Easy, Crunchy, Spicy, Asian Slaw

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(Becky, the Mama)
It was only four years ago that I discovered  that I am, in fact, a wee bit Irish! My great-grandmother,  who died when my paternal grandfather was just sixteen years old , was named Mary Kathryn McNally.  My grandfather loved her fiercely and my Aunt Ann told me that  his mother’s passing would remain, for most of his years, the saddest day of his life.  Saint Patrick’s Day took on new meaning once I realized I was part of the Irish clan.
Of course, like most Americans I am my own walking Melting Pot:  a Dash of Irish, a Sprinkle of  Spanish, a dollop of English  and who knows what other ingredients are mixing around in my gene pool?
To celebrate diversity, I decided to share my recipe for an Irish-Asian-Cajun fusion slaw today.   How’s that for eclectic?  It’s base is shredded cabbage and carrots — a nod to the Irish.  But it’s quickly marinated in an Asian-sesame dressing with hints of Cajun red pepper spice for added kick.
My son popped in the other day, found a large bowl of this slaw in my fridge and ate nearly the whole thing!  He loved it and asked for the recipe, a high compliment since he is a talented cook and foodie. This crunchy, refreshing slaw is a perfect Spring and Summer side-dish, a nice alternative to a lettuce salad and even easier to throw together.
Some of you may be stumped on how to decorate your table for tonight’s meal or event.  So I wanted to suggest this green themed table decoration for your Saint Patrick Day’s Party:
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(If you’ve not already heard us shout it from the mountain tops:  our newest book, Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night’s Sleep is out and available everywhere books are sold, in stores and online!)
And now, an Irish blessin’ for all our beloved readers!
May your hearth be warm, your holidays grand, and the Good Lord hold you in the palm of his hand. 
Crunchy, Spicy, St. Patty’s Day Slaw 
1 lb ready-shredded cabbage slaw (green and purple cabbage and carrots)
1/3 cup rice vinegar (or any mild white vinegar)
3 T. sugar
1 T. water
1 t. salt 
1/2 t. Cajun seasoned salt (I like Tony’s Cajun Seasoning)
1 /2 t. pepper 
1/2 t. celery seed (optional)
2 T. sesame oil
1 T. black sesame seeds
2 T. sliced almonds or sunflower seeds 
Optional for added heat: few shakes of Tabasco or other pepper sauce
Directions:
Whisk all the ingredients above, except for the coleslaw and almonds (or sunflower seeds).  Pour over coleslaw in a big roomy bowl, and toss with tongs, turning until the dressing has coated the slaw.  (The slaw will absorb the dressing and get a bit softer and juicier as it sits a few minutes).  Just before serving,  toss in the almonds or sunflower seeds. Check seasonings and add a few shakes of Tabasco if you want more heat.
Store leftovers in an air tight container.
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Shrimp in Alfredo Sauce over Crispy Polenta with Greens

DSC_0030(Becky, the Mama.)

I love it when a plan comes together, when a dish in your imagination turns out as delicious as the actual experiment.  This is one such meal.

Last night I  put a little gourmet Italian twist on southern-style Shrimp n’ Grits, then added a serving of smoky-garlicky greens as a side. The results?  Not only was the presentation gorgeous, it tasted heavenly.  As in I would absolutely put a this recipe in the category of “the perfect bite” and serve it up in a spoon to Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain on the show “The Taste”.  Then step back and wait for them to swoon and hand me the prize without further debate.

In place of  the traditional grits, I pan-fried thin slices of ready-made polenta, often used in Italian recipes.  I used Trader Joe’s brand, which comes in package shelf (not refrigerated), usually near the Italian section of the store.  It looks like moist, cooked cornmeal made into a log and wrapped in plastic.  That is because, well, it is.   It is not the most appetizing looking food when you open it up for slicing. (Think yellow corn grits that may have been left too long in a pan.) However, once you’ve pan-fried them in olive oil and butter, with a little salt and pepper…. Look out, Louise.   They turn into crispy-edged, buttery disks of corny decadence.

