Friday, October 31, 2008

Mrs. L's Pumpkin Bread (with Cranberries!): All the Flavors of Fall

I had a wonderful first grade teacher we called Mrs. L. She played guitar and taught us to sing "If I Had A Hammer." We memorized Shel Silverstein and Robert Frost poems and wrote "books" of our own, illustrating them and writing dedications and all (that was my favorite part.) We counted down one hundred days of school and celebrated the hundredth with a hundred-yard dash, one hundred pieces of popcorn, and any number of other countable things in hundred-unit quantities.

At some point during that year (probably exactly this time of year) we baked pumpkin bread in her classroom and brought home a slice with the recipe. My mother—though a bit wary of the snot and dirt that might be incorporated into first grade classroom cooking—saved the recipe, and it's the one I still follow every fall. I know Shiv already recommended a pumpkin bread recipe, but the more the merrier, right? And hey, it's Halloween!

Today I played around a bit, adding tart cranberries and orange zest and substituting a bit of whole-wheat flour, throwing in a sprinkle of cloves and quarter-teaspoon of molasses—I'm not sure the recipe would still be recognizable to Mrs. L. She'd probably still recognize me, though. I don't look that different from how I looked back then.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread

Adapted from Susan Lohrer

Sift together in large bowl:
1 1/2 cup flour (I used 1 cup all purpose and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 C sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix in small bowl:
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 C cooking oil
2 eggs (whisked)
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg
zest of one small orange
sprinkle ginger, cloves
1/4 teaspoon molasses (optional)

1 cup fresh cranberries, picked through (frozen is probably fine, don't thaw, just throw them in.)

Combine pumpkin mixture with flour mixture. Do not mix too thoroughly. Stir in cranberries. Pour into a greased loaf dish (original recipe says "well-Pammed." Does anyone use that stuff anymore? Is it bad for the ozone layer?) Bake 50-60 minutes at 350. Loaf is done when a toothpick comes out clean. This recipe makes one loaf. Let cool before serving—the flavors mellow and this really is tastier about half an hour out of the oven.

Notes: If you make mini-loaves or muffins from this, the cooking time is shorter. The cranberries are optional and kind of tart. I like it that way, but this recipe is traditional and great without them.

Also, If you are left with some pumpkin puree and don't know what to do, I highly recommend this recipe for pumpkin orzo with sage.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Disaster pancakes: Better than they sound.


I will come clean and admit this much: I have never been much of a breakfaster. A bruncher, sure. But if given a choice between cooking a hot breakfast and sleeping an extra fifteen minutes? Give me the snooze button and a bowl of cereal, any time.

...and this is exactly why I probably should have considered it a warning sign when I woke up on Saturday with a maddening desire for Real Breakfast. If I'd been clever, I would have gone back to bed. But nooooooo. I wanted to MAKE something to eat!

Specifically, I wanted to make pancakes. (This was convenient, as after rooting around in the fridge I determined that pancakes were the only thing we had the ingredients on hand for.) Even more specifically, I wanted to make gingered pancakes, which I'd had at a diner in Austin, and just couldn't stop thinking about.

(My, what's that? Could it be a whiff of impending doom?)


In a stunning display that proves that I should not be allowed near a source of flame before I've had my morning coffee, I managed to more or less fuse a layer of the non-stick spray that I was using to the frying pan (I know, it sounds weird), filling the house with smoke and turning the inside of my pan a rather terrifying shade of black. Yep, the world's biggest fan of slow and low turned the heat up too high and made her kitchen smell like the green room at a beauty pageant--melted, smoky, and stinking to high heaven. It's a miracle I didn't set the whole place on fire.

Catastrophe was averted only because Bench heroically disconnected my smoke detector before it started screaming, and managed to calm me down when all the pancakes started turning black, too. Not exactly burnt, just black on the outside. Yeah. Suffice it to say, not my finest moment.

Fortunately, there was redemption: even though they looked like hockey pucks, they were fluffy, spicy, and delicious--perfect.

So, lesson learned: turn down the heat, invest in a nonstick griddle. Simplicity itself. However, the next time I'm craving gingered pancakes, I think it would be best for all involved if I made them for dinner instead; I'll leave breakfast to Bench, who is quite a glad hand with scrambled eggs. You, I think, don't need to be so cautious--if you have a good grasp of what your stove is capable of (or a more highly evolved self-preservation instinct), I recommend you make these as often as possible.

Gingered half wheat pancakes

1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 egg
1c buttermilk
2 tbsp melted butter
Seeds of 1 vanilla pod (you can substitute in 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
2tsp (or more) ground ginger
  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Add the egg and buttermilk; mix well
  3. Add the melted butter.
  4. Cook a quarter cup at a time on a lightly oiled griddle (or nonstick pan)--the pancakes will be about 3.5-4in in diameter. Flip when bubbles start to form in the center.
  5. Serve with bacon and maple syrup (or fresh fruit. or anything, really.)
As an aside, next time i'll probably spice things up with a little crystallized ginger...but I bet they'd be awesome with blueberries, too.

Computerless and purple

I'm out a computer this week (because This One is out a computer and therefore needs to work on the laptop I've been borrowing from him since mine started making scary black kernel-panic screens every time you type the letter "L"...)

As far as cooking goes, we made the purple potatoes from our CSA last night. I was expecting the color to fade once they were peeled and cooked...but no, they made totally lavender mashed potatoes (with goat cheese, bien sur!) He said the purpleness was a good thing in his book, but I thought they were kind of weird. Served them under juicy shoulder-blade lamb chops, which are definitely a rugged cut. They're less than half the price of loin chops, though, which is great if you're willing to deal with dissecting them. Not really dinner-party material, but delicious with a nice glass of red wine.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Scent of Fall: Pear and Ginger Crumble

Some Sundays are so perfect—nearly to the point of being painful. It was so warm in the morning that we claimed an outside table at a nearbye cafe, took our sweaters off and sat in tank tops and teeshirts, bare arms drinking in the sun—can it be late October?

After the dog parade I couldn't resist the call of the little Sunday greenmarket, choosing a pile of burnished red Anjou pears and some battered looking yellow Bartletts. To my surprise, the scratched up Barletts peeled beautifully, and were ripe and perfumed, while the Anjous were a little crunchier, and less sweet.

