Friday, October 29, 2004


Yet another creative use of vegetables with pasta, thanks to Pasta e Verdura. I don’t even have a particular fondness for peppers—I hate the green ones, and I tolerate the others, but don’t seek them out—and yet I really enjoy this dish. It’s so cheerfully fresh and colorful, has an intense zesty flavor but isn’t too heavy. Plus, it’s incredibly simple to make; I think the most laborious part was just seeding and slicing the peppers (those darn seeds get everywhere). When I made this on Wednesday night, we devoured our food in about a minute flat, even A, who just had a cap put on his tooth and can’t chew well (pasta with peppers—perfect for the ill and infirm!).

5 medium bell peppers (about 2 pounds), in a variety of colors (I usually use red, yellow, and orange)
1/3 cup olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup minced fresh basil leaves
1 pound fettuccine or other long pasta
freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta. While it's heating, halve the peppers and cut out the cores, seeds, and white membranes. Cut the peppers into thin slices and cut the slices in half crosswise.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until the garlic is fragrant and lightly colored, about 1 minute. Add the peppers and salt to the skillet, toss to coat them with the oil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers have softened considerably but are not mushy, 15-20 minutes.

3. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente. When the peppers are done, add the basil to the pan, then drain the pasta and add it as well. Toss everything together, dish it out, and sprinkle cheese over each serving.

Serves: 6
Time: 30-40 minutes


Don’t the quotes in the title look silly? Or, excuse me, “silly”? But they’re actually accurate; this is indeed pretty much like lasagna, in that it has layers of meat and cheese and tomato sauce, only it has eggplant instead of those pesky noodles. Like lasagna, the tastes meld together beautifully. And also like lasagna, it’s pretty labor-intensive, but it can conveniently be made ahead of time and baked later, so it’s good for company. I of course didn’t take advantage of this when I made it on Monday night; I just plodded along through the whole recipe while engaged in a long phone conversation—always a risky undertaking, but I didn’t get distracted enough to ruin anything.

I think this may be from Bruce Aidells’ Sausage Cookbook; anyway, I’d only made it once before. The results of the first trial had obviously been good enough to keep the recipe around, but I do recall it turning out too oily and heavy. So my challenge during Round 2 was to see if it could be made less greasy—and, therefore, worthy of keeping in the long term. I am happy to announce that I succeeded. The problem had simply been eggplant’s amazing ability to soak up oil like a sponge; the first time, I’d followed the recipe’s instructions to “drizzle with several tablespoons of oil.” This time, I used the oil very sparingly and cut down on the quantity of cheese (1 pound is a lot of mozzarella—you just don’t need that much). And the result was a nice, savory dish, rich but not overwhelming.

Both times, I’ve made a half-recipe, by the way. We just don’t need that much leftover “lasagna” cluttering up the refrigerator.

Postscript, December 2009: Ultimately, this proved to be too labor-intensive and rich to earn a regular place in my rotation, so I'm banishing it to the "Not Favorites" category. I'm still not a huge eggplant lover, try as I might.

2 medium-large eggplants
olive oil
2 pounds hot or sweet Italian sausage
2 medium onions, chopped
4 tablespoons chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
½ pound sliced mushrooms
16 ounces canned tomato sauce
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound thinly sliced mozzarella cheese, or to taste (I use less)
½ pound freshly grated Parmesan, or to taste (I use less)

1. Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Slice sausage into 1/2-inch pieces. When the skillet is hot, add the sausage slices and brown for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. When the sausage is brown, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and put it on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Turn down the heat to medium, add the onion and garlic to the sausage drippings, and cook them for about 5 minutes. When the onions are soft, add the fennel, basil, and mushrooms and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and the wine, bring the sauce to a boil, and decrease the heat to a simmer. Simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes.

3. While the sauce is cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with tinfoil and then very lightly oil the surface. Trim the ends off the eggplant, peel it, and slice it lengthwise (be careful not to make the slices too thin, by the way, or they’ll overcook and get limp and useless). Place the slices on the baking sheet and brush them with the barest possible amount of olive oil. Put the baking sheet in the oven to cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft. About midway through, flip the slices over, just to see how they're cooking (and to keep them from sticking to the sheet too much). When eggplant is tender, remove from oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees.

4. When the tomato sauce has simmered for 30 minutes, add the sausage and cook about 10 minutes longer, then add some pepper and a little salt and remove from heat.

5. Get out your 9x13 baking dish (since I was doing a half recipe, I used a 9x9). Place a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the dish, cover it with a layer of the tomato-sausage sauce, and then add a layer of sliced mozzarella and grated Parmesan. Continue layering ingredients, ending with a layer of cheese on top. (The recipe notes that the “lasagna” can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated overnight.)

6. Bake 20-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted and beginning to brown on top. Remove from oven, let it rest for 10 minutes, and then slice and serve.

