Pickled veggie pasta salad

Pickled pasta salad | Me & The Moose. This huge pickled pasta salad is perfect for a crowd because it features plenty of salt, fat, and acid and can hang out in the heat for a long time without going bad. Make it for a party or eat it throughout the week. Or just make the quick pickled veggies and snack on those! #meandthemoose #pastasalad #BBQrecipes #batchcooking #vegan #veganrecipes #pickles #pickledveggies

This is my platonic ideal of pasta salad: Tangy, bright, and crunchy, but also a little creamy and, frankly, oily. You can’t help but smell a smoky grill, hear kids laughing, and feel the sun in your face with this salad on your plate.

Just the pasta, please.

Pickled pasta salad | Me & The Moose. This huge pickled pasta salad is perfect for a crowd because it features plenty of salt, fat, and acid and can hang out in the heat for a long time without going bad. Make it for a party or eat it throughout the week. Or just make the quick pickled veggies and snack on those! #meandthemoose #pastasalad #BBQrecipes #batchcooking #vegan #veganrecipes #pickles #pickledveggies
Pickled pasta salad | Me & The Moose. This huge pickled pasta salad is perfect for a crowd because it features plenty of salt, fat, and acid and can hang out in the heat for a long time without going bad. Make it for a party or eat it throughout the week. Or just make the quick pickled veggies and snack on those! #meandthemoose #pastasalad #BBQrecipes #batchcooking #vegan #veganrecipes #pickles #pickledveggies

So, pasta salad is often an underwhelming affair. It feels necessary at BBQs and is easy to produce in huge quantities. And sans eggs or mayo, it keeps in the sun for hours without risking a side of salmonella. But what a waste when it’s totally boring!

This recipe uses a huge quantity of quick-pickled seasonal vegetables and aromatics, which takes a little pre-planning, but is very worth it. My kid also happens to love pickles, which is a pretty good way to get him to eat veggies. And when you do the pickling, you control the salt, sugar, and other junk that enters the mix.

The recipe I’ve developed here is best when left overnight, but the veggies can be eaten after about 3 hours and definitely taste pickled. Leaving them overnight helps the garlic to mellow, which can be considered a kindness to your guests, no? But also feel free to omit the garlic if you must.

And while I haven’t included anything but the pasta, dressing, and veggies in this recipe, you can customize this dish in whatever way suits your family. I make this for the three of us with mozzarella balls or feta. I’ve also thought about searing some salmon and flaking it in there or just opening a can of tuna and dumping that in. Also, the pickled veggies remind me of gardiniera, so I’m sure a salami or other Italian cured meat would be amazing in there. Experiment! Go crazy!

A couple of notes:

  • I opted for scallions here because, though I LOVE a pickled red onion, they turn the pickling liquid (and everything else that’s being soaked) a bit pink.

  • I also used fresh corn because it’s in season and is so sweet and perfect right off of the cob that I can’t imagine not using it. But I’m sure frozen would do the trick too.

  • I give a range of oil and a range of pasta to use here. I used a fancy pasta, which had about 14 oz of dry noodles in the bag, but feel free to use a whole pound. Obviously, the more pasta you use, the less prominent the veggies will be and the more sauce you’ll need and vice versa.

Pickled pasta salad | Me & The Moose. This huge pickled pasta salad is perfect for a crowd because it features plenty of salt, fat, and acid and can hang out in the heat for a long time without going bad. Make it for a party or eat it throughout the week. Or just make the quick pickled veggies and snack on those! #meandthemoose #pastasalad #BBQrecipes #batchcooking #vegan #veganrecipes #pickles #pickledveggies

Pickled veggie pasta salad

Active time: About 30 minutes, mostly spent chopping and mixing
Total time: Anywhere from 3 hours, 15 minutes to 1 week, depending on how much you let the pickles sit
Yield: About 9-10 cups of salad

¾ cup white vinegar
1 ½ Tbsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
½ large bunch scallions (about 4-5 large), trimmed and roughly chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved  
½ large orange bell pepper, roughly chopped
2-3 large ears corn, with kernels removed (or about 1½-2 cups)
12-16 oz dried pasta (depending on the ratio of vegetables to pasta that you prefer)
1/2- 3/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp fresh pepper
½ tsp dried or 1 tsp fresh oregano, well minced if using fresh
¼- ½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn

For the pickled vegetables:
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt and stir until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. (You won’t hear any more crunching on the bottom of the container.)

