Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cooking to Save the Planet: Pasta Shells with Smothered Summer Squash; Roasted Pepper and Avocado Salad

I haven't done one of these postings for a while now. I enjoy writing them, and so here's another in my series of postings about cooking to save the planet:

If you've followed this blog for some time, you know that one of my passions is to cook (and, it goes without saying, to eat) — and to think of ways to cook that do not strain the planet's health. As thoughtful commentators on the American diet from Thomas Jefferson to Mark Bittman have repeatedly told us, we Americans eat far too much meat, far more meat than is good for our health, and far more meat than is good for the health of the whole planet. 

As Francis Moore LappƩ pointed out decades ago, the production of a food so high on the food chain, to satisfy our cravings for meat, requires the use of ingredients that could feed far more people if we chose to eat lower on the food chain. And the production of the meat we crave also puts ecological strain on the whole planet, due to the agricultural practices required to raise animals for slaughter and the heavy investment of the meat-producing industry in fossil fuels and fertilizers and other chemicals based on petroleum.

Here are some recipes I've thought up (and cooked) lately, which may point your imagination to a meatless but thoroughly nourishing and delicious late-summer, early-fall meal:

Pasta Shells Stuffed with Smothered Summer Squash

2 or 3 medium crookneck squash ½ c. grated parmesan

½ large onion           2/3 c. mozzarella 

3 Tbsp. butter         salt, pepper

1 dozen large pasta shells         sprigs of rosemary

In salted boiling water, boil the pasta until it is tender but not fully cooked. Drain and rinse in cold water.

Smother the squash by slicing it coarsely, then mixing it with chopped onion. Add a teaspoon or two of salt and a good bit of freshly ground black pepper. 

Place this mixture into a pot in which you have melted the butter, add one sprig of rosemary, cover tightly, bring to a simmer, then turn heat down and cook until vegetables are very tender. Watch carefully to be sure it does not stick and burn; stir frequently. If necessary, add just enough water to keep from sticking – but this will dilute the flavor of the squash, and is best avoided.

When vegetables are very tender, remove the rosemary and mash the squash and onion well, using a potato masher. Add to the mashed squash the grated parmesan cheese. Stuff the pasta shells with the squash mixture and place in a baking dish with a bit of olive oil dribbled over them.

Top with the mozzarella (which you will have grated), and bake at 350 degrees F until the cheese browns on top – about 20 minutes or so. Garnish with sprigs of rosemary.

Avocado and Roasted Pepper Salad

1 or 2 very ripe avocadoes, peeled and cut into strips

1 roasted bell pepper, peeled and cut into strips

½ sweet white onion, cut into thin strips

juice of half lime

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 toe garlic finely minced

salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients. The Hass variety of avocado is preferable, as are yellow or red bell peppers. If you add cubes of queso fresco or queso blanco and eat this with good French bread, it makes a full meal.

I hope these recipes will work for you, if you try them. As with any recipe, you can and should certainly play with them, vary the ingredients according to your taste or what you have on hand (e.g., the default summer squash in my region is yellow crookneck, but you could use zucchini, instead, though it's a bit waterier than crookneck), etc. Whatever you cook and however you cook it, I hope you'll enjoy the meal and think of me, if either or both of these recipes helped to inspire you as you created your meal.

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