Ratatouille Quinoa Bake with Pesto and Buffalo Mozzarella
Every week for almost three years, I’ve walked around the corner to Nice Nails to get a manicure. It’s become part of my routine, and I look forward to it, not only because I enjoy having my hands appear mildly presentable for 12 hours, but also because I’ve grown to love the warm and wonderful women at this tiny salon.
As soon as I walk in the door, I’m greeted by a chorus of “Hi, bay-beeee!!” and at least two bear hugs. I sit down at Jane’s station, my regular manicurist, who proceeds to insult me at least 10 times in 30 minutes with a huge grin on her face, which I find strangely endearing. There’s usually some light nail shaming (“You BITE cuticles. You BAD GIRL!!”), followed by a critique of my appearance (“You look so tired! Why always so tired?! You need arm wax.”) and relationship status (“I see still no ring on this hand. You have same boyfriend? He still loooove you??”). She paints my nails with one coat of Mademoiselle, much to her chagrin (“Baby needs color!”), gives me an overly aggressive shoulder massage (“You hunch!”) and a hug, then walks me to the door with at least two other manicurists in tow, chorusing, “Bye, bay-beeee! See you next week!”
I live for this QT with my Thursday afternoon clique.
Sidenote: The boyfriend Jane refers to is obviously Logan, whom she met when we got roommate pedicures on my 26th birthday. The ladies of Nice Nails sang to me, before having me blow out all the aromatherapy candles and forcing me to kiss him while they took pictures. He loved it.
Sidenote2: Does nobody else have this relationship with their nail ladies???
Anyhoo, a couple weeks ago, Jane looked shiftily around as I was leaving and whispered, “Come back Tuesday to say goodbye.” It was an odd thing to say, but I was stressed due to failed chicken wing experiments and sleep deprivation, so I just sort of nodded and smiled without thinking too much about it.
Big mistake. Huge.
When I wandered to Nice Nails the following Thursday, it was dark and empty, and the windows were plastered with signs saying something about the property being seized by the city of New York. I know it sounds melodramatic, but it took everything in me not to fall to my knees on 7th Avenue screaming, “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!” I stood there for a couple minutes, deep breathing and cursing myself for not heeding Jane’s cryptic warning to say goodbye, before trudging home and doing the only thing I know how to do in a crisis. Listen to Ludacris and make a quinoa bake.
This Ratatouille Quinoa Bake with Pesto and Buffalo Mozzarella may have been born out of sadness, but it tastes like pure joy, people. All the best summer vegetables are cooked down until soft and flavorful, and then mixed with nutty quinoa, bright basil pesto and creamy buffalo mozzarella. Seasoned generously and topped with freshly grated Parmesan and Panko, the bake comes out of the oven golden, crispy, and smelling like an herb and garlic-laced angel. I’ll stop there, since you know I’m prone to overexcitement and hyperbole when it comes to quinoa bakes. I can’t help myself.
For the record, these photos aren’t really capturing the essence of this recipe, as they’re reading slightly more red and significantly less cheesy than the true bake. Quinoa bakes aren’t super photogenic to begin with, but my camera also ran out of battery during the photo shoot, and the cheese kind of congealed during the charging process. (My living room must be kept at sub-zero temps in order to balance out the kitchen death sauna.) Sorry I keep breaking the third wall these days, but I feel obligated to tell you that it’s not the quinoa bake’s fault it didn’t bring the sexy on film. It’s mine. Please don’t let that deter you from taking it for a spin.
Moving on to more important, yet equally superficial things! While the Panko-Parmesan crust is a foolproof choice, I had an idea this morning for those of you interested in a fancier presentation (and/or wanting to keep things gluten-free). Picture this: overlapping rounds of very thinly sliced zucchini, arranged in concentric circles on top of the bake and then sprinkled with Parmesan. The zucchini would brown slightly and crisp around the edges, and it would look very rustic and Provençal. OR you could do a similar thing with tomatoes à la last year’s Caprese Quinoa Bake. Food for thought.
Speaking of ways to alter this bad boy (I support your creativity!), I know some peeps may feel the need to bulk things up with meaty accoutrements. Roast chicken or spicy Italian sausage would be good, but I really think diced pancetta is the call here. You could brown it at the beginning and then cook the vegetables in the rendered fat, which would be BOMB. Maybe even set a little crispy pancetta aside to sprinkle on top of the bake before serving? Yes.
Oh, and before I leave you, I’d like to quickly touch on the length of this recipe. I know there are a lot of steps (especially if you go the homemade pesto route), but please keep it together. While it does take about an hour and a half from start to finish, there’s absolutely nothing complicated or scary about the process. Promise. (It’s mostly just dicing and sautéing, which I find quite soothing.) However, if your weeknights 100% do not allow for more than 20 minutes of cooking, this quinoa bake would make an excellent weekend activity (wine drinking optional but recommended), and you can always throw it in the freezer to be baked later. Boom.
Happy Hump Day, friends! Does anyone have a good nail place in the West Village?
Ratatouille Quinoa Bake with Pesto and Buffalo Mozzarella: (Serves 4-6)
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
1 small Italian eggplant, diced (About 1½-2 cups diced eggplant)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ medium yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 dry pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
¼ cup whole-wheat Panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ cup basil pesto (I recommend using Rustic Basil Pesto, but you can obviously use any pesto you like.)
8 ounces buffalo mozzarella, diced into small cubes
Fresh ground pepper
Preparing your Ratatouille Quinoa Bake with Pesto and Buffalo Mozzarella:
-Place the quinoa in a small pot with 1½ cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover and cook for 14-15 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Let the quinoa rest for 5 minutes, covered, then fluff with a fork.
-Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion, bell pepper, garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook for 5-6 minutes until the onions become translucent and the bell peppers have softened slightly. (Be careful not to burn the garlic, peeps! If it starts to brown, turn down the heat a little bit.)
-Add the zucchini and eggplant and cook for 5 minutes until just tender. Stir in the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft (but not mushy!) and the tomatoes have broken down.
-Turn off the heat and stir in the quinoa, pesto and mozzarella. Taste and season generously with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. If you like a kick, feel free to get some crushed red pepper involved. (Please make sure this awesomeness is very well seasoned, capiche? I’d give you specific quantities of salt and pepper, but it will vary based on your pesto and the salt content of your mozzarella.)
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