Thursday, September 30, 2004


(Photo added 1/16/08. Ideally, the pesto topping should get all browned and crispy instead of remaining as green as it looks here, but this is what happens when your broiler is broken and you end up baking the salmon instead. Still tastes great, though, and actually looks prettier.)

A new recipe, courtesy of “Stephan Schwartz” (the Broadway songwriter? No, I think he uses an “e” instead of an “a”) on The verdict? Very good, very easy. It would be a perfect thing to make if you were entertaining—elegant but barely demanding your attention. It would especially be a snap if you used pre-packaged pesto, but I like to make my own, from Better Homes and Gardens’ New Cookbook (recipe follows). It’s not much labor, and so much better than anything you can buy (even at dear Trader Joe’s), especially in the summer when basil is fresh and plentiful. I like to make a lot and freeze it in small containers to mix with pasta for emergency dinners.

Stephan says the salmon “goes well with rosemary and garlic roasted red potatoes and any green vegetable.” It was tempting to roast potatoes, but healthiness and laziness won the day, and I just steamed some asparagus (my favorite companion to salmon) to serve on the side with some lemon juice squeezed over it.

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup firmly packed fresh parsley sprigs, stems removed (or torn fresh spinach, but I’ve never tried this)
½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
¼ cup pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds (I typically go with the pine nuts)
1 large clove garlic, peeled and quartered
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil

The recipe says to put everything except the oil in your food processor/blender and grind it to “a paste,” then add the oil in a steam while blending until the pesto has the consistency of “softened butter.” Maybe my blender is just a wuss, but when I try it that way, not much happens. The only way stuff gets chopped up and ground down satisfactorily is when I add the oil, so now I just do it right away.

Makes: About ¾ cup
Time: 10-15 minutes

4 salmon fillets (2 pounds)
2 lemons
1½ cups pesto (maybe less; I only used about 2/3 of what I made)
½ cup white wine

1. Lightly olive-oil a baking dish large enough to accommodate the fish (I was making a half-recipe, so a 9x9 Pyrex did the trick for me). Put the salmon in it skin side down (although I usually use skinless). Squeeze 1 lemon over the fish, and pour on the white wine. Let this marinate for 15 minutes (this is a good time to make the pesto).

2. Preheat the broiler. Using a small spatula, spread a thick layer of pesto (between 1/8 and ¼ inch thick) over the top of the fish, fully covering the surface.

3. Put the baking dish under the broiler, about 9 inches from the heat, “8-10 minutes per inch of thickness,” or until the pesto is browned and crusty and the fish is opaque and flaky. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for a few minutes, then scoop the fillets onto plates, squeeze more lemon juice over them, and serve.

Serves: 4
Time: 15 minutes


A recipe of unknown origin that I’ve been making on occasion for a couple of years. Very tasty, but then judging by the ingredients you could have guessed that, couldn’t you? There seems like there are a lot of components, but they come together pretty quickly and without fuss. Besides the fact that it’s good and relatively easy, my main interest in making this on Tuesday was to use some of my homemade chicken broth (2 tablespoons being such a piddling amount of broth, I had occasionally omitted it from the sauce in the past, but it adds a nice richness, and the homemade broth even more so), some leftover cream, and the mascarpone I bought for Penne With Three-Cheese Tomato Sauce. (Although I still have more mascarpone. Anyone know any good mascarpone-based recipes? Maybe I’ll improvise something on Saturday with whatever’s laying around my kitchen—I’m thinking egg noodles, garlic, a tomato, and some basil.)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fresh mushrooms (preferably a brown variety, such as Portobello, cremini, or shiitake), stemmed, caps thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup light cream or half-and-half
2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese
1 pound fettuccine, spaghetti, or linguine
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

1. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove over high heat for boiling the pasta.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it's warm, add the mushrooms, season them with salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring gently, until tender, 7-10 minutes. When the mushrooms are cooked, add the garlic to the skillet and cook until it's fragrant, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat under the mushrooms and stir in the parsley.

3. While the mushrooms are cooking, combine the butter, cream, and broth in a small saucepan and simmer it over low heat, whisking gently to keep it from scorching or getting skin on top. Cook until it thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Then stir in the mascarpone and turn off the heat.

4. Meanwhile, when the pasta water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain it and pour it into the pan with the mushroom mixture, then pour the cream sauce over it, add the Parmesan, and toss everything together. Dish the pasta into serving/storage containers, sprinkle on a little extra, salt, pepper, parsley, and cheese, and eat.

Serves: 6
Time: 30-45 minutes

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


A.k.a. The Gratin That Swallowed Monday Night. This was a new recipe for me, from Martha Rose Schulman’s Ready When You Are. All the recipes in this book sound hearty, comforting, and delectable, but also slightly beyond my threshold for labor-intensiveness. (Intensivity?) And that’s exactly how I’d describe this meal. A and I both pronounced it very tasty. But do you know when I finally got to eat it? 10:15 p.m., my friend. I felt as though I spent all evening in the kitchen (except when I did yoga while the gratin was in the oven, but I was so shaky with hunger I nearly toppled over onto the coffee table). I haven’t yet determined whether the ends quite justified the means. It sure was good, with a lot of different tastes and textures melding together (the chicken stock I made last week imparted an especially nice flavor), but it seemed to take forever. It wasn’t even a particularly difficult process; there were just so many components to assemble. I probably could have been more efficient, in retrospect, which makes me want to tackle this at least one more time to get it right. I know I got overwhelmed and took a lot more time than necessary--there were so many ingredients piled on my counter that I thought I should do some of the prep work first and get stuff out of the way, so I spent a lot of time slicing and chopping and mixing things before I even started cooking the sausage (which was frozen, as I’d forgotten to defrost it, and letting it thaw a bit was probably my rationale in leaving the sausage for last, but hello? That’s what microwaves are for), and then had to wait around for the sausage to cook.

Adding to my frustrations was the fact that the recipe claimed it made 6-8 servings. This seemed like way too much food to keep in the fridge all week, so while making it I decided to skimp on some of the ingredients. Not a methodical reduction, but just a tiny bit less of all the core ingredients—onion, sausage, tomato, pepper, potato. I didn’t reduce anything by much, yet what I got, in the end, after my three hours of labor, was barely enough for 4 main-dish servings. Which irritates me, because (a) the recipe was apparently lying; (b) I’m an idiot for doing all that work for a less-than-maximum result; (c) the gratin was good and I wish there was more of it to eat; and (d) now I have an extra tomato, bell pepper, and potato lying uselessly around my kitchen. D’oh!

So, to sum up: This recipe made me cranky and stressed-out, but admittedly much of that is my own fault. It does make really good food. It’s probably just better suited to a weekend meal than a work night. "Ready when you are," my foot!

Postscript, December 2009: Ultimately, this was too labor-intensive to be a keeper; I've phased it out of my repertoire.

5 large garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus a bit extra
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, rosemary, or sage
salt and pepper
½ pound mild Italian sausage
2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 pound red bell peppers, quartered, seeded, and sliced crosswise in thin strips
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sugar
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 cup chicken stock
2 bay leaves
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut one garlic clove in half and rub the cut end all over the inside of a 3-quart baking dish. Mmm, garlic. Brush the inside of the dish lightly with olive oil.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add the onions when it's hot. Cook, stirring, until onions are tender, 5-10 minutes. Add 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of the herbs, and some salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then “crumble in” the sausage (mine was in links, so I cut off the casings, put the whole sausages in the pan, and then gradually broke them up into little bits with a spoon) and cook it, stirring, until it's no longer pink.

3. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes, and toss them in a medium-sized bowl with 1 tablespoon of the herbs and some salt and pepper.

4. Mince the remaining 2 cloves of garlic and mix them in a large bowl with the red peppers, tomatoes, remaining 1 tablespoon herbs, dried oregano, and sugar. Season generously with salt and pepper.

5. Layer half the tomato mixture in the baking dish, then layer half the potatoes on top of them and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top the potatoes with all of the sausage and onion mixture (scoop it out of the pan with a slotted spoon to leave the grease behind), then add another layer of potatoes, again seasoning with salt and pepper. Top this with the remaining tomato mixture, then pour in the stock and drizzle on a little oil. “Insert” the 2 bay leaves into the gratin, one in each half of the dish (but don't bury them completely since you'll have to remove them later).

6. Finally, place the dish in the oven to bake for 1½ to 2 hours, until the potatoes are tender and the top is beginning to brown. Periodically, pull the gratin out of the oven, press down on the top layer with the back of a large spoon, scoop up some of the juices from underneath, and baste the top layer to keep the potatoes from drying out. When the gratin looks almost done, sprinkle the Gruyere over the top, then continue cooking until it's melted, bubbly, and beginning to brown. Take the dish out of the oven, remove and discard the bay leaves, and let the gratin sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves: Recipe says 6-8; I say 4-6
Time: 1 hour (maybe less, if you’re efficient) to prep, 2 hours to bake

Monday, September 27, 2004


This was the recipe (from Jack Bishop’s Pasta e Verdura, of course) that made me decide to like butternut squash the first time I made it about a year ago. (In my history of deciding to like vegetables, this was after Deciding to Like Asparagus and Avocados, but before Deciding to Like Eggplant. I swear, I’m not intentionally going alphabetically.) Of course, garlic and butter never made anything worse, but I liked the squash itself—much less mealy than I remembered squash being, and sweet and colorful. I’m skeptical about sage as a food (rather than a fragrance), but it cuts the sweetness of the squash and butter. A nice fall meal, though I managed to make and eat it during 90-degree weather.

Half of a 2½-pound butternut squash (or, to simplify things, one whole 1¼-pound butternut squash, if you can find one that small)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
4 medium cloves garlic, slivered
12 large fresh sage leaves, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne pasta
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Fill a large pot with salted water, and put it on the stove over high heat for cooking the pasta. Put an inch or two of water in a smaller pot, place a steamer basket in it, and set it on the stove over high heat for steaming the squash.

2. While these are heating, wrangle the squash: cut it in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out and discard the seeds and stringy fibers. With a vegetable peeler, remove the skin from one half, then cut the peeled squash into ½-inch cubes. The recipe says there should be about 3 cups cubed squash. (I ended up needing more than half of my squash--almost all of it, really--to get this much, but I’d deliberately chosen a runty one at the farmer’s market so I didn’t have to deal with leftovers. If you do only use half your squash, Jack recommends saving the other half to roast in the oven for a later meal or side dish.) The squash-steaming water should be boiling by this point, so put the squash in the steamer basket and steam it until it's tender but not mushy (Jack says 10-12 minutes, but I think maybe mine took less time). At some point during this process, the water for the pasta will boil; pour in the penne and cook it until al dente.

3. While the squash is steaming and pasta is cooking, heat the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When it's warm, add the garlic and sauté over medium heat “until golden brown, about 4 minutes.” (Except I don’t really like browned garlic, so I used sautéed it until it was tender and fragrant, then proceeded.)

4. By this time, the squash should have finished steaming; pull the steamer basket out of the pot. Add the squash, sage, salt, and pepper to the skillet and toss to coat the squash with the oil and butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is heated through, about 3 minutes. Or it can be longer if you're still waiting for the pasta to finish--Jack just says, “The squash should just begin to lose its shape, but not become a mushy puree.”

5. Drain the pasta and toss it with the squash sauce. Add the other tablespoon of butter and mix well. Dish out the pasta into serving/storage bowls, sprinkling each serving with grated cheese and more pepper.

Serves: 6
Time: 30-45 minutes

Friday, September 24, 2004


March 2008: The stock pot before boiling, so pretty! You'll notice the presence of scallions, although the recipe doesn't call for them. Nowadays I just try to keep two "stock bags" going in my freezer: one for chicken bones, one for veggie bits I'd normally discard while cooking--like carrot ends, parsley stems, unused onion halves, and these scallion tops from a recipe that only called for the white ends. Then when my chicken-broth supply runs low, I can just dump the contents of the two bags into the pot, add water and the necessary extras, and start it a-boilin'. A truly economical way to get a little more use out of your food before it goes to the trash.

My First Chicken Stock. I finally had a chicken carcass to work with, so I figured I should give this a shot. Then I’ll have chicken broth on hand in the freezer whenever I need it, thereby freeing myself from my dependence on Swanson’s canned broth. Not that I use a lot of broth in my cooking, but I bet I’d be more likely to if I had good, homemade broth available. Plus, someday it will supposedly get cold (or cooler, anyway) and I’ll want to make soup. Not to mention there’s nothing cozier than an aromatic pot simmering away on the stove. So, last night while waiting for onions to caramelize for a really good pasta sauce, I decided to go for it.

I probably had half a dozen different stock recipes in different cookbooks in the house, but Martha Rose Schulman’s in Ready When You Are won out, with some good ingredients the others didn’t have—garlic, peppercorns, leeks. In addition to my cooked chicken carcass from last week’s roasted chicken, I also had a raw neck, 2 raw wings, and some cooked carcass bits in the freezer from the Greek Chicken of two weeks ago. The cool thing about making stock is that you can throw in whatever you’ve got! I can’t give you a verdict on how it turned out, since it’s still sitting in my refrigerator waiting for me to skim off the fat, but expect me to post several recipes involving chicken broth next week. In the meantime, I can say that it was easy to make and it smelled incredible. I feel that with the acquisition of this very basic cooking skill, I’ve somehow advanced to another level. Now (sigh) I just need to learn to bake.

POSTSCRIPT MARCH 2006: This has become my habitual chicken-broth recipe. It's easy and tastes great. I usually skip the leek, unless I happen to have one handy, and I NEVER make the bouquet garni. I did find some cheesecloth at the grocery store for straining the stock, and it works great.

Fresh or cooked carcass of a chicken, plus 4 wings if desired; or 1 whole chicken, cut up; or 3 pounds chicken legs and thighs
4 medium carrots, thickly sliced
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
Optional: 1 leek, white and light green part only, cleaned and thickly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 bay leaf
a couple sprigs of fresh thyme
a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1. Martha notes, “If you’re using a fresh chicken carcass, crack the bones slightly with a hammer.” (This sounds like fun, but I've never done it--I usually use whatever's left over from my cooked chickens.) Put the chicken in a large soup pot.

2. Add the carrots, onions, leek (if using), and garlic. Martha says to make a “bouquet garni” out of the herbs--you can just tie the bay leaf, thyme, and parsley together with string, or you can tie them inside the dark green outer leek leaf if you’re using a leek. Martha does confess in her introduction to the recipe, “I don’t always tie together my bay leaf, thyme, and parsley sprigs into a bouquet garni. Why should I? The broth is going to be strained anyway.” Right on! Now that’s the kind of honest, clever, lazy thinking I like to see in my cookbook writers. Anyway, add the bouquet garni OR the loose herbs to the pot, along with the peppercorns.