Crumble/crisp was one of the first recipes I learned to improvise on, so usually I make these pretty much from memory. But I'd seen this recipe for Pear Crumble with Crystallized Ginger online, so I started from there, adding a few crushed gingersnaps to the topping and a little vanilla to the fruit. I substituted whole wheat flour for half of the topping flour, and made only a 9 x 9 square crisp (cutting the topping quantities in half.)

Sitting in the late afternoon light, reading the paper while the crisp baked, I was hit with a rush of scent. I am not exaggerating, this crisp might be the single best-smelling creation to have ever graced our kitchen. I had to make myself take it out of the oven—I wanted to bake it all evening, if only the scent could keep going. (Of course, then the handle fell off my oven, and then I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get it out...)

A warm scoop of this at the end of the day after a walk in the West Village and a few slices of John's pizza was pretty wonderful. Though a little dulce de leche on top wouldn't hurt. And I might try to add more of an acidic bite next time—replace half the pears with apples, or add cranberries to the mix. Once it cooled off, the pear-and-vanilla combo was a bit too much like the canned pears of childhood memory. But those didn't smell nearly as good.

Pear Crumble with Crystallized Ginger
Adapted from Bon Appetit (Oct 1998)

For topping
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour (or all white if you prefer)
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup (packed) muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
5 gingersnaps, crushed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I microwaved it a minute to soften it.)

For filling
About 3-4 pounds firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar (we don't like crisp too sweet)
1 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1-2 teaspoons unbleached all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 9 x 9 baking dish. Mix first 8 ingredients in medium bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingertips or a fork until moist clumps form.

Combine pear slices and lemon juice in baking pan. Add remaining ingredients and toss to blend.

Sprinkle topping over. Bake crumble until pears are tender and topping is golden brown and crisp, about 45 minutes. (Start checking at 30 minutes) Cool at least 10 minutes. Serve warm. (Microwave if it's cooled off—this was not as good at room temperature.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

it's an epidemic! tilapia with slow-roasted tomatoes.


Before I begin: remember what I said about how Maggie and I seem to be on the same culinary wavelength? Remember? Well. It's happened again. WHILE I WAS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COUNTRY. I can think of three explanations for this:

1. Genius is coast to coast.
2. Maggie and I are joined at the brain.
3. Memes are actually airborne.

Take your pick.

Now! Having said that, let's talk tomatoes and tilapia. I made this little delight as a sort of farewell to the bay area--a last meal on the way out of town. (Also to make sure that R didn't regret putting us up for a night and then driving us to the airport after a fuel truck explosion shut down the 880.) The inspiration came squarely from my mother and her prodigious tomato patch, widely and intimidatingly grown from the time we planted it who knows how many years ago.


This once feeble little patch is all grown up. It looms. It lurks. It has taken over an entire quadrant of the garden, and provides my mother with more tomatoes than she has any clue what to do with. And, not just any tomatoes--some of the sweetest, most delightful little lycopene bombs you could ever hope to meet. When we arrived in Sonoma county, every available surface in my mother's huge kitchen was covered in the bounty--tomatoes as far as the eye could see. We spent four days snacking prodigiously upon them, and our exit visas were contingent upon bringing a tub of them with us.

Though we did actually entertain the notion of bringing them all the way back to the east coast with us, logic ultimately prevailed and we decided to use them to cook for R instead of trying to haul them through airport security (I mean, what if they didn't survive the flight? Or were confiscated? IT DOESN'T BEAR THINKING ABOUT). So, this is what we came up with: it's flavorful, healthy, and with a little advance planning could easily be adapted for a ludicrously quick weekday dinner. Win!


Baked tilapia with slow-roasted tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes (at least a pint)
3-4 medium shallots, finely diced
handful fresh basil, roughly torn
3-4 tilapia fillets
red wine vinegar
1 tbsp butter
olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Halve the larger tomatoes, but leave the smaller ones (i.e., anything that would be difficult to slice in half) whole; toss them into a baking dish and drizzle them with a little olive oil. Bake for two hours (or more!)--until they are withered and sweet and irresistible.
  2. When the tomatoes are done, remove them from the oven and crank up the heat to about 375 degrees. Coat the tilapia with a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Bake for about eight minutes, or until the flesh is firm and opaque.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat; using the butter, saute the shallots until they are translucent; turn off the heat, and add the tomatoes, basil, and a little salt and pepper (and another glug of red wine vinegar, if you're feeling festive).
  4. Serve the tomato sauce over the tilapia; it goes nicely with some couscous and sauteed spinach.

notes from the wine country


howdy, campers! did you miss me?

I'm back from way out west and would like to thank everyone who sent me such fantastic suggestions as to things to see and do and taste; I hate to admit that I didn't follow a single suggestion (mea culpa! mea culpa!). I meant to, I really did! I had all these ideas about how this trip was going to turn out, all these thoughts of the new and exciting things we'd do and try...


...instead, the trip became (as my trips back to California typically do) a whirlwind of family and friends; though we managed to get out and see a few things (and get nicely drunk in the alexander valley), for the most part the trip was spent introducing Bench to my mother, learning to grill, driving a mini cooper and catching up with my past. I did cook a little, and I will share what I've learned shortly. Re-entry into real life has been a little bumpy, and I need a couple minutes to put my thoughts together.

Having said that..Hi! It's great to see you! Stay tuned for more mischief in the kitchen!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quick Roast Tomatoes for Procrastinators

There's a reason everyone was talking about slow-roasted tomatoes. Starting with Molly's article in Bon Appetit, and then the Amateur Gourmet, and the Wednesday Chef, and then, as these things often go, everyone. I was a little slow on the uptake—I kept meaning to buy those last roma tomatoes in the farmer's market, I kept meaning to set aside a Sunday for slow-roasting. These tomatoes have been on my mind.

But I didn't follow directions. Here we are, weeks later, and I didn't buy those tomatoes. It's gotten cold for real. Our heat isn't working yet (I think the thermostat needs batteries—you're on that, right, Matt?) and I may dig out a hat for my walk to work tomorrow. But we didn't miss our chance—even procrastinators can have roast tomatoes for dinner.

