Tuesday, August 31, 2004


It turns out that vegetable tortilla stacks = surprisingly difficult to photograph in all their glory.

This isn’t a remarkable recipe; we probably don’t even really need directions telling us to sauté vegetables, put them on tortillas with some cheese, and bake them. It’s mainly in my rotation because I realize one can’t eat pasta every night (although I should add that it's one of A's favorite meals). But it’s easy to make, the combination of vegetables is nice, and it’s a good way to use up things I’ve accumulated from other recipes—in this case, the rest of the tortillas and cheese from last week’s black bean flautas. Sometimes, if I use pepper Jack, this recipe is all about the cheese for me. This time, it mainly became a vehicle to eat as much Trader Joe’s Salsa Especial as I could handle. I’ve never been so excited about a salsa before—where have you been all my life, Salsa Especial?

Apparently, when this recipe says “small tortillas,” it means small tortillas. The ones I had, Trader Joe’s Hand-Made Tortillas, which I like because they almost look like lefse and get nice and bubbly and flaky when they bake, were pretty large, maybe 8 inches in diameter. Hence, I didn’t really have enough vegetables to cover them. (Good thing there was Salsa Especial to mask that fact!) Rather than using dinky snack-size tortillas to match the vegetable proportions, I suggest making maybe 1-and-a-half times what the recipe calls for (which I think I’ll try next time). It doesn’t really need more onion or carrot, but maybe 2 (small to medium) zucchini and 2 large portobellos?

1 tablespoon canola or corn oil
1 red onion, sliced thin (honestly, I usually use about half a medium red onion and that’s enough for me)
1 (or perhaps 2) large Portobello mushroom, cap and stem, sliced thin
2 carrots, cut into thin strips
1 (or perhaps 2) zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced thin crosswise
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
5 ounces (about 1½ cups) grated Monterey Jack cheese
12 small tortillas

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

2. When the oven is hot, put the tortillas directly on the oven racks, fitting as many as possible without overlapping them (my oven is one of those small built-into-the-wall kinds, so I had to bake the tortillas in several shifts). Bake them 2-3 minutes, until they have hardened. Watch them closely—I always forget and they start to get really brown and crispy, which is kind of tasty but really awkward for stacking, and means they just break into a thousand little pieces when you try to slice them into fourths for serving. You just want them to be relatively stiff and firm; they’ll brown a little more in the oven later. Remove the tortillas when they're done, but keep the oven on.

3. While the tortillas are doing their thing, heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When it's hot, add the onion and sauté 3-4 minutes (maybe longer—I like my onions limp), stirring frequently. Then add the mushrooms, carrots, and zucchini, and cook, stirring occasionally, 5-6 minutes (or possibly a little longer) until they're tender. Remove the pan from heat and stirr in the salt and pepper.

4. Next, place 4 of the tortillas on a large baking sheet. (Actually, I could only do 2 at a time because my tortillas were so freaking huge that 4 didn’t fit. But let’s stick with the recipe here.) Arrange a spoonful or two of vegetables on each tortilla, then sprinkle grated cheese over the vegetables (“a small amount of grated cheese,” says the recipe, but I’m slightly more generous; honestly, I don’t even measure the 1½ cups of cheese, I just use however much looks good to me. It’s not like I pile it on or anything, but you want decent cheese coverage). Place another tortilla on top of the cheese for each stack, add another spoonful or two of vegetables, then add more cheese. Top each stack with a third tortilla. Put the baking sheet in the oven until everything is hot, cheese is melted, and tortillas are slightly brown. The recipe says “about 10 minutes,” but for me it’s more like 2 to 5. Perhaps this is because of my problem with overcooking the tortillas the first time around. But also, the vegetables are warm to begin with and melting cheese takes a minute, so I think if you went for 10 minutes you’d end up with briquettes. Just keep an eye on them and take them out when they look done to you.

5. Cut each stack into fourths and serve with salsa for dipping. Mmm...salsa....

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Monday, August 30, 2004


This is a plain, comforting dish, one of my favorites that my mom used to make when I was little. It's reminiscent of macaroni and cheese, but made more healthy and colorful by a bottom layer of spinach. It’s not much trouble to make, involves few ingredients, and is nice and cheesy yet still chock-full of vitamin-rich spinach—what’s not to like? (OK, the cottage cheese might sound weird, but it imparts a wonderful creaminess.) The way the cheese gets all brown on top is the best part. This would make a good side dish, although I always think of it as an entree because I like to eat it by giant bowlfuls.

Photogenic? No. Delicious? Yes!

1 10-to-16-ounce package frozen leaf spinach
4 ounces egg noodles, cooked and drained (I use a bit more)
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup cottage cheese
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. While boiling water to cook the noodles, cook the spinach according to the package directions.

3. Crack the eggs in a large mixing bowl, whisk them together with the milk, then add the cheddar, cottage cheese, salt, and nutmeg, and grind in lots of pepper. Mix everything up and set it aside. When the pasta water boils, add the noodles. When the spinach is defrosted, put it in a colander to cool slightly.

4. When the spinach isn’t scalding hot to touch, squeeze it dry with your hands. (This always annoys me—little spinach pieces get everywhere, and it seems to take forever; every time you think you must be done, more liquid comes out of that freakishly sodden spinach. Still, it’s important to do, or else the casserole will be too watery.)

5. Generously butter a 2-quart casserole dish (I used one that had a lid, but it’s OK to use a lidless one if you have aluminum foil at the ready) and spread the painstakingly drained spinach across the bottom. When the noodles are cooked, drain them and spread them atop the spinach. Give the egg-cheese mixture a final stir and pour it evenly over the noodles, then add a final grinding of pepper, put on the lid (or tin foil), and set the casserole in the oven to bake for 15 minutes.

6. Take off the lid and bake until set and brown. The recipe says this should be about 15-20 minutes more, but I may have gone slightly longer than that in the interest of getting a brown, crusty top. (Use your judgment. You don’t want to dry out the casserole too much, or get it too brown on the bottom.) Take it out of the oven and let it sit about 5 minutes to cool and set, then serve.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes (mostly baking time)

Friday, August 27, 2004


I have my red-and-white-checkered Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook mainly to tell me how to make basic things like pancakes and hamburgers, should the mood ever strike, or to remind me how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon, but occasionally it actually yields a good meal recipe like this one. Last night was the second time I made it, and it confirmed that besides this one (because who can argue with garlic and butter), this is my favorite way to make salmon. It sounded a bit odd to me at first, but cucumber and salmon are a match made in heaven, as sushi so deliciously demonstrates. This is an extremely easy meal—especially on the George Foreman grill—and, yes, it’s light and summery. We had it with very sweet corn on the cob.

