Thursday, December 15, 2005

BEEF STROGANOFF


I made this from an old Cooking Light issue I found at work, and it turned out so well, I asked for a subscription to the magazine for Christmas. This recipe was in the monthly section where readers write in with beloved but extremely unhealthy recipes, and the Cooking Light staff adapts them into healthier versions. While I’m suspicious of recipes that torturously bastardize perfectly good food just to make it diet-friendly (please, no margarine or low-fat cheese or carob chips for me—can’t I just eat more vegetables the rest of the time and have my full-fat treats in moderation?), this one doesn’t go overboard. It does ask for reduced-fat sour cream, which doesn’t bother me (maybe because I don’t really like sour cream anyway, or maybe because it’s blended into a sauce), but everything else is just normal and sensible. The recipe has less than half the fat and 30% fewer calories than the original, so yay, but it also tastes great—rich and flavorful. It’s really simple to make, too. I may be a booster for making homemade chicken broth, but please note that I did not make my own beef broth; I just don’t love beef enough to exert the effort. I bought good beef broth in a carton from Trader Joe’s, used 7 ounces, and froze the rest, which was great because I had it on hand to make this dish several more times in the future.

4 ounces reduced-fat sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound boneless sirloin steak, cut into 2-inch strips
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
7 ounces low-sodium beef broth
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I usually use more, sometimes even twice as much)
Chopped fresh parsley
4 cups cooked medium egg noodles (about 3 1/2 cups uncooked)

1. Combine the first three ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

2. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and level with a knife. Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add beef; seal and shake to coat with flour mixture.

3. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until tender. Add beef and flour mixture to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until beef is browned.

4. Gradually add broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add mushrooms; cover and cook 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Reduce heat to low; gradually stir in sour cream mixture. Cook, uncovered, 1 minute or until heated (do not boil). Stir in parsley. Serve over the egg noodles.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes

Friday, June 24, 2005

CARROT AND CORIANDER SOUP


Sorry for the complete lack of postings lately. I'm still cooking as much as ever, but haven't tried too many new recipes. That said, I've just posted three other new entries, so check them out too.

My new pal J, with whom I've recently been doing some canning (strawberry jam, blood-orange marmalade, peaches), gave me this recipe with such enthusiastic recommendation, I had to give it a try, even though I already have a good carrot-potato soup recipe. And it may actually be better than my recipe, though as a trade-off, it's a little more complicated (not that it's at all hard, but there are more ingredients and a few extra steps). The coriander flavor is wonderful and the whole thing tastes nice and spring/summery somehow, the cilantro and celery adding an extra note of brightness. We ate it with salad and a bit of garlic bread and were well pleased. Also, we can see really well in the dark now.

1 pound carrots, preferably young and tender
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, sliced, plus 2-3 pale, leafy celery tops
2 small potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock if you're a filthy carnivore like me)
2-3 teaspoons ground coriander (I used 2 because it seemed like so much, but think I'd use more next time)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (J notes, I use MUCH more; again being cautious, I used 2)
1 cup milk
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Trim the carrots (the recipe says you can peel them "if necessary," but I don't think it's ever really necessary), cut them into chunks, and set them aside. Heat the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter (please note this carefully, because I initially put in all the butter and then had to quick try to scoop some out for later when I realized my mistake) in a heavy-bottomed soup kettle over low heat. Chop the onions, and, when the butter/oil is warm, add the onions to the pot. Sautee them for 3-4 minutes, until slightly softened but not browned.

2. Add the potatoes and celery to the onion in the pot and cook for a few minutes, then add the carrots. Sautee everything over low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, and then cover the pot. Reduce the heat even further and steam the contents for about 10 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally to keep the vegetables from sticking to the bottom.<

3. Add the stock, bring the soup to a boil, and then turn the heat down to medium-low, partially cover the pot, and simmer it for 8-10 minutes, until the carrots and potato are tender.

4. While the soup is cooking, chop the celery tops (you should have about 1 tablespoon once they're chopped) and the cilantro. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the ground coriander, and friy it for about a minute, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat, add the celery and cilantro leaves, and fry for another rminute. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.

5. When the soup is fully cooked, puree it in batches in a food processor or blender until smooth, then return it to the kettle. Stir in the milk, the coriander mixture, and salt and pepper to taste, heat the soup gently for a few minutes, and then serve.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 45 minutes to an hour

BEST GARLIC BREAD EVER

I never really got the hang of garlic bread. I don't serve many side dishes at all, especially bread, and on the rare occasions when I made garlic bread I just put on some butter and garlic powder the way everyone does, even though I abhor the artificial taste of garlic powder in nearly every other circumstance. The result was never bad, but never really exciting either. A couple of months ago, when I hosted a small dinner party for friends to watch the finale of The Amazing Race, I thought some garlic bread might round out the meal of pesto salmon, asparagus, and brownies I'd planned, but I knew my usual dull and haphazard method wouldn't cut it. So I hastened to Allrecipes.com, found the top-rated garlic bread recipe, made it, and loved it. There is butter, there is real garlic, there is nice seasoning, and there is the secret ingredient, olive oil, which makes the mixture nice and spreadable and helps the bread get toasty and crispy. I could eat an entire meal of this, but it wouldn't be that healthy, so I try to save it for special occasions. It is, however, also easy enough to whip up a half- or quarter-recipe on the spur of the moment to accompany a simple soup or salad supper. By the way, the original recipe suggested that after the garlic bread has been broiled, you could sprinkle some mozzarella cheese on top and put it back in the oven to melt and get golden brown, but that just seems too decadent. I'm afraid of how much I might love it.

1 large loaf Italian bread (ciabatta works well)
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. Slice the loaf of bread in half the long way (so you have two pieces with long, flat tops). You want the bread to be as wide and soft as possible; a porous, bubbly bread like ciabatta will accept the butter better than a dense bread. (The first time I didn't plan well enough and had to use some baguette I had in the freezer--it didn't have much surface area for the topping and got too hard under the broiler, although it still tasted just fine.)

3. Mash all the other ingredients together in a small bowl with a fork, until you have a nice spreadable mixture. Spread this across the flat tops of the bread and place the bread directly on the oven rack under the broiler (or you can put it on a baking sheet first). Broil, watching the bread the entire time (things always broil much faster than I expect and I'm always burning them), until they are light brown and crisp on top. (We all have our desired degrees of toastiness--I still like the bread to be soft beneath a crisp crust, and the buttered portion to still be a bit yellow, just brown around the edges.)

4. Slice the bread and serve it.

Serves: 4-8, maybe?
Time: 5-10 minutes

PASTA WITH TOMATO, AVOCADO, AND OREGANO


Pasta and avocado? Doesn't that sound kind of weird? Trust me, it's delicious--a nice, easy, no-cook sauce for summer, with a lot of spicy-garlicky bite but then the citrusy freshness of lemon and the soft, creamy green blandness of avocado to cool it down. A doesn't love avocado, so I don't make this too often anymore (even though I try to tell him it's almost got the same ingredients as guacamole, somehow this doesn't inspire confidence in him when I add "...but on pasta!"). But I could feel summer a-comin' in and I wanted avocado, and because I Am The Cook I made it and he ate it. He claimed to like it, too. I loved it.

4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1 and 1/2 pounds)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 pound penne pasta
1 medium avocado (about 1/2 pound)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Core the tomatoes into 1/2-inch cubes. Add these to a large bowl along with the garlic, oregano, oil, salt, and red pepper flakes, and toss everything together. Set this aside for about 20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

2. While the sauce marinates, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta.

3. While the pasta is cooking, peel the avocado and remove the pit, cut the flesh into 1/4-inch cubes, and toss them in a small bowl with the lemon juice and a little salt to taste.

4. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss it with the tomato sauce (this can be done in the bowl, if it's large enough, or in the pasta pot). Serve out the portions to serving dishes, then divide the avocado/lemon juice mixture evenly among the servings, arranging it festively atop the pasta.

Serves: 6
Time: 30-40 minutes

SPAGHETTI SAUCE


I realized I make pasta a lot, but I never make good old spaghetti. When I ended up with some leftover canned tomatoes in my refrigerator (Trader Joe's has the freshest-tasting canned tomatoes, but they only come in big 28-ounce cans), I decided to use them up by getting out my mom's recipe and giving it a shot. I made a few adaptations (added red pepper flakes, used fresh mushrooms instead of canned, tossed in an Italian sausage I found in the freezer) and voila! It was great. The best part is that this recipe makes a ton of sauce--I halved it and had more than enough to cover a pound of spaghetti, giving me 6 servings of food right then, plus an extra container of sauce to put in the freezer. If you make the full recipe, as my mom does, you'll have plenty of sauce to freeze and whip out later for quick and easy meals.

1 pound ground beef or turkey (if you like, use less beef and make up the remainder with Italian sausage removed from its casings)
1-2 onions, chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, chopped
8 ounces white or brown mushrooms, sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons fennel seed
12 ounces tomato paste
28 ounces canned chopped tomatoes, undrained
28 ounces canned plain tomato sauce
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
salt, pepper, and chopped fresh parsley to taste


1. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, add the ground beef/Italian sausage, breaking the pieces up with the back of a spoon. When the meat begins to brown and release some liquid, add the chopped onion, the garlic, the mushrooms, the red pepper flakes, and the fennel and let everything cook until the meat is fully browned, the onion is soft and transparent, and the mushrooms are browned (their juices released and mostly evaporated).

2. Add the canned tomatoes--paste, chopped tomatoes, and sauce--and then, if necessary, enough water to make the sauce the desired consistency (probably about 1-2 cups). Added seasonings--the dried oregano and basil, and salt and pepper to taste, plus red wine if desired.

3. Stir everything together and let it simmer over low heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. (During this time, cook some spaghetti.) Throw in a handful of chopped fresh parsley, simmer a few more minutes, and then it's done.

Serves: um, a lot. This will cover at least 2 pounds of spaghetti. You can freeze any or all of it for later (the sauce alone, not the noodles), either in Ziplock bags or in Tupperware.
Time: 1 hour

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

BAKED TOMATOES STUFFED WITH PESTO AND MOZZARELLA

OK, this is basically just a shell of tomato wrapped around a big hunk of melted basil-flavored cheese. But it's also delicious, another fine offering from Jack Bishop's Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. As Jack says, "These tomatoes may be served as an all-in-one summer luncheon or a light dinner. Add a salad...to complete the meal." We did so, and some bread as well. Our tomatoes were somewhat on the small side, though (I couldn't even fit all the filling into them), so we each ended up eating two, which was a little overwhelmingly cheesy. (And we're avid cheese lovers, mind you.) So I'm thinking these might work better (one apiece) as a side dish with some chicken or something. However you serve them, they're simple and darned good--like warm bruschetta! Or...inside-out pizza? Something tasty, anyway.

Postscript, December 2009: Apparently, too cheesy to make it into the regular rotation. I never made these again.

4 large, ripe but firm tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
1/2 cup pesto, preferably homemade
5 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 and 1/4 cups)
1/3 cup plain fresh bread crumbs
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut off and discard a 1/2-inch-thick slice from the top of each tomato, then use a small spoon to scoop out and discard the core and seeds, making sure to get rid of as much liquid as possible.

2. Mix together the pesto, cheese, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Use the small spoon to scoop some of the mixture into each tomato. Jack says, "[make] sure that the filling reaches into all the hollowed-out areas. Mound the filling a little above the top of each tomato and pat the filling gently to compact it." (Which I did, and which I think caused me overfill the tomatoes with cheese. I think I could have done with a little less filling, really, but would have to try again to be sure. Anyway, do whatever looks good to you.)

3. Place the tomatoes in a lightly greased baking dish just large enough to hold them (8x8), and bake until tomatoes are soft but not falling apart and cheese is bubbly and turning brown in spots, 25-30 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the oven, let them cool for at least 15 minutes, then serve them. Jack says the tomatoes can be kept at room temperature for several hours, if you'd rather not serve them hot (I suppose that might be good in the summer).

Serves: 4 (or maybe 2 as a main dish, if your tomatoes are smallish)
Time: 1 hour

CUCUMBER RAITA

I hadn't made this recipe in eons, because I have several similar cucumber-yogurt-pita recipes that are a little jazzier: this one has seasoned beef, and another--hmm, perhaps I haven't made that one since starting this site--has an accompanying tomato-onion salad. But the thing was, we hadn't been to the farmers' market, so no nice fresh tomatoes for us. And I desperately wanted to make hummus, which, now that I'm no longer living the swingin' bachelor life, apparently does not constitute a meal in itself. Usually I pair hummus with fattoush, but...we had no tomatoes. So, I thought, cucumber salad! I can test the recipe and see whether I still need to keep it around! And it was pretty good, creamy and green with cucumber and herbs--would be especially nice and refreshing on a hot summer day. Granted, we didn't end up eating all the leftovers (I should have made a half recipe, for one thing), but I'm keeping the recipe around. I'm just a sucker for anything I can put in a pita, especially when it's this easy.

Postscript, December 2009: The beef version won out. Turns out I never really want just cucumber-yogurt sauce on its own, so this recipe is officially redundant.

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3 scallions, including greens, chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and minced
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large glass bowl.

2. Chill the salad for 3 hours (you can skip this if you want to eat it right away, though the flavors will blend more with time; be forewarned, it will separate if you let it sit for a while, but giving it a good stir fixes it up again).

3. Serve with pita bread. You could dip the bread in and use it to scoop up the salad, but I prefer to spoon the raita into the pockets of the bread.

Makes: 6 cups (at least 6 servings as a meal; more as a side dish or appetizer)
Time: 20-30 minutes (plus 3 hours chilling time if desired)

MEDITERRANEAN ZUCCHINI STUFFED WITH GARLIC AND PARSLEY

I wouldn't really describe this zucchini as "stuffed"--to me, stuffing implies some substantial material, like rice or ground beef or cheese, more or less inside another foodstuff. This is just garlic and parsley, and it isn't really inside the zucchini, it's laying in a sort of trough on top. Kids, this is basically just nicely seasoned whole zucchini. I've had the recipe for a while and when I lived alone I'd usually have it as an entree (with some bread and maybe cheese it's a decent vegetarian meal), but now that I've been seduced into the Cult of Occasional Meat-Preparing, it seems more like a side dish to me. It's not even fair to blame the meat-eating, because I'd still consider this stuffed zucchini an entree. But zucchini with garlic and parsley? Big green side dish. I think I served it with some grilled chicken when I made it recently (yeah, sorry, it was a few weeks ago and my memory is fading, don't judge me). It may be inaccurately named, but it does taste great; zucchini and garlic should just get married already, they go so well together.