3. Fill the pot with water, covering the contents by one inch (i.e, the water level should be one inch higher than everything else in the pot). Bring it to a boil, skimm off the foam that rises to the top, then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot partially with the lid, and simmer it for 2-4 hours.

4. Strain the broth “through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a large bowl or pot.” If you don't have cheesecloth, you can use a clean piece of fabric (such as a kitchen towel) instead, or you can just use a plain strainer if you don't mind a cloudier broth. Discard everything that ended up in the strainer (goodbye, noble chicken! You served us well), and put the pot full of broth in the refrigerator, uncovered. Leave it there for several hours or preferably overnight.

5. When the waiting period is over, a layer of fat will be floating on the surface Lift off the fat, using either a slotted spatula or a "skimmer." (What’s a skimmer, I wonder?) Strain the stock again, “through a fine-mesh strainer or a cheesecloth-lined medium strainer.” Chill the broth for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.

Makes: 2½ quarts
Time: 2-4 hours to cook, plus several hours (or overnight) to settle


My only complaint about my favorite cookbook, Pasta e Verdura? Longest recipe titles in the world. This one was listed as something like “Caramelized Onions With White Wine, Cream, and Fresh Herbs on Pasta.” You don’t need to list every single ingredient there, Jack Bishop. But I quibble. This is a fantastic, elegant recipe. Not for every day, of course, what with all that cream and the fact that your entire home will smell of onions for 24 hours afterwards, but still, wow. I’d never much liked onions, too strong-tasting when raw, too crunchy-slimy when cooked; I scraped them off hamburgers, I pulled them out of onion rings and just ate the fried coating. This pasta was a revelation: I do like onions, rather a lot, when they’re mushy and browned and sweet, especially tinged with the sourness of wine and the bitter greenness of herbs. And, you know, cream and cheese never hurt anything, either. When I peeled and chopped the onions, the onion-phobe in me said, “Boy, that sure is a lot of onions.” But they cook down a lot, and there’s not much else in the sauce, so don’t wuss out.

This recipe takes a little extra time to slow-cook the onions, but very little skill in preparation. The food is rich, so smaller servings with side salads are a good idea. I just made a half-recipe last night, because if there’s creamy oniony pasta laying around the house, I will eat as much as I can hold.

¼ cup olive oil
4 medium onions (about 1½ pounds), chopped
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup white wine
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup tightly packed mixed fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, sage, thyme, oregano, or marjoram (I use basil and parsley for the majority, with a medium amount of oregano and a small amount of thyme added in)
1 pound fettuccine
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat, add the onions when the oil is warm, and sauté them, stirring occasionally, until they're very brown and tender, 30-40 minutes. (The onions should cook very slowly; if they start to burn, lower the heat.)

2. While the onions are cooking, fill a large pot with salted water for cooking the pasta, put it on the stove, bring it to a boil, and then put in the pasta and cook until al dente.

3. When the onions are suitably caramelized, season them with the salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium and add the wine. Scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any tasty brown bits, simmer the wine until the alcohol smell fades, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and herbs to the pan, bring the sauce to a boil, and simmer it until it thickens slightly, about 1 minute.

4. Drain the pasta, toss it with the sauce and the grated Parmesan, season with a little extra pepper, and tah-dah!

Serves: 6
Time: About an hour

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


We are butting heads over ratatouille at my house. I made this recipe for the first time a few months ago (Where did I get it, though? Can’t remember) during my early experimentations with eggplant and really liked it—the sweetness of the onions, the smokiness of the eggplant, the freshness of the other vegetables, the brightness of the herbs. A was not so enthused. At first he said it was OK, but then after I made it a second time he revealed he didn’t really enjoy it. He said it was like pasta sauce with no pasta. Lord knows we don’t need any more pasta recipes, so putting it over pasta was out. But I was open to the idea of serving it some other way, maybe over bread, like a sandwich? Then I was reading Ready When You Are: A Compendium of Comforting One-Dish Meals by Martha Rose Schulman, and saw that after her ratatouille recipe (which was pretty much the same as mine) she listed some things to do with leftover eggplant, including a gratin that sounded quite tasty. That would employ 2½ cups of ratatouille—but what to do with the rest? Eventually I concocted a crazy Tuesday-night cooking itinerary in which I would (1) make ratatouille, a somewhat time-consuming recipe in itself; (2) serve some of the ratatouille with mozzarella on toasted French bread; and (3) make the rest into a gratin to have for lunch the next day. All before the finale of The Amazing Race began at 9:00.

Astoundingly, it worked out just fine. Granted, I cut a few corners, but it didn’t affect the quality of the food as far as I’m concerned. For instance, the letting the eggplant sit in the colander for 1-3 hours--I had done this in the past (I usually make ratatouille on Sundays, since it’s slightly time-consuming), but this time I just couldn’t be bothered. I skipped all of it. And it didn’t really affect the taste or texture in any negative way I could ascertain. I guess the salt is supposed to draw out the moisture? and pressing it, of course, makes it squooshier. Maybe I’d still do it if I had the time, but I believe the lazy or harried person could avoid it with no ill effects. I really could not face peeling the tomatoes, either. The ratatouille is supposed to be rustic anyway, so who cares about a few stray tomato skins?

The ratatouille was tasty as always, hearty but not heavy, and I liked it with the bread and cheese. A called this “a 100% improvement” over plain ratatouille, but then disappointingly admitted he still doesn’t really like ratatouille; I guess it’s a texture thing. That made me a bit cranky, as I now have to feel guilty about inflicting it on him in the future. The gratin looked yummy coming out of the oven. By the time lunch rolled around today and it came time to try some, however, I was skeptical, remembering I don’t really like eggs all that much, the crispy top would be soggy, and I’m suddenly feeling under the weather with either allergies or a cold (drippy nose, muffled sense of taste, reduced appetite). It was really good, though—and even, as Martha Rose Schulman promised, comforting. Enough so that I wished for a bigger piece, which is testamonial enough, I think.

So: many ways to eat your ratatouille. I bet it would also be good over pasta, or even maybe over chicken. Martha also suggests serving ratatouille in a tart, omelettes, frittata, or crepes. But to me, it will always be fine just plain, too. Even if I have to eat it alone and in secret, away from Mr. Unappreciative.

Postscript, December 2009: I guess A finally defeated me, because I never make this anymore. I don't really feel the urge to revisit it, either, so it's moving to the sad "not favorites" category.


2 large eggplants (2-2½ pounds total)
2 large zucchini (about 1½ pounds total)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 medium ripe tomatoes, cored, peeled, and cut into 2-inch cubes (you can skip peeling if you want)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
salt and pepper

1. Trim the ends off the eggplant, discard, and cut the rest of the eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Place in a colander, sprinkle it with 2 teaspoons salt, let it stand 1-3 hours, rinse it well, and press it between paper towels until it's dry, firm, and compressed. (If you're in a hurry, it's OK to let the salted eggplant sit for less than an hour.)

2. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line one or two large rimmed baking sheets with tinfoil (you need enough space to fit all the eggplant and zucchini in a single layer). Put the eggplant on the baking sheet(s), then trim and cube the zucchini and add that. Toss the eggplant and zucchini with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in the oven until well browned and tender, about 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

4. When the onions are thoroughly soft and caramelized, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the tomatoes and cook them until they began to break down, about 5 minutes.