You might want to be generous with the measurements when you make the cucumber salsa. I made only two servings of salmon instead of four, but I used the full four-person recipe for the salsa and was glad I did. Granted, we had big honking salmon fillets (I’m too lazy for steaks, with all those bones) from Trader Joe’s that were well over 8 ounces each, and I do love me some cucumbers, so maybe I was using more than the recipe intended. Anyway, I figure it’s better to have too much salsa than not enough, so consider doubling the proportions.

4 6-to-8-ounce salmon steaks, cut 1 inch thick (but I used fillets this time and they were equally good)
1 cup seeded and chopped cucumber (about 1 medium-large cucumber)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sliced green onion (1-2 green onions)
2 teaspoons snipped fresh mint (you may want to use a bit less if the mint is really fresh; I had some from the farmer’s market and it was almost overpowering)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

1. First make the salsa, mixing the cucumber, green onion, and mint in a small bowl with the vinegar and 2 teaspoons oil. Sprinkle in a little salt for good measure.

2. Preheat the grill; rinse the fish, pat it dry, and sprinkle it on all sides with salt and pepper. (The original recipe doesn’t call for any salt or pepper anywhere, which is just silly, so this is my own modification.) In an even smaller bowl, combine the remaining tablespoon of oil with a tablespoon of lemon juice, and brush this generously all over the fish. Grill the fish until it begins to flake, turning once and reapplying more lemon-oil mixture.

3. To finish, put the fish on plates, spoon salsa over it, and squeeze a bit of the remaining lemon over everything.

Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes

Thursday, August 26, 2004


And so I return to the embrace of Pasta e Verdura with this old fave, which I decided to make mainly because I wanted to use the thyme and rosemary I’ve been growing on the patio. This is a hearty recipe and quite unique, not something I ever would have come up with on my own, nor have I seen anything like it elsewhere. And it’s very good, as things involving crispy, garlicky, herby potatoes and creamy cheese tend to be. My only real complaint is that it’s time-consuming, as you have to boil the potatoes before you can fully get started, and everything always seems to take me longer than Jack Bishop thinks it should. Somehow this sucked up all my energy last night, so that making and eating food was about all I accomplished with my evening. But why regret that when the food is this yummy?

2 medium baking potatoes (about 11⁄4 pounds)
salt to taste, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives, oregano, thyme, or rosemary (or preferably a combination of several of these)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound penne pasta

1. Start by bringing several quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan to cook the potatoes. While it's heating, scrub them well under cold running water (you don’t have to peel them). When the water boils, add the whole potatoes and some salt to it and let that cook until the potatoes are soft but not mushy. Jack says “a fork should slide easily into the center.” Jack also says this cooking should take 15-20 minutes, but it always seems to take me longer. (I have trouble getting a perfect consistency of cooked potato; either the center is still white and crunchy or the outside disintegrates when I cut into it. I prefer to err on the side of tenderness, and hence the extra cooking time.)

2. When the potatoes are done, drain them and put them on the cutting board to cool enough to touch. While that's happening, fill a larger pot (about 4 quarts) with salted water for cooking the pasta and put it on the stove to boil. Then put the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet and set it on the stove over medium-high heat. While it heats, cut the potatoes as best you can into 1⁄2-inch cubes. (Most of the skin always seems to come off during this process, and I usually discard it, but you don’t have to take extra care to remove it. Pan-fried potato skin is good.)

3. When the oil is good and hot, add the potatoes and garlic to the pan and fry them, using a spatula to turn them often, until the potatoes are crisp and golden brown on all sides. Jack says “about 15 minutes,” but again, it takes a little longer when I do it (or maybe I was just so hungry at this point that it seemed longer). When the potatoes are browned, add the herbs, 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper and cook everything another minute or so, tossing the potatoes to season them evenly. When they're all done, mix them in a large bowl with the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses.

4. Meanwhile, when the pasta water boils, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it. Reserve 1⁄2 cup of the cooking water before you drain it. Add 1⁄4 cup of that water to the potato-cheese mixture to thin it. Drain the pasta and return it to the empty pot (or put it in the cheese-potato bowl if it’s big enough). Toss the hot pasta with the potato-cheese sauce, adding more cooking liquid as needed (I usually end up using the full 1⁄2 cup, since this isn’t the moistest sauce). Mix well and you’re done.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


I don’t love beans, but black beans are exempt, especially when they’re all seasoned and cooked and smushed up as they are here (cold, whole beans = ewwwww). This recipe is an old standby from my more vegetarian days, and I find it comforting, satisfying, and easy to prepare. Even A, who loves beans even less than I do, consents to eat it, smothered in salsa. “Real” flautas are, of course, fried, so these are more like baked burritos. I like how the tortillas get crisp and toasty, and although they’re less crisp the next day, these still make for good leftovers.

This may be one recipe I wouldn’t describe as “summery.” It’s not a heavy meal by any means, but a warm pot of beans always seems hearty and wintry to me. Plus, unlike so many of the dishes I seem to be making lately, you don’t need your produce to be especially high-quality or in-season. So, eat flautas with impunity all year round.

2 16-ounce cans black beans (including liquid)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
12 6-inch flour tortillas (actually, I usually use the 8-inch variety, and they seem to hold the fillings in better)
6 scallions, white parts plus 2 inches of greens, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (Monterey Jack, plain or with jalapeno peppers, works well here, too)

1. Open the cans of beans and dump all the contents into a medium saucepan, then add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and bay leaf. Simmer all this over low heat for about 10 minutes (maybe a bit longer; I like my beans to break down as much as possible).