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polenta skilletI made a quick n’ easy, creamy Alfredo sauce for the shrimp and paired it side dish of greens–  a mixture of kale and some wonderful fresh greens, a gift from our neighbor’s garden.

I can’t wait for you to try this recipe, a Taste of Tuscany meets South in Your Mouth.

Bon appetito, Ya’ll!

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Shrimp Alfredo with Crispy Polenta and Greens

Serve’s 2

Ingredients

For Polenta:

½ log of pre-made polenta

1 T. butter

1T. olive oil

Dash salt and pepper

 

For Shrimp and Alfredo:

20 pieces of raw medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled, tails removed

1 T. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup cream

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Dash salt

 

For Greens:

1 T. Olive oil

2 cloves garlic minced,

½ red onion, diced fine

2 slices pork or turkey bacon diced fine

4 cups loosely packed, rough chopped  kale and/or other greens,  thick stems mostly removed

½ cup water

1 t. smoked paprika

1 T. vinegar, your favorite

1 T. brown sugar

Salt and Pepper (or Grill Seasoning or Cajun Seasoning) to taste

Tabasco or Frank’s Red Sauce or Red Chili Pepper to taste

 

Directions:

Start the greens first, so they can simmer on the back burner.  In your largest deepest skillet, saute olive oil, garlic, red onion and bacon, until bacon crisps. Pile the greens on top of this mixture in the skillet, cover with ½ cup of water, cover, and let the greens cook down about 5 minutes over medium heat. Take lid off and stir in paprika, vinegar and brown sugar, add salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste.  Cover again and simmer while you make the shrimp and sauce.  (Adding water if needed to keep from scorching, but no more than necessary.)

In another skillet (I like my iron skillet) let oil and butter melt and get hot while you slice the polenta into ¼ inch or so rounds.  Place the rounds in the skillet and turn heat up to medium high so that the polenta starts to pan fry.  When it is golden brown in places, turn it over and brown the other side.  Sprinkle the tops very lightly with salt and pepper.  Remove to a paper towel to drain any excess grease, then cover with another paper town to keep warm.

Wipe out the iron skillet with a paper towel, and then put in oil and garlic and shrimp.  Cook for just a minute or two until shrimp just turns pink on both sides.  (You can add a little water to the pan if the shrimp starts to stick.)  Add cream and parmesan cheese.  Stir and heat until cheese is melted and the shrimp and sauce is heated through.  Season lightly with salt to taste, if needed.

Put about 5 or 6  rounds of polenta on each plate.  Pile with shrimp and sauce.  Sprinkle with smoked paprika.  Serve with a side of the greens.


Crunchy, Easy, Refrigerator Pickled Cucumbers & Red Onions

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(Becky, the Mama) Now that summertime is here in Colorado,  it is hard for me to stay away from the  perfect weather on our inviting back porch!

 

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We nap, visit and eat outside as much as humanly possible.  Yesterday, we hosted a group of young couples and little ones for an outdoor brunch.  A friend dropped by last night and we enjoyed a plate of nachos and cool drinks as we rocked and swung and chatted in the evening breeze. Tonight we had some dear friends and their little girls over for an old-fashioned supper-on-the-porch that brought back memories of meals around my own grandmother’s table.  I made garlic & lemon roast chicken, baked sweet potatoes, Asian peanut buttery green beans (recipe to come soon!), corn, and my simple rustic, pastry-style cherry-blueberry cobbler (a festive July 4 recipe, by the way, with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and raspberrg sorbet).

But it was the refreshing side-dish that I prepared for tonight’s meal that made me wax nostalgic for potlucks and  picnic tables of my childhood: sweet n’ sour refrigerator pickled cucumbers & onions.  I updated this beloved Grandma dish by using the small Asian or Persian cucumbers that are often sold in little packages of six to twelve, and becoming increasingly popular in grocery stores everywhere.   Sliced a little on the thick side they hold their crunch for days in this pickling liquid. I like to keep a container of these marinated cucumbers and onions hand in the fridge all summer long to add a crisp, cold delightful punch to almost any meal.

