preference, so I’ll post the recipe below as written and let you decide. Enjoy!

(Printable Recipe)


Lighter Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from Oven Love and Martha Stewart

Ingredients: 
6 small vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 24, 1/4-inch thick slices
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for sprinkling
coarse salt and pepper
1/2-3/4 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. elbow macaroni (whole wheat if you’d like)
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
pinch nutmeg
pinch cayenne
1 tsp. ground mustard
2 cups milk (I used skim)
4 oz. (1-1/8 cup) reduced-fat (NOT non-fat) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz. (1-1/8 cup) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 oz (about 1/2 cup) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread tomatoes in a single layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle each sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until tomatoes have softened, about 20 minutes. Leave the oven on.

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and pasta to the water. Return to a boil and cook pasta until al dente (about 2-3 minutes less than called for on the box). Drain and run under cold water to stop cooking. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk 1/2 cup of stock into the flour in a medium bowl. Set aside. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in nutmeg, cayenne, ground mustard, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add milk and remaining 1-1/2 cups of stock. Whisk in flour mixture. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce to a simmer. Cook 8 minutes, whisking frequently. Add cheeses, cook, stirring until melted. Pour over macaroni and stir to combine. 

Arrange the tomato slices to cover the bottom of a large casserole dish. There should be a few slices left. Carefully pour the macaroni over the tomatoes. Top with any remaining tomato slices. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and thyme. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Thin-Crust Pizza and Homemade Pizza Sauce

Today, I realized that I have a couple of “kitchen quests” that I am not sure will ever end. Aren’t we all looking for that perfect brownie, chocolate chip cookie, or pie crust? I know that I certainly have several recipes saved for each of those things, however around here you can add another one to that list – pizza dough. I have a bread machine recipe that I shared on here over a year ago. It is a great recipe, but it tends to yield more of a “hand-tossed” crust. I still use it every once and awhile, but my husband would prefer one that wasn’t quite so thick, especially when I use whole wheat flour. Thus, my quest for a perfect pizza crust began. 

Since the “great pizza crust quest” began, we’ve tried a couple of different recipes. Some of them just did not work for us. Others like this one, have great parts but do not quite meet all my requirements. Nevertheless, this crust recipe is definitely one to keep in my files. The positives include a sourdoughish flavor from the extra storage time, just enough puff on the edges to create that characteristic pizza crust, and a thin, crispy, well-baked interior of the dough beneath the toppings. The downsides – first, it takes some planning since it needs to sit in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Secondly, I really wish it was whole wheat. I have struggled with this last requirement in making whole wheat crusts. Whole wheat flour tends to create a denser crust, and I have not found a good way around this. One thing I haven’t tried is white whole wheat flour. Does anyone know if that helps?

Aside from the crust, this pizza was pretty simple in order to showcase the crust. We were a little underwhelmed with cheese as the only topping, and in making it again, I would add other toppings. Nevertheless, one thing from this recipe that I know I will use again and again is the pizza sauce! Despite trying to make my own crust, I have never made my own pizza sauce, and I will never go back. This is one of the best pizza sauces I have ever tasted, and it literally took me 2 minutes to make. If that isn’t deliciously simple, I am not sure what is. Enjoy!

(Printable Recipe)

Thin Crust Cheese Pizza
From Cook’s Illustrated January-February 2011

Ingredients:
Dough:
3 cups (16.5 oz) bread flour, plus more for work surface
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-1/3 cups (10.5 oz) ice water
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for work surface (the recipe called for vegetable oil)
1-1/2 tsp. table salt

Sauce:
1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and liquid discarded
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Cheese:
1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup)
8 ounces shredded whole-milk mozzarella (about 2 cups)

For the dough, in a food processor fitted with metal blade, process flour, sugar, and yeast until combined, about 2 seconds. With machine running, slowly add water through feed tube; process until dough is just combined and no dry flour remains, about 10 seconds. Let dough stand 10 minutes. Add oil and salt to dough and process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of workbowl, 30 to 60 seconds. Remove dough from bowl, knead briefly on lightly oiled countertop until smooth, about 1 minute. Shape dough into tight ball and place in large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days. 

For the sauce, process all ingredients in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a medium bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. This makes more than enough sauce for the 2 pizzas. Extra sauce can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a month. 

One hour before baking the pizza, adjust the oven rack to the second highest position (rack should be about 4 to 5 inches below the broiler), set pizza stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Remove dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. Shape each half into a smooth, tight ball. Place on a lightly oiled sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart; cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with nonstick spray. Let stand for 1 hour.

