Cooking Lessons

Note:  My two most loyal readers (my mom and dad) might notice that they’ve seen this recipe before.  This week’s Food Writing for the Media assignment was to write a blog post that gives a sense of my style and the way I cook.  This was the only meal I actually had time to cook this week, so it answered the call.  But, the first time I posted about this recipe, I mentioned that the photo made it look really ugly.  I’m happy to report that with the new food styling and lighting skills, this dish looks almost as good as it tastes!

 

The most important cooking lesson I learned from my mom can be summed up in one simple sentence: “Color is everything.” In my mom’s eyes, a dinner plate filled with one basic color group isn’t only unattractive, it’s also unhealthy. My mom keeps an arsenal of frozen vegetables in the fridge for every food color emergency. Green peas, yellow corn, and the multi-colored goodness of the mixed vegetable blend are favorites.

From my dad, I learned that there is serenity in the knife. All of my dad’s favorite meals seem to begin with a slow and deliberate knife sharpening session. He whistles as he works, cubing potatoes for breakfast or meticulously de-veining shrimp for tempura. The more time he spends at the cutting board, the more love my dad pours into a meal.

I don’t know if color equals nutrition or if love is contained in a 4-inch piece of stainless steel, but I try never to serve a meal of less than four hues and I spent more on my knife than I did on my microwave. I’ve discovered a few lessons of my own along the way as well. My favorite? If I don’t want to weigh 300 pounds (and I don’t) I can’t eat that cheesy pile of pasta that I enjoyed as a kid. So here’s my cooking rule: Take a reasonably healthy pasta recipe. Double the vegetables. Double them again. While you’re at it, halve the pasta.

My go-to meal this winter boasts the deep purple of eggplant, bright red from bell peppers, and cheerful green from zucchini. My mom would be proud. And, if he were to watch as I contentedly chop all those veggies, so would my dad.

All those pretty colors.  All those expertly chopped vegetables.  It's enough to make my parents cry.

All those pretty colors. All those expertly chopped vegetables. It's enough to make my parents cry.

Roasted vegetable and feta orzo

Serves 4

Cooking spray for baking sheets
1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium red bell peppers, seeded and cut in 1-inch pieces
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large red onion, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 can (14.5 ounces) fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped basil
2/3 cup uncooked orzo
1 cup feta cheese
1. Set the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat two baking sheets with cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, combine the eggplant, onions, red bell pepper, and zucchini. Add olive oil and toss well. Add salt and black pepper and toss again. Divide the vegetables between the baking sheets and spread them evenly. Roast for 40 minutes or until tender.
3. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the orzo, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes or until it is tender but still has some bite. Drain into a colander. Rinse.
4. Meanwhile, spray a skillet with cooking spray. Add the garlic, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped basil, and 1 cup of the orzo cooking liquid. Allow to thicken slightly over medium heat.
5. In a large serving bowl, combine roasted vegetables, cooked orzo, tomato mixture and feta cheese. Mix well.

Don't you just love my new food styling props?

Don't you just love my new food styling props?

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