WHEN SUMMER ARRIVES, many of us avoid turning on the oven. Often, we gravitate to the grill, but this may be impractical for those of us who avoid or limit meat consumption or do not have outside areas where grills can live.
Today’s column is for folks in those two categories and also for those of us who look toward vegetarian or vegan dinners, crave lighter fare as the mercury rises and do not wish to spend inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen.
Full disclosure: These dishes were born of my daughter’s brief flirtation with veganism. During the quarantine, she thought it would be a great time to experiment with this diet. Her thinking was semi-sound: “We can’t go out to dinner, we are not being invited to anyone’s house, there are no barbecues or graduation parties, our travel has been canceled and it’s a good way to stay healthy, so why not try it?”
My objections were equally sound: “Grocery provisions are challenging, and many vegan items are not mainstays at the local shop, you need to be mindful of getting all the balanced nutrition you need to stay healthy and maintain your strength, and I have enough to worry about without cooking multiple meals.”
We were both right. I generally did not cook multiple meals, she dealt with her own, sometimes we overlapped, but in the end, she spent two weeks feeling listless, cranky and with a semi-upset stomach.
I have a devoted vegan friend who assured me that, when done right, the body adapts to veganism after a couple of weeks, but it is difficult to do, especially in the beginning. And I am certain that my dear daughter did not take in all the nutrients she needed to do it right.
But all’s well that ends well. We all reduced our meat intake as a result and have integrated more vegetarian meals into the rotation. The following two were particular hits, and their simplicity and mass appeal make them go-to dinners.
RAVIOLI WITH BROWNED GARLIC GREENS
We used cheese ravioli for this and it was great, but meat or vegan ravioli can be substituted according to preferences. Ditto tortellini, gnocchi, cavatelli, etc.
Garlic greens are those scallion-looking stalks that you see in spring farmers markets. They are, essentially, baby garlic. Left alone, the roots grow into the heads of garlic that are the size of a golf ball and contain about 12 cloves. These greens have a milder taste that the fully grown cloves, and this recipe uses both the white and green part.
If you can’t get your hands on garlic greens, you can use a few cloves of chopped garlic; just be sure to watch the browning process carefully. Burnt garlic is harsh and rather unpleasant.
- 1 pound ravioli or the pasta of your choice
- 3 garlic greens, sliced, using both white and green parts
- ½-cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
- Parmesan cheese, if desired, for serving
- Chopped fresh basil or parsley, if desired, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Heat the oil with the garlic, salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium. Stir occasionally, allowing the garlic to cook and begin to brown. When it browns, remove it from the heat and set the pan aside.
Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving ½-cup of the cooking water. Drain and pour the cooked pasta into the skillet.
Return the skillet to the heat, and stir the pasta to coat it with the oil and garlic. Add a little of the cooking water to disburse the sauce.
If using, add the cheese and a bit more of the water to distribute. Top with herbs, if desired, and serve immediately.
VEGAN TOMATO SOUP
The trick of this soup is adding a potato. It gives the soup some heft, and you won’t miss the cream or butter. Drizzling with some best-quality olive oil before serving is another way to trick the tongue into thinking you are getting something rich and decadent.
We served this soup hot with grilled cheese sandwiches, but if you wanted to stay in the vegan realm, consider toasted pita schmeared with hummus. And as the temperature rises, this soup can be served chilled like a gazpacho.
A word on the potato: If you dislike the texture of potato skin, peel it. Or use Yukon Golds or another varietal with thin skins.
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 medium potato, chopped
- ½-teaspoon salt
- ½-teaspoon pepper
- 2 28-ounce cans tomatoes (can be whole peeled with juices, diced or crushed)
- 1 quart vegetable broth
- Best-quality olive oil for drizzling at table
- Sprigs of dill, parsley, basil or cilantro for serving (optional)
Heat the oil, onion, potato, salt and pepper in a large pot over medium. Sauté until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomato and broth and bring the soup to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until the potatoes are completely soft.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup to a smooth texture. Alternatively, cool the soup slightly and puree in a blender or food processor.
Taste for seasonings, add salt and pepper if needed and serve drizzled with premium olive oil. Garnish with herbs if desired.