You can get creative and  add some diced fresh tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts or any kind of cooked beans and a handful of fresh chopped herbs to this basic dish to create a quick, pretty, refreshing marinated salad for potlucks, picnics and summertime side-dishes. Crunch on and enjoy!

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Crunchy, Easy, Refrigerator Pickled Cucumbers & Red Onions

 

 6 to 8 small Asian or Persian cucumbers, sliced about 3/4 inch (leave peel on)

1 small red onion, peeled and sliced thin, pulled apart in strands

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup water

1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)

1 T. sea salt

T. dried dill (or 2 T. fresh chopped dill)

1 T. celery seed

1 T. black sesame seeds (optional)

 

Directions: Mix all of the above together in a dish with a lid.  Let the mixture sit on the counter , with lid on top, at room temperature for about an hour and then put in fridge to chill until ready to serve. (Let the veggies marinate at least 3 hours for the best flavor through-out.)  Will keep in fridge up to a week, maintaining its crunch.

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Skinny Deli Veggie Roll Ups (No Carbs, Less than 100 Calories)

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1 Skinny Roll-Up, cut in half to better show you the stuffing.(But you may prefer to eat it without cutting it in half, as it is less messy)

(Becky, the Mama)    You know those times when you want “just a little somethin’-somethin’’” to tide you over to until the next meal, or give your foggy brain an energy boost?  Something good for you, tasty, without lots of calories or carbs?  But  you want more than a few carrot or celery sticks.  Or maybe you want a light lunch in a hurry, but you aren’t crazy about the idea of sandwiches or wraps with all that bread?

           Here’s my favorite pick-me-up-in-a-hurry snack and it is less than 100 calories per Skinny Roll Up.  No carbs. No gluten (as long as the meat and cheese you use is gluten free.)  Plus there are a thousand variations to this basic “recipe”:   you can choose whatever thinly sliced sandwich meat you like (or substitute a vegan version), then chose a small bit of cheese (your choice, or leave it out),  whatever veggies you have on hand (cooked or raw or a combination), and any sauce that floats your Roll Up Boat from honey mustard (as I used here), to a little dollop of Ranch Dressing with Buffalo Sauce, to Teriyaki Sauce with Sriracha, to Bar-b-que sauce… and on and on.  They are surprisingly filling, two of them with a piece of fruit works as a great light lunch, and the calories are such that you can enjoy another snack or small dessert with a cup of tea or coffee at mid-day and not break your calorie bank.

            When your kids claim they are famished and dinner is till an hour away, you can teach your kids how to build-their-own Roll Ups, letting their imagination lead the way.  Just one Roll Up will tide them over until dinner, but won’t spoil their appetite.   You can also wrap their favorite “roll-ups” in Saran Wrap, leave off the sauce, and send them a little “dipping sauce” in a small container for some variety in their lunch box. (You may want to use 2 slices of deli meat for these so they are easier for the kids to handle.  A half slice of American cheese also helps it “stick” and stay together better.)

            Vegetarian or Vegans can substitute ToFurky Roasted Deli Slices, which have excellent taster reviews.  Or skip the meat layer, use a large soft piece of lettuce instead, and spread the lettuce with humus or refried beans for the protein.

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I used thin deli Honey Ham, a slice of Romaine, a slice of Roasted Red Pepper, some white cheddar cheese strips, sweet pickles and honey mustard. Yummmm….