5. When the eggplant and zucchini have finished roasting, remove from the oven and add to the skillet, stirring gently until all the ingredients are combined. Cook everything for about 5 minutes, add the herbs and salt and pepper to taste, and it's done.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 1 hour


French bread
mozzarella cheese

When the ratatouille was done, I scooped out 2½ cups to use for the gratin and then turned on the broiler in the oven. I took the tinfoil off my baking sheet and threw it away, and the baking sheet was pretty clean underneath, so I kept on using it. I sliced some French bread (I did two servings of two large slices each), laid the slices on the baking sheet, and broiled them just for 30 seconds to a minute, until they had firmed up but hadn’t started to brown. Took them out of the oven, sliced some mozzarella cheese, set it atop the bread, stuck it back in the oven, and broiled it very briefly, until the cheese was melted and just starting to get browned. I’d recommend actually standing there and watching it cook, because it cooks so fast (I burned the first two slices of bread I tried to do and had to start over). Put the cheesy toasts on some plates and spoon ratatouille over them. I ate this with my fingers, like big pieces of bruschetta, but you could use a knife and fork, or make a sandwich or something. This fed two of us, and there was enough ratatouille left over to cover two more slices of bread if I’d had them; I put it in a Tupperware container in the fridge for later. Next, I moved on to the gratin.

Serves: however many or few you want (probably 8, if you used all the ratatouille and didn’t make a gratin)
Time: a few minutes


2 to 2½ cups ratatouille
3 eggs
¾ cup milk or less
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (½ cup, tightly packed)
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (¼ cup)

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and oil a 2-quart Pyrex baking dish.

2. Martha says to “Place the ratatouille in a strainer or colander set over a bowl. Let drain for 5 minutes.” Then you’re supposed to take whatever liquid accumulates in the bowl and measure it out, adding enough milk to total ¾ cup. She suggests you should only need ½ cup of milk, and the remaining ¼ cup should be gratin liquid. Well, here’s where Martha’s ratatouille and mine must differ, because I tried this and mine generated about 1 teaspoon of liquid. So, the full ¾ cup of milk for me, and I probably could have skipped the draining entirely.

3. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then beat in the milk (which, hypothetically, is mixed with ratatouille liquid), salt, and pepper. Stir in the ratatouille and Gruyere. Pour all of this into the baking dish.

4. In a smaller bowl, toss together the bread crumbs, olive oil, and Parmesan. Sprinkle this in an even layer over the top of the gratin. Bake 30-40 minutes, until browned and fairly firm. Cut it into fourths and serve.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes, mostly baking time

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


This recipe (source unknown) is pretty rich and slightly a pain to make (I loathe peeling tomatoes), so I don’t do it that often, but oh boy is it good, as one might expect anything with three cheeses to be. I think this was the first time I had really good, fresh (farmers’-market, of course) tomatoes for the sauce, and that made it even better—the sauce was actually red, not the pinky-orange I’d become accustomed to from grocery-store tomatoes, and bursting with flavor.

Besides the tomato-peeling annoyance, the only problem I have with this recipe is that it leaves a lot of leftover mascarpone it’s hard to find a use for. (Do you know mascarpone? I didn’t, until I learned this recipe. It’s like cream cheese, but not as sweet. It’ll be in the fancy-cheese portion of your supermarket, usually by the deli.) I have one other pasta recipe that calls for it, which I’ll probably be making next week, but that still only uses a tablespoon. I could probably improvise something with pasta in a mascarpone sauce, maybe with spinach? But beyond that, the only thing I know has mascarpone in it is cannoli, which I have no desire to make. Perhaps I’ll be trolling the Internet for mascarpone recipes, just so I don’t have to waste the stuff.

3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt, plus extra for seasoning
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 pound penne
4 ounces fontina cheese, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Peel the tomatoes. How I do this is to boil some water in a mid-sized pot and cut Xs into the skin at the bottom of each tomato, then put the tomatoes in the boiling water for about a minute, until the skin starts to look baggy, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set them on the cutting board to cool a bit. Peel the loose skin off with your fingers and then core, seed, and chop them.

2. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta. Then heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. When it's warm, add the garlic and stir and cook it 1 minute, making sure it doesn't brown. Add the tomatoes, liberally season with salt to taste (maybe half a teaspoon?), stir, and reduce heat to medium. Cook the tomatoes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and the watery tomato liquid has cooked away, about 20 minutes.

3. When the water in the pot boils, add the tablespoon of salt and the penne, cook until al dente, and drain.

4. Add the pasta, the cheeses, and the basil to the tomato sauce, reduce the heat to low, and stirr until all the cheese is melted and the sauce is creamy. Grind some black pepper over it and serve it.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour

Monday, September 20, 2004


I have been itching to roast a chicken for a while now. Don’t ask me why—maybe it’s the onset of fall making me crave huge oven-warm slabs of meat? Or maybe it’s the book I got this recipe from, Ready When You Are: A Compendium of Comforting One-Dish Meals by Martha Rose Schulman, which is chock-full of simple, hearty, delicious-sounding fare and features a tantalizing glossy photo of this dish looking all browned and glistening. Plus, it was a challenge, a new skill to try—I’ve never worked with a whole chicken before, and I had to buy all kinds of exciting accoutrements, such as a meat thermometer and a roasting pan. Originally, I’d bought a large disposable roasting pan (all that was available at the grocery store), but then I got home and read about chicken-roasting in more depth (in Martha’s book and in The Joy of Cooking’s All About Chicken, and I realized that if I used such a deep pan my chicken wouldn’t brown much. The books said I could use a large, heavy baking sheet with a rim around the edge, so I did. If I’d had more vegetables, there wouldn’t have been enough room, but as it was everything fit OK. Eventually I’ll buy a proper roasting pan of the correct size. (NOTE FROM MARCH 2006: I haven't done this yet. My only innovation has been to line the baking sheet with tinfoil beforehand. NOTE FROM OCTOBER 2008: Later I bought a roasting rack that sits on the baking sheet and elevates the chicken just slightly, keeping the skin from sticking and helping the warm air to circulate around the bird, but still allowing the juices to drip down onto the vegetables.)

I didn’t use parsnips or turnips, because I don’t like them (although, granted, I don’t have much experience in their realm, so who knows?). (NOTE FROM MARCH 2006: I do now like turnips. Hooray! NOTE FROM OCTOBER 2008: And now I like parsnips. Also, I like to replace some of the normal potatoes with sweet potatoes.) In retrospect, I could have upped the amount of potatoes and carrots I used to make up for that, because the vegetables turned out so freaking delicious. Strangely, though, they got quite well done (some of the smaller onion pieces were totally blackened) even before the chicken was finished cooking, although Martha expected me to have to remove the chicken from the oven first and let the vegetables continue cooking another 15 minutes beyond that, which obviously didn’t happen. Maybe I cut them in too small pieces? Maybe a larger quantity (less spread out) would have helped?