In a large container with a tight fitting lid, add the smashed garlic, chopped scallions, and chopped vegetables. Pour in the vinegar mixture, seal the container, and shake a few times.

Place in the refrigerator and leave for 3 hours or up to 1 week.

For the salad:
Cook your pasta according to package directions in well salted water.

While your pasta cooks, combine the oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and oregano in a small container.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to a very large bowl. Add half of the olive oil mixture and stir well.

With a large fork or slotted spoon, remove the vegetables from the pickling liquid, transferring as little of the brine as possible (though don’t go crazy). Set aside the garlic cloves and mince the pickled cloves. Add everything to the pasta and stir well.

Add more of the olive oil mixture to taste until you feel that the pasta salad is wet enough.

Mix in and top with the torn basil before serving.

Pickled pasta salad | Me & The Moose. This huge pickled pasta salad is perfect for a crowd because it features plenty of salt, fat, and acid and can hang out in the heat for a long time without going bad. Make it for a party or eat it throughout the week. Or just make the quick pickled veggies and snack on those! #meandthemoose #pastasalad #BBQrecipes #batchcooking #vegan #veganrecipes #pickles #pickledveggies

Spinach and kale tots

Spinach and kale tots | Me & The Moose. These “tots” are filled with super greens and come together quickly for an easy side, lunchbox filler, or snack. #meandthemoose #homemadetots #tots #totsrecipe #lunchboxrecipes #veggiesnacks #kidfoodrecipes #kale #spinach #kidseatgreens

One reliable way I could get some greens into M was to present things as a “tot.” He really loved the Spinach and Kale Bites from Trader Joe’s, but our store has been out of them for weeks. So here is my copycat version.

Take me to the tots (recipe)!

Spinach and kale tots | Me & The Moose. These “tots” are filled with super greens and come together quickly for an easy side, lunchbox filler, or snack. #meandthemoose #homemadetots #tots #totsrecipe #lunchboxrecipes #veggiesnacks #kidfoodrecipes #kale #spinach #kidseatgreens

Note my use of the past tense up there.

M is still in his picky phase that I’ve mentioned before. He’s off of hummus, but full steam ahead with smoothies. One day he loves yogurt and the next he won’t touch it. Some days, carrots are a safe food and other days broccoli is his only vegetable. One day he’ll ask for a bowl of peas (straight up with nothing on them) and another day he’s picking them out of his mac and cheese. It’s maddening.

However, food refusal is a normal part of eating for kids. It’s hard to learn how to eat! Their taste buds are changing, their caloric needs swing wildly from day to day, and part of a preschooler’s job is to push against boundaries, so if there are rules around food in your house, they’ll try to break them. It’s how kids operate.

Spinach and kale tots | Me & The Moose. These “tots” are filled with super greens and come together quickly for an easy side, lunchbox filler, or snack. #meandthemoose #homemadetots #tots #totsrecipe #lunchboxrecipes #veggiesnacks #kidfoodrecipes #kale #spinach #kidseatgreens

One of my big things is making the same food for the whole family, so the good news here is that I really like these tots and they’re packed with veggies, so they make a good snack for the grownups as well.

Make these tots! One day my kid will eat them, I’m sure. And until then, I’ll eat them.

Spinach and kale tots | Me & The Moose. These “tots” are filled with super greens and come together quickly for an easy side, lunchbox filler, or snack. #meandthemoose #homemadetots #tots #totsrecipe #lunchboxrecipes #veggiesnacks #kidfoodrecipes #kale #spinach #kidseatgreens

Spinach and kale tots

1 bag frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 bag frozen kale, thawed and squeezed dry
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
¾ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup shredded mozzarella
Heaping ½ tsp sea salt
Heaping ½ tsp onion powder
Heaping ½ tsp garlic powder
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350.

Thaw and squeeze dry a bag of spinach and a bag of kale. To achieve a smoother texture in your tots, pulse the dried greens in a food processor 10-15 times. You may need to squeeze with another towel if more liquid is released.