2. When the beans seem done, remove the bay leaf. Then drain out most of the liquid from the beans—always a messy procedure, in my experience. Sometimes I’ve just held the lid over the pot to keep the beans in while I’ve poured out the liquid, and sometimes I’ve just poured everything into a strainer. Either way, reserve the bean liquid you drain out (using one of the empty bean cans works well). After draining, mash the beans with a spoon or fork, adding back in some of the bean liquid until you reach your desired consistency. For me, that’s not too paste-like, but not so runny that they’ll leak out of the tortillas while cooking.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and then set up a little assembly line of tortillas, beans, scallions, tomatoes, and cheese. Fill each tortilla with one or two heaping tablespoonfuls of the beans and then top that with scallions, tomatoes, and cheese. (I always have to be careful not to use too much of each ingredient, so there’s enough to fill all the tortillas, but typically I do use a little more cheese than the recipe asks for.) Roll each filled tortilla into a tube shape and place them, seam sides down, in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. When they're all assembled, bake them until they're lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve with salsa if desired.

Serves: 6 (2 flautas per serving)
Time: 45 minutes

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


I got this recipe from, of all places, Martha Stuart Living, and it’s one of my favorites for spaghetti—easy and fabulous. You just have to overlook its central conceit, which is that all of this can supposedly be accomplished without…you guessed it, a knife. Somehow I don’t think Martha tears apart whole tomatoes and blocks of mozzarella with her bare hands, and neither do I. Isn’t that why humanity invented knives in the first place? I suppose if one were marooned on a desert island with only a herd of cows, a pasta machine, a small garden, an olive oil press, and a bottle of red pepper flakes, it might be handy not to need a utensil to prepare this recipe. For everyday life, though, do yourself a favor and use the damn knife. But I keep the title, because I like it.

Anyway, this recipe contains no real surprises—all these ingredients are frequently found together, but they combine so perfectly here and with so many levels of flavor. The cheese gets all nice and melty, plus you can really taste the fresh oregano (an unsung hero of the herb world, in my opinion, totally overshadowed by the tasty but overexposed basil).

1 pound spaghetti
4 medium-to-large ripe tomatoes (about 2 pounds), cored and chopped into ½-inch pieces
½ cup coarsely chopped basil leaves
½ cup olive oil
¼ pound mozzarella, chopped into ½-inch pieces (use the best you can find, from the fancy cheese section of the grocery store—it’s worth it)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped oregano leaves
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper

1. While bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil, mix the tomatoes, basil, mozzarella , oregano, and garlic and put it all in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, red pepper flakes, and generous amounts of salt and pepper to taste. (Martha would like to let you know that the sauce can be made 4-8 hours in advance if you leave out the mozzarella and let it, the sauce, stand at room temperature. I’ve never done this, but I’m sure it would be handy if you were having company, and it would also give the flavors even more time to blend.) Mix everything well.

2. When the water boils, add the spaghetti, cook it until al dente, drain it, and combine it with the tomato mixture (Martha butts in: if you made the sauce in advance, make sure to add the mozzarella at this point). Toss everything together and it's done.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes

Monday, August 23, 2004


Last night was my second time making this recipe taken from Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book, which I checked out of the library a few months ago. I had no idea who Bruce Aidells was when I found the book, but I like sausage (because I find meat unappealing unless it’s very flavorful). As I was shopping for ingredients to make this recipe for the first time, I began perusing the sausage section at the grocery store and immediately noticed…Bruce Aidells brand sausage! This man is obviously some kind of sausage celebrity. So of course, I had to buy his brand. I chose the Cajun-style andouille, and it was great—high-quality and very spicy. I really recommend it, if you can find it, but perhaps it’s only available in California (he seems to be based in San Francisco).

The first time I made this recipe, it boiled over and made a huge mess of both the oven and the baking dish. The food itself was pretty good, but I wasn’t sure if it was worth all the scrubbing. So I still felt like the recipe was on trial this time around: could I make it less problematic? I was generous with the flour (the full 3 tablespoons) and sparing with the milk (I didn’t use quite enough to “cover the mixture in the pan” the way the recipe instructs). I also made sure to cover the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil beforehand to minimize cleanup. The result? It still boiled over, but less. Only a few droplets fell on the bottom of the oven, but sides and top of the pan were still pretty encrusted. Maybe I need a taller baking dish? (I used my rectangular Pyrex, as always.) The food itself came out a little drier and more solid, which I actually liked—less like scalloped potatoes, more like a hash. I also made an important discovery with the bread crumbs; the recipe tries to have you add them before baking, which means they just get all soggy and disappear into the milk, so instead I tried adding them when I removed the cover for the last 15 minutes of cooking, and they turned nice and brown and crisp. Thus, overall, I feel last night’s effort was a success, and I enjoyed eating it—I love leeks, and they melded well with the potatoes and the smoky, spicy sausage. (We had some salad on the side, which rounded out the meal.) You just have to be prepared for some messiness with this recipe…which is why I’m glad it’s A’s job to do the dishes.

Butter to taste
4 cups diced unpeeled red potatoes (about 4 medium-to-large)
1 cup finely chopped leeks (about 3 medium)
½ cup chopped green onions (4 large)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ to 1 pound high-quality smoked sausage (such as kielbasa), chopped
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and rub butter (ah, butter) thoroughly over the inside of a 2-to-3-quart baking dish. Add 2 cups potatoes, 1/2 cup leeks (the firm, white/light green ends only), and 1/4 cup green onions (the white bulbs plus an inch or two of the greens), mix well, and then sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and half the flour.

2. Add all the chopped sausage to the pan. Then spread the remaining potatoes, leeks, and green onions on top. Sprinkle on more salt and pepper, and the remaining flour.

3. Here’s the crucial milk-pouring stage. Bruce says to “pour over enough milk to just cover the mixture in the pan,” but I only pour it to about the same level as the mixture in the pan—so potatoes and things are still visible on top. It’s a delicate balance; you wouldn’t want the dish to be too dry, but it sure does bubble over if there’s too much liquid.

4. Dot the top with butter and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake it, covered, for an hour, until the potatoes are tender. When the hour is up, take the pan out of the oven, remove the foil, sprinkle on the bread crumbs, and stick it back in to bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes more, until the top is brown.

