Friday, December 03, 2004


This is barely a recipe—I mean, I did get it from Jack (Bishop) in Vegetables Every Day, but I think I could have figured most of it out on my own. Still, it’s a really, really great way to make asparagus. I used to steam it, which is nice and fresh-tasting and good for the spring and summer, but asparagus takes on a whole new brown and toasty dimension when roasted (and this also helps to make up for it not being in season). And it’s easy as pie. (Wait, why do we say that? Pie is not the easiest thing in the world to make.) I only made a half-recipe, since asparagus is $4 a pound right now, but I wish I’d made more. In fact, I’m going to go eat the leftovers right now!

1 ½ pounds asparagus, tough ends snapped off
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt (preferably coarse kosher or sea salt) to taste
freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Place the asparagus on a large baking sheet, drizzle on the oil, toss gently to make sure each spear is thoroughly coated, and then spread the spears in a single layer over the baking sheet.

3. Roast the asparagus, shaking the pan once or twice to turn the spears, until they are lightly browned, 12-15 minutes.

4. Sprinkle with salt and (my own addition) freshly ground black pepper and serve.

Serves: 4 as a generous side dish
Time: 20 minutes


Hooray! After having almost exhausted my favorite cookbook, Pasta e Verdura, I happened upon another one by the same author, Jack Bishop, at the library: Vegetables Every Day. I don’t know why I’d never thought of looking for other books by him before, or maybe I’d looked in Minnesota and forgotten to renew the search when I moved to L.A. A quick search of the Pasadena Public Library catalog yielded 2(!) more Bishop books, which I’ve placed on hold and am eagerly awaiting. I’m like a cooking stalker. Anyway, Vegetables Every Day seems like a useful book to have around, as it contains mainly side dishes, and I’m always looking for something besides salad to have with not-quite-complete-in-themselves main dishes like fish, chicken, and soup. The recipe that really stood out to me when I first paged through the book, however, was Roasted Garlic and Potato Soup, which sounded basically like eating a big bowl of garlic mashed potatoes. I decided to make it this week, and bought all the necessary ingredients.

But when last night rolled around, I was tired and craving pizza. Loath to disappoint Jack, however, I rose to the challenge and schlepped into the kitchen. And challenge it was. I started cooking at around 7:30, and we sat down to eat at 10:00, just as the opening credits of ER were beginning. Looking back, I’m not sure why it took quite so long. I imagine I should be able to do this a little faster in the future, when I’m better-rested and have had some practice, but it’s still an involved, multistage recipe—roast the garlic, peel the potatoes, slip the garlic cloves from their skins, boil everything, puree in the blender…. Not exactly a quick weekday meal. Still, both A and I agreed it was well worth all our efforts (mine of cooking, his of doing the immense heap of dishes I left behind). This would be an especially wonderful thing to have when you were sick (provided someone else would make it for you, that is)—pale, smooth, creamy, comforting, but with that kick of garlic you could taste even through your head cold, plus all the antioxidant/antibiotic properties garlic is supposed to have. Of course, this soup is tasty enough that I’m probably not going to wait around to get sick before having it again. I’d like to give it a try with homemade chicken stock (I’d run out, so I used Trader Joe’s free-range chicken stock—so nice that they don’t keep the chicken stock in cages, don’t you think? Hee.), which I bet would be even better.

Obviously, you need something green with this plain white soup. I went all-out and roasted some asparagus, which was perfect. A simple salad would work just fine, too.

2 large heads of garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and diced fine
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Peel off as much papery outer skin from the heads of garlic as possible without separating the cloves. Cut a ½-inch-thick slice from the top of each head, exposing the cloves. (Actually, because I am often foggy-brained by the time I get around to cooking, I cut the slice from the stem end of the first head. This of course, caused the cloves to instantly separate, since I’d cut off the part that holds them together. So, all together now, the part you want to cut off is the pointy part at the top, not the dark hairy part at the bottom. But if you are dim-witted like me, you’ll be reassured to know that I just threw the loose cloves in the pan and they roasted up just as fine as the second head, which I managed to cut correctly.) Place the garlic heads (cut side up) in a small baking dish and add just enough water to come up 1/8 inch in the dish (about ¼ cup). Drizzle a tablespoon of oil over the garlic, sprinkle with salt to taste, and cover the dish with foil. Put it in the oven to bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake about 15 minutes longer, until the garlic is quite tender and golden. Remove the dish from the oven and let the garlic cool until it's comfortable to handle. Then the fun part: gently squeeze each garlic clove out of its skin (which sounds like an annoying task, but really was satisfying to me). For they most part, they should just slide ride out. Discard the skins and put the cloves into a measuring cup--Jack helpfully informs us that you should have about ¾ cup cloves.

2. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the onions and sauté them until soft and golden, about 6-10 minutes. Add the roasted garlic and stir, smashing the cloves with the back of the spoon. Add the potatoes and stir until they're coated with garlic and oil.

3. Next, add the chicken stock, bay leaves, and salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat back to medium and let it simmer until the potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes.

5. When the potatoes are done, remove and discard the bay leaves. Puree the soup in batches in the blender until it's nice and smooth, stir in the chives, and add more pepper.

Serves: about 6
Time: well, it took me 2½ hours somehow, but I contend I was abnormally poky. Let’s say 1½ to 2 hours (but much of this is garlic-roasting time, during which you can go and do something else).


Sometimes you just want some basic tomato sauce. You don’t want it to be boring, though, which is why there’s smoky marinara sauce. The secret ingredient is Muir Glen brand fire-roasted canned tomatoes, which hopefully are available wherever you happen to be (I know they are in Minnesota, anyway, as well as California). I got this recipe from my mom and really like it with cheese ravioli. I’d never made it for myself, however, before Tuesday night, and frankly the result didn’t taste as good as mom’s. Mine got sort of watery somehow, which is maybe because I wasn’t exactly sure what to buy when the recipe called for “crushed tomatoes.” Trader Joe’s didn’t have anything called that, so I just bought a can of tomatoes in tomato juice. I think maybe a tomato sauce or puree would have been better, at least for me, because I don’t particularly like big chunks of canned tomato. I’ll have to experiment. Despite the consistency problem, though, this tasted good and was easy to make. It made a lot of sauce, so I was able to freeze some for quick meals in the future.

Postscript, December 2009: Turns out that I rarely want basic tomato sauce, so I never really make this. It's going to the "Not Favorites" category, but using fire-roasted tomatoes is still a good trick when you want to spice things up.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
28-ounce can Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (as I said, I would perhaps use canned tomato sauce or puree)

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium-large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is warm add the garlic and herbs and saute for 1 minute.

2. Chop the fire-roasted tomatoes and add them (along with their juices) to the pan. Add the crushed tomatoes (or sauce or puree) as well, along with the balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper, and simmer everything for about 10 minutes.

Serves: The recipe says it makes 6 cups, which by my reckoning is at least 8 servings
Time: Under 30 minutes

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


I’m afraid it’s been a few weeks since I posted a recipe. For some of that time, I was preparing to travel, and then I was traveling, and then I was recovering from traveling, so I ate out a lot. But rest assured, I’ve still been cooking off and on—it’s just that the recipes were all repeats, either because they were favorites or because they were reliable and easy to make amid all the hubbub. But this week I’m back in the saddle; stay tuned for three, count ’em, three new recipes (and probably more to come in the future, since I’ve discovered three new Jack Bishop cookbooks and put them all on hold at the library). Stand back!

This recipe is an oldie—it’s the one that made me decide to like zucchini (and perhaps the first time I’d prepared zucchini, or eaten it in any noticeable quantity. The zucchini gets all tender and sweet and absorbs the flavor of the garlic, the half-and-half cuts the zucchininess a little without being too rich, and the cheese is just the right amount of sharp and salty. There’s something soft and comforting about this dish. And it’s simple, so I was able to make it on Monday night even though I was close to collapse, having flown in from D.C. the night before, gotten only four hours of sleep, worked a full day, and then gone grocery shopping before settling down to cook dinner. After six days of eating on the go, settling for whatever was available at the time, whether good (a delicious handmade tagliatelle with wild mushrooms in a light sage-cream sauce, or fresh and authentic pub fish and chips) or bad ($9 chicken fingers and fries at a basketball game, or blah pizza at a Smithsonian cafeteria), I wanted to cook for myself, dammit. And I wanted something green. This recipe had few ingredients, was forgiving enough for the occasional lapse in concentration, and was just what I was craving.

1½ pounds small or medium zucchini
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup half-and-half
1 pound spaghetti
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
handful of basil leaves, torn into small pieces

1. Trim the ends off the zucchini, quarter the zucchini lengthwise, and cut the quarters into ½-inch chunks.

2. Warm the garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. While it's heating, put a large pot of salted water on the stove over high heat for cooking the pasta.

3. When the oil is warm, add the zucchini and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook gently, stirring every so often, until the squash is soft and browned in places, about 20 minutes.

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

5. When the zucchini is done, add the half-and-half and cook for 10 minutes more, stirring more frequently (I usually turn the heat down to medium-low so the half-and-half doesn’t cook away). When the pasta is done, add it to the skillet, along with the cheese and basil. Toss everything well, season with salt and pepper, gorge self, pass out in food coma.

Serves: 6
Time: 40 minutes