Serves: 8
Time: 1½ hours

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


I got this recipe from my mother, and I make it occasionally out of nostalgia, and also out of a love of cheese. I don’t make it too often, because it is very similar to my mom’s recipe for stuffed pasta shells, but stuffed pasta shells also have spinach and, to me, a more pleasing shape. Still, this is a good, simple, friendly recipe, almost guaranteed to be inoffensive to everyone who doesn’t hate cheese, tomato sauce, or pasta. And besides, stuffing things into other things is not only fun, but will also make your food seem much fancier than it in fact is—thus, this is a good dish to make for guests, especially since you can stuff the manicotti ahead of time. Pour on the sauce, throw them in the oven when you’re ready to sere, make a side salad, and you’re all set.

14 manicotti shells (usually, this is 1 package)
1½ cups cottage cheese or ricotta cheese (I prefer cottage cheese; it's moister and creamier)
1¼ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus extra to taste
2 beaten eggs
¼ teaspoon pepper
16 ounces canned tomato sauce
½ teaspoon each dried basil and oregano
¼ teaspoon fennel seed

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stove, and then add the manicotti, cook them until al dente, drain them, and rinse them in cold water until they're cool enough to handle.

3. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the ricotta/cottage cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan, and pepper. Use a small spoon to stuff this mixture into the manicotti shells when they're ready, and then place the stuffed manicotti in a shallow 9x13” baking dish. At this point you can throw the dish into the refrigerator if you’ll be serving it later, or you can even put the manicotti on a baking sheet instead of in the dish, throw the baking sheet in the freezer, wait until the manicotti harden, put them in a Ziplock bag, and then store them in the freezer until some later date.

3. When ready to cook, mix the tomato sauce with the basil, oregano, and fennel and then pour over the manicotti. Put the baking dish, uncovered, into the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the sauce is warm and bubbly and just slightly cooked down, and the cheeses look melted. Sprinkle a little Parmesan over the top and bake for 5 more minutes.

Serves: 4 (3.5 manicotti per serving), or more if you want smaller servings
Time: 1 hour

Monday, October 25, 2004


Legumes are not by any stretch of the imagination my favorite food category, but my mom must have made lentil soup occasionally when I was little, because the taste is familiar and reassuring. I forgot its existence for a long time, until I had lentil soup at a potluck last winter and some vague sense memories were reawakened. Shortly afterward, I found this recipe somewhere (online, I think) and added it to my repertoire. I couldn’t eat lentil soup every day, or even every month—I think this is only the second or third time I’ve used this recipe—but it’s good, nourishing comfort food. This is, as promised, an easy version, but it’s still flavorful, especially when eaten as leftovers (as with many soups, the flavors seem to intensify over a couple of days). Very little skill is required, and you barely have to pay attention to it while it’s cooking. Best of all, it makes the house smell cozy and lentilicious, so for optimal effects, make it on a cold, cloudy, wet day when you’re feeling a little sad and sleepy. (I, however, made it on a brilliantly sunny and warm day after a bracing hike along the ocean, and it tasted just as pleasing to me, so really there’s no need to wait until the bad weather and dark mood strike you.)

3 cups dry lentils
7 cups water
2 teaspoon salt
6-8 medium cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups chopped onion
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

1. Put the lentils, the water, and the salt in a large pot on the stove, bring it to a boil, and then lower the heat to the lowest possible simmer and cook, partially covered, for 20-30 minutes.

2. Add the garlic, onion, celery, and carrots to the pot along with a generous amount of black pepper. Cover the pot and simmer, covered, 20-30 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot and let them cook at least 5 minutes more, until everything seems tender and warmed through.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour

Friday, October 22, 2004


From The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, this faux-Mexican lasagna is one of the old staples from my vegetarian days, exceedingly easy to make, unpretentious, fairly wholesome, and wholly yummy. A doesn’t even like black beans, but he still likes this casserole. I like it even more that I’m using stellar salsa (Trader Joe’s Salsa Especial—I’ll plug it every chance I get), and in addition to what's inside the casserole, I usually spoon more salsa over my serving before I eat it. For cheese, use whatever sounds good to you--I've used the plain Monterey Jack called for, and in a pinch I've turned to a pre-shredded four-cheese Mexican blend as well as plain grated cheddar, but my fave is freshly shredded jalapeno pepper Jack, which adds a nice kick. Use whatever color bell pepper you like, but I favor yellow for color contrast.

1 medium onions, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium bell pepper, chopped (about ¾ cup)
8 ounces canned chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup good salsa
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
6 (6-inch) flour tortillas
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large skillet, combine the onion, pepper, undrained tomatoes, salsa, cumin, and garlic. Bring this to boiling over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. (It definitely doesn't hurt to cook it a little longer; personally, I like my onions nice and soft.) Add the rinsed, drained beans to the skillet, cook everything together briefly, then turn off the heat.