Serves: 4-5
Time: 1½ hours (but most of that is baking time)


I’ve had to consider my methodology a bit, as the new pasta recipe I made on Thursday night didn’t turn out so hot (oh, Pasta e Verdura, you have failed me!). It had all the right elements—tomatoes, spinach, garlic, even red pepper flakes—but somehow they did not succeed in coming together in any transcendent way (I think the word that sprang to mind was “uncompelling”). So I dithered about writing it up. If this recipe diary is intended as a way to recommend recipes, then there’s no point in posting one I find lackluster, is there? Perhaps if the failure had been spectacular enough to be either entertaining or informative, it would be worth describing. But it was just a boring recipe. I suppose someone else might find it tastier than I do (Jack Bishop obviously liked it enough to write about)…so does this site function as a personal record, or a public service? Luckily, before I had to resolve such tough questions, BookCook received its first piece of reader email. Answering this request sounded a lot more fun than writing up last week’s disappointments, so here, in place of a recipe I never plan to make again, is this one.

(And may I just add that although I am not whatsoever any sort of cooking expert, I would be happy to try to answer further inquiries in future posts? If you’d like to ask a question about ingredients or methods, request a certain type of recipe, submit a recipe you like for me to try, or simply say hello, just leave a comment.)

So, Reader A writes: “Dear BookCook, I enjoy reading your recipes and had an idea for one that you could post. Funny thing is that it is a recipe I got from you. As I do not really cook and don't know any recipes, this one is near and dear to my countertop and oven because it's the one recipe I've made enough to memorize. I make if for friends that come over and then they ask me to give them the recipe. All thanks to you. Dying to know what it is? It's a recipe for grilled vegetable tacos(?) with garlic mayonnaise. Ring a bell? I think you should post it. It's super-easy.”

Right on, Reader A! I’ve had this one for a while (gleaned from some long-forgotten vegetarian cookbook from the library), and it is, as she says, easy and tasty. Not being a big mayonnaise fan myself, I’ve even taken an additional shortcut sometimes by using ranch dressing on these instead of making the garlic mayonnaise. But garlic is good, so try it the real way first. Also, the original recipe asks for 1½ cups shredded lettuce (to be added to the tortillas along with the vegetables and mayonnaise), but neither Reader A nor I have ever used this, so I’m leaving it out.

Postscript, December 2009: I don't seem to make this anymore, so it's moving to the dreaded "not favorites" category. For a tortillas-n-veggies combo, I prefer this or this.

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into ¾-inch pieces
1 medium red onion, cut into ½-inch wedges
1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into ¼-inch slices
¼ pound mushrooms, cut into fourths
3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
6 flour tortillas

Garlic Mayonnaise:
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 clove chopped garlic

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Spread the bell pepper, onion, zucchini, and mushrooms in an ungreased baking dish (I usually use Pyrex, but a metal cake pan works fine too).

2. Mix oil, basil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl (or shake them together in a screw-top jar); brush over the vegetables, tossing well to coat. Bake uncovered 12-15 minutes or until crisp-tender; cool slightly.

3. Meanwhile, mix together garlic mayonnaise ingredients. Spread about 2 teaspoons (or to taste) garlic mayonnaise down the center of each tortilla to within 2 inches of the bottom. Top with 1/6 of the vegetable mixture, spreading to within 2 inches of the bottom. Fold one end of tortilla up about 1 inch over the filling; fold right and left sides over the folded end, overlapping, and then fold remaining end down. Repeat with remaining tortillas to make 6 wraps.

Serves: 2-3
Time: 30 minutes maximum

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


We love this recipe and have ended up making it at least once a month ever since I pulled it out of Pacific Grilling, by Denis Kelly. It may actually be my favorite non-pasta recipe. If you eat meat at all, you must try this. I’m not even a big steak fan, but sometimes I do crave red meat, and I love the flavor imparted by the marinade. I often serve this with corn on the cob, but last night we just chowed on the tacos. If I could find an equally good chicken taco recipe, I think I’d be in hog heaven. Of course, I could try the marinade on chicken sometime, but why mess with a good thing?

Yes, there are rather a lot of marinade ingredients, but don’t skimp on anything unless you absolutely have to. Squeezing all those citrus fruits will cramp your hands into freakish claws, so I bought a juicer for $2 at Target—nothing automatic, just a glass jar with a plastic lid that has a ridged cone-shaped protuberance on which you rub the fruit so the juice falls into the jar. One of the better investments I’ve ever made. I did use bottled lime juice once, when the grocery store was out of limes, and it didn’t ruin the recipe, but some corners just shouldn’t be cut. Oh, and don’t be afraid of the tequila, either—you won’t be able to taste it per se in the steaks after they’re cooked, but it imparts extra zip.

Note, June 2016: Now I always serve my steak tacos with these pickled onions and cilantro sauce accompaniments from Dinner: A Love Story. Also, flank steak works just fine here. Also, I'm embarrassed by how overcooked the steak in the photo above looks.

6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (about 1 medium orange)
½ cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 4-6 small limes)
2 tablespoons tequila (optional…but encouraged)
2 tablespoons ground chiles, ancho or New Mexico (confession: I have no clue about ground chiles, so I just buy a jalapeno and dice it and that seems just fine to me)
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

2 ¾-to-1-inch-thick chuck steaks or 2 1-to-1¼-inch-thick rib steaks, 1½ pounds total
corn or flour tortillas (I use the fajita-size flour ones, usually about 16 of them)
grated Monterey Jack cheese (sometimes I use the hot-pepper Jack if I’m feel sassy, and that’s good)
guacamole or salsa of your choice (we generally use both—Holy Guacamole, a local brand we buy at the farmers’ market, and Salsa Especial from Trader Joe’s, which I could eat with a spoon it’s so good)

1. The day before you want to make the tacos, mix all the marinade ingredients in a large glass bowl with a lid (if you don't have a bowl, you can use a Ziplock bag).

2. Stab the steaks all over with a fork and add them to the bowl, making sure they are covered with the marinade. Put the lid on the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. It’s best to turn the steaks occasionally, though (I usually do it at breakfastime on the day of cooking, about halfway through the marination process).

3. Get your grilling mechanism ready. (Mine, as always, was the faithful George Foreman grill.) While it's heating, remove the steaks from the marinade, pat them dry with paper towels, and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Then grill them until they're cooked to your liking.

4. While the meat is cooking, preheat the oven to 300 degrees and, when it's warm, wrap the tortillas in foil and put them in the oven for maybe 5 minutes, until they're warm and pliable. Get the cheese, guac, and salsa ready to go and arrange them smorgasboard-style.

