Just in time for holiday weekend entertaining, here's an easy roasted eggplant spread (or dip, or side dish, or sandwich stuffer or pasta topper) with garlic, red bell pepper and onions, that takes less than ten minutes of work time and can be made in advance. It's vegan, gluten-free, and finger-lickin' good. Who could ask for anything more? The pairing of eggplant and red pepper might remind you of caponata; the addition of cumin echoes the flavor of baba ghanoush. Two Facebook friends suggested using this spread in lasagne or in a wrap -- both great ideas that show off the versatility of the recipe. I've gone with fresh parsley here, because it's always available in my local market, but later in the summer, when I have abundant herbs in the garden, I'll substitute with basil or mint, or some of each.
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When I was in college, every party began with sour cream dip, made with the packet of onion soup mix, and a big bowl of chips or celery sticks. Life was simple back then; we liked what we liked, and most of us didn't know much about cooking. These days, entertaining demands a bit more creativity and variety. I'm not good at making food look fancy, so my appetizers need to rely on flavor. These Italian turkey sausage meatballs, with a fennel-mustard dipping sauce, provide a one-bite burst of flavor that kicks off any dinner with style. You can cook and freeze the meatballs in advance, and mix up the sauce the morning of your party. The only thing easier is that onion soup dip from the '60s.
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Did you know that ramps are an endangered plant? That there's only one natural habitat in all of Rhode Island? That the location of that habitat is a closely-guarded secret? And that I know someone who knows where it is? I didn't know any of that until last week, when my husband Ted went out for a bike ride, fell in with a friend who lives up the road, and returned home with a bag of ramps, roots and dirt attached. Right away I thought of these grilled beef teriyaki skewers, substituting ramps for the more traditional scallions. My panini press cooked the beef in less than two minutes; you also could use a stove top grill pan or cast iron skillet, any pan that gets hot enough to create a nice sear on the meat. Because we don't like raw onions, I grilled the ramps first, then rolled the marinated beef around them and grilled the meat. Before I began cooking, Ted and I took half of the ramps and stuck them into our garden. If they take, I'll let you know -- but you'll have to keep it a secret.
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For the past five-plus years, I've been preaching the gospel of a well-stocked pantry, so when a recent medical episode grounded me for a few weeks, I dove into my pantry enthusiastically, and cooked some great meals with what I had on hand. These pita pizzas topped with caramelized onions, slow-roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, olives and parmesan cheese, epitomize pantry cooking. The small size pita, a low carb oat-and-flax flatbread from Joseph's, has few calories and fewer carbs, and it's just the right size for an individual pizza topped with whatever treasures your pantry offers up. I love this combination of caramelized onions (made two weeks ago in the slow cooker), sun-dried or slow-roasted tomatoes, olives and cheese; if you're into broccoli, or roasted red peppers, or pepperoni, pile them on. Pita pizzas are great for a party, too. Set up an array of toppings, and let each person create his or her own masterpiece.
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