3. Get out a 9-inch square baking dish. Spread one-third of the bean mixture over the bottom of the dish. Top this with half of the tortillas, overlapping as necessary. (How I fit round tortillas in a square dish: I put one tortilla on, centered, in the middle. Then I cut two more tortillas in half, so I have four half-circular pieces, and I place the straight sides of these pieces so each one touches one of the four sides of the baking dish and the round parts meet in the center—tah dah, even tortilla coverage.) Top the tortillas with half of the cheese, then add another one-third of the bean mixture, the remaining tortillas, and then the remaining bean mixture.

3. Bake this, covered, in a 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes, until it's heated through. Pull it out of the oven, sprinkle the top with the rest of the cheese, and let it stand about 10 minutes (or until the cheese is melted). Cut it into fourths and serve with additional salsa if desired.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


A standard, serviceable pasta recipe from Pasta e Verdura, tasty but nothing exotic. Nothing not to like here: I love zucchini—perhaps the first of the Vegetables I Taught Myself to Like Despite Not Having Much Exposure to Them in the Past—and certainly don’t turn my nose up at a tomato-cream sauce. I’ve already expressed how much I loathe peeling tomatoes, but since homemade fresh tomato sauce is so good, I really can’t complain too vociferously. I’m still using farmers’ market tomatoes; they’re not quite as good as they were in summer, but still light-years better than the waxy, hard, pink-inside specimens I was forced to buy at Trader Joe’s a couple of weeks ago during a Tomato Emergency (two of my farmers’ market tomatoes went bad and I needed quick replacements).

The peeling of the tomatoes is much easier when you don’t blanch them too long, and I managed to do it right last night, which is surprising since I’d gone out for drinks after work to celebrate my managing editor’s birthday and didn’t get home until 8:00, yet decided to cook dinner because I am crazy, so I was rushing and a little…er, fuzzy-headed, and yet somehow the food turned out just fine, and in under an hour. Maybe gin and tonics are the secret to good cooking? In retrospect, eating the leftovers for lunch today, I decided I would have cooked the zucchini slightly longer (in my opinion, the recipe told me to do things in the wrong order, so the pasta was done too early and I had to hurry the sauce along—although just now, I realized that I cut the zucchini lengthwise into fourths and then cut it into cubes, rather than cutting it in half and then into thin slices, which would have made it cook much faster). Anyway, I've revised the order of operations here. But regardless, thumbs up. A was enthusiastic, although he also said, “I was a little suspicious of it until I saw you adding the cream.” A vegetable connoisseur he is not.

4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1½ pounds)
4 medium zucchini (about 1½ pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup heavy cream
15 large fresh basil leaves, shredded
1 pound penne pasta
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to taste

1. Bring a large pot of salted water (4 quarts) to a boil.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. While that's warming, trim the ends off the zucchini, cut them (the zucchini, not the ends) in half lengthwise, and slice them into thin half-moons. Add to the skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until golden, about 10 minutes.

3. Once the water is a-boiling, cut Xs into the skin on the bottom of the tomatoes and drop them into the boiling water for just 20-60 seconds before removing them with a slotted spoon, running them briefly under cold water, and placing them on a cutting board. Then add the pasta to the boiling water. Peel the tomato skins off, core and seed the tomatoes, and cut them into ½-inch cubes.

4. When the zucchini is tender and just starting to brown, add the garlic to the skillet and cook for 1 minute. Then add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring several times, until the tomatoes are heated through, about 2 minutes.

5. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the cream and cook, stirring often, until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the basil.

6. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, then toss it with the sauce and the ¼ cup Parmesan. Portion out the pasta into bowls, sprinkle on a little extra Parmesan and pepper, and you're done.

Serves: 6
Time: 45 minutes

Monday, October 18, 2004


I made this last night for A and his mother: my best, most reliable, serve-to-company, make-a-lot-at-once-and-freeze-for-later soup recipe. It’s easy, quick (as far as soups go), and very flavorful—especially this time, since I used the homemade chicken stock instead of canned broth. The milk, potatoes, and broth make it hearty and comforting enough for winter; the leeks, herbs, and lemon make it light and bright enough for spring. It’s good on its own, with a side salad, or with bread and cheese (like Gouda or Edam). It may be the perfect soup.

P.S. For extra awesomeness, try a little fresh-cracked lemon pepper over the top. Heaven!

5 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts only (1½ pounds trimmed)
1½ tablespoons butter
4 pounds russet potatoes
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth, if you’re vegetarian)
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
juice of ½ lemon
milk or cream to taste (optional)

1. Scrub the potatoes thoroughly and cut them into ½-inch dice, throw them into a large soup pot, and add the water and salt (you can add a little more water if needed to cover them, which I typically have to do). Bring this to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Trim the root ends and dark green ends off the leeks, wash the leeks thoroughly, quarter them lengthwise, and slice them thinly, then add them to the butter in the skillet. Cook, stirring often, until they're very limp. (I like to cook them pretty well; otherwise they can be a little tough and squeaky between your teeth. They shouldn't brown, however--if they do, turn down the heat.)