As A put it, this was my most intensely carnivorous cooking experience yet, and I was suitably daunted. The (Trader Joe's hormone-free, cruelty-free, vegetarian-fed) chicken was worrisome at every stage of the process. Trouble began when Martha said to “remove the neck,” to which I promptly said “ew,” because there was indeed a stub of vertebrae protruding from the back, and it was not easily removed. Normally very detailed, All About Chicken just glossed right over how to do this. I ended up sawing it off roughly with a knife, then washed my hands about 500 times. Apparently, I’m more of a wuss than I expected when it comes to poultry carcasses. (NOTE FROM MARCH 2006: I have roasted many chickens in the subsequent year and a half, and I now skip right over this neck-removal thing. It hasn't seemed to make a difference.) The chicken just looked so naked and somehow obscene when raw (especially when I was stuffing things in its “cavity”), so mystifying to carve when cooked, and oddly wet and pinkish inside the thigh as I began cutting, even though the meat thermometer had declared it done. I was having a bad day anyway, and A clearly seemed to doubt my mastery of the situation, as did I a little, especially as I began worrying about how it was my fault we were going to get salmonella and die. All this interfered somewhat with our enjoyment of the food, so it wasn’t the triumphant experience I’d hoped for, but it was good. The chicken did not kill us, and I maintain that the pink/red we were seeing was only the thighbone anyway. It tasted like fine chicken. With a clove of the roasted garlic, a slice of caramelized onion, and a crisp piece of potato in the same mouthful, it was better than fine. And easy, too, for the most part, especially if for anyone who knows their way around a chicken better than I do—some prep work at the beginning, and then just sit back and let it cook (and make your apartment smell terrific, by the way). It wasn’t quite as easy or flavorful as the Greek Chicken I made a couple of weeks ago, but I’d certainly make this again—and try to perfect my technique, too. Also, Ready When You Are has another tantalizing-sounding roast chicken recipe (with lemon and honey), so I daresay I haven’t seen my last chicken cavity.

Also, I’d like to try Martha’s suggestion for pureeing the leftover vegetables into a soup (although that means somehow ending up with leftover vegetables). I’ve included it at the end of the recipe; if you give it a shot, let me know how it turns out.

1 medium chicken, about 4 pounds
1 large or 2 medium onions, peeled and cut in wedges
4 large carrots, peeled, cut in half crosswise, and halved lengthwise
1 to 1½ pounds potatoes, scrubbed and left whole if small, quartered if medium, peeled and cut in sixths if large russets
2 or 3 celery stalks, cut in 3-inch lengths
¾ pound turnips, peeled and quartered
¾ pound parsnips, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise (I misinterpreted this at first, until I looked at the photo in the book—cut it horizontally around the middle, so each clove is cut in half)
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the cut-up onions, carrots, potatoes, celery, turnips, parsnips, and garlic in a roasting pan. Toss the vegetables with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then make “a little nest,” as Martha charmingly puts it, in the center of them for the chicken.

2. Unwrap the chicken and remove the package of giblets from its cavity. Remove the neck (or not), rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water, pat it dry with paper towels, and place it in its “nest” in the roasting pan. Rub it all over with the remaining tablespoon olive oil, season it all over with salt and pepper, and strick sprigs of rosemary under its wings and legs. Turn the chicken over so its back is facing up, and put a few garlic cloves, a rosemary sprig, and a bay leaf in its cavity. Bury the remaining bay leaf and rosemary among the vegetables.

3. Now, into the oven. Roast for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue roasting, this time for 30 minutes. Flip the chicken over so its breast faces up, baste it lightly with the accumulated juices on the baking sheet, and stir all the vegetables, which may be starting to stick to the pan. Roast another 30-40 minutes, “or until the chicken is golden brown and the juice runs clear when pierced with a knife (the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh should be at least 165 degrees).” If the vegetables don't seem done yet, you can remove the chicken to a carving board and then stir the veggies and return them to the oven for another 15 minutes of cooking. Let the chicken rest 15 minutes and then carve it. Serve with the roasted vegetables on the side.

Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (mostly baking time)
Serves: 4-6

If I’d had more vegetables, I would have made the soup Martha suggests from the leftovers:


2 to 2½ cups of the cooked vegetables
2 cups chicken stock
½ to 1 cup milk
Process the vegetables coarsely in a food processor or blender. Combine with stock and bring to a simmer. Add milk and heat through. Season with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper, and serve. (Serves 2-4)

Thursday, September 16, 2004


You might notice that the sauce doesn't look so "pink" in this photo. That's because one of my tomatoes tragically went bad and had to be thrown away. So this is what the pasta looks like when you have just one tomato. Still tasted great, though.

Since we’re almost at the point of being what A calls “oppressed by leftovers” (he teases me, but I do get a little tense when I’ve just cooked a meal and there aren’t any Tupperware containers for me to put it in because they’re all full of other leftovers already, and then I feel pressure to make us eat all these leftovers before they go bad, because I’m sort of grossed out by leftovers and how they look unappetizing and cold in the fridge), I just made half this recipe last night. Which I’m now kind of regretting, because it was really good. I don’t love broccoli, but it’s nice and green, and the garlic and tomatoes and red pepper flakes and cheese do a good job of both complementing and downplaying its flavor. This is another recipe from Pasta e Verdura, which I haven’t cooked from in a couple of weeks and had been missing. It really is a great book. Without it, A and I would be scavenging like wild dogs. Or…not exactly, but I really do rely on it. I am making an effort to eat smaller servings of pasta, though. We’ll see how that goes.

Just one hint—I like to cut everything up before I really begin this recipe, because nothing cooks for very long and things start to move quite fast. You want to keep everything tasting fresh; I’m convinced the food turned out extra well last night because I was being attentive and didn’t overcook anything.

1 medium bunch broccoli (about 1½ pounds)
2 large ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored, seeded, and diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup shredded fresh basil leaves
1 pound linguine
freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste
black pepper to taste

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 smaller pot for cooking the broccoli. While waiting for the water to boil, remove the broccoli florets from the stems, discard the stems, and chop the florets into small, bite-sized pieces. There should be about 5 cups of them. When the water in the small pot boils, add the broccoli and a little salt to the boiling water. Cook the broccoli briefly until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain it and set it aside. When the other water boils, add the pasta to it and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and when it's hot add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute them about 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, about 2 minutes (the tomatoes should form a rough sauce but still maintain their shape).

3. Add the cream and basil to the pan, and simmer for about a minute until the cream thickens slightly. Stir in the broccoli, cook it just long enough to heat the broccoli through, and remove the pan from the heat.

4. When the pasta is done, drain it. Add it to the pan with the sauce, mix everything together, portion it out into serving/storage containers, and then sprinkle grated cheese and ground black pepper over the top.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes


I made this on Tuesday night as part of PitaFest 2004 (with Pita Crisps and Mom’s Hummus). I make it a lot, actually, because it is delicious. And I say this as a non-salad fan. I have eaten it as a main dish on many hot summer days, but it might also work well for you as a side dish to some kind of appropriate meat. Or, you know, with the hummus. Anyway, it’s easy, it’s good for you, it’s fattoush.

1 large cucumber
2 7-inch pita rounds (the kind with pockets)
4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
6 scallions, including some of the greens, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
¼ cup olive oil
juice of one large lemon
1 medium garlic clove, minced

1. Peel, seed, and dice the cucumber and put it in a colander, toss with ½ teaspoon salt, and set aside to drain. The salt is supposed to draw the moisture out of the cucumber. (I’m always on the verge of skipping this step, because (a) I’m not convinced it really does anything; and (b) the salad is pretty liquidy already, so what’s a little more cucumber water? But I go through with it anyway.)

