Talk dinner to me: Arugula and roasted vegetable salad with zucchini “ravioli” stuffed with basil almond “ricotta”

Hello again! It’s been six months since my last post. Life, job and motherhood got in the way again. Last year I began this blog to use food and diet as a way to look at my life differently, adjust my habits and patterns and change my life – and I succeeded. This year started on a downward slump and I was not feeling inspired or creative. I knew it was time to shake things up. Again. I tackled the one area of my life I knew I could control – my diet.

I recently completed a 21 day cleanse and now I feel leaner, meaner and cleaner. The last thing I want to do is turn right back into my old habits and overwhelm my system again. I have been making a lot of food I have previously posted here and coming up with new recipes that will help me stay on track and not reach for gut busting foods. One of my old standards for my family is a ravioli salad – rather than surround the ravioli with a rich sauce, incorporate it into a salad. However, I always feel heavy with the pasta and unless the ravioli is fresh made by an amazing chef or Italian nonna, I am usually not satisfied. So I crafted my veg based ravioli, eliminating the gluten, grain and cheese and grilled the veggies to enhance their flavor. Wait till you try this arugula and roasted asparagus, tomato and broccolini salad topped with faux ravioli made with zucchini, stuffed with basil almond ricotta. It will satisfy you at dinner and not weigh you down.

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I have done several cleanses before, but this one through BeachBody was beautifully programmed using real fresh food based on a vegan diet. The veganism is to help your system reset, but then you slowly begin to incorporate dairy and meat should you desire. The regimen and food preparation was not as difficult as anticipated and the 21 days flew by – and those days included camping, parties, work travel and my normal routine as a mother. There is never the right time to do a cleanse so it was really about becoming reacquainted with my frienemy, Will Power. Temptation was always around me but I felt so good that I refused to give in and have Will Power look the other way. During the cleanse, my allergies and asthma lessened despite the fact that LA’s air quality is one of the worst on record, I am breathing clearer and more deeply, my skin is glowing, my joints have less pain, I sleep better, I weaned myself off caffeine, and the icing on the cake is that I dropped a few pounds of unnecessary fat. I don’t desire alcohol. My liver and colon feel empty and clean. My taste buds have been refreshed and food – real food from the earth – has never tasted so good. I loved my prescribed salads. My body rejoices when I eat. I feel AMAZING and want this feeling to last. If you want to know more about it, write me. It will change your life.

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But this is what we are here to discuss:

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I am not like most people in that dinner is not my largest meal of the day. Over the last 7-10 years, I have trained myself to eat a decent breakfast and lunch with only a small dinner, eaten early. I find that my digestion is better, I sleep more soundly and I wake up hungry (I never used to be hungry in the morning until I began this routine). Of course when I go out or stay up late, I may need a snack (or a slice of pizza), but I find that making lunch my main meal keeps me on track – I am less likely to overeat or to make poor decisions at night especially when going out to dinner. So it has been important for me to come up with meals that satisfy me, my family and guests but meet my needs for a meal that does not weigh me down.

This recipe is a winner. Satisfying. Full of flavor. Eaten hot or cold. Go back for seconds or thirds without guilt.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is making “ricotta cheese” out of almonds. For all you naysayers, no it is not cheese and nothing can replace cheese, but in a dish like ravioli, do you honestly taste the cheese? Now a-days we are lucky – pay a small but hefty price and you can buy vegan nut based cheese prepackaged at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery. But if you are neurotic or insane like me, or have a desire for the ingredients to be as fresh as possible, or you just like the process of crafting food or because you want to know every ingredient that you put into your mouth, you can make your own nut based cheese.

You start with raw almonds soaked over night. You can use blanched almonds if you don’t want the skin – it doesn’t bother me so I leave it on.. I use slivered almonds because that is all I had in this last round. I placed them covered in a jar in the fridge overnight. If you forget to soak overnight boil some water and cover the nuts. Soak them for 20 min-2 hours.

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After soaking them, I drained the water from the nuts ground them in a food processor – adding a small amount of water as needed, stopping the processor to push down the sides. The ground nuts will be pastey yet crumbly. Just make sure all the chunks have been ground.

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Place the ground nuts into a muslin cheese cloth. You can use the cheese cloth again and again, so just wash it out after use. I place the cloth over a bowl and scoop the ground nuts in.

The nuts need to drain to remove as much liquid as possible. Fold up the cloth and tie it to a large spoon or spatula that can hang over the bowl. Hang for about 8 hours at room temperature. Give it a squeeze every so often, you will be amazed at how much water comes out.

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Give a final squeeze and remove the cloth from the bowl. Do you know what you have at the bottom of the bowl? Fresh home made almond milk. Save it in the fridge. I used the milk in a roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup to round out the flavor. Use it in your tea or coffee or smoothie or cereal.

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Add nutritional yeast, salt, garlic, fresh basil and olive oil to the nut cheese. Use any herbs fresh or dry that you enjoy – rosemary, thyme, oregano. Play with a spice – cumin, cayenne, harrisa, za’tar. The nut cheese is a blank canvas of flavor waiting for your imprint. I used nutritional yeast for a “nutty” like flavor and to add vitamin B12 which is missing from a vegan diet and fresh basil because it looked perfect in the garden box – perfect for eating!20160812_150223

Use your hands and mix it all up. Get in there and connect with your food. The mixture should be crumbly yet hold together.