3. When the potatoes are done, add the cooked leeks to the pot, along with the broth, herbs, lemon juice, and a generous amount of pepper. Cook everything together for about 10 minutes, taste for seasonings and correct them as needed (for me, it usually wants a little more salt, as there's none in my homemade broth). You may also add a little milk or cream (just eyeball it) to make the soup more creamy.

4. The soup can be eaten as-is, but I like to puree it briefly in a blender to make it smoother. Usually, I only puree about half or ¾ of the soup, so some texture remains. (You can also just mash the potatoes with a masher, if you want it less chunky but not pureed.)

Serves: about 12
Time: 45 minutes


Don’t ask me when I made this. Thursday night, maybe? Last week was a slow BookCook week—one night of unexpected pizza, one night of a rerun recipe (steak tacos, of which I can now say that an extra day of marination, due to having the aforementioned unexpected pizza on the day tacos were originally planned, was not at all a bad thing). Other things not to ask me: where I got this recipe, or what the word “asciutta” means. Although if I had to take a guess, it means “delicious but insanely decadent,” because the original version of this recipe calls for ¾ cup olive oil, ½ cup butter, and 1 cup cheese. In addition, of course, to the carbolicious pasta and potatoes. I am not one to shy away from such things, but even to me that seems excessive. By all means, feel free to try the original version, but I managed to reduce the quantities slightly and still produce a very good meal. It’s not just about the cheese, butter, and oil, but also the green beans (I do love green beans), the sweetness of the onions, and the plentiful garlic. It reminds me of pasta mixed with garlic mashed potatoes, but fresher, less overwhelming than that. Highly recommended, though maybe in small, infrequent doses.

6 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 pound fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
12 cloves garlic, quartered
1 onion, chopped
1 pound fettuccine or lingune
¼ cup butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup shredded fresh basil

1. Bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a boil for cooking the potatoes. When it boils, dump the potatoes in and cook until they're tender, being careful not to overook. While the potatoes are cooking, steam the green beans until they're tender but still crisp (the recipe says 10-12 minutes, but I don’t think I cooked them that long). Once the beans are steaming away, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta.

2. So, while the potatoes are boiling, the beans are steaming, and the pasta water is heating (this is a multitasking recipe), heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the onions and garlic and sauté until they're very tender and golden.

3. When the potatoes finish cooking, drained them. When the beans finish cooking, remove them from the heat. When the pasta water boils, add the pasta.

4. When the onions and garlic are cooked, add the butter to the pan and heat until it's melted. Then add the potatoes, green beans, and about ½ teaspoon salt, toss well, and turn off the heat.

5. When the pasta is al dente, remove about ½ cup of the starchy pasta water. Then drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the sauce. Toss the pasta and sauce with the cheese, basil, and a lot of pepper. If the pasta clumps or seems dry, add some pasta water (or you can add a little more olive oil instead, if you want).

Serves: 6
Time: 45 minutes

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Mmmm, leeks. This is very leeky pasta—not much else to it, really. Naturally, the recipe is from Pasta e Verdura, my source for out-of-the-ordinary vegetable pasta dishes. I’ve made it a number of times, although this wasn’t the most shining example of it. I discovered I didn’t have any parsley and had to make do with basil, which was OK, but not the same: more bitter, less bright. Also, it really bugs me how little leek pieces are capable of getting strewn everywhere in my kitchen. Still, this was tasty—the sweet onionyness of the leeks is perfect with the dry tartness of the wine. Lots of elegance for very little effort.

Can I just voice a pet peeve here, which is that recipes often call for freshly ground pepper in specific quantities? What am I supposed to do, grind it into a teaspoon to measure it? (Yes, I guess so.) Usually I just grind what looks like enough directly into the dish. This time, however, I noticed this recipe calls for ½ teaspoon pepper, whereas most seem to ask for only ¼ teaspoon. So I shelved the pepper grinder, brought out a container of preground pepper, measured out ½ teaspoon, and boy howdy that’s a lot more pepper than I would ever have thought to add on my own. And I’m glad I did it that way, because the end result tasted nice and peppery, which helped balance out the leeks.

4 medium leeks (about 2 pounds)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 pound penne pasta
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta.

2. While the water is heating, trim the dark green tops, the root ends, and the tough outer layers from the leeks, then cut each one in half lengthwise. Wash the leeks under cold running water, gently spreading apart (but not separating) the layers to remove all traces of soil. (I enjoy cleaning leeks, because you can see the dirt come right off. You have to be thorough, though, as there’s nothing grosser than gritty leeks.) Set the leeks on the cutting board and slice them crosswise into very thin strips.

3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the leeks when the oil is warm, and sauté them over medium heat until they're completely wilted. (The recipe says this should take about 10 minutes, but I probably let it go a little longer, as I dislike the squeakiness of undercooked leeks. But the leeks shouldn’t start to brown—if they do, reduce the heat. I've also found that it's helpful to cover the leeks, which allows them to steam and get really tender.)