Place the squeezed dry greens in a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well to combine.

Take about 1½-2 Tbsp of the mixture and press into a nugget shape with your palms.

Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes or until the nuggets feel solid when you push on them lightly.  

Yield: about 24-26 tots 

Spinach and kale tots | Me & The Moose. These “tots” are filled with super greens and come together quickly for an easy side, lunchbox filler, or snack. #meandthemoose #homemadetots #tots #totsrecipe #lunchboxrecipes #veggiesnacks #kidfoodrecipes #kale #spinach #kidseatgreens

Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas

Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas | Me & The Moose. This vegetarian sheetpan dish hits all the right notes of cheesy, creamy, crunchy, and delicious. It’s filled with protein and appealing to vegetarians and carnivores alike. #meandthemoose #sheetpanmeals #vegetarianrecipes #cauliflower #cheese #cacioepepe #chickpeas #vegetarian #vegetariandinners

Take me to the recipe!

So, I have to confess something: I’m not sold on the pretend-cauliflower-is-the-same-as-carbs trend. I’ve had the Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi and it’s good, but it’s not gnocchi. I’ve resisted cauliflower pizza crust because…I just…can’t. I like cauliflower rice, but only with other strong flavors.

Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas | Me & The Moose. This vegetarian sheetpan dish hits all the right notes of cheesy, creamy, crunchy, and delicious. It’s filled with protein and appealing to vegetarians and carnivores alike. #meandthemoose #sheetpanmeals #vegetarianrecipes #cauliflower #cheese #cacioepepe #chickpeas #vegetarian #vegetariandinners

However, I do like cauliflower, especially when it’s covered in cheese, garlic, and breadcrumbs.

Cacio e pepe purists may hate this recipe, but hear me out. The best part of cacio e pepe is the creamy sauce that’s achieved by mixing the starchy pasta water with cheese. But when you roast cauliflower, the stalks and larger pieces actually do get a little creamy.

Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas | Me & The Moose. This vegetarian sheetpan dish hits all the right notes of cheesy, creamy, crunchy, and delicious. It’s filled with protein and appealing to vegetarians and carnivores alike. #meandthemoose #sheetpanmeals #vegetarianrecipes #cauliflower #cheese #cacioepepe #chickpeas #vegetarian #vegetariandinners
Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas | Me & The Moose. This vegetarian sheetpan dish hits all the right notes of cheesy, creamy, crunchy, and delicious. It’s filled with protein and appealing to vegetarians and carnivores alike. #meandthemoose #sheetpanmeals #vegetarianrecipes #cauliflower #cheese #cacioepepe #chickpeas #vegetarian #vegetariandinners
Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas | Me & The Moose. This vegetarian sheetpan dish hits all the right notes of cheesy, creamy, crunchy, and delicious. It’s filled with protein and appealing to vegetarians and carnivores alike. #meandthemoose #sheetpanmeals #vegetarianrecipes #cauliflower #cheese #cacioepepe #chickpeas #vegetarian #vegetariandinners

And my kiddo likes things with a crunch more than things that are soft and creamy, so throwing in a little panko is a nice textural counterpoint to the softer cheese and veggies.

Add a drained can of chickpeas and you have an actually filling vegetarian meal or a hearty side.

Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas | Me & The Moose. This vegetarian sheetpan dish hits all the right notes of cheesy, creamy, crunchy, and delicious. It’s filled with protein and appealing to vegetarians and carnivores alike. #meandthemoose #sheetpanmeals #vegetarianrecipes #cauliflower #cheese #cacioepepe #chickpeas #vegetarian #vegetariandinners

Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas

1 large head of cauliflower
1 can chick peas; drained, rinsed, and dried
3 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
5-6 grinds of freshly ground pepper
¾ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (3 oz)
2 large cloves garlic
¼ cup panko
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 425.

Drain and dry one can of chickpeas. Set aside.

Remove the leaves from your cauliflower, but leave the central core intact. Chop into 1-inch slices. You’ll probably get between 2 and 4 intact steaks and the rest will fall into florets, which is fine.