5. When the steaks are done, let them sit on a cutting board for 5-10 minutes. Then cut them against the grain into strips 3 to 4 inches long and about ¼ inch thick. Put meat, cheese, salsa, and guac into tortillas and eat them.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes, plus 24 hours to marinate

Monday, August 16, 2004


Use the best carrots you can find for this recipe. I like to get the multicolored ones from the farmers' market. This photo shows orange, white, and golden carrots, but I've also used red and purple ones.

Jack Bishop's Pasta e Verdura yet again. Seriously, this book is a treaure trove. This is a recipe I would never have come up with on my own, and I was pretty skeptical (yet intrigued) the first time I tried it. I don't even especially like cooked carrots; when I was young they were always (as my little cousin used to put it) "my worst vegetable." I'll tolerate them now, but I didn't think I would like a recipe that contained very little else. Still, what isn't good with butter, garlic, and herbs? And these tastes (especially the more bitter herbs) play off the sweetness of the carrots really well. After one too many tomatoey or creamy pastas, this unique recipe is a welcome change of pace. With really fresh, sweet, tender farmer's market carrots, it can be divine. Plus, vitamins!

8 medium carrots (about 1 pound)
salt to taste, plus 1 teaspoon
1 cup tightly packed mixed fresh herb leaves (such as oregano, thyme, marjoram, chives, basil, mint, or tarragon--use several for maximum interest)
6 tablespoons butter
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 pound fusilli or other short, curly pasta

1. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta, and several quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan for cooking the carrots.

2. While the water is heating, wash the carrots, trim off the ends, and peel the carrots if you like (Jack asks you to, but I never do--it's a pain and the skin is good for you, plus I had nice, small, smooth carrots from the farmer's market anyway). Then chop the carrots into 1/4-inch dice and add them to the water in the smaller pot when it boils, along with some salt. Cook until the carrots are tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes (maybe slightly longer, but keep an eye on it). Drain the carrots and set them aside.

3. When the pasta water boils, put in the pasta and cook until al dente.

4. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the garlic to the pan and saute until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and cook them a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until they're coated with the butter and heated through. Then stir in the chopped herbs and 1 teaspoon salt.

5. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, making sure some water still clings to the noodles. Toss the pasta with the carrot sauce and serve.

Serves: 6
Time: 30-40 minutes


Mined from yet another library cookbook, this is an easy, light recipe that could risk being blah with bad ingredients but is tasty at the height of summer. (Hey, I avoided using the word "summery"! Judging by my limited repertoire of adjectives, I think we can all conclude I'd be a terrible food writer. My palate isn't all that sensitive; my dad is always trying to train me to taste wines, but I think they all pretty much taste like...wine.) The tastes are delicate, so don't skimp on the quality of the chicken you buy because there's not much to cover it up. The tomatoes are the stars here, so get the best ones you can. We had this last night with corn on the cob and I felt pretty darn pleased with myself for whipping it up.

Note that you're going to want to make the marinade ahead of time (anywhere from 1 to 24 hours--the more the better, I say) so the chicken can marinate.

5 tablespoons olive oil (or more)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, plus 2 more tablespoons
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
2 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds
salt and pepper to taste

1. Ideally, this step should be done the day before you want to serve the chicken, so it can marinate for the full 24 hours: Mix together 1/4 cup olive oil (go ahead and use more if you need it to cover the chicken sufficiently), 1/2 cup basil, the lemon juice, the garlic, and generous amounts of salt and pepper in a large glass bowl with a lid (or Ziplock bags always work well for marinating, too). Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels, add it to the marinade, stir everything around, cover the bowl, and put it in the refrigerator. Since the marinade isn't very liquidy, try to turn the chicken in the bowl a few times while it's marinating to make sure it all gets appropriately flavored.

2. When you're ready to cook the chicken, fire up the grill and pull the bowl of marinade out of the refrigerator to warm up a little. Mix the chopped tomatoes and the remaining basil in a medium bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and more salt and pepper (generously again).

3. Extract the chicken from the marinade and grill it, then serve it with some tomato mixture spooned over each portion.

Serves: 4
Time: About 30 minutes, plus marinating time

Thursday, August 12, 2004


Pasta e Verdura again. And Jack Bishop sure enjoys those long recipe names, doesn’t he? This is another of my favorites, and I’ve made it many times. I’m a spinach aficionado, but even if you’re not, the red pepper flakes (a fabulous secret weapon that enlivens just about anything), garlic, parsley, and cheese add enough dimensions of flavor to overcome that. Unlike some of the other things I’ve been making lately, this is just as good no matter what time of the year I have it or where I buy my ingredients (because spinach brings out my secret laziness, and I only ever buy it prewashed and bagged).

As usual, I made the bread crumbs from some French bread I had in the freezer (Jack recommends “stale Italian, French, or sourdough bread”). I defrosted it and tore it into crumbs by hand (I like my crumbs coarse, baby), but an easier way would be to grind up the bread in your blender or food processor.

By the way, I’ve modified the recipe a little. Sorry, Jack.

½ cup coarse white bread crumbs (homemade; the crumbs, not the bread, I mean)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
5 tablespoons olive oil
1½ pounds fresh spinach, washed, stemmed, and roughly chopped
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (This will make it pretty spicy. I like it that way, but use ½ teaspoon if you prefer things milder.)
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound linguine or other long, thin pasta

1. Start by putting 4 quarts of salted water in a pot on the stove over high heat for cooking the pasta.

2. While the water is heating, set a large, deep, heavy skillet (use one that has a lid—you’ll need that later) over medium heat and put 1 tablespoon olive oil in it to heat. When the oil is warm, add the bread crumbs and stir to coat them. Cook them until they're crispy and golden brown (be careful not to let them burn). Yum. While they're cooking, mix the parsley and the cheese in a small bowl. When the bread crumbs are done, add them to the bowl.

3. When the water starts boiling, add the linguine and cook until al dente.

4. Return the skillet to the burner, keeping the heat on medium, and add the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. When it's warm, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, sautéing them until the garlic is deeply colored but not browned or burned, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and salt to the skillet. Toss several times to coat the leaves with the oil, then cover the pot and cook (removing the lid occasionally to stir) until the spinach has wilted, about 5 minutes.

5. Before draining the pasta, scoop out ½ cup of the starchy pasta water and set it aside. Then drain the pasta and dump it in the pan with the spinach. Add the toasted bread crumb mixture and several tablespoons of the pasta water, and toss everything together until well mixed (you can add more pasta water as needed if the pasta seems too dry). Sprinkle each serving with black pepper and additional Parmesan if desired.

