By Barbara Beltrami
Have you noticed that at holiday time everything becomes special? Think about it. It seems you’re always getting dressed up and going to some party or other. Out come the good dishes, the platters and bowls that you need a ladder, if not a GPS to get to. You’re starting to rev up for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner. Everything is special … the roast you’ve ordered, those fancy hors d’oeuvres the seafood, the pasta …all the traditional ethnic dishes.
Except for the vegetables … that same old, same old broccoli, those soggy, bland green beans, those boring peas and carrots. Time to change all that and take away the bad rap veggies are always getting. They too can be special. Time to give them their moment to put on their holiday best at the dinner table and to be dressed up in their beautiful red and green (what else?) finery. Imagine tomatoes stuffed with creamed spinach and delicious roasted Brussels sprouts with chopped red pepper.
YIELD: Serves 6
2 pounds fresh spinach
½ stick unsalted butter plus 1 tablespoon
6 tablespoons flour
1 medium onion , minced
6 large tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Thoroughly rinse spinach. Place on a steamer rack over 2 inches water. Cover and steam until tender, about 10 minutes. Place in colander or large strainer with a bowl underneath and press out as much liquid as possible. Reserve drained liquid. While the spinach is cooking, sauté the onion in the one tablespoon butter until it is opaque. Remove from heat and set aside.
Slice one inch off tops of tomatoes, then scrape out pulp; reserve and refrigerate for another use. In a small sauce pan make a roux by melting the half stick of butter; then stirring in the flour until you have a thick paste. Whisk in 1½ cups of the reserved spinach liquid (if you don’t have enough, supplement it with water from steamer. (If mixture seems too thin, add more flour but beware of lumps!)
Combine spinach, sauce and onions and mix thoroughly until the spinach is well coated but still holds its shape when scooped. Add seasonings. If any sauce is left over, reserve and refrigerate for another use. Set tomatoes in a greased nonreactive baking dish; sprinkle insides with salt and pepper. Fill with spinach mixture. Cover with aluminum foil and bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes more or until tomatoes are tender but not collapsed.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Red Pepper Confetti
YIELD: Serves 6
1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and stems removed
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Half a large fresh red bell pepper, finely chopped
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Place Brussels sprouts in baking pan; douse with oil and toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in oven and roast, turning with spatula, every 10 minutes, until outsides turn golden brown and insides are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven; cover and set aside. In a medium skillet, melt butter; add peppers and sauté over medium-low heat, for one minute, just enough to soften and heat through. Season, if desired. Remove cover from sprouts, place in serving bowl and top with peppers and any remaining sauté liquid. Serve hot or warm.
Arugula Salad with Sliced Avocado and Pomegranates
YIELD: Serves 6
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 cups arugula, washed, drained and dried
1 cup pomegranate seeds
3 avocados, peeled and sliced
Juice of half a lemon
DIRECTIONS: Make the dressing: Combine the first 7 ingredients in a jar; cover tightly and shake vigorously. Set aside. Toss the arugula and pomegranate seeds together. Arrange on six salad plates. Brush avocado slices with the juice from half a lemon to keep them from turning brown; arrange them on top of arugula and pomegranates. Shake jar of dressing vigorously again to mix thoroughly; remove garlic clove; drizzle over salad. Serve immediately.