8 small zucchini, about 4 inches long
5 plump garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2/3 cup minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Trim the ends of the zucchini, then make a long 1/2-inch-deep and slightly angled cut into the top of each zucchini, running lengthwise from end to end. Make a second slightly angled slice 3/4 inch from the first to create a shallow cavity in the zucchini, so you're cutting out a more or less triangular wedge. Remove and discard the wedge. (This isn't an exact science; just do your best to make some kind of resting place for the parsley-garlic mixture. Most of the zucchini should still be intact, though--you're removing an eighth of it at most.)

2. In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, parsley, half of the oil, and generous amounts of salt and pepper. Distribute this mixture among the prepared zucchini, packing the stuffing well into the cavities.

3. Arrange the zucchini in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold them (usually an 8x8 Pyrex dish works just fine), then drizzle them with the remaining 1/4 cup oil.

4. Bake until the zucchini are tender and stuffing is browning on top, about 15-20 minutes.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

SUMMER SPAGHETTI


We had not been to the farmers' market in a month, which means we hadn't eaten tomatoes in a month, because I have apparently become too much of a snob to eat grocery-store tomatoes. Ah, California. I'd had this recipe for a long time, but only remembered making it once before. It seemed light and simple, a good way to enjoy fresh tomatoes. Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary, just the usual pasta suspects--olive oil, garlic, basil--with only the red wine vinegar, the pine nuts, and the coldness setting it apart from other recipes in my collection. And...that just about sums it up. An easy, summery recipe, nothing to jump up and down about, but certainly satisfying. My one comment is that making it takes a bit longer than I expected, not because there's a lot of effort involved, but because you have to wait for the pasta to cool (I guess you could run it under cold water, but pasta cookbooks don't usually recommend that because it washes off all the nice starch that holds a sauce together) and then let it marinate. Guess what? As usual, Little Miss Hungry and Impatient didn't plan ahead and start early, and The Simpsons was about to start, so I didn't really let the pasta marinate. I barely let it get down to room temperature before I ate it. It tasted great, but I did discern a much more complex melding of flavors when I ate the cold leftovers today. My advice: let it marinate if you have the time (I wouldn't chill it, but that's just me--cold food fresh out of the fridge generally gives me the willies), because it will taste more interesting, but if you don't, don't stress too much. I can't wait to make this on a really hot summer day when I can't bear the thought of leaning over a hot stove (yeah, you still have to boil pasta, but that requires minimal supervision) and have all afternoon to laze around and let the tastes blend. I'd like to give arugula a try, too.

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound spaghetti
3 medium ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and finely diced
1 cup finely shredded fresh basil
1 cup chopped fresh arugula or parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts

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

2. Heat the pine nuts in a small saucepan over medium heat, shaking them occasionally, until they're browned.

3. Combine the vinegar, garlic, salt, a generous amount of pepper, and olive oil in a small bowl and whisk them together. (Or, better yet, shake them together in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid--I keep an empty Grey Poupon jar for such purposes.)

4. When the water boils, drop in the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain it well and place it in a large serving bowl. (I'd recommend using the biggest bowl you can find, and if the pasta fills it so much you don't have any room to mix it around, try dividing it between two bowls or you'll be flinging oil and garlic around your kitchen every time you try to toss the noodles with the dressing. As I did.) Pour on HALF of the dressing and toss the pasta thoroughly to coat the strands. Let it cool to room temperature, tossing the noodles occasionally.

5. When the pasta has cooled, mix in the tomatoes, basil, parsley, pine nuts, and remaining dressing. Let it marinate at least one hour or up to 8 hours before serving (if you do chill the pasta while it's marinating, bring it up to room temperature before serving). Or you can flagrantly disregard this and serve it right away--either way, sprinkle a little more salt and pepper on top before eating.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes, plus 1-8 hours marinating time

Friday, April 22, 2005

SESAME-CRUSTED SALMON TERIYAKI

This recipe had great potential, but it didn't quite deliver. It tasted good enough, though, and I think that once I perfect the execution, it could be great. I foolishly only marinated the salmon for an hour; the recipe asks for 1-6 hours, and although I prefer a longer marination, I didn't see any way I could marinate for 6 hours, considering I get home from work at 6:30 and don't care to eat dinner after midnight. I know, I know--why not do longer than 6 hours? Generally when I marinate things, I make the marinade the night before and let it marinate for 24 hours. But I do like to follow recipes to the letter the first time around, I'd never marinated fish before, and I worried that perhaps the fish would become goo or turn into a pumpkin or something if I marinated it longer. But sure enough, after an hour, I grilled the salmon and could taste only a hint of the marinade. What I did detect was promising, though. I'd only grilled one of my two fillets; A was at an audition and didn't get home until 10:00, so I left his salmon in the marinade until he was ready to eat. According to him, the 3 hours of marination yielded a decent amount of flavor (I wasn't able to verify this myself, having already brushed my teeth). So, next time I'm going to marinate the hell out of that fish and see what happens. I also wasn't able to find any mirin (rice wine) this time around, so I had to use the substitution ingredients of sugar and lemon. I'd be interested to see if the mirin adds more flavor.

Even with all these difficulties, the salmon still had a nice crunchy, sesame-y exterior (I do love sesame seeds) and a good (if faint) sweet-sour glaze. This is a different style than my other salmon recipes, as well as being a breeze to make, so I hope I can refine it to add a little more oomph.

NOTE: I did make this again a few weeks later. I marinated the fish for 24 hours and used a better-quality soy sauce (still no mirin, though), and it was great.

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin (rice wine), or 1/4 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 salmon steaks (I used fillets, actually), about 8 ounces each
1/2 cup sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large Ziplock bag, combine the soy sauce with the mirin, or the sugar and lemon juice. Add the salmon, coating it well with the marinade, and seal the bag. Let it marinate in the refrigerator for 1-6 (or, in my experience, up to 24) hours.

2. When ready to cook, preheat your grill (I used a George Foreman; you can also, of course, use a normal grill, or your oven broiler with the rack in the top position). Remove the salmon from the bag and discard the marinade. Season the salmon with salt and pepper to taste, spread the sesame seeds on a plate, and coat both sides of the salmon with them, patting them down to help them adhere.

3. Grill the salmon until it's cooked through. (If you're using a regular grill, brush it with oil and then add the salmon; if you're using the broiler, set the salmon on a rack set in a baking pan. Either way, cook for about 6 minutes on each side.)

4. The recipe notes that this marinade works well with any fish steaks, including swordfish, halibut, and tuna.

Serves: 4
Time: 15 minutes, plus 1-24 hours marination

PASTA PRIMAVERA


Holy cow, it's been a long time since I've posted a recipe--I've been cooking all this time, I swear, just not new stuff. For my birthday, I even made myself chocolate cupcakes, from scratch, with buttercream frosting. Since those were such basic recipes, pulled from the handy old Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, I don't feel compelled to post them here--but for my first cake-baking experience, everything turned out pretty well. I'm thinking yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting for A's birthday next week.

But I made this recipe the other day--er, week--and realized that although I've had it for a while, I hadn't made it yet since I moved to California, and thus it's not been written up here. And so I give you a very good recipe for Pasta Primavera, which to me is kind of like the uber-pasta, a blend of all the other pastas I make rolled into one, containing every prototypical pasta-sauce ingredient. Somehow the tomato/olive-oil/garlic/red-pepper-flake/basil gang meets the green-vegetable/mushroom/butter/cream/Parmesan gang and instead of roughing each other up, they get together and work out a plan for world peace. I don't make it too often--because do you need that much excitement that often?--but it's good stuff, and totally worth the extra steps and extra pans involved. Cook it in honor of spring!