Serves: 6
Time: Jack says 25 minutes, but it seemed to be more like 30-40 for me.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


This is from the same unknown fish cookbook as Salmon Roasted in Garlic Butter. I didn’t like it quite as well, but it was tasty and easy enough. It wasn’t as flavorful as I expected, but we had better salmon than usual (and even pre-skinned for my convenience—thank you, Trader Joe’s; you’ve almost redeemed yourself for the Stupid Coconut Milk), and that made up for it. Granted, we were rushing to make an 8:30 showing of The Village, so I may have slightly neglected the “slow” part of “slow-fried” and perhaps did not get the full experience. But I’d be perfectly willing to make this again—it’s just not going to win the My Favorite Salmon Recipe beauty pageant.

By the way, I made a half recipe. We had it with some salad. The salad, for some reason, had some parsley and dill in it along with the usual greens, leading me to suspect I’d somehow sprinkled herbs into the salad bowls while preparing the salmon. But then we started finding pieces of cilantro. At last I looked at the salad bag, and, sure enough, it was “Herb Salad” and not my usual “Spring Mix.” Um, gee, thanks, Trader Joe’s. That was an interesting taste experiment, but not one I’d seek out. Maybe you’re not completely forgiven yet.

Postscript, December 2009: I never made this again. Even this writeup sounds pretty meh in retrospect.

1½ pounds center-cut salmon fillet, skinned and cut crosswise into 4 portions
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (use Italian parsley if you can; it’s more flavorful)
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the parsley, dill, and thyme in a small bowl.

2. Put the salmon on a cutting board (the recipe suggests “a platter,” but why dirty one?) and rub it all over with 1 tablespoon (total) of olive oil. Coat the salmon on all sides with the herb mixture. The recipe points out that the salmon can now be cooked immediately, or kept covered and refrigerated for up to 8 hours.

3. When ready to cook, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over moderately low heat. While it's heating, season the salmon generously all over with salt and pepper. Then put the salmon in the skillet and cook it 8-10 minutes on each side, or until slightly crispy and just cooked through.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes


Since the tomatoes we’ve been getting from the farmers’ market are so perfect right now, I wanted to make a recipe that showcased them, so on Monday I dove into the good old Pasta e Verdura and gave this one a try. It’s kind of a common-sense recipe; I feel like I could have made some pesto and put it on pasta with some tomatoes on my own, but then of course I never did, so maybe I shouldn’t go dissing Jack Bishop. This may not have given me any new taste sensations, but it was fresh, tasty, easy, and extremely quick—perfect for a hot day. Plus, I like making food that’s bright green.

FYI, I noticed Jack’s directions can often be streamlined a lot. He wanted me to cut up all the tomatoes, put them in a large bowl, make the pesto, put in a smaller bowl, mix cheese into it, and then put the pesto in the larger bowl with the tomatoes. Not only does this get the cutting board all wet and tomatoey before I need to use it for the garlic and basil, but it employs a totally unnecessary extra bowl. Maybe Jack has an intern who washes his dishes for him, but I just have A. So instead I worked on the pesto first.

Postscript, December 2009: I never made this again. It wasn't that special.

4 medium tomatoes (about 1½ pounds)
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves (this is a lot of basil—I used two entire bunches from the farmers’ market)
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons pine nuts
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt to taste
1 pound linguine or other long, thin pasta

1. Put 4 quarts of salted water in a large pot for cooking the pasta, and heat it to a boil on the stove.

2. Put the basil, garlic, and pine nuts into a blender or food processor. Get them ground as much as possible, then add the oil and blend until you have a smooth pesto.

3. Scrape the pesto into a bowl (ideally, this should be “large enough to hold the cooked pasta,” but don’t fret if it isn’t—it really just needs to hold the pesto and tomatoes) and stir in the cheese, plus “salt to taste” (I went with ½ teaspoon, and that seemed about right). I also added a few grindings of pepper, because apparently I’m a pepper junkie.

4. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

5. Wash and core the tomatoes, cut them into half-inch cubes, and put them in the bowl with the pesto. When the pasta is done, drain it. If your bowl is big enough, pour the pasta into it and mix everything up; if not, do what I did and pour the pasta back into the empty pot and then add the contents of the bowl. Mix well and serve.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 20 minutes

Monday, August 09, 2004


I found this recipe at the Food Network website, after trying several other strangely flavorless green curry recipes from elsewhere. I’ve made and enjoyed it half a dozen times in the past, but last night’s attempt was marked by tragic disappointment. This is because I trusted in Trader Joe’s and believed the label on their cans of “low-fat coconut milk” (the only coconut milk they carry), which swore up and down that low-fat was just as good as regular coconut milk. Usually, I don’t fall for such claims, but this was Trader Joe’s, land of friendly tastiness, and it was charging me only 99 cents per can. Hmm—just as good as regular coconut milk, healthier, and more affordable? I was all over that! And so I succumbed. The coconut milk looked OK when I poured it out of the can, but instead of thickening as I cooked it, it became thinner and thinner, and the fat and water in it seemed to separate, giving it a mottled look—not creamy at all, nor very flavorful. I had to scoop the chunky parts out with a slotted spoon and discard most of the thin sauce, or it would have drowned my rice. I still ate the curry, but it was blah and sad, improved only by the beer I drank with it to mitigate the spiciness.

Be forewarned that this is a Thai curry, so it will be soupier than an Indian curry. I habitually leave out the chicken stock to avoid making it runny, and I think if you wanted to cut down on the fat, the best way would be to use less coconut milk (2 cans is, after all, a lot). I used only one can last night, but since it was the Stupid Coconut Milk, I couldn’t tell if this was a workable solution or not. Experiment with it if you want. I always liked it well enough using 2 cans in the past, but A thought it was too soupy. Just remember, if you cut down on the coconut milk you’ll probably want to use less curry paste as well.