Realizing that my time was running out, I grabbed a container of grape tomatoes at Trader Joe's. They would have to do. (Did you know TJ is selling Hatch chilies now? I got a bunch of those, too, for later.) I didn't follow Molly's recipe—I actually didn't look it up again tonight before cooking. There wasn't time for slow roasting, though I'm sure slow roasting is sublime and concentrates the flavor in a way that this didn't. But this quick and dirty effort to conjure up some of the flavors that everyone's written about was absolutely a success. Soft, sweet, and velvety. Stirring a bit of fresh goat cheese into the sauce upped the luxury factor, mingling with the tomato juices and coating the strands of bucatini lightly. It was shockingly quick and shockingly good.

Sneak this one in. You still have time.

Bucatini with Quick Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce
Serves 2

1/2 lb bucatini pasta
1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
olive oil
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of sugar
fresh herbs (about a tablespoon, ripped up...I used rosemary, oregano, sage.)
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons soft goat cheese
1 or 2 slices proscuitto, cut into 1-inch pieces
pecorino for grating on top

Preheat oven to 350. Spread halved tomatoes evenly in a baking pan, sprinkle liberally with oil and herbs, stirring to coat. Add salt, pepper, and sugar evenly. Bake 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. In the meantime, cook pasta to al dente and drain, retaining a tablespoon or two of pasta water. When tomatoes are cooked, add proscuitto, pasta and reserved pasta water to the baking pan. Stir in goat cheese, mixing the sauce together to get a light coating on the bucatini. Serve with grated pecorino and extra pepper.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mario Batali's Lemon Goat Cheese Cheesecake

Q: Goat cheese cheesecake? That sounds weird. Does it taste goaty?
A: The goat flavor is indiscernable in the final cake. It's rich and creamy and complext, but not goaty. Trust Mario Batali, won't you?

Q:What are you, some kind of cheesecake expert?
A: Hardly. This was the first cheesecake I've made in my life.

Q: Isn't it pretty complicated?
A: Actually, no. I've always been intimidated, which is why it's taken me this long to try. Cheesecake: the final frontier. But it turns out it's pretty much mix, pour, bake. You just need a lot of goat cheese.

Q: But don't I need some kind of fancy stand mixer?
A: Uh, yes? Feel free to buy me one. (Actually, you don't need one for this, really. I did it with a cheapo electric hand mixer and a good ol' spatula. You need two big bowls. I'm not sure I'd attempt it without the hand mixer though, unless you're pretty buff.)

Q: What about the water bath? And that weird pan with the sides that come off? How do you keep the cake from falling out of that weird pan?
Springform pans are actually pretty neat. I bought a "no-leak" one with a little rim around the bottom which supposedly keeps the batter from leaking out and the water from leaking in. It worked beautifully. You place the filled pan into a larger baking pan (my roasting pan was the only thing big enough) and put some water in it. Then just place in the oven without tipping the water worries! When the cake is done, it rests a bit and then the whole pan, sides and all, goes in the fridge. There, the cake actually shrinks away from the sides a little, so it's no big deal to remove them by loosening the little latch (/spring). Easy as...cake. The bottom won't fall out as long as the latch is tight, I promise.

Q: Would this work for a dinner party? I bet my guests would be pretty impressed.
A: Better than you can even imagine—this actually really benefits from resting overnight in the fridge. It condenses a bit, and the flavors mingle, and I think it may have actually gotten creamier the second day.

Lemon Goat Cheese Cake
Mario Batali (Babbo Cookbook)
Serves 8

1 1/4 cups sugar, plus more for the pan
6 eggs, separated
1 1/2 pounds fresh/soft goat cheese (Mario prefers Coach Farm. I think his wife's family owns that dairy. I used a giant log from East Village Cheese that was certainly not that fancy and cost $2.99/pound. This is a LOT of goat cheese. Seriously, more than you've ever seen in one place before.)
2 tablespoons light rum
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (this actually took 3 small lemons for me, so buy accordingly.)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh raspberries for topping. (I skipped these but I'd bet they'd be delicious. And would make for better photographs.)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Spray an 8-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle the bottom and sides with sugar, shaking out the excess. (Maggie's note: I used a smear of butter instead of spray, and a 9-inch springform, which worked totally fine.)

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or with a hand mixer) beat the egg yoks and 1 cup sugar until the yolks are very pale. Slowly beat in the goat cheese, one cup at a time. Add the rum, flour, lemon zest, 1 T of the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt and beat until creamy.

3. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites (I used the hand mixer) with a pinch of salt until foamy. Slowly add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and continue whisking until you have a soft-peaked meringue. Working in two batches, gently fold the whites into the cheese mixture. Do not overmix.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan in a baking dish (or roasting pan) large enough to contain it comfortably. Pour enough hot water into the baking dish to reach approximately 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Cover the entire bakin dish with aluminum foil and carefully place it on the middle rack of the oven.

5. Bake for 35 or 40 minutes, or until the cake begins to rise slightly and is somewhat set. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until the cake looks set. Remove the cake/baking dish from the oven and allow the cake to cool IN the bakign dish for several minutes.

6. Meanwhile, combine the remaining lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil rapidly for one minute, or until the mixture has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

7. When the cake has cooled sligtly, remove the pan from the baking dish. Refrigerate the cake until completely chilled. Remove the sides of the springform pan, then spoon the lemon syrup over the cake to glaze. (We chilled the cake overnight with the glaze on it, allowing the lemony goodness to soak in. This REALLY is better served a day later.) Cut into wedges and serve with berries.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Easy Brunch Dish: Kitchen-Sink Frittata

Sunday breakfast was always observed in my house growing up. My mom made eggs (fried or scrambled with herbs), my dad toasted bagels, and fresh orange and grapefruit juice was squeezed. With the New York Times and the Oregonian scattered across the table, we read and ate and enjoyed the sunlight streaming through the dining room window.

Brunch in our apartment is a more haphazard affair. Sometimes it's just us, but sometimes we invite a whole crowd, and (shhh—don't tell my mom) drinking is involved. I've tried many different brunch recipes, but the best ones come from Marc Meyer's Five Points brunch cookbook. (I've just added the book to our Amazon widget on the right side of this page.) Brunch at Five Points is a real treat, but these recipes allow you to churn out pretty much the same thing at home for a fraction of the price.