6 cups of at least 3 of the following vegetables: broccoli florets, fresh or frozen peas, thin asparagus spears cut into 1-inch lengths, small diced zucchini, diced yellow squash, thin green beans cut into 1-inch lengths
salt to taste
1/2 pound fresh white or brown mushrooms, sliced
3/4 pound ripe plum tomatoes, cored and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
12 large basil leaves, shredded
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 pound linguine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more to taste

1. Bring several quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. (While it heats, I suggest you do all your prep work first, because this is a complicated recipe that demands your full attention. Cut up your 6 cups of vegetables and set them aside, each vegetable separately, which is a little fussy but that's how the recipe works. Snap the stems from the mushrooms, slice them thinly, set them aside. Mince the garlic, divide it in half, and set the two portions aside separately. Core and dice the tomatoes into 1/2-inch cubes and set them aside too. By the way, when I say "aside," I generally mean that I put the prepped ingredient into one of the five or six bowls I would later use for serving or storing the pasta. There's no point in dirtying a whole new dish for this, and it's not like putting some raw zucchini in a bowl is going to taint that bowl for holding cooked zucchini later.)

2. When the water boils, add the first vegetable, plus salt to taste. Cook until the vegetable is crisp-tender, about 30 seconds for frozen peas, 1 minute for zucchini or yellow squash, or 2 minutes for broccoli, green beans, fresh peas, or asparagus. (Be careful not to overcook the vegetables, because they will continue cooking after you remove them from the water thanks to their inner heat, and they're going to sit around waiting--and thus cooking--for a little while before they get used.) Use a slotted spoon to remove the blanched vegetables to a bowl, then add the next vegetable and cook it, and so forth until they're all together in the bowl.

3. While this is happening, set 4 quarts of salted water in a large pot on the stove and bring it to a boil for cooking the pasta.

4. Once the veggies are blanched and while the pasta water is heating, heat the olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. When it's warm, add half the garlic and all the red pepper flakes and saute until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are heated through, about 3 minutes. (Don't overcook the tomatoes--they should keep their shape.) Shred the basil and throw it in the pan with some salt and pepper to taste, then remove the pan from the heat and set it on a back burner.

5. Set a large skillet on the just-vacated medium-heat burner, add the butter, and melt it. Add the remaining garlic and saute it over medium heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they release their juices, about 6 minutes, then season generously with salt and pepper.

6. Sometime during this process, the pasta water will boil; add the linguine and cook until al dente.

7. Add the blanched vegetables to the skillet with the mushrooms and cook them, tossing several times, until they're heated through, about 2 minutes. Then add the cream to the skillet and simmer it until it thickened a bit, 2-3 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

8. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and then toss it into the skillet with the sauce, the tomato mixture, and the Parmesan. Serve it with a little more grated cheese and pepper sprinkled on each serving.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP WITH PARMESAN AND SAGE


After A and I both concluded we didn't really like this butternut squash soup recipe all that much, I was in the market for another one. Luckily, there is nothing Jack Bishop cannot do with vegetables, and I quickly found this one in The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. It's less sweet than the cashew version (the onions give it more bite, I think, and there's no sugar) and takes waaaaay less time because you don't have to bake the squash beforehand. The addition of cheese doesn't hurt, either. This is simple and tasty, and while it's not my new favorite soup or anything, it's a noble use for a squash.

Jack calls for whole milk to give the soup creaminess, but since I had some half-and-half in the fridge already, I just used a mixture of half half-and-half (oof, that's a lot of halves!) and half 1% milk, which I figured would approximate whole milk. When I added 1/4 cup of this mixture to the first of the two batches of soup I was pureeing in the blender, the soup got very thin. So I left the milk/cream out of the second batch of soup, to prevent it from being downright runny. I don't know, maybe my squash was small or I had a little too much stock, but it's possible the amount of milk Jack calls for is excessive. I'd be cautious when adding it; just start with a few tablespoons and go from there. I guess it depends on what texture you like, but in my household we want our soup to have some body.

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 and 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 and 1/2 cups stock (Jack calls for vegetable, it being a vegetarian cookbook and all, but I used chicken because that's what I make homemade) or water (eek, I wouldn't recommend that unless it was an emergency)
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2-3/4 cup whole milk (or whatever, some kind of dairy drink, and be forewarned you might not use all of it)
12 fresh sage leaves
4-6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cut away and discard the tough skin of the squash. (Jack says to use a knife, but knowing my knife skills, that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, and I've found that you can do this really easily with a good vegetable peeler.) Use a knife to cut off the very ends of the squash, then halve the squash and scoop out and discard the seeds and stringy pulp with a spoon. Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch chunks (Jack helpfully notes there should be about 6 cups) and set it aside.

2. Heat the butter in a soup kettle over medium heat. When the butter is warm, add the onion and saute until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the squash chunks and cook, stirring often, for 2 more minutes.

3. Add the stock, the teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste and bring the soup to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes.

4. Transfer the soup to a blender (I had to do this in two batches) and add the milk (Jack says to add 1/2 cup and then add more if necessary to thin the soup, but as I mentioned above, I only really needed a few tablespoons before it became more than thin enough for me.) Pour the pureed soup back into the kettle and heat it briefly until hot, then ladle it into bowls. Chop the sage leaves and sprinkle them atop each serving. (Jack says to garnish each bowl with 2 whole sage leaves, but who wants to pick big leaves out of their soup?) Sprinkle a tablespoon of cheese over each bowl, plus a little more pepper.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 30-40 minutes

Thursday, March 31, 2005

FRENCH CHICKEN BREASTS WITH THYME AND POTATO PANCAKES

(BLANCS DE VOLAILLE AU THYM AVEC GALETTES DE POMMES DE TERRE)


Sorry about the snooty French title—I couldn’t help it, so intoxicated was I by the sophistication of this meal, yet another winning recipe from Bistro Chicken: 100 Easy Yet Elegant Recipes With French Flair, by Mary Ellen Evans. And, indeed, the recipe was easy, it was elegant, it had the French flair. Seriously! I felt so incredibly fancy while making it (except for the potato-grating part, where I accidentally grated my thumb knuckle and bled all over the cutting board—yeah, now you really want to come over for dinner at my house, don’t you?), but it was so simple to do, and had so few ingredients that (as with previous Mary Ellen recipes) I was actually afraid the food would be bland. Instead, it was rich with the flavors of caramelized shallots, wine, and thyme. My favorite part was making the pan sauce, deglazing and reducing like a pro. The only stumbling block for me, I think, was that everything took far longer to cook than the recipe instructed. Maybe my stove is just feeble, but I had to keep turning the temperature up and up and cooking longer and longer to achieve the necessary browning. The chicken, in particular, took a really long time to get rid of the pink in the center (but then, they were unusually thick breasts), which left my potato pancakes warming in the oven for maybe a little too long and getting slightly dry. In retrospect, I think I should have just been bolder about turning up the heat, but since my one fault as a cook is sometimes being too impatient (hey, I’m hungry), I was trying to fight against that. I suppose being too tentative could also be a cooking flaw, too. Everything still turned out delicious (I served it with a green salad on the side, and A was notably impressed by the whole meal), but I’m eager to give it another shot and work out the temperatures better. Also, after the success of the three recipes I’ve made from Bistro Chicken, I’m wondering if I should check it out of the library again and look more closely at the other contents. I’m usually suspicious of French recipes because they generally seem so long and complex (even when made sensible and straightforward by Julia Child, they’re still out of my league), but now I may have to revise that prejudice.

