pesto lamb

Orichette with Caramelized Fennel and Summer Vegetables

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It’s no secret that I love fennel, but I’ve been absolutely obsessed with the thought of making caramelized fennel ever since I first read about it over on The Tipsy Baker’s blog months ago. I requested a copy of Ad Hoc at Home from the library and patiently waited for what seemed like forever to get the recipe. And then I had no idea what to make with it. I mean, I’m not exactly a meat and potatoes kind of girl. I don’t do side dishes. And as presented in the book, caramelized fennel was most definitely a side dish. But then I had an idea: pasta. When I’m short on recipe inspiration I always turn to pasta, throwing in a combination of whatever looks good at the grocery store and whatever I have in the fridge. Caramelized fennel seemed like it would be a great jumping-off point for a summery vegetable pasta. And it was.

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In addition to the fennel, I used a combination of eggplant, summer squash, red onions, and peas. I tasted the vegetables on their own and they were so delicate and fresh that it seemed like a shame to cove them up with a heavy sauce so I decided not to, and instead dressed the pasta with a little bit of ricotta and a touch of pesto (I had originally planned to use garlic and olive oil). It was perfect! I really liked the creaminess that the ricotta added — when you stir it into the hot pasta it melts and creates a light coating that reminds me a little of mac and cheese. The pesto perked the dish up without taking it over; you could tell it was there, but it certainly isn’t a “pesto” dish by any means. Really it’s just… good. Good when you first make it. Good the next day. Good hot. Good cold. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this one!

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White Bean Salad, Grilled Lamb with Pesto

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Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to side dishes. In the colder weather, a lot of my dinners tend to be soups or stews that don’t require any extras. But now that it’s getting warmer out, it’s hard to resist the simplicity of just throwing something on the grill – which usually means making some sort of side dish to go with it. Baked potatoes and pasta salads are good, but I get tired of them pretty quickly. So I’ve been thinking about other easy-to-make options that will help round out a grilled meal. The white bean salad is exactly the kind of dish that I’ve been looking for. It’s light yet full of flavor, and it only takes a few seconds to throw together. The leftovers are great on a green salad, or they can be pureed and served with toasted baguette pieces for a satisfying hummus-like snack.

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I recently came across a good deal on lamb leg slices, so I stocked up and now have a freezer full of them. Which is great, sine they go perfectly with the Mediterranean flavors of the bean salad. I especially like to prepare them in this updated take on my herb-crusted lamb – rubbed with a mixture of olive oil, sea salt, and rosemary, then grilled and slathered with this delicious pesto that Mezzetta sent me (I’ve since bought another jar). I love how intense the flavor of this pesto is! It doesn’t taste like something out of a jar at all. The only weird thing about it is that it needs to be refrigerated after opening, and the olive oil congeals a little in the cold. But as long as you remember to pull it out a few minutes before you plan to eat it so that it comes up to temperature, you’re good to go!

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