Marc Meyer's frittatas are crisp and quite thin. The basic recipe has you sauté your fillings, then add eggs and cook on the stovetop until the underside solidifies. Then throw in the broiler or oven to cook through and crisp the top—it's really easy. Most importantly, frittatas are an easy way to use up whatever's in your fridge—greens, mushrooms, can add herbs or olives, etc, etc. To lighten it up a bit, I sometimes use egg whites for some of the eggs—it's important that there are enough eggs to wrap your fillings a bit, so a few extra egg whites can help with the volume without the dish leaving you comatose on the couch all day (those mimosas may be another story.) These multiply well—use a bigger pan, more eggs, more veggies, etc. Keep it thin, though—the final product should be less than an inch high.

Kitchen-Sink Frittata
Adapted from Marc Meyer

Olive Oil
About 2 cups greens or veggies (today I used onions and kale, but mushrooms, tomatoes, really anything will work.) You can also add fresh or dried herbs.
Meat (optional—half a sliced sausage, a chopped up piece of proscuitto, bacon, etc.)
about 1 cup cheese, grated or crumbled (I did a mix of asiago and goat cheese, but the sky's the limit)
Eggs (for two people, I used 2 eggs and 4 egg whites, but it depends on the size of your pan and the amount of your vegetables. Be ready to use 8-10 eggs if you're feeding 4 people.)
handful of panko
freshly ground pepper

In a cast-iron pan, sauté meat if using (though for proscuitto I would leave it as is and add later.) Add vegetables, cook through. Beat eggs lightly with cheese. Preheat broiler. Pour eggs into pan and smooth around so it's evenly distributed and there are no areas without eggs. Cook on medium heat for a minute or two until the bottom is slightly set. Sprinkle panko (or parmesan) on top, broil for 4 minutes or so, moving around to brown evenly. Top should be golden. Slice and serve.

Friday, October 17, 2008

We interrupt this broadcast...

Howdy, campers!

I'm going to be heading Way Out West for a week or so, which pretty much means I'm not going to be posting (though I'll certainly try).

In the meantime, I leave you in the very capable hands of the lovely Maggie.

Hopefully I'll have a tale or two to spin upon my return; if you have any suggestions as to where to go in San Francisco or the Sonoma county area, drop me a line!

Have a great week, everyone (and don't forget to check in with us)!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bowl of Comfort: Ricotta Meatballs

It's going around. That cold I had last week, yes, but that's not what I meant. And not the financial stress we're all feeling, nerves about the election, everything we have to get done for work—not that exactly, though maybe they're related. What's going around is the need for meatballs. See here. And here. Et cetera.

Hi there! Aren't you cute!

Rolling these little guys around in my two almost-perfectly-seasoned cast iron pans did make me feel a little better. (Those nearly-nonstick the-old-fashioned-way pans really do make me feel accomplished.) I spent the afternoon at the dentist, and despite the genuine friendliness of their new hygienist, it wasn't what I'd call fun.

But getting Matt to join me in rolling tiny meatballs and simmering them in deep mushroomy soup was just the ticket. Adding a few good friends to our couch didn't hurt.

I followed this recipe on a great blog I recently discovered, but couldn't keep myself from making a few tweaks to use what I had on hand. Shitakes were expensive at the store, so I collected just a few of them along with 5 or so big portobello mushroom caps. I wanted a deep, earthy soup, and had a frozen puck of bison stock from the Farmer's Market already around. After sautéing the mushrooms, I added the stock, some water (that stuff is pretty potent) and a can of chicken broth and let it simmer.

For the meatballs themselves, I opted out of veal (not popular in our crowd) and instead combined turkey, beef, and lamb. I used whole milk ricotta, but not the cream the recipe called for. Instead of parsley, I added assorted fresh herbs. It's hard to know what you're getting when you pick herbs from your balcony in the dark, but I ended up with a handful of basil, sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. It simmered, and then we ladled it all onto some gnocchi. The deep mushroom broth soaked into the meatballs and the gnocchi and we sat and drank and were together. We're hoping for the best.

Ricotta Meatballs in Mushroom Pecorino Broth
Adapted from Bitchin Camero

Serves 4 or 5

1 pint strong beef/bison stock
1 pint water (or less if your stock isn't strong)
1 can low salt chicken broth
1 Pecorino Romano cheese rind
1 tbsp. butter
5 shitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
5 large portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced
1/3 lb. ground sirloin
1/3 lb. ground lamb
1/3 lb. ground turkey
8 oz. ricotta cheese (I used whole milk because it was organic)
1/2 cup panko
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup + 1 T milk
1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs, chopped
sprinkle each dried oregano and dried basil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour (any kind you have on hand)
3 tbsp. canola or olive oil
more cheese for grating

In a 6-quart dutch oven, sauté mushrooms in butter until fragrant and cooked. Pour in the stock and broth, and water, and add the cheese rinds. Stir, scraping any mushroom bits from the bottom of the pan, and let simmer.

While the broth simmers, make your meatballs. In a large bowl, combine the meat, panko, salt, pepper, milk, herbs and garlic. Mix everything together lightly, trying not to compact the meat.
Once everything is combined, place a large piece of waxed paper next to your workspace and put the flour on a plate. Roll the meatballs lightly in the palm of your hand—don't make them too big. Then roll them in the flour. Place your meatballs on the waxed paper as you go.

When your meatballs are made, heat a large cast iron skillet (or two!). Once the pan is hot, add a bit of olive oil oil, then gently place the meatballs in the skillet, making sure the pan isn’t over-crowded. You want to work in batches here to make sure your meatballs brown evenly. Add more oil between batches.

When they’re browned on all sides, place the meatballs in the broth. Let the broth and meatballs simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. Make gnocchi or pasta for serving.

Sprinkle individual portions with freshly grated pecorino.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Overcoming a fear of poultry: Chicken marsala with mushrooms


You probably won't believe this, but Maggie and i don't typically compare notes on what we plan to cook until well after the fact, which is why it's tremendously amusing to me when we find ourselves riffing on similar themes (fig week being a perfect example). This week, it seems, we're all about sage. Admittedly, I'm pretty frequently all about sage. It's a star player in my pumpkin risotto, and for some reason always reminds me of home. It also figures pretty prominently on my take on Chicken Marsala; as Maggie pointed out in her pumpkin orzo post, sage is kind of bitter, which makes it an excellent foil for the sweetness of the fortified wine.