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The cheese can be stored covered in the fridge for up to 3 days. I often make it ahead of time.

You may have seen one or both of my previous posts with my zucchini based “ravioli” – this is the same process with a different filling.

Use a mandolin to slice the zucchini thin. You can use a knife – I prefer a mandolin.

Place two slices of zucchini on your space and put a dollop of the nut “cheese” in the middle.

Fold the ends of the zucchini up and over and place a third slice of zucchini across the fold in the opposite direction.

Tuck the edges underneath under the cheese to make a little self contained packet.

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Place on an oiled baking tray and brush with the dressing and bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 min until wilted/browned. These can be eaten warm or cold. You can make ahead of time and store in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Wait wait, back up. Dressing? Nope, I did not mention it before, you have not missed anything. This is simple. This will be the final “dressing” for your salad. It is simply, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, chopped shallot, chopped garlic, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Mustard is optional as it would not fit into Whole30 and tastes perfect without it too. You can assemble the dressing during wait times – the key to it is to let it sit to have the oil absorb the flavor. Again this can be stored in the fridge for about 5 days. Just give it a good mix before using.

Finally for the roasted veggies, I roast the asparagus and cherry tomato to bring out the flavors.

I often chop the asparagus before roasting because it is easier than chopping after roasting. But as you can see in this picture, I roasted whole because, well, I forgot to chop it up. That’s what happens when you cook with a toddler on your hip.

Rather than roasting the broccolini (because the heads typically burn), I saute it in a pan. Broccolini is a hybrid, part of the cabbage family and offers a gentle flavor. You can use broccoli or anything other veg. I sometimes use broccoli rabe – but please note this is not related to brocooli/cabbage – it is actually related to a turnips and had a slightly bitter flavor (yes I know, it looks more like broccoli, actually looks like broccolini, but that should teach us a bit about judging by looks).

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Place the roasted veggies into a bowl and add the dressing. I like to make the salad fresh so it does not wilt and the garlic does not offer a bitter flavor if I decide to serve the dish warm. So I make each of the components and store them until I am ready to assemble the salad. I heat up the veg and ravioli sometimes, but often eat them cold. In this case I took one portion of the roasted veg and mixed it with 1.5 tsp of the dressing.

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Then I added a large handful of arugula and mixed it up with a bit of help from little hands. I also added sprouts because I like sprouts. You can use what ever greens you like.

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Place it into a dish.

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Top with the zucchini ravioli.20160812_161230

And dig in.

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Even better when it sits for a few minutes to half hour before eating so the flavors mingle.Great for lunch or dinner. Put a fried egg on top and serve it for brunch!

Happy Eating!

Almond “Ricotta”

  • 2 cups of almonds
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 Tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Fresh basil, chopped

Soak almonds overnight in 1 cup of water. Drain. Place almonds into a food processor and grind until all the large chunks are broken down into a crumbly mixture. Add water 1 tsp at a time to help the grinding process as needed. Place ground up almonds in a cheese cloth and hang to drain water out for about 8 hours.

Save almond milk at the bottom of the bowl for use later or toss.

Remove the drained almond mix from the cloth and place into a bowl and add garlic, yeast, salt, olive oil and basil. Mix until fully incorporated. Can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Dressing

  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar (or red or white wine vinegar)
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard (optional)
  • 1 small shallot, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 tsp Himalayan pink salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • pinch cayenne

Mix all the ingredients together and let sit for at least 20 min before using. Stored covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Zucchini “ravioli”

  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced thin, preferably with a mandolin for even slices

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place two sliced zucchini down so they overlap slightly on one edge. Fill with a small amount of filling (about 1 tsp depending on the size of the zucchini). Fold zucchini over, place one to two more slices on top in the opposite direction and tuck in.

Place on oven a greased baking sheet, brush with dressing and bake for 20 min. Can be stored in the fridge after cooking for 2-3 days.

Roasted Veggie Salad with Arugula and Zucchini Ravioli

  • a bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed and chopped into thirds
  • 10-15  cherry tomatoes, halved
  • bunch of broccolini, ends trimmed, roughly chopped
  • wild arugula or baby spinach or baby greens
  • olive oil
  • salt

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place asparagus and tomatoes on an oiled baking dish and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake for about 10-20 min, until browned. Place into a bowl.

Meanwhile, heat a small amount (about 1 tsp) of olive oil in a pan.  Add broccolini and a dash of salt and saute for about 5-10 min, until tender over low heat. Place into the bowl with asparagus and tomato.

Add dressing to veggies if serving all the veggies. If only serving one portion, take a small amount of veggies out, and add about 1.5 tsp of the dressing. Toss well to coat.

Add 2 large handfuls of arugula to the veggie (or about half a handful for a single serving) and toss well with veggies.

Place roasted veg and arugula salad onto a plate or bowl. Top with baked zucchini ravioli. Serve as a warm or cold dish.

 

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