P.S. If you just wanted some easy chicken, you could make it without the potato pancakes, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

¾ pound Idaho russet potatoes
2 tablespoons peanut oil (Mary Ellen says this gives the thoroughly French taste, but I admit I didn’t feel like buying any and used canola oil instead)
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup chopped shallots
4 6-to-8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (or ¾ teaspoon crumbled dried thyme)
½ cup white wine

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Peel the potatoes and shred them in a food processor (or grate them by hand, which for me quickly led to a bloody knuckle and some emergency first aid [OK, a Band-aid] from A; anyone wanna buy me a food processor?). Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, press one-fourth of the shredded potatoes into a 3-to-4-inch disk and place it in the skillet. (Mine turned out messy--er, I mean, "rustic," but luckily, Mary Ellen says not to worry if the potatoes don’t stick together well, because the pancakes will firm up when they cook.) Repeat this with the remaining potatoes, so you have four pancakes. Cook them until medium brown and crisp on both sides (“3 to 4 minutes per side” according to the recipe, but longer for me). When the pancakes are done, remove them to a baking sheet and put that in the oven while you prepare the chicken.

2. Using the same skillet you just fried the potatoes in, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is warm, add the shallots and sauté them until they begin to soften, 2-3 minutes. Mix ½ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and the fresh thyme in a small bowl and then use this to season both sides of each of the chicken breasts (use all the seasoning). Add the chicken to the skillet and sauté until golden brown on both sides (again, recipe says “3 to 4 minutes per side, but it took me longer). Add the white wine, reduce the heat to low, and cook, turning the chicken once, until it's no longer pink in the thickest portion when cut with a knife (recipe: “4 to 5 minutest per side”; me: longer).

3. When it's done, remove the chicken from the pan, increase the heat to high, and reduce the pan juices in the skillet slightly, for 1-2 minutes. Take the potato pancakes out of the oven, season them with salt and pepper, and place one on each plate. Top each pancake with a chicken breast, then drizzle the pan juices over each one.

Serves: 4
Time: 45-60 minutes

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

LINGUINE WITH ASPARAGUS, LEMON, AND SPRING HERBS


I have at least four asparagus pasta recipes on file, but this is my all-time favorite. It’s a bit elaborate for every day (there are a lot ingredients and it’s tricky [for me, at least] to coordinate the steps with perfect timing), but all the elements come together so elegantly and tastily—and with the bright flavors and the greenness, it’s a perfect way to celebrate the approach of spring. Put out a vase of daffodils and a bowl of pastel-wrapped chocolate eggs and big heaping bowls of lemony-herby asparagus pasta, and you may have my ideal Easter meal.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large bunch scallions, including half the greens, thinly sliced
2½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds asparagus
1 pound linguine
4 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons snipped chives, plus blossoms if available
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the pine nuts in a large, wide skillet over medium heat until lightly browned, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure they toast evenly. Pour them out of the skillet into a bowl and set them aside, but return the skillet to the stove for use in Step 3.

2. Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. While it heats, wash the asparagus, snap off the tough ends and discard them, slice off the asparagus tips, and then slice the stalks into 1-to-2-inch lengths. When the water boils, add the asparagus and cook until partially tender, 3-4 minutes. Scoop it out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon and set it in a colander to drain. Add the linguine to the boiling water and cook until al dente.

3. Heat the skillet over low heat, add the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil, and wait for them to melt/warm up. Add the scallions, lemon zest, thyme, and a few pinches of salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally.

4. When the pasta is almost done cooking, add the asparagus to the skillet and stir to coat it with the butter/oil and seasonings. When the pasta is done, drain it, add it to the skillet, and stir in the remaining tablespoon of oil, the toasted pine nuts, the parsley, the chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything together well, dish it up, and sprinkle each serving with Parmesan cheese.

Serves: 6
Time: 45 minutes

ZUCCHINI STUFFED WITH RICOTTA AND HERBS

Eek! I made this new recipe months ago, but somehow forgot to write it up. Now I’m afraid I don’t remember much of the experience, except that it was good enough for me to keep the recipe around. But then, how could it not be? I’m a great fan of foods stuffed into other foods, particularly when one of those foods is cheese. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing not to like here, and while the recipe requires some multitasking—cook zucchini, sauté onions, mix cheeses, fill, bake—it’s nothing too challenging. The recipe is from Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook; he lists it as a main course, but mine, at least, turned out somewhat small, so we would have had to eat two each if that was all I served. Instead, we had it as a side dish with grilled chicken breasts. Jack suggests serving it with a tomato salad, which would be nice in the summer… Hmm, now that I’ve rediscovered this recipe, I’m going to have to make it again soon!

Postscript, December 2009: I'm not sure if that ever happened, but regardless, this didn't stand the test of time--I never make it nowadays, so it's moving to "Not Favorites."

4 medium-large zucchini (about 2 pounds total), scrubbed
salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or oregano
1 large egg, lightly beaten
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons plain bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Bring several quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan for cooking the zucchini. When the water boils, add the zucchini and salt to taste and simmer until the zucchini “offers just a little resistance when pierced with a skewer, about 6 minutes.” Drain the zucchini and let them cool to room temperature.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes, then stir in the garlic and sauté until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove this from the heat and set it aside.

4. When the zucchini are room-temperature (or cool enough to handle without burning your fingers, anyway), trim off the ends and slice the zucchini in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and some of the flesh, taking care not to puncture the skin, leaving a hollowed-out shell about ½ inch thick.

5. Beat the egg in a large bowl and then add the ricotta and Parmesan or Romano-Pecorino (for the record, Jack “prefer[s] the sharper taste of the Pecorino with the mild ricotta,” but since I always have Parmesan in my friedge, I just use that), the herbs (I use oregano instead of thyme, because I think fresh oregano is one of the great unsung heroes of the herb world—though thyme’s fine, too), and pepper to taste. Stir in the onion mixture. Use a spoon to scoop the filling into the zucchini shells, dividing it evenly among the four of them.

6. Use the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to lightly grease a baking dish large enough to hold the zucchini in a single layer. Arrange the zucchini in the dish, sprinkle the bread crumbs over them, and bake until the filling is golden, 45-50 minutes.

Serves: 2-4
Time: 1½ hours (mostly baking time)

Friday, March 04, 2005

PASTA WITH BROCCOLI PESTO


I’ve had this recipe for a while (I think it may be from Jack Bishop’s Pasta e Verdura, but I’m too lazy to check), but don’t make it often. I like but don’t completely love broccoli, and this pasta’s pretty broccolicentric. At the same time, I like how unique it is; you don’t see a lot of recipes that call for the stems as well as the florets, or that make the broccoli the base of the sauce, rather than just some chunks floating around in it. But the last time I made this dish—just after moving to California, before the advent of Bookcook—neither A nor I liked it. It was bland and the sauce was too thick and overwhelmingly broccoli-tasting (with that cabbagey undercurrent that broccoli sometimes has), and I was ready to dump the recipe for good. This week, however, desperate to make a recipe that hadn’t yet been posted on Bookcook (hey, I wanna keep you comin’ back for more!), I decided to give it another shot. And this time, this time it was great! I went heavy on the seasonings (especially the garlic and black pepper), and added some red pepper flakes, which the original recipe didn’t call for. I used nice fresh farmers’ market broccoli, and I think I (accidentally) bought significantly less than the 2 pounds the recipe called for (I got two bunches, but I guess they were small)—maybe more like 1¼ or 1½ pounds? (Do you know, 2 pounds is a heck of a lot of broccoli?) Whatever it was that I did, it did the trick. The sauce was fresh and green, bursting with good flavors, and had a nice pesto-like texture. We both enjoyed it, and the recipe (with my adaptations) has been rescued from purgatory and returned to the regular rotation. Three cheers for (carefully prepared) broccoli!