Place the cauliflower steaks and chickpeas onto your sheet pan and then fill in with cauliflower florets.

Brush the steaks, florets, and beans with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the steaks are just fork tender. (You don’t want mushy cauliflower, but this is the majority of the cooking the steaks will do, so use your best judgment about how cooked you like your veggies.)

While the veggies and beans are roasting, pulse the cheese in a food processor until it’s in coarse crumbles (if not using pre-grated). Add the garlic, panko, salt, and pepper and pulse until the garlic is minced and everything is mixed together. Set aside.

Carefully remove the pan from the oven. 

Spread a thin layer of mayo over the steaks and any of the larger florets of cauliflower. Top liberally with the cheese, panko, salt, and pepper mixture. Press lightly into the steaks to get the cheese to stick.

Return to the oven and roast for another 10-12 minutes until the cheese is brown and crunchy. Keep an eye out that the cheese doesn’t burn.

Yield: 4-6 side dishes, 2-3 main dishes

Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas | Me & The Moose. This vegetarian sheetpan dish hits all the right notes of cheesy, creamy, crunchy, and delicious. It’s filled with protein and appealing to vegetarians and carnivores alike. #meandthemoose #sheetpanmeals #vegetarianrecipes #cauliflower #cheese #cacioepepe #chickpeas #vegetarian #vegetariandinners
Cacio e pepe cauliflower and chickpeas | Me & The Moose. This vegetarian sheetpan dish hits all the right notes of cheesy, creamy, crunchy, and delicious. It’s filled with protein and appealing to vegetarians and carnivores alike. #meandthemoose #sheetpanmeals #vegetarianrecipes #cauliflower #cheese #cacioepepe #chickpeas #vegetarian #vegetariandinners

Sesame roasted brussels sprouts

Sesame roasted brussels sprouts | Me & The Moose. These Brussels sprouts are crunchy, garlicky, sweet, and salty. Basically, the perfect side dish. #brusselssprouts #roasting #sidedish #kidseatvegetables

OMG Halloween hangover. The ten pounds of candy I ate between opening the bags at 11 am (why? WHY?) and going to bed at 9 pm (which felt like midnight), have done a number on my body. I guess it’s a good sign that I feel like shit? Maybe it shows that I don’t normally eat 10,000 grams of sugar in 10 hours?

Anyhoo, we started the day with a small fit because I wouldn’t let someone eat candy for breakfast, so…that was fun.

Sesame roasted brussels sprouts | Me & The Moose. These Brussels sprouts are crunchy, garlicky, sweet, and salty. Basically, the perfect side dish. #brusselssprouts #roasting #sidedish #kidseatvegetables
Sesame roasted brussels sprouts | Me & The Moose. These Brussels sprouts are crunchy, garlicky, sweet, and salty and a great way to get your kids to eat veggies. #brusselssprouts #roasting #sidedish #kidseatvegetables

One key to weaning my little back to veggies after a sugar binge is to make them extra unctuous and delicious. These brussels fit the bill. High heat makes them mellow and crispy while the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil add layers of salt and fat that lead to really big flavor.

Sesame roasted brussels sprouts | Me & The Moose. These Brussels sprouts are crunchy, garlicky, sweet, and salty and a great way to get your kids to eat veggies. #brusselssprouts #roasting #sidedish #kidseatvegetables

A couple of notes:

  • It’s important to work fast after getting the roasted sprouts out of the oven. Their heat will cook the garlic a bit and without it, the taste can be pretty strong.

  • If you think you’ll have leftovers, sprinkle the sesame seeds on the individual portions, or just the part you’ll eat right away. The seeds can burn when you recrisp the leftovers.

Serve them with a piece of fish, some tofu, some rotisserie chicken, or accompanying any other protein. I also like them next to these noodles for a double dose of veggies. You could actually slap some chicken thighs on another sheet pan and roast them all together if your oven is big enough.

