Vegetable and Bean Tamale Pie

Did you know that the United Nations declared 2016 the "year of the pulses"?
Pulses are beans, in case you were wondering. 
Beans are sustainable, inexpensive, and healthy, so it's no wonder that the United Nations is trying to encourage us to eat more of them.
Here is one recipe that I've been using as a summer freezer meal for two years. It is a family favorite and it uses TWO types of beans: black beans and pinto beans.

 It also has a lot of summer produce, like zucchini, corn, and cilantro. When I was at the farmers' market I found this beautiful yellow zucchini and I fell in love with its amazing color and creamy flesh, which the picture doesn't do justice.

This recipe is from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe by America's Test Kitchen. Although I love the recipe, they're directions for cooking the frozen casserole haven't been successful. I've found that I have to let it thaw longer than 30 minutes and I have to cook it longer than the 1 1/2 hours. I prefer to take the casserole out in the morning and let it thaw on a dish towel on the counter, and then cook it for 1 to 1 1/2 hours in the oven. Just be aware of that when you cook it for the first time :)

Vegetable and Bean Tamale Pie

serves 6-8
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 (28 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, well drained, with 2 cups juice reserved
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 - 4 teaspoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (you need this for depth of flavor!)
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 15.5 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15.5 ounce can kidney or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups frozen corn (do not thaw)
1 medium zucchini (about 12 ounces), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
4 teaspoons lime juice from two limes
Black pepper
One recipe of homemade cornbread stuffing (see below)

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and sugar and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes are very dry and browned, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. stir in the chili powder, garlic, chipotles, oregano, and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the reserved tomato juice, scraping up any browned bits. Off the heat, stir and black beans, kidney beans, corn, zucchini, cheese, cilantro, and lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Transfer the bean mixture to a 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Spread the cornmeal topping evenly over the feeling, pushing it to the edges of the baking dish.
4. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

To Store: Wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray and then for oil and refrigerate for up to two days or freeze for up to one month.
To Serve: adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap the dish. If refrigerated, bake, uncovered, until the feeling is bubbly and the crust is baked through and golden, 50 to 60 minutes. If frozen, unwrap the dish and let the casserole sit at room temperature for a few hours, I usually take mine out at lunchtime and let thaw until dinner. When you're ready to bake, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the feeling is bubbly and the crust is baked through and golden, 50 to 60 minutes.

*I've tripled this recipe and it actually makes enough for 4 dishes instead of 3. I'm not sure how I defeated the law of conservation, but I did.

Cornbread Topping

1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs

1. Whisk the flour, milk, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the butter milk, butter, and eggs together. Stir in the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture until uniform. Use as directed in beef tamale pie and vegetable and being tamale pie.


Eggplant Tomato Pasta

I've been getting a lot of requests for our favorite freezer meals, so I started taking pictures while cooking them. Notice how minimalist the photos are? I'd like to say it's the new fad, but alas it's because I snapped these in between cooking large batches of food and fighting off my two boys who wanted to eat or play with the food amidst my photo session. Back to freezer meals... They save my life on a daily basis. Although they take a whole week of cooking and prep, that one week lasts me about 3-4 months, depending on how often I use them. Plus, I can use a lot of fresh summer produce to make meals that last until mid-winter.

One thing I love about the summer is fresh produce at the farmers' market. We go every Thursday, on my bike with kids in tow, and it feels almost surreal when I walk up to a vendor and say "the usual." This particular week one vendor had these beautiful eggplants and I knew I had to buy a few and make a freezer version of one of our favorite pasta dishes.
I have also become a convert to fresh herbs, so they go on everything. Whether you put the fresh basil in the pasta before the freezer or after, it doesn't matter. As long as you include it!

Eggplant Tomato Pasta

Adapted from Food Network
Makes 4 servings

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Coarse grained salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can peeled and crushed, or diced tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, optional
Salt and coarsely ground fresh black pepper
1/4 cup basil (about 10 leaves), torn
8 ounces bow tie pasta (farfalle), cooked al dente
Parmesan cheese for topping

Place eggplant in a colander and season generously with salt. Fill a 1-gallon plastic bag with water, seal tightly and place over eggplant to weigh down. Let stand for 40 minutes.

Rinse the salt off the eggplant, and pat dry. Place the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add eggplant and cook, stirring often, until golden brown on all sides, about 20 minutes.

Add garlic, tomatoes and their juice to the pan. Stir in the sugar and salt. Simmer until sauce has slightly thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes or longer depending on how juicy your tomatoes are. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add the basil and cook 1 minute more. Serve over pasta.

To Freeze:
I usually make a triple batch and put the pasta in glass Pyrex containers. If you have the time and patience it's best to let the pasta cool on the counter, then in the fridge overnight. Wipe the extra condensation off the lids before transferring to the freezer. The lids on the Pyrex are plastic and I label the containers using a dry-erase marker. Discovering this was a game-changer for me :) These should last in the freezer for up to 3 months.