wildcard wednesday: shiitake, brussels, and carrot stuffed shells + salad with avocado and cumin viniagrette

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So, I’m still technically following the Wild Card Wednesday rule (use the theme or ingredient for the month), but the avocado was not center stage tonight.  I’m still on a high from our CSA delivery, and I couldn’t wait to use some more of those beautiful ingredients (shoutout again to my newest obsession, The Dirt Farmer CSA).  I thought about using some of these ingredients on a pizza or in a casserole bake, but then I had a throwback moment to one of my mom’s go-to weeknight suppers: stuffed shells.  I remember her boiling the pasta shells, then lining the cooked pieces on a paper towel on the counter while she mixed the filling and delicately placed a spoonful into each one.  She usually used ricotta and mozzarella for the filling and sometimes included some ground meat or sausage.   I decided to use some quick-sauteed veggies in my version mixed with part-skim ricotta and basil, and I think it turned out great!

The salad features some locally grown salad greens, a few edible flowers (a CSA throw-in this week and a total luxury), some avocado, a few pistachios, and the belle of the ball: cumin vinaigrette.  You might think that cumin only belongs in Mexican and Indian food, but add it to some lemon juice, zest, and some olive oil and you have a bright, complex flavor that works in fantastic contrast to the creamy avocado and crunchy pistachio.  This vinaigrette would be great on many salads and would also work nicely drizzled over a fatty fish like salmon or a lean skirt steak.  It’s so easy, and that you have to try it!  Don’t be afraid to make your own salad dressings.  If you have some olive oil, a small mason jar, and an imagination, the possibilities are endless.  Plus, a homemade dressing will always taste better than something out of a squeeze bottle.

Shiitake, Brussels, and Carrot Stuffed Shells

Serves 2 with leftovers

12 large pasta shells

1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

8 to 10 brussels sprouts

1 large carrot (or about 10 very tiny carrots like the ones I received in my CSA box)

1 cup shiitake mushrooms

1 Tbsp. butter

28 oz. crushed tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for a top off at the end

2 Tbsp. fresh basil cut in ribbons, separated into two 1-Tbsp. piles

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Cook the pasta according to package directions, remove from boiling water, then set aside on a paper towel to cool.  While the water is boiling and pasta is cooking, work on prepping the vegetables: Thinly slice the brussels sprouts by placing each one stem side up, then thinly slicing the sprout on all four sides (you’ll be left with the dense core to throw out).  Peel the carrots into thin ribbons with a vegetable peeler.  Add the shiitake mushrooms to the chopped brussels and carrots.  Heat a medium frying pan over medium-high heat and melt the butter, then add the veggies with 1 tsp. salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Gently toss the veggies in the warm butter, then continue to stir every 30 seconds or so until the veggies cook through a bit (about three minutes) but do not lose all of their crunch.  Set aside to cool.  While the veggies are cooling, heat the crushed tomatoes in a small saucepan over medium heat with the minced garlic and 1 tsp. salt.  When the veggies are warm but not longer hot, add the ricotta, parmesan, and 1 Tbsp. of the basil, then stir to combine.  Using a small baking dish, add about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce to the bottom of the dish.  Next, fill each pasta shell with about 1/4 cup of the ricotta-veggie mixture and line the baking dish with the stuffed shells.  When all of the shells are filled and in the dish, cover the shells with the remaining sauce, then bake for 20 minutes.  When the dish is finished baking, add a few extra tablespoons of grated parmesan and the remaining basil for a garnish.

Cumin Viniagrette

for 2, but you could easily double or triple the ingredients to serve a larger party

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

juice and zest of one lemon

1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Shake or whisk the ingredients together, then add to a salad.  Here, I drizzled it over some salad greens, edible flowers, avocado, and pistachios.

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