Skinny Deli Veggie Roll Ups

Thin Sliced Deli Meat (Your choice, I used Honey Ham.  Vegans can use ToFurky Deli Slices)

1 t. or more  of your favorite sauce or dressing (I used Honey Mustard)

1/2 to 1 oz. of cheese, sliced or cut in small strips (1/2 slice of American Cheese, or 2 or 3 small thin strips of any hard cheese)

Small pieces l of lettuce

Pickles, Roasted Peppers (Anything pickled you like that adds a “bite” — pepperocinis, sliced olives or jalapenos are yummy too. I used midget sweet pickles)

 1 or 2 T.  Veggies, cooked or raw (thinly sliced carrots, cucumber, celery, tomato, avocado, raw pepper sticks, sliced green onions, mashed beans, humus  or leftover cooked veggies of any kind)

Directions

Lay a thin slice of deli meat on a plate (you can double this if you want more protein and sturdiness).   Stack lettuce, cheese, pickles and veggies down the middle of the deli slice.  Squeeze your favorite dressing over this. Roll up like a burrito and enjoy.  If making a bunch of them to serve later or to pack in a lunch, you may want to secure them with a toothpick.   (Also if they are to be served later or eaten for lunch, you may prefer to leave off the dressing and keep it separate to use as a dipping sauce.)

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One Skinny Roll Up, Cut in 1/2 on Diagonal (to show inside stuffing)


Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas

People often ask me how I cook with Jackson around. In We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, I wrote about how cooking with him was kind of like cooking on an obstacle course. For a long time, that was what it felt like. But recently, I realized at this stage–the two’s–cooking with him is one of the easiest things on my to-do list to accomplish with him around. Not easy…but it’s something he’s come to feel at ease around. It’s kind of “our” thing.

I left him with a friend the other day for a few minutes and when I returned she shared this little conversation they had.

Sarah: Do you have a dog?
Jackson: No, I have a mommy.
Sarah: Oh, well that’s almost as good as a dog.
Jackson: Yeth, I cook with mommy.

Well, there you have it. Dogs don’t make very good cooking companions for kids, but mommies are very good for that.

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My other to-dos don’t have the same smiley affect on him. Writing with him around. Yeah right. Phone calls. Let’s just say, the last conference call I was on with our editor, I had to muffle the phone while I hollered, “Jackson, don’t stick your head through the fence” and then again while he hollered, “Noooooo! Don’t wipe meeee!” as I was trying to discreetly potty train mid-call.

Cooking is mostly a piece of cake…because he can participate, he can be a helper. And even when he can’t help with something like chopping onions, he’s still content because we’re together and I’m talking to him, not somebody else on the phone or looking at a computer screen.

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And with a little creativity, there’s almost always a way to get a child involved in the cooking if they want to be.

Butternut Squash Puzzle

I don’t cook every day, but the days I do, the moments we are in the kitchen together, are often the moments we enjoy the most. The kitchen is a place where our lives intersect, where my almost 30-year old female joys and interests cross with my two-year old little boy’s interests. I don’t have to pretend that the lego tower we just built is the tallest most amazing piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to be patient with me as I make a quick call or pick up groceries. The smells of cloves and cinnamon, the colorful block puzzle from butternut squash, the sound of the blender engine purring excite us both. We don’t have to pretend. We just have to be. Together.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas

Serves 4

5 cups diced butternut squash

1 tablespoon oil (canola, olive, grapeseed)

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

8-10 corn tortillas

1/2 cup raisins, soaked for 10 minutes in warm water and drained (optional)

2 cups Mole Sauce (I used this easy recipe from Vegetarian Times)*

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Preheat oven to 400. Toss butternut sqaush with canola oil, brown sugar, chili powder, and cinnamon. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until tender and cooked through. Resist temptation to eat all the squash now.

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Reduce oven temp to 350. Ladle 1/2 cup mole sauce into bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish.  Wrap corn tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat in microwave for about 30 seconds, just enough to warm them up and make them pliable. Dip corn tortilla into mole sauce. Fill with about two tablespoons of butternut squash and a sprinkle of raisins. Roll up. Repeat. Ladle a generous amount of sauce on top. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

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I didn’t put the raisins in when I took pictures, but I should have! I added them to the top and it really made the dish, so I incorporated them into the final recipe.

Serve with black or wild rice. The nuttiness from the black rice went perfectly with this dish. 