This is a recipe I've been kicking around for a while without actually getting the hang of it; mainly because I have spent most of my adult life harboring a fear of cooking poultry (dude, salmonella!) which has resulted in a long and varied history of dry and flavorless chicken dishes. This one was no exception--until now.

I'm not entirely sure what happened; probably something to do with my decision to make it more of a stew than it typically is, as well as the replacement of the boneless, skinless breasts of previous attempts with rich and savory chicken thighs. The decision to cook it all slow and low (a lesson my adventures with pulled pork clearly taught me well) may have helped, too. I won't point to any one factor, but I will say this: whatever it was, it worked, and I found myself with the luscious marsala I'd been chasing all these years.

I think that next time, I might take it a little further and make it into a casserole--a nice, herby biscuit top might be a nice juxtaposition--or perhaps an actual chicken pie, with a nice buttery crust (of course, I have to figure out how to make THAT, too, but what's life without a challenge?)

(and suggestions welcome, of course)


Chicken marsala, fear-of-poultry style

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 oz shiitake mushrooms (stemmed and sliced)
8 oz baby bella mushrooms (stemmed and sliced)
1 medium-sized onion (halved and sliced)
1 c marsala wine (Note: use real, unsalted marsala. An acceptable cooking vintage is about $5, and vastly superior to the stuff you can get in the grocery store)
1 c chicken broth
2-3 tsp fresh sage, minced
1 tbsp butter (optional)
salt and pepper
  1. In a deep skillet, heat up some olive oil and saute the chicken very briefly--just enough to color the outside completely. 2 minutes, tops. Remove from the skillet and set it aside.
  2. Heat up more oil! Reduce heat to medium and sauted the onions until they're translucent.
  3. Add the mushrooms, and continue to saute until they become soft and juicy.
  4. Add the marsala, stirring occasionally until it starts to simmer.
  5. add the chicken broth; again, wait for it to start simmering.
  6. Add the sage, simmer for another minute or two
  7. Add the chicken, reduce the heat to low and then cover, cooking until the chicken is cooked through and delicious--somewhere between 10 and 18 minutes, depending on the size of your pot.
  8. (This part is optional): If you're feeling really enterprising, when everything is cooked, remove it from the pot using a slotted spoon, and make a great sauce by whisking a little flour and butter into the juices that remain. Mix it back in or just pour it over. Or, serve it on its own as something to sop up with a nice piece of bread.
I served this with yesterday's beet salad and a nice whole wheat bread, but i think it would be equally nice with a green salad or some roasted brussels sprouts.

did we tell you that we started a flickr pool? if you have pictures of recipes that you'd like to add, join us here!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Give beets a chance: Simple beet salad.


In Tom Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume, all the characters are (in one way or another) having a love affair with the beet. Most of them don't even realize it; they haven't fallen for the humble vegetable's more obvious charms--the silken flesh, the exquisitely agonizing color, the sweet and earthy taste. Instead, they are unwittingly under the spell of the beet's lesser-used and extremely fragrant pollen, which is apparently the great secret of everlasting life.

Much as I'd love to live forever, I think I'll leave the pollen for the characters and stick with the beet itself. Not only do I find myself drawn to the nearly obscene red finery, but i'm a little in love with the names of the different varietals: Burpee's Golden! Will's Improved Blood Turnip! Albina Veradura! Beta Vulgaris! Don't they just sound like a cross between your crazy aunt and her man-eating tentacula plant?


With visions of that strange mental picture dancing in my head, I set about making a simple beet salad for Sunday's supper. Seriously, seriously simple. Three ingredients simple. And perfect for a transitional fall night--tangy, creamy, velvety...and guaranteed to stain anything it comes into contact with, so really and truly: try to have some latex gloves on hand while handling these things. Unless Lizzie Borden is your new fashion statement, that is.

Bingo Pajama would approve.


Seriously simple beet salad

4-5 medium sized beets (about the size of your fist)
Goat's cheese (a nice creamy chevre, ideally. I used what was leftover from the figs)
Balsamic vinegar
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees; wrap your beets firmly and individually in foil. When the oven hits temperature, pop in the beets and roast them for about 45 minutes, or until soft. DO NOT peel them first. Doing so will deprive you of the fun part.
  2. When the beets are done, let them cool until they can be handled comfortably. Snap on your latex gloves and rub the skins off. It will look gory. I am not kidding about the gloves.
  3. When peeled, cut them into 1-inch chunks (or so), swish them around with some balsamic vinegar (according to your personal taste). Some salt and pepper, too, if you're so inclined. Then, crumble the goat's cheese on top and you're in business!
I know beets aren't everyone's cup of tea, but i do encourage you all to try this, at least once.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dinner for One: Pumpkin Orzo with Sage

Our current domestic arrangement leaves me in New York on my own a few nights a week. This has its downsides, clearly. Things are better when he's around. I have trouble sending myself to bed on time, and there feels like less differentiating my day alone at a desk from my evening in the apartment. On the upside, though, I can watch all the bad television I can handle and eat whatever appeals to me without worrying about another person's preferences. Often, these meals involve eggs (which Matt dislikes) and/or bacon (which he could take or leave.) Carbonara is a favorite. Roasted cauliflower with a fried egg on top got me through last winter. But this one he would have liked.

Like many of you, I've been watching Spain: On the Road Again on PBS, so Mario Batali was on my mind. This recipe was inspired by his Pumpkin Orzo recipe in the Babbo cookbook. Instead of following his instructions, which include making homemade pumpkin or squash purée, cooking orzo in boiling water, cooling it in an ice bath and then letting it dry on a baking sheet (geez!) I decided to simplify. Remembering Clotilde's method for absorbtion pasta, I simply prepared this as if it was risotto. It yielded a velvety pasta that was quite integrated into a thick pumpkiny sauce, almost a pasta pudding, with vibrant savory notes thanks to the balsamic and the sage.