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, slice the pitas in half crosswise, and then split the halves (by pulling the two sides of the pita pocket apart) to make 8 thin semicircles. Put them on a baking sheet and into the oven until they're crisp and light brown, about 10 minutes, and then set them aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, mix the tomatoes, scallions, parsley, cilantro, and mint in a large bowl. The recipe then says to "Press the excess water out of the cucumbers, then rinse quickly and blot dry." (I do this as best I can, again questioning it—not a lot of water ever comes out when I “press” the cucumbers in the colander, and then rinsing them seems to get them wetter than when they started. I blot them with a paper towel.) Put the cucmbers in the bowl with the tomatoes, etc.

4. Mix the garlic, lemon juice, oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl (I usually use a screw-top jar I can just shake to mix dressings). Pour the mixture over the salad, and toss well.

5. Mix the toasted pita bread into the salad and serve immediately.

Serves: 4
Time: 20-30 minutes


You don’t have to make these things together, but I always, always do. And it’s so good. When I lived alone, on many a summer night I’d simply have a big bowl of hummus, with pita crisps and a green salad, for dinner. The hummus recipe probably makes enough to serve at least four hungry people as a side dish or appetizer dip, but me, I’d eat half of it in one sitting. If the pita crisps ran out, I’d eat it with a spoon. And considering I don’t really like beans, especially cold beans, and especially not garbanzo beans, this is a good testimonial to the power of mom’s hummus. Easiest hummus in the world to make, too—no messing with tahini or anything fancy. (I suppose that might not make it "real" hummus and I should probably be calling it "chickpea dip" or something, but who cares? To me, the flavor is better without the tahini anyway.) As for the pita crisps, I don’t know where I got the recipe but they’re very good with the hummus.

So now that I’m cooking for two I’m aware that not everyone considers a big bowl of hummus a dinner, and when I make hummus and pita crisps I usually serve them with Fattoush (Tomato-Cucumber Salad With Herbs and Toasted Pita), and it all goes really nicely together. It’s complex to make so many things at once, especially in the pita-toasting department, and it does turn into a bit of a raw garlic extravaganza—which is delicious to me and quite healthy I’m told, and not overpowering while you’re eating it, but expect to have garlicmouth when you wake up the next morning. Regardless, it all makes a good, fresh, light (if you restrain yourself around the pita crisps), summery meal.

A took over the making of the pita crisps, spreading on the butter and sprinkling on the oregano and cheese while I was juggling the making of the hummus and fattoush. I highly recommend having a kitchen boy, if you can procure one.

2 6-inch pita breads (the kind with pockets)
2 teaspoons butter
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons dried oregano

1. Preheat the broiler and get out a baking sheet. Cut the pitas in half across and split each half horizontally with your fingers, pulling the two sides of the pockets apart, to create 8 thin semicircular pieces. Then cut each semicircle into three triangular wedges. (I know, this sounds like a math problem.) Place the pieces, rough side up, in a single layer on the baking sheet.

2. Very lightly spread each pita piece with butter, then sprinkle each one with a small amount of cheese, and then sprinkle each generously with oregano. (I don’t bother with the measurements for the butter, cheese, or oregano anymore, as I make this so often it’s easy to eyeball how much to use.) Digression about annoyingness of recipe: it asks you to spread the pitas with butter, cheese, and oregano before cutting them into thirds—which probably makes it easier to butter, but also makes it much harder to cut them without dislodging all the cheese and oregano all over the baking sheet. Also, you’re told to “Toss together the Parmesan cheese and oregano in a small bowl.” Why dirty a whole bowl just for that? Sprinkling on the cheese and then shaking on the oregano works just as well. End of digression about annoyingness of recipe.

3. Broil the pitas for about 2 minutes, or until lightly browned. (Speaking from experience, I advise you to watch them closely! That broiler will burn them to a crisp if you give it the chance.) Take them out of the oven, let them cool slightly, and then eat them dipped into the hummus. They’re best right away, but any leftovers will hold up OK stored in a Ziplock bag for a couple more days.

Serves: I usually get enough out of it to match the amount of hummus I have, which is 2 generous servings. I pften double it so there's plenty for leftovers, because the hummus' flavor is even better the next day.

Time: 15 minutes

1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained with liquid reserved

1. Peel the garlic and throw the whole clove in the blender, then add the lemon juice, oil, paprika, and salt. Blend everything until it's smooth (the garlic should be totally pureed).

2. Open the can of beans, drain the liquid (bleah) into a small bowl, and dump the beans into the blender. Then it’s just a question of blending everything until it’s smooth, thinning as needed with the reserved liquid. (The recipe says you can also thin with yogurt, though I’ve never attempted this.) I personally prefer my hummus to be on the thin side, so I use maybe a third of the liquid. Do whatever seems right to you. Scrape the hummus out of the blender into some bowls, sprinkle extra paprika on if desired, scoop it up with the pita crisps, and enjoy.

Serves: 2, generously (again, I often double this to ensure leftovers)
Time: 15 minutes

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


I think I got this recipe from a magazine—Better Homes and Gardens, maybe? The photo looked so pretty, with a mix of red and yellow tomatoes and the green basil and the white cheese. The first time I made it, as I recall, I’d had sad out-of-season tomatoes, strangely mealy mozzarella, and no white wine vinegar (I had to use balsamic), and not surprisingly I wasn’t that impressed with the result. But it wasn’t bad, and remembering the pretty photo, I kept the recipe around. On Monday night I wanted to give it a second chance and do it the right way. Hedging my bets, though, I served it as a side dish to some pasta. And it was good—simple, summery, attractive enough to be suitable for entertaining. Also, I just love foods stuffed with other foods!

One of these tomatoes makes a good side dish or appetizer, but you could also have two of them, with some bread, as a light main course.

4 small-to-medium red, yellow, or green tomatoes (3-4 ounces each)
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
3 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small chunks (about ½ cup)
¼ cup slivered red onion
¼ cup snipped fresh basil

1. Mix together the cheese, onion, and basil in a small bowl. Then, in a smaller bowl (or I use my usual screw-top jar for making dressing), combine the olive oil, vinegar, and sugar. Spoon 1½ tablespoons of this dressing into the cheese-onion-basil mixture and toss everything together.

2. Wash the tomatoes and cut a ¼-inch slice off the top (the stem end) of each one. Using a spoon (with maybe a little help from a knife to loosen things up first), scoop out the core, seeds, and tomato pulp from each one, leaving a ½-inch-thick tomato shell. Discard everything you scoop out. Sprinkle the inside of the tomato shells with the salt and pepper, then spoon some of the remaining dressing into each one. You probably won't use all the dressing, unless you like your tomatoes swimming in liquid (I probably only used between half and two-thirds of it).

3. Spoon the cheese-onion-basil mixture into the tomatoes and sprinkle them with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 4 as side dish/appetizer, 2 as main course
Time: 20 minutes


I can’t believe this is the third “Greek” recipe in a row. It’s totally accidental, I swear. Except maybe for the oregano, there isn’t really anything in this pasta that would make it especially Greek. But I got the recipe online, from I think, so we can’t expect authenticity. This is a standby for me—like Cold Pasta with Garlic Sauce, it’s is a good emergency meal, something to make when you’re exhausted or haven’t gone grocery shopping (or both); I often have it when I've just returned from a trip. Buttery and cheesy, probably appealing to children, but for pete’s sake have a green salad with it because it’s not exactly bursting with nutrients on its own. Or in my case, have Stuffed Tomatoes Caprese. I pretty much made this pasta on Monday night just because I wanted something easy and unassuming to go with Stuffed Tomatoes Caprese. The combination was OK (although I wouldn’t recommend it, exactly—I realized belatedly that both involves a whole lot of cheese); the tomatoes added the necessary color and freshness to the meal. Anyway, this is plain, yummy, comforting food: my version of macaroni and cheese, I suppose.