Sesame roasted brussels sprouts | Me & The Moose. These Brussels sprouts are crunchy, garlicky, sweet, and salty and a great way to get your kids to eat veggies. #brusselssprouts #roasting #sidedish #kidseatvegetables
Sesame roasted brussels sprouts | Me & The Moose. These Brussels sprouts are crunchy, garlicky, sweet, and salty and a great way to get your kids to eat veggies. #brusselssprouts #roasting #sidedish #kidseatvegetables

Sesame roasted Brussels sprouts  

1 ¼ lb brussels sprouts, halved (or two 10 oz bags)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (about a 1-inch piece)
2 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari, divided
1 small garlic clove, minced 
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1½- 2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

 

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a large bowl, combine the veggies, olive oil, 1 Tbsp of soy sauce, and the grated ginger. Mix well. If you see any clumps of ginger, separate them the best you can.

Spread onto a baking sheet and roast for 15-17 minutes (or until you’ve reached peak crispyness, since oven temps vary), stirring once in the middle of cooking.

While the veggies are roasting, mince your garlic and combine it with the remaining 1 Tbsp of soy sauce, sesame oil, and honey.

When the sprouts are roasted, quickly spoon them back into your original bowl. Add the garlic mixture and stir well. Serve immediately.

If reheating this, place the servings you’ll need back into a 425 oven for about 5 minutes (or as long as needed) to re-crisp.

Yield: about 3 cups of sprouts, or 4 servings.

Sesame roasted brussels sprouts | Me & The Moose. These Brussels sprouts are crunchy, garlicky, sweet, and salty and a great way to get your kids to eat veggies. #brusselssprouts #roasting #sidedish #kidseatvegetables
Sesame roasted brussels sprouts | Me & The Moose. These Brussels sprouts are crunchy, garlicky, sweet, and salty and a great way to get your kids to eat veggies. #brusselssprouts #roasting #sidedish #kidseatvegetables

Fried green tomatoes

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If your child loves french fries and tomatoes, then they will love fried green tomatoes. Or, they will reject them out of hand because they're mercurial toddlers like mine. One day, M will love these. I'm sure of it.

I just dropped M off for his first day of a new school year. He was only off for a week between "grades" but I felt so nervous this morning! M had a tough time adjusting to his last classroom and now he has new grownups, a new space, and some new kids to contend with. Ugh. I don't like change. That must be where M gets it.

We also have a nut allergy in the classroom this year, so I'll be more mindful of nut-free recipes for lunches and snacks.

ALSO also, after just a week off from packing lunches, I forgot what a huge drag it is. My sympathies go out to those of you getting back to it after an ENTIRE summer off. Strength to you, fellow lunch-packers.

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The keys to good fried green tomatoes, to me, are soaking overnight in buttermilk, and cooking with HOT oil. I've gotten equally delicious and crunchy results from using a little bit of oil and a lot of oil, but the heat seemed like the common denominator.

I also experimented a lot with corn flour and different grinds of cornmeal. I initially liked corn flour the best, but it's very easy to get too much flour, which doesn't cook evenly. (Picture #2 was taken BEFORE I knocked off the excess.) Ultimately, my favorite was straight-up, finely ground cornmeal.

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Fried green tomatoes

3-4 large green tomatoes, sliced in ¼-inch thick slices
1-2 cups buttermilk, full or low-fat (enough to cover the tomato slices)
1 tsp salt, divided
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
½ tsp paprika
Ground pepper
¼ cup avocado oil
Course sea salt

Slice the tomatoes and discard the end pieces. Place the tomatoes in a container and cover them with buttermilk. Add ½ tsp salt, cover, and shake. Refrigerate for at least a few hours and up to 1 day.

Combine the corn meal, salt, paprika, and pepper in a large container. Set aside. Heat one to two tablespoons of avocado oil at a time until very hot.

Working one at a time, shake off excess buttermilk and immediately place the tomato slice in the cornmeal mixture. Cover both sides well, but shake off the excess cornmeal as well.

When the oil is hot (when you add anything to the oil, it immediately starts bubbling), add the tomatoes (as many as will fit in your pan, but don’t crowd them; work in batches), and fry for 3 minutes. Check for brownness and flip when golden. When second side reaches golden brown, remove to a paper towel and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Between batches of tomatoes, pour out any leftover oil and carefully wipe off any cornmeal left in the pan. Heat two more tablespoons of avocado oil and repeat the cooking process with remaining tomatoes.

Yield: 12-16 tomato slices

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