Thursday, September 18, 2014

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Harissa

I love Brussels sprouts but to be honest, I don't go out of my way to pick them up at the grocery store.  They take a little work to clean but most of all, they never seem to be fresh.  Today I took my kids to Costco and while we were in the frigid refrigerator section (their favorite section of the store), I glanced over at the sprouts.  To my surprise, they were fresh!  No moldy ends or discolored leaves!  I threw a bag of sprouts into the cart and figured I would come up with some way to prepare them in a day or two.  While in the car, I kept asking my adorable children if either of them had passed gas.  They are usually pretty honest (and proud) about that sort of thing so I dropped it even though our car smelled to high heck!  When we arrived home and I began unloading the car, I quickly realized who/what the culprit was....the Brussels sprouts!  Of course!  I made the decision to get them in the oven as soon as I could because the last thing I wanted to deal with was a stinky fridge.  After glancing around the kitchen, I picked up my old standby, harissa.  I could seriously put harissa on everything and anything.  For those that don't know, harissa is a North African and Middle Eastern hot pepper sauce.  You can use it as a condiment or add it to dishes in the cooking process.  I feel like the roasting process intensifies and deepens the flavor of the harissa.  I have yet to make my own but I definitely plan on doing so in the future.  In the meantime, I have come across a couple of brands that have become my favorites.  I hope you enjoy this new take on Brussels sprouts!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Harissa

2 lbs. of fresh Brussels sprouts, outer layers removed and stems trimmed (halved if they are huge)
3-4 Tbsp. of harissa (I used Piquant Harissa)
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Himalayan salt
crumbled feta cheese
honey, for drizzling
fresh mint, chiffonade

Preheat your oven to 400 and line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper (easier clean up at the end).  Toss the sprouts with the harissa, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and spread them out in a single layer on the pan.  Roast them for 20 minutes and then stir them a bit so that they get crispy on all sides.  Roast for another 20 minutes, until they are nice and crispy on the outside but not dried out inside.  For serving, garnish with feta, a drizzle of honey and fresh mint.  Enjoy! 

Photos by Becky Loves Cooking
Recipe by Becky Loves Cooking

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Stewed Italian Cucuzza Squash

Cucuzza?  What the heck is that?  It may sound like some sort of disease but in fact, it is my favorite summer squash.  Cucuzza (translation...Super Long Squash!), is a crazy Italian squash that can grow up to 10 inches in just one day!  In my family we always referred to it as "cucuzza-long" because apparently its given name didn't truly express how incredibly "long" these squash really are, haha!  Below is a picture of the cucuzza as well as a picture showing how they grow....

The cucuzza vines grew up an old dead tree!  

Cucuzza may be slightly labor intensive to prepare but they are SO worth it.  I will peel and core these guys until the cows come home because I just love the flavor of this squash.  It is sweet, mild, and doesn't turn to gush when you cook it, unlike other squash varieties.  The seeds inside of the cucuzza resemble those of grapefruit seeds......but on steroids, so yes, it needs to be cored.  The skin can be really tough so peeling is also essential.  I prefer to stew or saute my cucuzza but you can stuff them, roast them, add them to soups, etc.!  

Unfortunately, you won't find the cucuzza in the grocery store because let's face it, it probably looks like a Frankensquash to most people and it wouldn't sell.  Instead, you will have to grow them yourself, hunt them down through a CSA or local farmer's market.  I am blessed to have access to a local garden and boatloads of cucuzza!  

So enough of all of that, now onto the recipe!  

Stewed Italian Cucuzza Squash

4-6 Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, quartered and sliced
1 tsp. of crushed red pepper
Himalayan salt
fresh ground black pepper
10 or so banana peppers (or 2-4 cubanelles), cored and sliced lengthwise
3 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and diced
8-10 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
a bundle of fresh thyme
2 lengthy cucuzza squash, peeled, halved, cored, and sliced

Heat the oil in a 9-quart Dutch oven, add the onions, crushed red pepper, and a sprinkle of salt.  When the onions become translucent, add the peppers and cook until they soften.  Add the tomatoes.  Cook this mixture until the water from the tomatoes has mostly evaporated and the mixture has a deep red color to it.  Toss in the garlic and the thyme bundle, cook for a minute or so.  Next, dump in the prepared cucuzza and stir until it is thoroughly coated with the tomato mixture.  Turn the heat to low and cover.  Let this simmer for 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  Remove the lid and cook for an additional 15 minutes to reduce the liquid that has come out of the squash.  Once the squash stew has thickened, turn it off.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve as a side dish or as a main meal over rice or pasta with some freshly grated Pecorino Romano of course!

Photos by Becky Loves Cooking
Recipe by Becky Loves Cooking


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Creamy Ethiopian Lentils

It is no secret that I am a sucker for new and different spices.  I absolutely love experimenting with different flavors in the kitchen.  My spice cabinet may be an avalanche waiting to happen but that won't prevent me from snatching up an exotic spice, given the opportunity!  While I have an abundance of different spices, I do make sure to use them all before they expire.  It is a challenge that I give myself and one I happily accept because it forces me to try different recipes and create my own!   

A few months ago, I spotted a spice called Berbere in our local Whole Foods.  For those that don't know, Berbere is an Ethiopian spice...a curry packed with heat.  Of course I had to add it to my collection regardless of the fact that I had no clue what to do with it or what it even tasted like (that is what Pinterest is for!).  Once I got home, I scoured the internet for recipes until I found a really good one.  I now make this recipe from The Wanderlust Kitchen almost weekly!  I have made some slight changes but overall the recipe is the same.  This is just the perfect one pot meal for Fall.  If you can, make it the day before you serve it because, like a stew, it tastes even better the next day!  It really gives the flavors a chance to develop and meld together.  This dish also freezes really well so if you have leftovers, save them for another time!

Creamy Ethiopian Lentils

2 Tbsp. of coconut oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
Himalayan salt
1-2 Tbsp. Berbere spice (I prefer Frontier brand for this dish)
2 large yams, peeled and diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup of brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
3 cups of water
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled
4 cups of frozen organic whole leaf spinach
1 (14 oz) can light coconut milk


In a large dutch oven, heat the oil over medium, add the onions, and sprinkle with salt. When the onions begin to brown, add the Berbere and garlic.  After a minute, add the yams and stir to coat them in the spice mixture.  Add the lentils and broth.  Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the yams can be cut with a fork but haven’t turned to mush.  Add the tomatoes and then grate your ginger directly into the pot. Let the mixture cook for another 3 minutes or so over low heat, then stir in your coconut milk and spinach.  Cook for another 10-15 minutes.  Serve over your rice of choice (I love Basmati) and enjoy!  

Photos by Becky Loves Cooking