1 large bunch broccoli (about 1½ pounds)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
¼ to ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound penne pasta
freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta, and a smaller pot of water to a boil for cooking the broccoli. While these are heating, separate the broccoli florets from the stalks and separate the florets into small, bite-sized pieces. Trim a thick slice off the base of the stalks and trim away any other parts that look too hard or woody. Peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler and slice them into ¼-inch-thick disks. When the water in the small pot boils, add the broccoli and 1 teaspoon salt and simmer briskly until the broccoli is quite tender. (The recipe says about 10 minutes, but I probably don't do it quite as long—you don’t want the broccoli to get overcooked and lose all its nice green taste. Maybe 5-7 minutes? Use your judgment.)

2. When the broccoli is cooked, drain it and transfer it to a cutting board and allow to cool slightly. Then chop it as fine as possible.

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

4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the skillet and saute over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the chopped broccoli and cook, stirring often, for about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the pasta cooking water to the skillet and simmer everything briskly until the broccoli forms a rough puree and is no longer soupy, about 15 minutes (you can add more cooking water as needed if the mixture appears dry). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. When the pasta is done, drain it, toss the hot pasta with the sauce, and serve with grated cheese and more black pepper.

Serves: 6
Time: 40 minutes

POTATO CASSEROLE WITH TOMATOES AND MOZZARELLA


Wow, I say. Silly me, I’d been afraid this would be plain and bland. Instead, it tasted as good as or better than the other gratin-type dishes I’ve made, and was twice as easy as any of them. A and I were both impressed. What more do I even need to say? Good old reliable Jack Bishop strikes again to bring us a lovely Sunday night supper (served with green salad on the side).

By the way, you'll probably find that some potatoes stick to the bottom of the baking dish no matter how well you oil it. Don't be alarmed by their brown crustiness! Just gently peel 'em right off with your fingers. They're actually THE BEST PART, like cheesy rosemary potato chips, and in my household at least, it's the prerogative of the cook to secretly munch them as she dishes up the rest of the food.


¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 large baking potatoes (about 2 pounds)
6 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1½ cups)
6 medium plum tomatoes (about 1¼ pounds)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush 1 tablespoon of the oil over a 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

2. Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil with the rosemary, salt, and plenty of pepper in a small bowl. Scrub the potatoes and slice them into 1/8th-inch-thick rounds (Jack says you can use a mandoline or the slicing blade of a food processor to get them really thin, but I don’t have such fancy-schmancy tools and just did them as thin as I could with a knife), and place them in a big mixing bowl. Drizzle the rosemary-oil mixture over the potatoes and toss them gently (“with your hands,” cautions Jack) to coat them evenly.

3. Line the baking dish with one-third of the potatoes, laying them flat and overlapping the pieces slightly in a pretty tiled pattern. Sprinkle half the mozzarella over the potatoes. Then—whoa, hold on a second, I just now noticed that Jack is asking for the tomatoes to be peeled. I totally skipped this and would recommend you do the same, unless you’re feeling very energetic. We’re leaving the skins on the potatoes already, and so having the skins on the tomatoes will just add to the whole rustic feeling, right? Tomatoes are just such a pain to peel. So anyway, take your my tomatoes and wash them, and peel them or not, and cut them in fourths, and remove the cores and seeds, and dice the flesh. Sprinkle half the tomatoes over the layer of cheese in the casserole, then repeat the layering of potatoes, cheese, and tomatoes one more time. Use the remaining one-third of the potatoes to make a final layer. (Jack notes that at this point the casserole may be covered tightly and refrigerated overnight, but should be brought to room temperature again before being baked.)

4. Bake the casserole for about an hour until the top layer of potatoes is golden brown. Cool it for 5 minutes and serve it hot.

Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours, mostly baking time

POSTSCRIPT, JULY 2007: I added a minced clove of garlic to the rosemary and olive oil mixture in Step 2. Don't know why I never thought of that before, given my adoration for garlic; it was a great addition.

Monday, February 28, 2005

SIMPLE SOOTHING MUSHROOM SOUP


This soup is a brown puree resembling something small singing children would be fed in a Dickensian workhouse. Luckily, it tastes pretty good. I’m not sure where the recipe came from; I’d made it once before, maybe a year ago, and apparently deemed it good enough to keep, but then not tried it again since. So last week I decided to test it to see if I still liked it. And…yes, I do. I had been worried it would be too bland, and it was not. A, in fact (who fears blandness above all else) particularly enjoyed it. I didn’t passionately love it, but it tasted good (with nice green salad on the side), was easy to make, is different from any other recipe I have, and it’s nice to have a soup recipe on hand that doesn’t require broth. I think the only change I would have made would be to go for a little more mushroom flavor (12 ounces, maybe?) and a smidgen less potato. And I didn’t have any parsley to put on top, which would have reduced the gruel-like appearance. Anyway, if you’re a cream of mushroom soup fan, this is a way to get a similar taste without using any cream.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large scallions, white parts only, chopped
10 ounces firm mushrooms, such as white button, Portobello, or cremini, thinly sliced
1 pound red potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper to taste
minced fresh parsley

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the scallions and sauté, stirring often, until they have softened. (The recipe crazily says, “About 7 minutes,” but mine had already softened and started to turn brown [oops] after just a minute or so. Was I supposed to turn the heat down? Should I have cut bigger onion pieces?) Add the mushrooms and sauté until they soften and begin to give up their liquid. (Again, the recipe says “about 7 minutes.”)

2. When the mushrooms are softened and juicy, add the potatoes and dill to the pot and stir well. Added enough water (maybe 2 cups?) to cover the contents of the pot, stir again, and—well, here the recipe mysteriously said to “raise heat to medium,” but hadn’t the stove been on medium the whole time? There’s nowhere where it said to turn it down… Either I copied it down wrong, or this recipe author is messing with my head. Since the recipe says the soup should be “brought to a gentle simmer,” I took a chance and raised the heat to medium-high. Anyway, when the soup simmers, put the lid on the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the potatoes are soft, “about 15 minutes.”

3. When the potatoes are soft, puree the soup in the blender (I had to do it in two batches) until it's thick, smooth, and creamy. Return it to the pot, turn the stove heat to low, season with salt, pepper, and paprika, sprinkle with fresh parsley, and serve. Then practice saying “Please, sir, can I have some more?” in your best British accent.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Friday, February 11, 2005

THE INFAMOUS BRIE PASTA


This is my favorite of all recipes, and if you know me for any length of time, chances are good that I’ll make it for you. It’s a perfect meal for entertaining, because it’s really really super easy: there are only a few ingredients, you can mix most of them together ahead of time, and only one of them has to be cooked. At the same time, because it involves Brie, it is also really really super rich and decadent, and thus is best enjoyed only with friends, for extra special occasions. The price of a pound of Brie being what it is, it’s probably better that way. Once per year is just about right (preferably in the summer, when you can find awesome tomatoes). In fact, I think the last time I made Brie pasta was a year ago, when I had L, J, E, and N over for dinner in my tiny basement apartment on Portland Ave. in St. Paul. On Tuesday night, I had A, M, and K over for dinner to watch the finale of The Amazing Race, so I figured it was time to work the Brie mojo again. I found nicely affordable Canadian (it’s almost French!) Brie at Trader Joe’s, and decent tomatoes (for this time of year) at the farmers’ market, and voila!