The sage plant on our balcony has spread to fill a huge planter that the previous tenant left behind. Try as I might, it's hard to use that much sage. Sage is strong, even to the point of bitterness, and there are only so many olive-oil fried sage leaves one can eat. (Though those are awesome, like sagey potato chips!) I do think sage is essential in this dish, though Mario did not include it in the Babbo recipe—sage really stands up to the pumpkin flavor, preventing this from becoming another pumpkin dish that could easily fill a pie. After tasting the combination, I found myself out on the balcony tearing out more leaves to rip up and sprinkle onto my plate. Don't skip the sage!

Pumpkin Orzo with Sage
Adapted from Mario Batali
Serves 2

Splash olive oil
1 T butter
2 shallots
1 cup orzo
3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable if you're avoiding meat)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 T honey
2 T balsamic vinegar
4 sage leaves, ripped, plus 10 or so for garnish (don't skip!)
pinch brown sugar
1-2 cups hot water, if necessary
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat chicken stock and wine together until lightly simmering. Saute onions in butter and olive oil in a medium sized pot until soft (I used a six-quart enameled dutch oven, which worked quite well.) Add orzo and 4 sage leaves and stir, cooking 1 minute. Add stock/wine mixture by the ladleful, stirring constantly and pausing to let the stock absorb as you would for risotto. After you've added about half the stock, stir in the pumpkin, honey, balsamic, and sugar. Keep adding stock until it's gone, letting the pasta absorb. After 8-10 minutes, check the progress of the pasta. Add hot water if necessary, ladleful at a time, until pasta is cooked. Sauce will be quite thick. Sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish each serving with ripped sage leaves.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Grilling in October: Yogurt Marinated Lamb Kabobs

In New York, we have a lot to be thankful for. We walk everywhere, and there's a great public transportation system. We have fabulous restaurants and theater and art, great places to shop, and interesting people all around us. What we don't have is cheap space, and we pay dearly for the closet-sized apartments we cram ourselves into. I am fully aware that it's ridiculous. That said, the little closet that Matt and I share is pretty fabulous. We even have a little balcony with a miniature baby grill (almost the same size as the portable stoves I used to take camping in Oregon.) Trying to use up the last of the propane before winter, we devised a grilled meal that was definitely worth repeating. After a week or so of flubs, disappointments, and bloopers in the kitchen, this dinner was so delicious Matt couldn't help but swear between bites.

The butcher at Whole Foods deserves much of the credit—he recommended boneless leg of lamb for the kabobs, and even sliced them to the correct size for me. All I had to do was thread them onto the skewers, marinade, and grill!

Two hours before dinnertime, I picked a few handfuls of oregano and mint from the struggling plants on the balcony. (That mint is really a fighter, though. It lasted through last winter and I expect it'll make it through this one, too.) I ground the oregano in a mortar and pestle with curry powder, a few cloves of garlic, salt, and za'atar, a middle eastern spice blend that includes sumac and sesame seeds. Mixed with yogurt, a squeeze of spicy Sriracha, and a little splash of olive oil, this made the perfect marinade for the lamb.

Meanwhile, I stirred some nonfat Greek yogurt into crumbled feta with the mint to create a sauce, adding lemon juice and zest to brighten it up a little. Not only was this perfect for the lamb, it also was shockingly delicious spread on the Honey-Garlic Grilled Eggplant we made as an accompaniment. (Recipe here.)

It's getting dark earlier now, but fall in New York is beautiful—perfect, really—and it's worth taking a moment to sit outside before it's time to dig in the back of our tiny closets for our scarves and earmuffs. Might as well turn on the grill while you're at it.

Yogurt Marinated Lamb Kabobs
Serves 3, or 2 with leftovers for lunch
1 1/4 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into cubes
2 cloves garlic, smashed
pinch kosher salt
1 T fresh oregano
1 teaspoon za'atar, divided
pinch curry powder
1 individual serving container plain nonfat yogurt
glug of olive oil
squeeze of Sriracha

Thread lamb onto metal (or soaked bamboo) skewers and place in a nonreactive pan. In a mortar and pestle, grind garlic and salt to a paste with fresh oregano. Add 1/2 tsp za'atar and curry poweder and blend. Mix in yogurt, oil, and sriracha and spread onto lamb, massaging it in between chunks and on all sides. Sprinkle remaining za'atar over the top and refrigerate two hours. Grill to desired doneness, do not over cook. Serve with Lemony Yogurt Feta sauce and Honey Garlic Grilled Eggplant.

Lemony Yogurt Feta Sauce
1/3 cup feta, cut or crumbled roughly
1 individual-serving container nonfat Greek yogurt, such as Fage
1 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
juice and zest of half a lemon

Mix all ingredients in order, breaking up feta until smoothly combined.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sad Loaf: Mark Bittman's Fast No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread

How was it for you?
Did anybody try Mark Bittman's faster version of his No-Knead Bread?
And the whole wheat version?

I was excited—I've actually never made yeast bread before, and I heard the original no-knead recipe was pretty foolproof. Cynical Matt, of course, was quick to point out the abundance of bakeries in New York City that are perfectly capable of churning out freshly made bread. But I wanted our apartment to smell like yeast! I wanted to be in on the action! I wanted to pull a gorgeous loaf from the oven, and spread a perfect slice with butter, which my no-longer-cynical fiancé would devour and exclaim with glee! But no.

What came out of my oven was sour, yeasty, dense, and spongy. Was it too much liquid? Was it because I used whole wheat bread flour instead of regular whole wheat flour? Was it because I used active dry instead of instant yeast? (I proofed it first, and reduced that liquid from the total amount.) Was the beautiful stoneground rye flour from the farmer's market to blame?

I wonder if this recipe just isn't the best might be worth reducing the yeast, and maybe the liquid, and letting it rise more, or (gasp!) actually involving oneself in some kneading. Maybe I'll try this one next. What's the rush?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

It's fig week! Roasted figs with goat's cheese and prosciutto.

Figs and I have a tempestuous relationship. When it's on, it's ON--I am a slave to the fig's sticky sweetness and hidden depths, and there is nothing that can bar me from its dusky beauty. When it's off, however, the love runs cold, and nary a thought is spared for my dear, figgy friend.

And usually that's fine.

