Sunday, September 26, 2010

Za'atar Roasted Potatoes and Pesto-Covered Baked Tilapia

First of all...thanks to Maren for her awesome giveaway! I can't wait to try her cookies and tell you all how delicious they are :)

Second of all...before I get to the recipes, I just want to tell you how excited I am to share this meal with you. It turned out GREAT! :)

I can't remember the first time I tried za'atar, but I have been a huge fan recently. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it typically refers to a Middle Eastern spice blend of thyme, sesame seeds, oregano, and other spices. It's mild but extremely flavorful and adds a great extra zing to dishes. I especially love it baked onto pita bread or mixed with olive oil for a dipping sauce.

There is a great Middle Eastern grocery store near my parents' house in OC, and they have fabulous prices on everything. The last time I was there I picked up a huge bag of za'atar for about $3 - score! It's been sitting on my counter for a few months and I thought tonight would be a great night to put it to use.

We love having diced potatoes simply roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and whatever herbs get added. They crunch up in the oven and are just flavorful and wonderful. For this meal I thought, why not use za'atar? I added it to the potatoes and roasted them for about 40 minutes, and added the tilapia to the oven halfway through.

All the stuff for the 'taters:

Chopped up and ready for the oven:

While the potatoes bake, spread pesto over your tilapia in a cooking-sprayed oven-safe dish:

Drumroll please...the finished product!

I can't say enough good things about this meal, if I have to toot my own horn. Hubby loved it too and kept saying "mmm" during dinner, so you know that's a good sign :) The za'atar added just the right flavors and seasonings to the potatoes - definitely that little something extra to make them much more special than your usual roasted potatoes. The pesto added a great flavor and nuttiness to the mild tilapia, which served as a great blank canvas to backdrop the pesto flavor. This was also super simple to make - just pop everything in the oven and have a glass of wine while you wait :) What could be better?

Za'atar Roasted Potatoes - serves 3-4

  • 3-4 small/medium baking potatoes
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. EVOO
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. za'atar (purchase at your local ethnic market)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Wash your potatoes and chop into bite-sized pieces.
  • On a foil-lined baking sheet, spread out the potatoes. Drizzle with the EVOO. Add lemon zest and za'atar; toss to coat thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Pesto-Covered Baked Tilapia - serves 2

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (or use the same oven as the za'atar potatoes :) ).
  • Coat a glass baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Arrange tilapia filets in a single layer in the dish. Cover each filet with enough pesto to cover (about 2 tbsp. each). Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Bake on the middle rack uncovered for 20 minutes, or until fish is opaque. Serve with the za'atar roasted potatoes.

Spaghetti Squash with Spinach and Almond Pesto

I love fall, even though it means the end of summer (which I love even more). I love the cool fall breezes, watching the leaves change color, and all of the fun fall holidays.

Perhaps even more than all of that, I love fall FOOD! Pumpkins, Halloween candy, apple cider, you name it - I love it.

Included in that list of fall favorites would be squash. Spaghetti squash, to be exact. My first experience was three years ago when I lived in Miami right after college. I did a year-long volunteer program through my church denomination and lived with four other young women. We took turns cooking dinner for the house once a week, and one of my housemates made spaghetti squash for dinner that particular week. All I could think was, "this is so cool! It's squash and it tastes like spaghetti!" I was hooked.

Fast forward to last week. I work part time at a coffee shop and there is a Trader Joe's two doors down. Imagine my delight going into work one day and I see all the fall pumpkins, gourds, and squash sitting outside in the bins waiting to come home with me. I giddily picked up a spaghetti squash, acorn squash, and butternut squash to take home with me.

I had also been wanting to make homemade pesto AND use our new Cuisinart that we got for a wedding present (yes, I am a nerd about having awesome kitchen tools). We have a basil plant so I got right to work plucking off the leaves for the pesto. Alas...there were not enough to make an entire recipe, so I figured baby spinach would do the trick for the rest. It worked A-OK.

*Tangent disclaimer: I want to apologize for the poor lighting in my photos. Our apartment has terrible natural lighting, especially in the kitchen, so it does not make for good food photography :( Boo.

So heeere we go! Get your squash ready. Poke several holes in it and microwave for about 15 minutes or until the flesh starts to "give". Make sure you turn it over occasionally so all the sides cook evenly (I forgot to do that). I love that you can microwave the squash!

The squash has a canola oil stalker in the background. Watch out.

While your squash is a-cookin', gather your pesto ingredients.

Add 'em to your food processor...

...and whirl away...

...until you have this glorious green deliciousness :)

When your squash is cooked, take it out of the microwave. Cut it in half using a sharp knife, and scoop out the seeds. This will take a while so be patient.

Use a fork to pull the flesh away from the skin. It will pull into little pieces just like spaghetti! How cool is that?

Mix with your pesto and top with more salt and pepper and Parmesan cheese. Yummm.

And since you're not having "real" pasta, don't forget the bread :) I love olive bread!

Spinach and Almond Pesto - adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, Bridal Edition
Makes 3/4 cup

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil
  • 1 1/2 cups packed fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered (I used the equivalent of minced garlic from the jar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper
  • In a food processor or blender, combine all your ingredients except the pepper.
  • Cover and process/blend until smooth, stopping and scraping the sides as necessary.
  • Add enough of 2 tbsp. EVOO to reach your desired consistency.
  • Add black pepper to taste.
  • Combine as much as you wish with your cooked spaghetti squash. Top with more salt and pepper and Parmesan cheese. This is also great on fish, paninis, as a dip, etc. Enjoy!
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