4. When the pasta water boils, pour in the penne and cook until al dente.

5. When the leeks are suitably wilted, pour in the wine, the salt, and the pepper. Simmer over low heat until the aroma of the wine fades and the sauce thickens a bit, about 5 minutes, and then stir in the parsley.

6. Drain the pasta when it's cooked, mix it with the leek sauce, add the grated cheese, and serve.

Serves: 6
Time: 30-40 minutes

Monday, October 11, 2004


Hair-Raising Adventures In Chicken Roasting, Part II, in which we have the opposite experience from last time but, like last time, everything turns out OK in the end. This is another recipe from Martha Rose Schulman’s Ready When You Are, a book I’m really thinking about buying because everything I’ve made from it has turned out great, if a little intimidating in execution. But I like a challenge. This was actually simplicity itself, except that my chicken got very, very brown very, very quickly, and finished much sooner than the recipe claimed it would, which was worrisome. (In retrospect, this was probably because I was using a chicken on the smaller end of the continuum, about 3½ pounds.) And I’d thought I was smarter than the recipe, which was trying to tell me to cook the potatoes for 90 minutes, which seemed sure to produce little blackened lumps of coal. So I added the potatoes later than I was instructed to, but then since my chicken was done sooner than expected I had to remove the chicken and cook the potatoes longer, which didn’t end up being a big deal but caused me a little stress that everything wasn’t going the way it was supposed to. Not to mention that I was using ordinary red potatoes instead of sweet potatoes, because A doesn’t like sweet potatoes, and I wasn’t sure if that would work.

But glory hallelujah, this was some good chicken. At first bite I was suspicious—it seemed bland, and I started hankering for flavoring, like garlic or herbs. But then I realized: this just tastes like chicken. Good, sweet, crispy chicken. The lemon isn’t too assertive, but it made the meat really moist, even despite the fact that I probably overcooked it (OK, the breast was maybe a tad dry, but it could have been much worse. The legs, at least, were perfect). The honey made the skin delicious. The potatoes were roasted potatoes, but with a little glaze (I’d brushed on some of the leftover honey). A was enthusiastic. I’ll definitely make it again.

Postscript, December 2009: I have made it again a few more times, but since it just can't compete with my other roasted chicken recipes, it's fallen out of favor. The lemon and the honey aren't quite enough to set it apart, and if I want sweet potatoes, I'll just have them with the other mixed vegetables in this iteration. Time to slap on the "Not Favorites" label, I think.

1 chicken (3½ to 4 ½ pounds)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (for me, this was about 6 lemons)
salt and freshly ground pepper
4-6 medium or large sweet potatoes (or red potatoes, or a mix)
¼ cup mild honey, such as clover

1. The night before you're going to roast the chicken, place it in a large Ziplock bag. Pour the lemon juice into the bag, seal it, and refrigerate it for 12-24 hours. Turn the bag over a couple of times while the chicken's marinating to make sure the it soaks in the juice all over.

2. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a roasting pan (I actually use a large, heavy baking sheet). Drain the chicken and season it all over with salt and pepper, set it on the baking sheet breast side down, and put it in the oven for 10 minutes.

3. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and add the potatoes to the roasting pan. The recipe tells you to scrub them, pierce them several times with a sharp knife, and roast them whole, but I like potatoes with as many brown and crispy surfaces as possible, so I cut mine into fourths; I also seasoned them with salt and pepper. Return the pan to the oven and cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

4. After 45 minutes, the chicken should be a nice golden brown. Put the honey in a bowl and microwave it for 15 seconds to thin it out, then brush it over the chicken’s back. Turn the chicken over so the breast faces up. (Unfortunately, all the breast skin stuck to the pan and ripped away as I did this. I’m not sure how that could be remedied in the future, but it should be, because it would help protect the breast meat from drying out.) Brush this side of the chicken with honey. (I also gave the potatoes a little brushing of honey, for good measure.)

5. Put the pan back in the oven and cook for another 45 minutes, basting often with the pan juices and any leftover honey, until the chicken is browned and the potatoes are tender. Take the pan out of the oven and let the chicken sit for 10-15 minutes so it'll be firm enough to carve. (If your potatoes need to cook longer, remove the chicken to a plate and return the potatoes to the oven.) Carve the chicken and (if you left your potatoes whole) cut the potatoes into chunks, peeling if desired. Serve with a little pan juice spooked over each serving.