Coat 1 ball of dough generously with flour and place on a well-floured countertop. Using fingertips, gently flatten into an 8-inch disk, leaving 1 inch of outer edge slightly thicker than the center. Using your hands, gently stretch the disk into a 12-inch round, working along the edges and giving the disk a quarter turn as you stretch. Transfer dough to a well-floured peel or to a piece of parchment paper and stretch into a 13-inch round. Using the back of a spoon or ladle, spread 1/2 cup of pizza sauce in a thin layer over the surface of the dough, leaving an 1/4-inch boarder around the edge. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, followed by 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Carefully slide the pizza off the peel onto the hot baking stone or transfer the pizza plus parchment paper to the hot stone. Bake until pizza is bubbly and beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove pizza and place on a wire rack for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. 

Yield: 2 13-inch pizzas 

Notes: I only used one portion of the crust and froze the 2nd portion for another day. Just place the dough in the refrigerator from the freezer the morning you intend to use it, and proceed with the directions for setting the dough out at room temperature 1 hour before baking.

Also, the authors say not to “overload” a thin crust with toppings. They suggest using only 6 ounces of vegetables, or no more than 4 ounces of pre-cooked meats.

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

Ingredients:
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

15-Minute Tomato Sauce

As promised, this is my second installment of what to do with too many tomatoes. I’m getting a little late in the season at this point, but I’m just now starting to get my own tomato crop of the deck! I don’t remember how I happened to find this recipe; the original post is over a year old and can be found here.
Mine definately took a little longer than 15 minutes. However, this is also the first time I’ve made anything like this completely from scracth, so you can blame my novice sauce-making skills if you’d like 🙂
I had no idea how many tomatoes were equal to 2lbs. I ended up using about 8 fairly good sized tomatoes. I was actually surprised at how little sauce this makes – if you were making it for a whole family it would at least need to be doubled (see, I said you’d use up some tomatoes)! We had enough sauce for dinner for the two of us plus a lunch-sized leftover portion for me.
I also didn’t use nearly as much olive oil as chez pim. I didn’t measure, but just added a little bit to the pan to saute the garlic. I didn’t miss it. Overall, the sauce was amazing! I would definately recommend this to anyone who is looking for a light meal! You could easily add your meat of choice to the sauce if you like to have meat in your meal. It was my first time making homemade tomato sauce, but it definately will not be my last!
15-Minute Tomato Sauce Modified from Chef Pim
2 lbs. fresh tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic
a couple tsp. of olive oil
pinch of salt
1-1/2 Tbsp. balsalmic vinegar
few turns of the pepper mill
8-10 oz. whole wheat pasta of your choice
With a sharp knife, make a cross mark at the bottom of each tomato. By the time you’re done the water should be hot enough. Plunge them into a pot of hot water and let sit for just a minute or so, until you can see the skin come a little loose at the cross mark. Remove the tomatoes from the hot water and give them a quick rinse in cold water. You can leave the hot water in the pot if you want to make pasta to go with your sauce.
With a small knife, peel the skin from the tomatoes. It should come off very easily. With the tip of a knife, cut around each green crown and remove it. Discard the crown and the skin. Squeeze the tomatoes into the sink to release excess juice and push out the seeds. Put the tomato pulp in a bowl, crushing roughly with your hands to break it up into small chunks. You’ll have a few seeds remaining, which is no big deal.
In a large saute pan, add a bit of olive oil and chopped garlic. Add the tomato pulp into the pan. Add a big pinch of salt. Let cook for about a minute or two, until you can see the pulp breaking down and releasing the juices. Use a slotted spoon to pick up the pulp and put it into a bowl, leaving the juice in the pan. Cook down the watery juice until thick, for another couple minutes. Add the balsalmic vinegar and check the seasoning. You can add more salt or even red pepper flakes if you want it spicy. Once the sauce is thick enough–that means if you scrape the bottom of the pan you leave a mark, you’re ready.
Add the pulp you removed earlier back into the pan. Stir to mix well. Turn the heat off and check the seasoning again. You might need a bit more salt or vinegar. Drain the cooked pasta and throw the whole thing into the pan with the tomato sauce. Toss everything around a bit to mix well, taste it to see if you need a bit more salt or pepper, or a bit of vinegar even. Turn off the heat. Throw in a handful of basil leafs if desired. Enjoy!