*I blended half of the sauce this time. I think I’d leave it unblended next time though, because it was a lot prettier unblended.

On a really rough day, cooking these Spinach & Mushroom Mole Enchiladas and Roasted Butternut Squash Enchiladas (not pictured) with Jackson was the bright spot, the only time in a full day that all was well in our wold, the two of us cooking side by side happy to be doing something we both love together. (Then came the epic awful, rocking him for an hour and half because that's all that was left in me, awful night.)

Same sauce unblended on spinach and mushroom enchiladas. Much much prettier, eh?


Easy Moo Shu Veggie or Chicken Wraps

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“Come, let’s be a comfortable couple and take care of each other! How glad we shall be, that we have somebody we are fond of always, to talk to and sit with.”  Charles Dickens

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My husband Greg and I love our little pleasurable routines.  It really doesn’t take much to make us happy.  We don’t need high adventure, fast cars, tall mountains, or Broadway plays.  We get a kick out of watching Jay Leno’s “headlines” segment on Monday nights and reruns of “30 Rock”. We can’t wait to snuggle up on Sundays to watch Downton Abbey when it reappears on PBS this winter.  He often watches sports, while I contentedly piddle on Facebook from a comfy loveseat nearby.

We enjoy quiet road trips with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra playing in the background more than attending rousing stage concerts.  Greg stands and greets me with a kiss every morning as I stumble into the kitchen; me waking up to my first cup of coffee two hours after he’s greeted the morning. We watch Brian Williams tell the news every evening (in his friendly voice,  even the worst disasters sound less terrible).  Then I serve our suppers,  all prettily plated,  as we eat in living room, our feet up, hearts at ease. We usually clean up the unbelievably messy kitchen, afterwards, together.

 During the summer we meet outside on the porch swing for Happy Hour and conversation at 5:00 p.m.  We go to bed, each reading our e-books, a glass of ice water on my bedside table.  I slather on Lemon Cream Lotion and Greg always says I smell like lemon pie before he kisses me goodnight, wishing me sweet dreams. Then he hands me the treasures that have somehow gathered on our bed during the day: hair clips, reading glasses, books, jewelry, pens and notebooks, stray socks, apple cores — clearing room for us to ease under the quilt and fall asleep.

We’re mostly One-Note Nellys without much need for variety or grand adventures.  We find, in the comfort of each other’s company, all the thrill we generally need.  A free evening with nothing planned  is typically our idea of perfection.

Our date night’s are inevitably to our favorite Asian restaurant, John Holly’s, followed by a movie. At John Holly’s I always order the same thing:  Moo-Shu Veggies. I pile them up on thin rice pancakes with a drizzle of thick salty-sweet Hoison Sauce and dash of sriracha, then rolled the delicious stuff up like a burrito.

This quick and savory-sweet recipe for Moo-Shu uses thin uncooked flour tortillas (easier to find than rice pancakes) and has become one of my favorite veggie based cook-at-home meals now.  Greg likes it with chicken but you can substitute edamame, tofu or scrambled egg (or combo thereof) to avoid meat and make this easily vegetarian or vegan.

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Easy Moo Shu Veggie or Chicken Wraps  

1 16 ounce package of pre-shredded  Asian or colorful Cole Slaw mix

1 cup fresh snow peas, chopped into ½ inch pieces

1 cup fresh chopped mushrooms, any kind

1 cup chopped or shredded cooked chicken (or sub 1/2 cup diced tofu, edamame or raw egg, whisked)

1 large clove garlic

1 T. olive oil

1 T. sesame oil

3 T. soy sauce

1 T. maple syrup, honey, molasses or brown sugar

salt & pepper to taste

4- 5 uncooked Tortillas (or the thinnest pre-cooked tortillas you can find)

½ cup Hoison Sauce (in Asian sections)

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¼ cup hot chili sauce or sriracha (optional, if you like heat)

1/2 cup cashew pieces or sliced almonds

Directions:

In a large skillet or walk, heat oils and 1 minced fresh garlic clove.  Toss in slaw, chopped snow peas and mushrooms.  Add chicken and/or tofu/egg. Cook until tender-crisp. Add soy and your choice of sweetener. Heat through.  Add salt or pepper if needed to season.