1 pound spaghetti
6 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

2. Set a large pot of lightly salted water on the stove over high heat for cooking the pasta. When it boils, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente.

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter with the salt in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook it until it just begins to brown, then remove it from the heat.

4. Drain the pasta and poured it, with some water still clinging to the strands, into a 9x13 Pyrex baking dish. Pour in the butter, cheese, and oregano, and toss everything together well.

5. Bake the pasta in a preheated oven 10-15 minutes, until—well, the recipe says “hot and bubbly,” but I have never seen this become “bubbly.” I bake it until it’s hot and the cheese is melted.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 30 minutes, tops

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Even though it’s been 90 to 100 degrees every day, my Minnesotan body clock is still a-tickin’, and it craves fall foods—roasted chicken, gratins, casseroles, stews. And when I saw butternut squash appear at the farmers’ market, I was bound and determined to try this new recipe (from a cookbook I got from the library recently—possibly The New Joy of Cooking?) despite its weather-inappropriateness. Hey, September is September, right? So last night I opened all the windows, turned on all the fans, fired up the oven, and baked some squash. At least it was dark outside, and A Perfect Storm was on TV, and by watching cold, wet people battle the elements I could imagine the kitchen as a warm (really warm), cozy haven. And the food? Was good. As I imagined, the flavors were perfect together. I have not historically been a squash lover (not since I was a toddler smearing it all over my face, anyway), but I’m coming around thanks to a few good butternut squash recipes, a list to which I’ll add this one. It took a while to make, but most of that was baking time—the prep wasn’t too onerous. The dish was almost on the verge of being too sweet, I thought (A disagrees, but then he has a sweeter tooth than I), but I had a green salad with it and that balanced things out nicely. I’ll definitely make this again…but I’ll wait for colder weather first.

2 smallish butternut squash, about 1 pound each (butternuts are the ones that look like giant peanuts--that's how I always remember it, anyway)
olive oil
1 cup well-seasoned sausage (about 8 ounces)
1 large, tart green apple, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch cubes
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground sage (I actually used dried sage leaves, which worked just fine)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and brush a little olive oil over the inside of a 9x13 baking dish.

2. If your squash are too tall to lay in the baking dish, slice the top (the stem part) off of each one as needed. Halve the squash lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and the gross, pumpkin-smelling stringy parts (discard these). Arrange the four halves, cut side up, in the baking dish (mine just barely fit, but I was able to get them in like puzzle pieces, the narrow end of one next to the wide end of the other) and brush them lightly with oil. Cover the dish with tinfoil and put it in the oven to bake “until almost tender,” 30-40 minutes. (For me it was more like 40-45 minutes; at 30 minutes the flesh was still too hard to scoop out with a spoon.) When it's done, take it out of the oven and set it aside to cool slightly. Make sure to leave the oven on for later.

3. While the squash is baking, put a skillet on the stove over medium heat. If you're using whole sausages with casings (as opposed to ground sausage), remove the casings. Add the sausage to the skillet. Unless your sausage is already described as "hot," I'd recommend adding a pinch each of red pepper flakes and fennel while it's cooking. Break the sausage up with a spoon into little bits while it browns. When all the pink is gone, add the chopped apple and cook, stirring, for several minutes until it's crisp-tender, then remove the skillet from the heat.

4. Scoop most of the flesh out of the squash; the recipe instructs to leave “three-eighths-inch-thick shells.” Lightly mix the squash pulp into the sausage mixture, along with 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, the sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Then pile the stuffing into the squash shells, dot with the remaining butter and brown sugar, and bake until the tops are brown and crusty, 20-25 minutes.

Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours (but mostly baking time)

Monday, September 13, 2004


We were all about the Greek food last week, apparently (I made this on Thursday). This recipe I got from my mom, and although I dimly recall her making it at least a few times when I was in my teens, I didn’t have any strong impressions of it (or maybe I was just not eating much meat at that stage of my life). The first time I made it for A, we both agreed it seemed blander than expected and didn’t produce a lot of food, so ever since then I’ve been toying with the proportions. I think I’ve got it about right now, but every time I make it is a bit of an experiment, and the results can vary. At its best, this is a tasty and easy meal that’s light but still satisfies my occasional desire for well-seasoned red meat.

½ cup plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, diced
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound beef tip steak, cut into thin strips
1 small onion, sliced thin (or maybe less, depending on how much you like onion—I think I used about a half)
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tomato, sliced
6 pieces pita bread (the kind with pockets)

1. Dice the cucumber and mix it with the yogurt in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Slice the onion and chop the garlic. Put the olive oil in a skillet and set it over medium heat. When it's warm, add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onions are limp.

3. Meanwhile, rub the steak with salt and pepper all over, then slice into strips. Add to the skillet when the onions start to soften, along with the oregano and a little more salt. Stir-fry the beef until it's no longer pink, being careful not to overcook it (a couple of times I’ve made it it’s been really tough, which is why I’ve taken to cooking the onions for a while first and then adding the beef later). Grind some more pepper over the top.

4. While the beef is cooking, slice the tomato and put it in a small bowl. Slice each pita bread in half, open the pockets, and warm them up briefly in the microwave.

5. To serve, spoon some beef into each pita pocket, then add a spoonful of cucumber mixture and a couple of tomato slices.

Serves: 4 (3 pita pockets each)
Time: 30 minutes

Thursday, September 09, 2004


Wow. This is good stuff with a capital GOOD. It’s the first recipe I’ve tried from the Joy of Cooking series’ All About Chicken, which I’ve currently got checked out from the library, and I’m impressed. This is one of those deceptively simple recipes that magically delivers great flavor. The onions get all soft and caramelized, and don’t even get me started on the garlic. Plus, chicken with real bones and skin and stuff, while always slightly more grossing-out and intimidating for me to prepare and eat, tastes way better than boring old boneless, skinless breasts. (Especially when it’s nice kosher chicken from Trader Joe’s, though I admit I was slightly startled to find a metal tag with Hebrew writing on it embedded deep in one of the wings, like a message in a bottle.) I felt quite carnivorous picking all the meat from the carcass, and quite cheflike saving the neck, wings, and bones for making chicken stock sometime.

So. Try this. We had it with a green salad. The recipe suggests “you might serve it in the Greek style with oven-roasted potatoes cooked with olive oil, garlic, and herbs,” but I turned out to only have one sad, wrinkled potato in the cupboard, so that yummy-sounding plan had to wait for another time. I can imagine potatoes would be really great with this chicken, though, especially with some of the extra onion-garlic-oil-chicken juices from the pan spooned over them. I think I’m drooling.

3½ to 4 ½ pounds chicken parts
salt and pepper to taste
3 medium onions, sliced into rings
6 to 12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary (or 2 teaspoons dried, crumbled)

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

2. Mix the onions, garlic, rosemary, and 2 tablespoons oil in a medium bowl.

3. Rinse the chicken parts and pat them dry with paper towels, put them on a cutting board, and season them liberally with salt and pepper.