Serves: 4 (maybe 6 if you have a bigger chicken or can carve more meat off the bones than I can)
Time: 1½ to 2 hours, plus 12-24 hours to marinate

Friday, October 08, 2004


Of course, this wasn’t always its name. When I got from whatever cookbook I got it from, years ago, it was called something descriptive and boring, like “Spaghetti With Garlic, Hot Pepper Flakes, and Toasted Bread Crumbs.” No, it’s not the hot pepper flakes that inspired me to change the name. It’s the fact that this is the only pasta that has ever injured me. About four years ago, when A and I were in the midst of the long-distance portion of our relationship, he was visiting me in St. Paul, it was our last night together before he returned to L.A., and I was making this pasta for dinner. I came to the part of the recipe where I was supposed to reserve and set aside ½ cup of the water the spaghetti was boiling in. Just before I turned the stove off and drained the pasta, I took my measuring cup and carefully dipped it into the pot to scoop out some boiling water. At this moment, a drop of water splashed up and splattered my hand, startling me so much that my hand jumped. Which caused me to jerk the measuring cup violently. Which meant that I threw boiling water directly into my own face. Which now I find really funny, but at the time I wasn’t amused. I wasn’t dramatically hurt (my glasses protected me from most of it; I only sustained a tiny pink burn on my temple that faded in a few days), but it stung like hell, and the end of our visits was always an emotional time for me anyway, so I basically threw a big fit—I remember writhing around on the floor at one point in pain and annoyance. A was very calm and helpful and plied me with jokes and cold compresses, and in half an hour or so I was laughing about it. And after that, “face-burning spaghetti” just became the easiest way to describe it. “That pasta with the garlic and red pepper flakes and tomatoes and bread crumbs” just isn’t specific enough, but with “face-burning” we both know exactly what we’re referring to.

This is an intense pasta, so the name works in more than just an inside-joke sense. It’s one of my favorites, actually, despite the traumatic memory associated with it. There aren’t any surprises here, just a few basic flavors that go together very, very well, applied in generous quantities. I never feel the urge to make just a marinara-style tomato spaghetti sauce, because this has pretty much the same ingredients but is so much better. You really gotta try this—just be careful with the pasta water, OK?

Note: I made the bread crumbs from part of a French baguette I had in the freezer. I always say I’m going to make crumbs the easy smart-person way, in the blender, and then I think about how annoying the blender is to wash, and then I start tearing the bread into crumbs with my hand, and The Simpsons is on, and before I know it I’ve got 2 cups of bread crumbs. But I’m not suggesting this is at all the best way to go about it.

8 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs
1 pound spaghetti
6-12 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼-½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 large tomatoes, cored and diced
1 cup fresh Italian parsley, minced
½ teaspoon salt

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta. When it boils, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente.

2. While the pasta water heats, put 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, and when it's warm add the crumbs and stir them thoroughly so they all soak up some oil. Cook them until they get nice and crisp and golden-brown, about 5 minutes. Scrape them into a bowl and set them aside, and put the skillet back on the stove. (I love when recipes thoughtfully allow you to conserve dishes.)

3. Add the rest of the oil to the still-hot skillet, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and sauté a few minutes. (The recipe says 1 minute, but I always seem to end up doing it a little longer than that as I’m waiting for the pasta to finish cooking. I don’t think this matters, the tomatoes just break down a little more. But still, they should only be cooked briefly. If you're still waiting around for the pasta to finish, you can remove the skillet from the heat until you're ready to continue.)

4. When the pasta is done, scooped out ½ cup of the boiling water with caution, ease, and grace, then drain the pasta. Mix the pasta water, parsley, and salt into the skillet with the tomatoes, remove it from the heat, and toss it with the spaghetti. Dish the pasta out into serving/storage bowls, and sprinkle bread crumbs over each portion.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes

Thursday, October 07, 2004


This is one of my go-to soups, smooth, mellow, and festively orange. It’s one of those deceptively simple recipes that somehow ends up being much more than the sum of its parts. You think, “Ugh, pureed boiled vegetables with hardly any flavoring?” and then you taste it and it seems so savory and complex. As usual, this is best with homemade chicken stock, but if there is a canned chicken broth you enjoy the flavor of, go for it; just use the low-sodium version if possible. (There’s no reason the vegetarians and vegans among us couldn’t substitute vegetable broth, either.) Also, I accompanied it with Green Garlic Bread, an excellent choice if I do say so myself. (Although with the bright green and the bright orange, our table looked like a St. Patrick’s Day parade.) If you don’t feel like spending so much of your evening hunched over the blender, some bread and butter and a green salad make fine side dishes for this, too. But no matter what, try this soup—it’s easy, healthy, and perfect for autumn.

1 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock
chopped fresh oregano for garnish

1. Put the vegetables in a 2-quart saucepan, add water to cover them, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low and and simmer until they're easily pierced with a sharp knife, about 25 minutes. Drain them in a colander.

2. Puree the vegetables in the blender (you can use a food processor or immersion blender instead if you have one) with the butter, salt, and pepper.

3. Pour the puree back into the saucepan, stir in the chicken stock, and cook the soup over medium heat until it's blended, thickened, and heated through. Ladle it into bowls, sprinkle on some oregano, grind on some more pepper, and serve.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes


This one is for the garlic fans. What we’ve got here is basically a pesto baked on some bread, but you’ll notice the pesto contains 10 cloves of garlic. Even I quail slightly at this. You will wake up with garlic breath the next morning, but this stuff is worth it, glowingly green, zesty, and all nice and toasty-crusty on the bread. I have no idea where I got this recipe; I’ve had it for years. I don’t make it regularly (it’s a bit labor-intensive for a side dish; generally if I want to make garlic bread I just toast the bread in the oven and then rub a garlic clove over it) but last night I hit upon the bright idea of making it as a companion to the shockingly orange Creamy Carrot-Potato Soup. Although I had to use two blenders to make this happen, they went extremely well together, the spicy freshness of the pesto with the sweet, mellow, earthier soup. I very much recommend the pairing.