Do I even have to describe what this tastes like? The compatability of pasta, tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil is already well established. To this you add Brie, which gets all melty, like the best kind of cream sauce, and cheesy, like the best kind of macaroni and cheese. ’Nuff said. The funny thing is that I got this recipe from a little photocopied dorm newsletter when I was in college. It was just squished in there among announcements of campus events and reminders to renew parking permits. I often wonder where the newsletter writer found it in the first place—I’ve even Googled “Tomato Basil Brie Pasta” and found some similar recipes, but one of them had red wine vinegar in it (no way), and the other called for 2 cups (!!!!) of oil (gack…can that possibly be right?), and both asked for Parmesan cheese, which is totally unnecessary when you have—did I mention?—a pound of Brie. Let’s just call it happy chance that I found this recipe, and even happier chance that I’m passing it on to you.

1 pound farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
1 pound Brie cheese
4 large, fresh, ripe tomatoes
1 large handful of fresh basil
1/3 cup olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove the rind from the Brie (I know some people like the rind, but don’t try to use it here—it will ruin the texture) and cut the cheese into small chunks (they don’t have to be perfect, since they will melt anyway, but for ease in melting, don’t make them much larger than an inch). Put these in a large glass bowl (make sure you don’t use a metallic bowl, or you will taste it).

2. Mince the garlic. Keep in mind, the garlic stays raw in this recipe, so if you want to use less than 4 cloves, go ahead (this is the only time you will ever hear me say this). If the garlic is too potent, it will overwhelm the taste of the Brie. Shred the basil and add both it and the garlic to the bowl.

3. Seed and core the tomatoes and chop them into 1-inch chunks, and add them to the bowl. Also add the oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. The recipe says to let the mixture marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, but this can be skipped if you’re really hungry. Sometimes I just make it and eat it right away; other times, I’ve let it marinate longer than 2 hours. On this occasion, I probably did it for about an hour. It’s good no matter what, although I think the leftovers taste even better because the flavors have had more time to blend.

5. When it's near time to eat, boil salted water for the pasta and cook it until al dente. Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot, then add the tomato-cheese mixture and stir gently. (The pasta makes an earthy squishing sound during this process that I enjoy immensely.) Eventually, the heat of the pasta melts the Brie into a smooth, creamy sauce. Added more salt and pepper and serve (good with a green salad on the side).

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes (plus optional 2-hour marinating time)

CHICKEN KEBABS


First of all, it’s really fun to type the word “kebab.” Kebabkebabkebabkebabkebabkebabkebab…your left-hand pinkie and index fingers get to do this cute little dance. OK, it’s out of my system now. This is another successful recipe from Bistro Chicken, by Mary Ellen Evans. When I started making it last night, I was somewhat worried about how it would turn out, because (a) I was afraid the marinade would be too bland, and (b) potatoes?, and (c) it was raining and we had no charcoal, so we were making the kebabs (whee!) on the George Foreman grill. But I was up for an adventure, and Mary Ellen’s description was too good to resist: “These plump portions of chicken, marinated with herbs and lemon, then grilled to perfection, will turn your own backyard into a seaside escape.” Right on!

The recipe was slightly more time-consuming than I’d expected, just because there are so many separate phases (cut the chicken and vegetables, make the marinade, marinate, boil potatoes, thread food on skewers, grill), but everything turned out deliciously. The little chicken chunks get nicely saturated with marinade so blandness isn’t an issue, the potatoes get crispy and roasty, the George Foreman handled the task admirably, and it’s exciting to eat food off of sticks. (Like the State Fair! In your kitchen!) I would definitely make this again…and a good thing, too, because I have 100 bamboo skewers to use up.

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon), plus 1 optional lemon for garnish
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 3⁄4 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons fresh oregano or 3⁄4 teaspoon dried
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1⁄2 pound small new potatoes or red boiling potatoes, quartered
11⁄4 to 11⁄2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 11⁄2-inch cubes
2 bell peppers (preferably each a different color), cut into 11⁄2-inch pieces

1. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, thyme and oregano (as always, I strongly advocate fresh herbs), and salt and pepper in a small bowl.

2. Cube the chicken breasts and put the pieces in a large Ziplock bag, then add two-thirds of the marinade. Mix everything up well (I love that Mary Ellen suggests I “gently massage the marinade all over the chicken pieces” from outside the sealed bag) and put the bag in the refrigerator to marinate for 1-24 hours. (The recipe says just one hour, but I always get better results with longer marination.) Set the bowl containing the remaining marinade aside (if I'm marinating overnight, I just put the rest of the marinade in a small covered bowl in the refrigerator).

3. When ready to cook the kebabs, put a medium pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the potatoes. Meanwhile, cut up the bell peppers, put them in the bowl containing the rest of the marinade and mix them up so they're coated all over.

4. Quarter the potatoes and, when the water boils, add them to the pot. Mary Ellen says to boil them until they're just tender, “about 20 minutes.”

5. Drain the potatoes and let them cool for a little while until you can handle them without hurting yourself. Put them in the bowl with the peppers and marinade and mix everything up well.

6. Now for the fun part. Preheated the grill, get the marinated chicken out of the refrigerator, and set about threading the chicken, peppers, and potatoes onto 8 skewers.

7. Discard the marinade and put the kebabs on the grill. Cook them, turning and rearranging them periodically, until the chicken is firm and not pink in the middle and everything looks nice and browned; the official instructions (for real gas or charcoal grills) are as follows: Grill on medium-high heat, covered, on a gas grill or 4-6 inches from heat on a charcoal grill, turning every 4-5 minutes, until chicken is done, 16-20 minutes total.

8. Mary Ellen suggests cutting your second lemon into 8 wedges and then putting a wedge on the end of each skewer as a garnish, but I only had one lemon so I skipped this and went straight to the eating part. Yum. What we didn’t eat we removed from the skewers and put in a Gladware container for later.

Serves: 3-4
Time: 45 minutes, plus 1-24 hours marinating time

Thursday, February 10, 2005

SPICY BROCCOLI WITH GARLIC


Yeah, I’m slow this week. I made this recipe on Sunday (!) night, as a side dish for Cheesy Stuffed Potatoes, because it’s important to have something green with your big piles of melted cheese. I’m trying to expand my repertoire of side dishes, since green salad gets a little dull after a while. The recipe is from yet another Jack Bishop (sheesh, I must be watching too much 24, I almost typed “Jack Bauer”) publication, The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. Although neither A nor I adores broccoli, we liked this treatment of it (what’s not to love when red pepper flakes and garlic are involved?). Between the strong flavors of the seasonings and the freshness of our farmers’-market broccoli, there was none of that cabbagey taste that broccoli sometimes has. My only complaint is that it uses one too many pans, but that’s a small gripe. Jack suggests pairing the broccoli with “a tomato-based pizza or tart,” egg dishes, or pasta dishes; I think you could probably even serve it over plain noodles if you wanted to (with a little olive oil and maybe some Parmesan).