4. In a shallow baking dish or roasting pan just large enough to hold the chicken pieces in a single layer (I used my much-abused 9x13 Pyrex), spread half the onion mixture over the bottom. Arrange the chicken pieces, skin side up, atop this and then cover them with the remaining onion mixture. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the chicken, put the dish in the oven, and bake 45 to 55 minutes. The recipe says the chicken is done when “the dark meat pieces exude clear juices when pricked deeply with a fork.” Serve chicken with some of the onion-garlic-oil-chicken juices from the pan spooned over the top.

Serves: 4-5
Time: a little over an hour, but most of that is baking time

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


This is the simplest recipe I can think of. So simple, I was suspicious the first time I tried it—how could something with so few ingredients have any taste at all? And while I won’t claim that this dish is full of bombastic bursts of flavor, it’s miraculously tasty enough that blandness-hating A not only likes it, but also specifically requested I make it last night (though he did demand plenty of pepper). This fine with me, as I’d just returned exhausted from Minnesota, no one had gone grocery shopping in two weeks, and it was well over 100 degrees. This may not be a showpiece recipe, but it’s a perfect sweltering-weather/bare-cupboards/feeling-lazy recipe. And if cold pasta turns you off (it’s not my favorite thing, either)? Room temperature is good enough. Either way, serve it with a green salad, so you get your vegetables.

2 tablespoons salt
1 pound spaghetti
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
black pepper to taste<

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add 2 tablespoons of salt and the spaghetti.

2. While the water heats, put 1 tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When it's warm, add the garlic and sauté it until it barely begins to color. Remove it from the heat, stir in the parsley, and then season with salt and pepper.

3. When the pasta is cooked until al dente, remove ¼ cup of the starchy pasta water and then drain the rest. Run cold water over the pasta until it's cool.

4. Place the pasta in a large bowl and toss it with 3 more tablespoons of oil, the cooked garlic-parsley mixture, and 2 tablespoons pasta water. If the pasta still seems on the dry side, go ahead and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of pasta water. Season with salt and a lot of freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

5. The recipe says, “Chill for up to 2 hours before serving,” but it's OK to take "up to" at face value and dig in after 15 minutes, or, heck, right away.

Serves: 5-6
Time: 20-30 minutes, plus chilling time


I couldn’t remember the last time I tried this recipe (let alone where I found it originally), so I decided to give it a try and see whether it was worth having. I made it as a side dish with North Beach Grilled Chicken, so at least there’d be something else to eat in case the salad sucked. But you know what? It was pretty good--a nice change from green salad, and it would be a great way to use up vegetables left over from other recipes. It’s a common-sense recipe, easy, simple, summery. I’ll keep it around.

P.S. You can grill the vegetables instead of broiling them, if you prefer. If so, grill them whole and then cut them up.

2 cups diced tomatoes
2 cups diced assorted vegetables (I used a small green zucchini, a small yellow zucchini, a Portobello mushroom, and a little red onion)
1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1½ cups cubed bread (I used French; I bet foccacia would be really good)
1 handful chopped fresh herbs (basil is the most obvious candidate, but parley or cilantro would also be nice)

1. Preheat the oven broiler. Cut up all the vegetables except the tomatoes, spread them on a baking sheet, brush them with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Put the baking sheet in the oven 4-6 inches from the heat, and broil the vegetables 5 minutes per side or until browned or lightly charred on the outside and tender or tender-crisp on the inside. Take them out and set them aside to cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, heat another tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When it's warm, put the bread cubes in the skillet and toss them around until evenly coated with the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then cook them until they're toasty and golden brown. Take them off the burner and set them aside to cool somewhat.

3. Dice the tomatoes and put them in a large bowl with the vinegar, remaining oil, chopped herbs, and salt to taste. Add the vegetables and let everything sit for half an hour or so.

4. Just before serving, toss in the bread cubes and some pepper.

Serves: 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish
Time: 45 minutes


This is the best grilled chicken I know. I don’t particularly love just chowing down on a big hunk of chicken breast—it’s bland and I don’t like its texture, or “mouthfeel,” as the food critics call it. But this marinade makes it moist and flavorful, and the preparation and cooking is so easy it’s barely worth talking about. Plus, although I don’t recall eating any chicken when K and I spent a week in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco on spring break of our senior year of college, the recipe title reminds me of all our adventures. (The sherry! The pasta! The biker parade!) So thanks to Pacific Grilling, the source of this recipe that everyone should add to their repertoires because it is seriously that good.

I made this last Wednesday night, on the eve of my departure for Minnesota. It was not really the time to get all ambitious, but for some reason I had decided that instead of having the chicken with a green salad and maybe some garlic bread, as per usual, I would make a second dish to accompany it. Hence, Vegetable and Bread Salad was attempted. I couldn’t actually grill the vegetables because my George Foreman was busy grilling the chicken, but I broiled them and they turned out fine. The salad was easy and went pretty well with the chicken (though it was certainly a vinegar-heavy meal), so it was a good change of pace. It’s nothing special, though. Not like this chicken. By the way, Pacific Grilling says you can also use this marinade with vegetables or pork, but I don’t intend on trying that anytime soon. Why mess with perfection?

Note that the chicken needs to marinate for at least 8 hours, so start this ahead of time. I usually make the marinade the night before and let the chicken soak in it for 24 hours. Yum.

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1½ teaspoons dried basil
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt

12 chicken thighs, or 8 thighs and legs, or 4 breasts (I’ve always used just boneless, skinless breasts) (POSTSCRIPT, JULY 2011: I started using thighs instead and they are excellent.)

1. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl with a lid (or you can use a Ziplock bag). Place the chicken in the marinade, squooshing it around so it's fully immersed, snap on the lid, put the bowl in the refrigerator, and marinate for 8-24 hours, stirring things around a bit from time to time to make sure the chicken is evenly marinated.

2. Heat up the grill (I just use a George Foreman, but you can, of course, use the real thing). Pull the chicken out of the marinade and pat each piece dry with a paper towel. Grill it. Eat it.

Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes (plus 8-24 hours of marination)

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Is this recipe from Pasta e Verdura? Can’t remember. Don’t think so, though. What it is is a pretty good excuse to eat a whole mess of vegetables, use up the mozzarella from last week’s Spaghetti No Knife (mmm, melty mozzarella), and not really have to use the stove a whole lot on a very hot Pasadena day. The first time I tried this recipe I was suspicious—cucumber on pasta? With raw carrot and zucchini? But it’s good, and it’s become an old standby. Easy, colorful, unique. Nice to take on a picnic, I imagine, because it doesn’t have to be eaten piping hot. Plus it makes a lot of food.

1 pound ripe tomatoes, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed, diced
2 small zucchini, trimmed and diced
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small red onion, finely diced (I usually use half or even a quarter of this—a little raw onion goes a long, long way, in my opinion)
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, chopped
dried oregano to taste
1 pound penne or other tube-shaped pasta
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
4-6 tablespoons olive oil
¾ pound fresh mozzarella, diced

1. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil and then set to work cutting up all those vegetables (the only real labor involved in this recipe). Put them all in a large bowl, then add the basil (I have no idea how much “one bunch” is supposed to be--I hate vague directions like this, but at least basil is easy to eyeball; put in however much looks good to you) and the oregano (again, however much looks good to you—I used somewhere between ½ teaspoon and ¾ teaspoon, I believe), along with some salt (¼ to ½ teaspoon, I think). Then the red pepper flakes, olive oil, and mozzarella. Mix everything up well.

2. Meanwhile, when the water boils, cooked the pasta. When it's al dente, drain it. Toss it together with the sauce, and voila! Simplicity itself.

Serves: 6-8
Time: 30 minutes