Note: I don’t know that I’ve really ever used a full loaf of bread for this recipe; maybe I spread the pesto too thick or something. Last night I used half a French baguette—but the baguette was about five inches wide, so there was a lot of surface area on which to spread stuff. Just eyeball it.

Also, if you use less garlic, no one will judge you. I've gotten away with as few as five cloves without sacrificing any deliciousness.

10 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1-pound loaf of Italian bread or French baguette

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Dump all the ingredients (except the bread, of course) into the blender (or you can use a food processor, of course, if you’re fancy enough to have one). Puree this until it's fairly smooth.

2. Cut the bread loaf in half horizontally, i.e., from end to end (generally I cut it in half, or even in fourths, crosswise first to make this easier). Set the bread pieces, crust side down, cut sides up, on a large baking sheet and spread the cut sides with the pesto.

3. Bake until the pesto is crusty and just beginning to brown, 10-12 minutes. Cut the bread into thick slices and serve it warm.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 20 minutes

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Zowie. This new recipe (from The Joy of Cooking’s All About Chicken book) was a cinch to make, yet it seemed so sophisticated. Maybe it was just the fact that I had to cook pan juices down into a sauce, in the French manner, that made me feel all fancy-dancy, but the thing tasted good and rich, too. A pronounced this “an A+ recipe.” I’m not sure I’d go quite so far (my heart still belongs to Greek Chicken, which coincidentally is from the same recipe book), but I was pleased and will still be adding this to my repertoire. I felt especially triumphant because I’d felt so dubious during the cooking process; my chicken, mushrooms, and sauce didn’t seem to be behaving as the recipe said they would, so I had the sneaking suspicion I was doing it all wrong and was about to produce a disastrous meal. First of all, there is a lot of wine involved, and mine just wouldn’t cook down in the oven (or the mushrooms produced a heck of a lot of liquid themselves); then the chicken didn’t seem to be browning; the mushrooms shrank by half; the sauce seemed like it would never reduce and thicken. The recipe and I seemed to go our separate ways when it said cryptically, “For a low-fat sauce, add enough water or chicken stock to measure 1 cup. For a more luxurious sauce, add ½ to 1 cup heavy cream.” It was the “enough…to measure 1 cup” phrasing that had me a little confused; did it mean to just add a cup of water or chicken stock, or did it mean that the water or chicken stock plus the pan juices should equal 1 cup total? I already had a full 1 cup of pan juices. But I was going the cream route anyway, because I love the word “luxurious,” so I just added ½ cup cream to my pan juices and proceeded. And it worked, eventually.

Everything turned out great in the end, savory and intensely mushroomy (if perhaps a tad salty, because I’d used cooking wine, which already has salt in it, so if I’d been thinking I wouldn’t have added much additional salt). It felt a little like alchemy, as it always does when you take plain-seeming ingredients and turn them into something new.

I made a half-recipe, because I didn’t want to be eating leftover chicken all week. We had some green salad on the side.

6 chicken skin-on breast halves, either boneless or bone-in
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
6 large Portobello mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups dry white wine
olive oil
1 cup water or chicken stock, or ½ to 1 cup cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken pieces in a single layer (for me, with three chicken breasts, that was a 9-by-9-inch dish; for the full recipe it should be 9-by-13). Snap the stems off the mushrooms and arrange them gill side down over the bottom of the pan. (Mine weren’t really that large, so I decided to use 5 of them instead of 3. I was glad I did, because they ended up shrinking down so much as they cooked.) Sprinkle the minced garlic over the mushrooms, along with salt and pepper. Pour the white wine over the mushrooms. (Wow, that’s a lot of wine. My mushrooms actually started floating.)

2. Rinse the chicken breasts and patt them dry, then season them all over with salt, pepper, and the thyme. Lay them skin side up on the mushrooms, and brush them lightly with olive oil. Put the pan in the oven, uncovered, and bake until the chicken skin turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. (Actually, I think I ended up baking them longer, because the skin didn’t seem to be browning. Finally it achieved a very light shade of golden, which I figured was close enough.)

3. Pull the pan out of the oven. The recipe says, “Check to see if there is some liquid in the pan; if not, add more wine.” (Here's where I started to worry, because my pan not only had “some” liquid, but it also had as much liquid as when I’d started. I still don’t really understand this. Was my wine not “dry” enough? Or maybe my mushrooms were just really watery. Anyway, it didn’t end up mattering, so don’t worry if it happens to you.) Baste the chicken with the pan juices and turn the pieces over, so the skin side is now down. (I sort of question this logic, as it means that the chicken skin, which has just been crisping, now gets all wet and becomes more soggy. It seems as though if you’re going to bother having skin on your chicken, you’d want it to be crisp and browned. I might reverse the order next time, but I don’t know—I don’t want to mess anything up.) Put the pan back in the oven and bake until the chicken is firm and fully cooked, 10-20 minutes more.

