Zucchini with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Olive-Portobello Relish

January 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

candle79, vegan zucchini recipe, vegan mushroom recipe, fresh tomato sauce

I have been thinking of re-creating this dish ever since visiting Candle 79 last October. The dish was a live zucchini manicotti stuffed with a mushroom olive mixture and topped with a raw tomato sauce and parsley pine nut salad. At the time, I still was not liking mushrooms very much. Boy has that changed. Mushrooms have been the star of many meals since including my Christmas Eve dinner with vegan mushroom bourguignon.

At Candle79, I thought the mushroom olive combination was delicious. I’m a big olive fan and love their briny, salty bite which masked the mushroom flavor I didn’t like at the time. Instead, what remained was just a chewy almost meaty texture which I welcomed. I thought the dish would be great to make at home with store-bought olive tapenade. So that’s what I did.

how to make fresh tomato sauce

Since Luis wasn’t a fan of the “live” part of this dish, I decided to roast the zucchini.  What I didn’t realize though is that then you can’t roll them into a manicotti. They become way too flimsy cooked. So I just laid them flat but it still worked. I wanted to make this elegant dish as easy as possible to make so I made a point of making it with one baking sheet. I was looking for easy cleanup here and it worked.

The resulting dish was elegant and tasty – but it was on the small side. It did feel like a little gourmet meal though 🙂 I’d suggest doubling this recipe or serving with a side or salad. I also want to try it one day with pasta. I think it would be great.

Zucchini with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Olive-Portobello Relish

Makes 4 small servings


  • 2 zucchini, thinly sliced (about 6 slices per zucchini)
  • 2 portobello mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 tomatoes, sliced
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, roasted or raw
  • 3 tbsp. pre-made olive tapenade
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • dried rosemary (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. If roasting the garlic, you can put it in now. Just slice the end of it off so you have a flat top, place in a small oven safe dish, cover with olive oil and foil.
  2. Slice zucchini using a knife or mandolin. Slice tomatoes. Chop portobellos. Arrange all vegetables on a cookie sheet or in a roasting pan and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat all veggies. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and rosemary (optional).
  3. Place veggies in oven to roast about 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on the mushrooms and zucchini as the cook quickly. You may need to pull them out early. The mushrooms will release a lot of liquid so don’t be alarmed. You can finish the tomatoes and give them a little char by turning the oven up to broil – just watch very closely.
  4. Once you’ve pulled out the mushrooms, mix with the olive tapenade. Use as much as you like. Add in a few chopped garlic cloves to the mix if you like and set aside.
  5. Remove tomatoes and place into a food processor with a few garlic cloves. Do not add in liquid from the pan unless you need to thin out the sauce. If you have fresh herbs on hand you can add basil or parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. To assemble place some sauce on the plate. Top with a few zucchini slices and the olive-portobello relish.



Butternut Squash and Mushroom Quinoa Risotto

November 19, 2011 § 2 Comments

Fall is slowly arriving in Orlando. We’re always late to the fall game with our widely varying temperatures. The first signs of the season are usually the warm smell of cinnamon “brooms” and the autumn display of squash and pumpkins in the grocery store. When I think of fall, my mind jumps to squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato – ravioli, gnocchi, soup, and of course, risotto are must haves.

I picked up two types of squash on my last grocery run. The first was spaghetti squash which I’d never prepared and boy was it good – a little sun-dried tomato, spinach, and pine nuts and that’s as good as anything. The other was a butternut squash. While in New York, Luis had ordered butternut squash risotto at Candle 79 and I really wanted to try and re-create it. I picked up some mushrooms too to give it some more volume and decided to top it with fried shallots.


Risotto is traditionally made with arborio rice. This particular variety has tons of starch lending to the creaminess of risotto. So why did I make mine with quinoa? Well, I wish I could say it’s my newfound healthiness but it wasn’t. The night I chose to make it, I opened the pantry and realized the bag I was sure I had was long gone. I did have quinoa though and have heard of it being used in place of rice in risotto or paella so figured I might as well give it a try. This won’t give you a creamy risotto, but it did work and created a much healthier dish.

Many recipes call for sautéing the squash stovetop but I decided to go ahead and just roast it to make it easier. Cutting it is a bit tricky. Best thing to do is cut both ends and then in half. Next, cut the peel off and then scoop out the interior.

Cut into cubes, toss with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, a few dashes of nutmeg and into the oven for about 40 minutes until it’s nice and tender. This recipe only needs half the squash, I used the other half to make these stuffed shells.

To make the fried shallots, heat up some oil in a small pan and fry up the thinly sliced shallots. Watch them closely and turn frequently to avoid burning. A few of mine got too much heat but most of them turned out fine.

When the squash is almost done, saute the mushrooms with some oil, onion, garlic, and thyme and set aside. I used shitake which worked very nicely in this dish but you can use any mushroom you have on hand. The mushrooms cook up in no time and lend a beautiful earthiness to the dish. Meanwhile, heat up some vegetable stock to for the risotto.

Once the squash and mushrooms are done, rinse and toast the quinoa. Toasting the quinoa enhances its nutty flavor. Once toasted, add the wine. This is a traditional step for risotto. The grain picks up all the wine flavoring before adding any stock. Once the wine is absorbed, add almost all the stock the quinoa calls for, stirring the pan. Then, begin to add a little more, one ladle at a time until the quinoa reaches a risotto like consistency – your looking for a little liquid, not a soupy dish. Lastly, you may add in a tablespoon or two of vegan butter to give it a silky finish.

Add in the mushrooms and squash and serve warm with the fried shallots on top.

If you’ve never tried quinoa, this is a nice way to try it for the first time. The vegetable stock lends a nice flavor and still showcases the quinoa’s slight nutty flavor which works nicely with the squash and mushrooms.

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Quinoa Risotto
Serves 4 bowls


  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • Small package shitake mushrooms sliced (or any other kind)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash nutmeg (optional)
  • dash thyme
  • 1 tbsp Earth Balance vegan buttery spread
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the ends off the squash and cut in half. Peel by cutting the outside layer off. On the bottom half cut in half lengthwise and clean out the seeds. Cut squash into cubes and put in a large baking dish. Toss with 2 tbsp oil, salt, pepper, and a few dashes of nutmeg (optional). Roast covered for 30-40 minutes until squash is tender.  Note: You only need half the squash for this recipe. You can cook it all together and have leftover squash for another dish or just cook half.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in small pan over medium heat and fry shallots, turning frequently. Set fried shallots aside.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in large saute pan over medium heat and saute onions and garlic until soft. Add mushrooms, a few dashes of thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Once mushrooms are cooked and soft, transfer to dish and set aside.
  4. Heat vegetable stock in small pan and leave warm on the stove for risotto.
  5. Rinse quinoa and toast in pan over medium to medium-low heat. Once toasted, add wine and stir to allow quinoa to absorb all liquid. Add 2 cups stock and allow quinoa to absorb. Adjust heat as needed. Continue adding stock as quinoa absorbs liquid until you reach a risotto like consistency. Lastly add in 1 tbsp vegan butter.
  6. Mix quinoa with squash and mushrooms. Top with fried shallots and serve warm.

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