About that curry paste: Food Network included a recipe for this, but it’s highly labor-intensive, involving toasting and grinding your own spices, as well as substances I’ve never worked with, such as galangal and shrimp paste. It’s here if you want to try it, but I just buy Thai Kitchen green curry paste and that tastes good to me. I don’t know about other kinds, but 3 tablespoons of this will make your curry extremely spicy—too hot for me personally. I like things a little zingy, but I don’t have a high threshold for extreme spice; I usually pick “medium” on the “mild-medium-hot” continuum. So I go with 2 tablespoons, and I consider the results pretty near my maximum hotness tolerance. If you don’t like hot foods, use less.

Postscript, December 2009: I've given up making this. I just couldn't get it as good as the Thai restaurant a block away from our apartment does.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, cut in wedges
1 bell pepper (recipe calls for green; I use yellow), cut in wedges
1 stalk lemongrass, white bulb only (it’s OK to omit this if you can’t find lemongrass; don’t let that stop you from making this recipe)
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh ginger
1-3 tablespoons Thai green curry paste
2 kaffir lime leaves (Admittedly, I don’t know what these are or where to find them. I substitute a little grated lime zest—you’ll need the lime anyway—and that seems to work just fine.)
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk; 2 13.5-ounce cans (Again, you may want to use less. No matter what, use the best coconut milk you can find—preferably, water should not be listed as one of the ingredients. Thai Kitchen brand is good, thick and creamy.)
3/4 cup chicken broth (I usually omit for a thicker sauce)
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch strips
juice of one lime
fresh basil leaves
fresh cilantro leaves
cooked rice

1. Put the oil in a large, deep skillet and place it on the stove over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the onion and pepper to the pan and sauté for 3 minutes to soften them.

2. While they cook, cut up the lemongrass. I’m never quite sure I’m doing this correctly, but here are the recipe’s instructions: “Split the piece of lemongrass down the middle, whack it with the flat side of a knife to open the flavor, and discard the tough outer layers.” I kind of minced what was left into little pieces. Add the lemongrass, along with the ginger, curry paste, and lime leaves (or zest), to the skillet and stir it for 2 minutes.

3. Pour in the coconut milk and chicken broth. Lay the chicken pieces in the skillet to poach (there should be enough liquid to cover or almost cover them), and add a pinch of salt. Stir everything together and simmer it for 10-15 minutes, until the chicken has cooked. The sauce should thicken.

4. When the chicken is done, add the lime juice, basil, and cilantro to the pan. Serve curry over cooked rice.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Saturday, August 07, 2004


This is one of my favorite pasta recipes, again from Pasta e Verdura. I made it on Thursday night. I swear, though, we don't usually consume so much butter. Normally, we burn through bottles of olive oil in no time and have the same one-pound box of butter in the refrigerator for weeks on end. But some strange alignment of the stars has us swimming in butter like the French lately. Not that I'm complaining about that, mind you.

This recipe is quick, easy, and has a simple, perfect confluence of flavors--green, buttery, garlicky, salty, and nutty. Even if, like A, you don't care for green beans, you should try it. Green beans may be one of my favorite vegetables (along with asparagus and zucchini), so I downright crave this pasta. The original recipe has you using haricots verts (thin, French green beans), but--pshaw, I say! Use them if you can find them, but plain old fat farmer's-market or grocery-store green beans work just fine. This recipe is even decent if the beans are below-average quality or out of season.

Man, just writing about this recipe has me wanting to heat up the leftovers sitting in my fridge.

1 pound green beans
salt to taste, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup pine nuts
6 tablespoons butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne pasta
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to taste

1. Bring two pots of salted water to a boil--4 quarts for cooking the pasta, and "several" for cooking the green beans. (Sometimes, reader, I cheat. If you want a shortcut, you can boil one 4-quart pot of salted water, cook the green beans in it, and then remove them with a slotted spoon and add the pasta.)

2. On another burner, set a large skillet over medium heat for toasting the pine nuts. When the skillet is warm, add the pine nuts and cook them, shaking the pan periodically to turn them, until they're golden-brown, about 5 minutes. (If you're somewhat inattentive, as I am, or if you have a particularly hot stove, as I do, I'd put them over medium-low heat to reduce your chances of accidentally burning them.) When they're toasted, remove them and set them aside in a bowl.

3. While waiting for the water to boil and the pine nuts to toast, wash the beans well, snap their ends off, and cut them (the beans, not the ends), into one-inch segments.

4. When the water in the smaller pot boils, add the beans and cook them until just tender, about 2 minutes. (Unless they're the hugest, toughest beans in the world, don't cook them longer than this. Remember, they'll still continue to cook after you've removed them from the water.) When they're cooked, drain them and set them aside. Meanwhile, when the water in the larger pot boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

5. Add butter to the now-empty skillet you used for the pine nuts, keeping it over medium heat. When the butter starts to foam, add the garlic and saute until golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in the green beans, pine nuts, 1 teaspoon of salt, and pepper, and heat everything through for several minutes (or until the beans are completely tender).

6. BEFORE YOU DRAIN THE PASTA (I often miss this step in the recipe, so I'm giving you warning capital letters), use a measuring cup to scoop out about 1/4 cup of the starchy pasta water. Then go ahead and drain the pasta.

7. In the skillet (if it's large enough), the pot, or some kind of serving dish (if you're that sort of fancy person), toss the hot pasta with the green bean sauce, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and the reserved cooking water. When everything is well mixed together, portion out the pasta into serving/storage bowls, and then top each portion with an extra little sprinkle of cheese and a few grindings of black pepper.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 30 minutes if you time everything perfectly? Maybe 45.

Thursday, August 05, 2004


I got this recipe from my mother. We haven’t eaten it together in many years, and although I remember helping her make it when I was a kid, this was my first time doing it myself. It was terrifically easy, and while it may not be the healthiest way to make chicken, it’s not the unhealthiest either. And, hey, it tastes good; A gives it an enthusiastic thumbs-up. We had it with a green salad. But I don’t recommend trying to eat this meal while talking on the telephone, which is how I did it last night. I think the phone needs cleaning now.

¼ cup butter
1 2-to-3-pound chicken, cut up (mine came pre-dismembered, in a package, and weighed in at more like 4 pounds, probably because the breasts were the most freakishly gigantic things I’ve ever seen)
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the butter in a 9x13 baking dish and put that in the oven until the butter is melted.

2. Mix together the flour, salt, paprika, and pepper in a Ziplock bag, put the chicken parts in the bag one by one, and shake the bag until each piece of chicken is fully coated.

3. Put chicken in the pan, skin side down, and bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken over and bake it until it looks done, about another 30 minutes.