4. Pull the pan out of the oven, and use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken and mushrooms to a plate. Pour the pan juices into a saucepan and add 1 cup of water or chicken broth (or, for a richer sauce, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of cream instead). Boil the sauce over high heat “until reduced to a syrupy consistency.”

5. Put a chicken breast on each plate with a mushroom (or a couple of mushrooms if you've made extra), spoon sauce over everything, and sprinkle on some parsley. Just like the pros.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour

Monday, October 04, 2004


Will I sound too much like Good Housekeeping if I call this dish “a hearty crowd-pleaser”? OK, yes, but that’s what it is. I’m a big fan of this recipe—which, as usual, I appropriated from some long-ago-forgotten source. It’s not too fancy, but it doesn’t involve Velveeta or cans of Campbell’s cream-of-mushroom, either. The spinach and pesto keep it from getting too heavy, but there’s still a lot of yummy zesty sausage and gooey cheesiness. You can prepare it ahead of time and it makes a ton of food, so it’s good if you have (casual, unpretentious) guests. I always try to make my own pesto (it's so easy!), but I suppose the store-bought kind is acceptable (if you must) in this case because it blends into the sauce instead of being prominently featured. I, however, had leftover pesto from last week’s Pesto Salmon, and leftover mozzarella from…well, a couple of weeks ago, and I love efficiently using up leftovers, which made this extra satisfying last night.

¾ pound hot Italian sausages (I usually use chicken sausage), casings removed
1 medium onion, choppd
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
28-ounce can diced peeled tomatoes
¼ cup pesto
1 pound ziti or penne pasta
8 cups prewashed fresh spinach leaves (6-7 ounces)
6 ounces mozzarella cheese, cubed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)

1. Heat salted water in a large pot over high heat for cooking the pasta. When it boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

2. While the pasta water is working its way up to a boil, set a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the onion, garlic, and sausages. Break up the sausage with the back of a spoon as it cooked. Sauté everything until the sausage is cooked through and slightly browned, about 10 minutes.

3. Open the can of tomatoes and add the contents (including juice) to the skillet. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pesto and season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (The recipe helpfully points out that this sauce can be prepared a day ahead. Just do everything [except cook the pasta] up to this point, then cover and refrigerate the sauce until you’re ready to use it. Bring it back to a simmer before continuing.)

4. While the sauce is cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking dish. When the sauce is finished, throw the spinach into the skillet with the sauce, stirring until it's wilted, and add the drained pasta, the mozzarella, and 1/3 cup of Parmesan, mixing everything together well. Pour all of this into the baking dish and sprinkle the remaining 2/3 cups Parmesan over the top.

5. Bake the pasta until the sauce bubbles, the cheeses melt, and top has just begun to brown, about 30 minutes.

Serves: 6-8
Time: 1 hour


I would like to imagine that you’ve all been on tenterhooks, awaiting my solution for using up leftover mascarpone. I’m not much of an improviser, but I easily whipped this up on Saturday night and it was pretty tasty. I certainly wouldn’t recommend buying mascarpone specifically to make this recipe, but it was a satisfactory way to take advantage of things I already had, and I’ll do it again next time I’m stuck with a Mascarpone Surplus (not that it’ll be anytime soon, considering I only have two mascarpone-using recipes total, both of which I’ve just made).

Sorry the quantities are kind of vague. I was making it up as I went along.

About 8 ounces pasta (I used egg noodles)
However much leftover mascarpone you have (I used about 4 ounces, and wouldn’t recommend using more without upping all the other quantities as well, but you could easily use less, maybe thinning the sauce out with some milk)
2 cloves garlic
2 large, ripe tomatoes
fresh basil, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese to taste

1. I heated water to a boil in a large pot, and when it boiled I added the noodles.

2. While they were cooking, I put the mascarpone and garlic in a skillet over medium-low heat until the mascarpone melted into a liquid and was heated through, and the garlic seemed as though it had cooked somewhat (i.e., had softened and become fragrant).

3. I chopped the tomatoes and added them to the mascarpone, along with about ¼ teaspoon salt. Cooked them until they broke down a little, but still basically maintained their shape. Turned off the heat, chopped some basil and threw it in there, and seasoned generously with salt and pepper to cut the sweetness of the mascarpone.

4. When the noodles were cooked, I drained them and added them to the skillet. Tossed them with the sauce, which seemed to be about the right amount to cover them without being too cheesy or too runny (if you need more moisture, though, I’m sure milk would work). Dished out the pasta into serving/storage containers, sprinkled with a little Parmesan, and felt pleased with myself. Had some green salad on the side.

Serves: 2-3
Time: 20 minutes