The problem with this strange and mercurial relationship is that far too often when the need descends, fresh figs are nowhere to be found (I blame my inattention; I wouldn't be at my beck and call, either). It happened a few weeks ago, and took me until last Friday to finally source some of the elusive fruit, purchased from a shady vendor on 6th avenue and carefully shepherded through a long evening of whiskey-drinking (except for the part where a crazy dude on 1st avenue tried to trip me with his cane, causing me to lose a few to the east village gutters). It was a challenge, but somehow I managed to get them home and make the salty-sweet treat I'd been planning over the past week: Roasted figs with prosciutto, goat's cheese, and honey.

Let me repeat that: roasted figs with prosciutto, goat's cheese, and honey.

Oh, oh yes.

I'm sure you can understand why I pursued this dream despite the mocking absence of figs; I'm sure many of you can conjure, as I did, the glorious juxtaposition of the syrupy fruit; the creamy, tangy cheese; the salty, chewy prosciutto. You can almost see the honey dripping lasciviously over the top of the snowy peaks, almost smell the irresistible miasma...

...whew, got away from myself for a second there. But if nothing else, that supports my case: if something makes me write like a second-rate Harlequin scribe? It MUST be good.

Roasted figs with prosciutto

12 medium-sized figs, quartered at the top along half the length of the fruit
4 oz chevre
1/4 lb prosciutto, sliced thin
a few tablespoons honey
a few tablespoons balsamic reduction*

The true beauty of this recipe is its simplicity: stuff the figs with the cheese. wrap with prosciutto. drizzle with honey. bake at 400 degrees for ten to fifteen minutes. Drizzle with more honey and balsamic. Share them with a friend for a delicious dinner, or put them on a pretty plate with extra honey to serve as hors d'oeuvres. Or, eat them all yourself. With gusto. And a green salad.

*Balsamic reduction: pour a bottle of balsamic vinegar into a saucepan and boil it until it's reduced by half or more--it will be sweet and decadent, and make everything look super gourmet.

Ta da!

Flub: Fresh Fettuccine with Figs and Gorgonzola

This one wasn't quite the winner I had hoped. In my daydreams, I envisioned a sharp blue cheese bite, countered by the sweetness of tender figs. But maybe last night I didn't have the emotional energy to give this dish the love it needed. The concept is a good one, but the balance of cheese-to-bechamel was off, so the gorgonzola flavor didn't come through enough. Try it yourself—add more cheese.

The fresh fettuccine from Hudson Valley Farmhouse at the Union Square market was delicate and perfect. I will make my own pasta one day, but this is the best I've found for now.

Hey, look, a deal:
Free Saveur (and other) Digital Magazine Subscriptions!
Digital magazine company Zinio is offering free digital subscriptions through this site. Reading online is a little slow, but come on, don't look a gift digital magazine subscription in the mouth...And Saveur's photographs are gorgeous.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

French Onion Soup for the Soul

Even the price of soup bones is up. Sheesh. I wandered around the farmer's market Saturday looking for something to boil for stock—can you believe they can sell bones for more than three dollars a pound? And the poultry stands had been out of necks and backs for hours. Somebody else needed soup, too, I guess. 3-Corner Field Farm to the rescue—lamb bones would have to do.

I made the stock on Sunday, simmering the bones about six hours with carrots and an onion. Monday, I caramelized the onions for at least 45 minutes, deglazing the pot several times with a few drips of Portuguese red wine and incorporating the browned bits into the caramelized onion mass. Tuesday, this made the perfect quick slow-cooked dinner. Rather than making up individual bowls, I floated the croutons on the soup right in the dutch oven, topping with Emmenthaler cheese.

After fifteen minutes in a hot oven, the cheese browned and we dipped in. The broth was rich and full, but not gamey—with all the onions, wine, etc, a blind taster would never guess that I used lamb bones for the stock. Miles better than canned, though.

Perhaps "tightening our belts" isn't the right term for a meal that involves at least a half-pound of cheese, but this one was easy on the budget, and soothing to make and eat.

French Onion Soup
Riffing on this and this recipe.
Serves 4

For the soup
2 T olive oil or—better—a mix of olive oil and butter.
6-8 large onions—a mix of red and yellow, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
Kosher salt
1 cup red wine, plus a little extra for deglazing
1/3 cup bourbon (sherry or cognac if you have it.)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
6 cups lamb stock (or a mix of beef and chicken broth)
3 springs thyme, leaves only
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper

For the croutons
3/4 of one small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 lb Emmenthaler cheese, grated in long strips if possible

Place the butter and olive oil in a 6-qt dutch oven and add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook gently, at medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. Move onions to the side of the pot and pour a teaspoon or so of red wine where the onions have stuck, scraping the brown bits from the pan and incorporating them into the onions and letting the wine evaporate. Continue cooking, repeating the deglazing every few minutes‚ a total of about 5 times. Cook until the onions are very soft and brown, 45 min to an hour total.

Stir in the bourbon (or sherry) and cook until it evaporates. Add broth, remaining wine, thyme, bay leaf, a pinch of salt, scraping up any remaining brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring in the vinegar halfway through. Remove bay leaves, add salt and pepper to taste. (At this point, I cooled the soup and refrigerated overnight, allowing the flavors to meld. Also, it was late by this point. And I'd already eaten.)

Return soup to a simmer. Preheat oven to 450. Arrange bread slices on a baking sheet and dry out slightly in the oven, about 8 minutes. Turn off stovetop and arrange croutons on surface of the soup. Gently sprinkle in the cheese. Cook for 10-15 minutes in oven, uncovered, or until cheese is golden. You could do this with a broiler if you didn't have one of those stupid under-the-oven ones.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Signs of fall: Pumpkin bread.

This recipe is a shout out to one of our lovely readers, who not long ago asked us for suggestions on how to best use her fabulous homemade pumpkin puree. As a certifiable pumpkin junkie, I have one or two suggestions to offer on this subject, but this delightful pumpkin bread seemed the best place to start: it's easy, it's luscious, it's delicious, AND it's low fat (I mean, if that sort of thing matters much to you). Great for gifts, potlucks, breakfast, afternoon snacks, and mopping up that pesky leftover dulce de leche from the other week.

Also, it has enough spice in it to blow a small country off the map; this is, i assure you, intentional.

pay no attention to the horrible state of my manicure. thanks. Photo courtesy of The Boy, my beloved Thelonious Bench

So without further adieu...