Lightly cook/brown the tortillas on a flat skillet.  Put about ½ cup of the hot veggie mix down the middle of each tortilla. Sprinkle with 2 T. sliced almonds or cashew pieces.  Drizzle on Hoison and dot with a little hot chili sauce or shriracha if you enjoy some heat with your Asian food.

 

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Roll up like a burrito and slice on the diagonal, in half to serve.

moo shoo pork 012Variations: Use any veggies you like: peppers, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, celery, some fresh grated ginger – use your taste and imagination.  Try using leftover beef, pork or shrimp instead. Experiment with different nuts or sesame seeds, sliced green onions, crispy Chinese noodles or fried won ton strips, perhaps a squeeze of fresh lime.


Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

There comes a time in every gardener’s life when they ask themselves, “What am I going to do with all these tomatoes?” And until that day comes for me, I will pull up my dead plants with my black thumbs, quietly curse those gardeners under my breath, and smile graciously when they offer up some of their overwhelming bounty to me.

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I’ll display them on the counter for a day or so until I can’t take their mockery anymore.

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And then I will cook my way out of despair.

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

And remember the gifts I can offer my family, even if a plentiful vegetable garden is not one of them.

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

Instead, I will slow roast my way into their hearts with sweet peppers, carrots, onions, and garlic (store bought, but flavorful nonetheless), garden tomatoes (generously given to this less fortunate gardener), and a few sad looking twigs of rosemary and oregano (just barely surviving in my garden of doom).

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta SauceAnd I’ll bring those flavors together in one delightful pureed sauce. My husband will declare that he may never eat jarred sauce again. My toddler will slurp his pasta up with messy reckless abandon. And I will stand over the pot eating the sweet rich roasted sauce by the spoonful, my self esteem having made a complete (near manic) turn for the better.

For those of you who feel the need to do something good and right by your family, I give you this recipe. It will restore their faith in you, and your faith in yourself.

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce

Serves 6

Ingredients

~ 3 pounds of tomatoes (I don’t have a scale, but I used about 12-15 smallish tomatoes), cut in half
~15 mini sweet peppers (or 3 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers), cut in half and seeded
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
1 red onion, quartered
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 twigs fresh rosemary, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh oregeno, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
generous sprinkle of fresh cracked pepper

1/2 teapoon salt
1/2 teaspoon molasses (or brown sugar)
handful of fresh parsley, rough chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)

Other: 1 lb pasta, cooked (I used whole wheat thin spaghetti, use gluten-free if needed)

Directions

Heat oven to 400. Put chopped vegetables and herbs on a large deep-sided roasting pan or dish. Stuff the garlic cloves into the tomatoes so they don’t burn. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

Carefully pour the veggies and their sauces into a  pot on the stove and use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables. (If you don’t have an imersion blender, let the veggies cool to room temperature, then transfer to a blender or food processor and puree. Then pour into a pot on the stove.) Add parsley, salt, and molasses. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. My sauce was thick already, so I simmered with the lid on, but if you have really juicy tomatoes, you may want to simmer with the lid off until you reach the desired consistency. Check for seasoning. Adding more salt or molasses (adds sweetness and cuts acidity) as needed.

Variations

Make it Salsa: This base recipe could easily be turned into a salsa by switching up the seasonings — add a few jalapenos and cilantro, omit rosemary, oregeno, and parsley. Pulse in the food processor for a chunkier version. Would be delicious served hot or cold with chips.

Make it Soup: Add a little broth or cream for a delicious roasted tomato and pepper soup.

Make it a Meal: While you’re simmering the sauce and the oven is still hot, roast up some chickpeas tossed in olive oil and Italian seasoning for a crunchy protein-filled topping. Wilt some spinach into the sauce in the last five minutes to sneak in some greens.

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