Serves: 4
Time: A little over an hour

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Eggplant is one of those things I recently taught myself to like, and I’m still sort of experimenting. This was my second time making this recipe, but the first time my eggplant had started to get overripe and I had to cut away so many bad spots, there wasn’t a lot left for the sauce and I wasn’t sure I was getting the full effect. Now that I’ve given if another shot, I’m still not sure. I flubbed up several steps of the recipe through carelessness or impatience, which may have affected the result. First, for some reason (perhaps thinking of the ratatouille recipe), I started trimming the ends of the eggplant and chopping it. DON’T DO THIS. The eggplant should be baked whole. Also, I didn’t peel the skin off the eggplant. (Hey, I was tired.) In retrospect, I would recommend peeling it. There’s nothing wrong with eggplant skin, but it changed the texture of the pasta sauce. Third, I sort of goofed by buying a 14-ounce can of whole tomatoes, which claimed to contain 3.5 ½-cup servings, thus satisfying the requirement for 1½ cups tomatoes. But of course this included the juice, so really I had less than 1½ cups tomatoes and just barely ¾ cup juice. In the future I think I’d err on the safe side and get a 28-ounce can of tomatoes. My sauce turned out a bit dry, and the eggplant really dominated the tomatoes. So I think, all in all, I’ve learned an important lesson about concentration.

I enjoyed the pasta well enough while I was eating it, but it’s not going to become something I crave. In a lot of ways, it’s too similar to a ratatouille recipe I have. I think I like the ratatouille better, but A prefers the pasta. Anyway, this is worth trying if you’re an eggplant fan. I would make it again. (Postscript, December 2009: I've never made it again.)

The recipe, by the way, is from my favorite cookbook and one of the few I actually own, Pasta e Verdura: 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles, by Jack Bishop. I’d say at least 15 of the pasta recipes I make frequently come from this book, and there are still many I haven’t tried. Highly recommended.

1 large eggplant (about 1¼ pounds)
1 teaspoon + 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups drained canned whole tomatoes, juice reserved
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
1 pound rigatoni
freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place the whole eggplant on a baking sheet, brush it very lightly with the 1 teaspoon of oil, and bake it until the flesh is soft and the skin is wrinkled, about 30 minutes (turn it over once, after 15 minutes). As Jack points out, baking eggplant sidesteps its tendency to soak up oil like a sponge and become soggy and greasy, which is one of the reasons this is a good eggplant recipe.

3. Take the eggplant out of the oven and let it cool enough to touch. Trim off the stem and peel away the skin with your fingers. Cut the eggplant into ½-inch cubes and set them aside.

4. While the eggplant is cooling, put 4 quarts of salted water in a large pot on the stove and brought it to a boil. Then heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion to the skillet and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for another minute.

5. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them to the skillet along with ¾ cup of their packing juice. Cook ith the onion and garlic in the skillet for several minutes, occasionally using a spoon to break the tomatoes apart.

6. Stir in the eggplant, oregano, salt, and pepper. Simmer everything over medium heat 20 to 25 minutes, until the sauce thickens.

7. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente and drain it. Stir the basil into the tomato-eggplant sauce, toss the hot pasta in the skillet with the sauce, serve out portions, and sprinkle them with the grated cheese.

Serves: 4-6
Time: About an hour

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


I’m not a big soup fan. Sure, it’s comforting in the winter, it’s soothing when you’re ill, and it makes a nice side dish with grilled cheese sandwiches (mmm, Campbell’s tomato) or a light first course of a large dinner (mmm, won-ton). But. I just can’t really enjoy it as a meal. After about six spoonfuls, the texture starts to get to me. But occasionally, when I feel obliged to make something that isn’t pasta, I’ll make soup. It’s usually easy to make, and it often yields large quantities, which I can freeze and keep in reserve for when I’m desperate for a lunch to take to work. This is one of my better soup recipes; you’ll just have to excuse me if I’m not completely enthused about it. It’s nice and fresh and summery (boy, I use that term a lot), especially with ingredients from the farmer’s market, and A gives it the thumbs-up. It was a bit labor-intensive, but in a relaxing cutting-lots-of-things-up way in which you can zone out and watch TV. I made this on Sunday night, by the way. Recipe is from some long-forgotten library cookbook.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I have this many ingredients, so I cut everything up before I start the recipe. It takes longer, but it keeps my head on straight. In this case, first I cut up the potatoes (I always leave the skin on; it’s good for you), red pepper, celery, and basil and dumped all that into one bowl and set it aside. (To cut down on dishes, if I’m not having company over I typically just use whatever bowls I’m going to serve the food in. Very handy.) Then I husked the corn and cut off the kernels (which flew all over the kitchen), sliced the scallions, and put that stuff aside in a second bowl. Finally, I cut up the onions and garlic and was ready to start the recipe proper.

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 large potatoes, peeled (optional) and finely diced (about 2½ cups)
2 medium-sized red bell peppers, finely diced
1 celery rib, very thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, or ½ teaspoon dried (use fresh unless you’re desperate)
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
freshly ground pepper
4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (if you’re using fresh, which I recommend if you can get it, that’s about 6-7 ears)
6 scallions, thinly sliced (I use the white part, the light green part, and at least an inch of the dark green)
½ cup milk
½ cup cream

1. Combine the butter and oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onions and garlic and sauté them until the onions are tender but not brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the stock and raise the heat to medium-high to bring it to a boil. When the stock boils, add the potatoes, red peppers, celery, bay leaf, basil, salt, sugar, and pepper and wait for the stock to return to a boil. When it does, lower the heat “to a lively simmer” (somewhere around medium), partially cover the pot with a lid, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

3. Stir in the corn and scallions and cook for about 10 more minutes (you only need to cook for about 2-5 minutes if you’re using frozen corn). Remove the bay leaf and throw it away.

4. Get out the blender or food processor. Scoop 3 cups of soup out of the pot, put it in the blender, and puree it. Return the pureed soup to the pot, stir in the milk and cream (if you’re skittish about the fattiness of cream, I’m sure you could get away with just milk, but the soup would be thinner), and heat everything a few more minutes. Grind in black pepper before serving.

Serves: The recipe claims 4, but we got 5 large portions out of it.
Time: About an hour for me, but I think it could be done more quickly.