Spicy pumpkin bread

1 ½ c all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (equal parts; i don't even measure these anymore, but if i had to guess i'd say at least 2 tsp of each)
15oz of pumpkin puree (if you've not got homemade, that equates to about one can of pumpkin from the store)
1c firmly packed light brown sugar
½ c buttermilk
1 large egg
1x1.5-in knob of ginger, grated with your trusty microplane
seeds of one vanilla pod (squirrel away the husk for future use; when I come up with a good use for it, I will post it. But until then, waste not, want not!)

a handful or two of white chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. spray a loaf tin with nonstick spray (or butter it. Whatever.)
  2. Mix flour, baking soda, salt, and spices together in a small bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, mix pumpkin, sugar, buttermilk, and egg together.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet, mixing just enough to moisten everything (overmixing will make the bread tough). Fold in chips.
  5. Pour into prepared loaf tin; bake for one hour. Slather with topping (*cough*dulcedeleche*cough*), or just wolf it down as is.
Essentially, what you have here is autumn in loaf form. Use it liberally and wisely.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hazelnutter (or, Penne al Fiorentino with a dash of nostalgia).

For a brief and shining period after my escape from college, I was the Brunch Queen. What this meant was that on any given weekend, I was the undisputed master of wrangling up to twenty of my nearest and dearest for brunch at a nearby eatery (an endeavor that, as my father would put it, was not entirely unlike herding cats). The food at our favored establishment was, at best, mediocre. But, for $12.95 with bottomless drinks included, we reappeared faithfully, with a rotating cast of boyfriends, girlfriends, and food obsessions.

My perennial favorite was the penne al fiorentino, lush and green and rich with ricotta and spinach.

As the brunch klatch fell apart (some say it was that we grew up; others that the restaurant started watering down the drinks more than was excusable), I found myself patronizing this eatery less and less...but I never forgot the penne. Despite the fact that during the period in which i loved it, my palate was not sophisticated enough to really parse its flavors, I promised myself that I would make it for myself someday...or perhaps even something better.

Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon. I find myself at my desk, mentally inventorying the contents of my fridge in preparation for the evening. Among other things, I come up with: half a container of ricotta cheese, a gorgeous bundle of fresh sage, some hazelnuts and half a bag of baby spinach. I.e., the perfect cast of characters to create my new, improved penne al fiorentino. On the way home I also pick up some portobello mushrooms and some asparagus, because much as i enjoy the nutty give of whole wheat pasta, I always love a little textural variation--and the meaty chewiness of the mushrooms and the sweet green crunch of the asparagus are just what the doctor ordered.

When I get home, I toast the hazelnuts in a skillet, enhancing their nutty richness and making the next step of removing the skins far easier: while still hot, just toss them into a tea towel, twist it closed and sort of massage the hazelnuts. The steam from their toasting will loosen the skins, and the friction of contact will start to pull them off. It's not necessary, but it is neat!

(That is the most complicated part of the recipe, I promise.)

Once the nuts are dealt with, all you have to do is pull out your trusty mini-food processor (best $40 i've spent on my kitchen; I can't recommend getting one of your own highly enough) and toss into the bowl: garlic (mass quantities), ricotta, parmesan, spinach, sage, olive oil, and the hazelnuts. Pulse it until it's a heady, green-flecked, aromatic paste. At this time, you may need to summon up every ounce of your personal willpower to resist just shoving it into your mouth by the spoonful--it smells that good.

Meanwhile, cut up your asparagus into inch-long pieces (mushrooms, too); saute the asparagus until it's crunchy, the mushrooms till they're not. Then throw everything (green goodness included) in with an entire box of cooked whole wheat penne.

I promise I won't say a word if you consume the whole pot. I very nearly did.

The concoction bears only a passing resemblance to the pasta of the brunch days--it's gooey and creamy and green and highly addictive, but far more complex and savory--but my nostalgic heart likes to pretend that this is how good it was, when brunch was the highlight of my week, when I was young and poor and innocent and brave.

Penne al Fiorentino, sort of.

1/2 lb shelled hazelnuts
1c ricotta cheese
4-6 cloves garlic
3 good handfuls of baby spinach
small handful fresh sage, roughly torn
1/2 c shredded parmesan cheese
olive oil

1 box whole wheat penne, cooked according to directions

1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2-3 portobello mushrooms, also cut into 1-inch pieces.
  1. In a large skillet, toast the hazelnuts for 2-3 minutes over medium-high heat. Be careful not to burn them--hazelnuts scorch quickly. When they're brown and aromatic, place them in a kitchen towel; twist the towel closed and massage the hazelnuts together vigorously to remove the skins. Discard the skins.
  2. In a food processor, mix together nuts, garlic, ricotta, parmesan, sage, spinach, salt and pepper, moistening with olive oil until it achieves a chunky, paste-like consistency. Tinker with the amounts until it tastes irresistible to you.
  3. Meanwhile, saute your asparagus in a little olive oil and salt over medium-high heat until it is bright green and just tender--just a few minutes. Remove them from the skillet and set them aside.
  4. Reduce the heat, and in the same skillet, saute your mushrooms until they are meaty and juicy; add a dash of balsamic vinegar if a little extra acidity floats your boat.
  5. When everything is juicy and warm and smells so good that you can barely stand it, throw it all together with your freshly cooked and drained pasta--sauce, veg, everything. Garnish it with a little extra parmesan and some chopped hazelnuts. You will not regret it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

onions for dinner

They were just so cute, and I'd just seen the recipe for Balsamic Glazed Cippoline on Smitten Kitchen. Since Matt considers vinegar to be an essential food group, I knew I had to try it.

They cooked up nicely (though the peeling took a long while) and the sauce thickened (with the help of half a cup of spaghetti sauce—brilliant!) to a gloriously rich goo. I seared up a little steak, which we served on polenta with the onions and sauce on top.

The reduced vinegar sauce was velvety and delicious. Accenting the steak perfectly, it mixed with the juices and brought out a sweet tang in the dish, reminding me of demiglace or some other high-effort sauce.

By the end of the meal, though, we both were sort of onioned out. It was a lot of onions, no matter how cute and delicate they were. But I would make the sauce again—maybe with a mix of onions and mushrooms? Sweet and sour portobellos? On lamb? Or salmon, even?

Here is the recipe, adapted from Mario Batali by the amazing Deb at Smitten Kitchen.