1 medium bunch broccoli (about 1½ pounds)
salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium cloves garlic
½ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or to taste

1. Bring several quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan. While it's heating, trim the broccoli: separate the florets from the main stalk and cut them into largeish bite-size pieces. When the water boils, add the broccoli and some salt to the water and cook until the broccoli is crisp-tender, 4-5 minutes. Drain the broccoli and set it aside. (Jack says you can set it aside “for up to 1 hour”--what happens after that?--but I’m not sure why you’d want to do this.)

2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. While it's heating, mince the garlic. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and hot pepper flakes to it, stir, and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the broccoli and stir to coat it well with the oil. Cook everything together for 1-2 minutes, add a little salt to taste, and serve.

Serves: 4 as a side dish
Time: 20 minutes

Friday, February 04, 2005

CHICKEN SCALOPPINE WITH PARMESAN

Sometimes you just need a good, plain, easy chicken breast recipe. This one did the trick for me on Wednesday night; I’m not gaga over it, but it made a nice accompaniment for our roasted asparagus. It's kind of like chicken tenders for grownups. I like that this is the kind of thing I could usually throw together spontaneously from ingredients I keep on hand. It’s from a new cookbook I got from the library, Bistro Chicken: 100 Easy Yet Elegant Recipes With French Flair, by Mary Ellen Evans. The book doesn’t contain quite as many promising-looking recipes as I’d hoped (maybe I have to face the fact that I just don’t love chicken quite enough), but now that this one’s been well received, I’ll give more of them a try (chicken kebabs on the George Foreman may be my next experiment).

Mary Ellen says to use “the best-quality Parmesan you can afford” and “grate it fresh just before using,” but I only had my pre-shredded, mid-range Parmesan from Trader Joe’s. I know from experience that Parmesan grated freshly from the block has a better texture and flavor (they put a lot of strange substances in the pre-shredded stuff to keep it from sticking together), especially when it comes to melting, but I get so tired of having to grate Parmesan almost every day. My knuckles are always scraped and the cheese grater is always needing to be cleaned. So I go the lazy route. And if you do, I think it’s OK—my chicken turned out just fine. Still, I can see some practical as well as aesthetic advantages to using fresh-grated, because I had a hard time getting my long, rectangular, stiff bits of cheese to adhere to the chicken breasts. Next time I’ll grate my own.

Updated June 2008 to add: What was I thinking? Definitely freshly grate your Parmesan! Now that I have a Microplane (O, sweet Microplane!), I use for the Parmesan that because it creates such a fine shred, it's easier to make it adhere to the chicken.

Four 6- to 8-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1¼ cups)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Lay each chicken breast flat on a cutting board and cut it in half horizontally to form two thin pieces.

2. Combine cheese and flour in a shallow bowl and then stir in the chopped basil. In another shallow bowl, add the egg whites and a tablespoon of water and stir them together with a fork until “slightly foamy.”

3. Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it's fully hot (I really have a hard time waiting for pans to heat up properly, so I was careful to be sure that a tiny pinch of flour sizzled and browned when I added it to the pan), quickly dip four of the chicken breast pieces, one at a time, into the egg white mixture and then into the cheese mixture, turning them around to get totally coated. Add the coated chicken to the hot skillet and cook until browned and cooked through (Mary Ellen says 2-3 minutes per side, but I think mine took a bit longer). Remove the chicken to a platter, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and repeat the process with the remaining four pieces of chicken. Sprinkle chicken with pepper and serve it.

Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes

Thursday, February 03, 2005

STUFFED (PASTA) SHELLS


For many years of my youth, this was my favorite dish that my mom made, so learning how to make it for myself several years ago was very satisfying. There’s nothing revolutionary about the spinach-cheese-tomato combination, but the combination of flavors always reminds me of home. Plus, as I think I’ve mentioned before, it’s fun to stuff things inside other things. The recipe’s also very versatile, because after you’ve stuffed the shells, you can put them on a baking sheet and freeze them until they’re hard, pull them off the baking sheet, put them in a Ziplock bag, and keep them in the freezer for as long as you like. Then you can take out however many you want to prepare, defrost them, throw them in a baking dish with tomato sauce, bake them, and insta-dinner. Or you can just skip the freezing and bake the whole batch right away, as I did when I made them last weekend.

I secretly like stuffed shells best made with cottage cheese, which I think is how my mother usually did it, because the cottage cheese gets very creamy and melty, but A finds the idea grotesque, so I use ricotta—and it's good, maybe better, it’s just not the pure experience. This time, I did things slightly differently, because I had a 15-ounce container of ricotta and a 1-pound bag of Trader Joe’s frozen spinach. So I used a bit less cheese than usual and a lot more spinach, and better-quality spinach at that, and the result was an improvement. The stuffing turned out slightly firmer, less gooey, and nice and green and fresh-looking. I’d definitely recommend amping up the spinach if you try this recipe.

1 package large pasta shells
1 pound cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
10-16 ounces frozen spinach
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste
canned plain tomato sauce (about one 8-ounce can per 12 pasta shells)
dried herbs, such as Italian seasoning, oregano, and fennel
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil for cooking the pasta shells. While this heats, beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl and then stir in the three cheeses, a pinch of nutmeg, and some salt and pepper. Defrost the spinach in the microwave (following the package directions) and then squeeze all the liquid out of it (by far the most annoying part of this recipe but if you don’t do it well, you’ll have runny filling). Stir the spinach into the cheese mixture.

3. When the water boils, add the pasta shells, cook until al dente, drain them, and rinse them under cold water until they're cool enough to handle. Spoon some of the filling into each of the shells and place them in a 9x12 glass baking dish.

3. Pour canned tomato sauce over the shells and generously sprinkle seasonings over the top (I use oregano, Italian seasoning, fennel seeds, and pepper--if you want to do this like my mother does it, you have to use the fennel seeds). Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes, then take off the foil and bake uncovered for about 10 more minutes.

Serves: 5-8 (depends on how many shells you put in a serving; A and I like 6, which is a fairly large portion, so we usually end up with 6 servings)
Time: 1 hour

Monday, January 31, 2005

FRENCH ONION SOUP

I made this last night, and this morning my entire apartment smells like onions. I think even the cats smell like onions. I have showered, shampooed, put on clean clothes, and driven 30 miles to work, and I can still faintly smell onions in my hair, on my breath, oozing out of my pores. None of this should deter you, however, from making this French onion soup recipe, because it’s relatively easy and quite delicious. Let us give thanks, once again, to Jack Bishop, who published this in Vegetables Every Day. We shake our fingers at him slightly for using cognac—which required visits to several liquor stores before we could find a small enough bottle for our budget (I ended up with an adorably small bottle of Hennessy containing exactly half a cup)—and for not being very clear on what to do with the bay leaves we put into the soup (more on this later), but overall we are pleased. I couldn’t eat this too often, because hey, it’s basically just a big steaming bowl of onions, even if glorified by cheesy toasts, but with a nice green salad it made a rich, yet simple, Sunday supper. Plus, you get that nice fancy-pants feeling that comes from making something at home that you are accustomed to eating only in restaurants.

Funny story about these onions: I got them at the farmers’ market, where I had remembered buying them in 1-pound bags for $1 apiece. So I got three bags and brought them home. And after I had sliced up about a bag of them, weeping copiously, I started to think, “Wow, this is a heckuva lot of onions.” Luckily, at this point I thought to check the label on the bag, which stated that it contained 2½ pounds of onions. No wonder A had complained so much about having to carry these onions around the farmers’ market, considering he had actually been lugging 7½ pounds of them. So we have a few spare onions on our hands. (Do you have onion recipes? Send them hither!) I’m just glad I didn’t try to put them all in the soup. (I was on the phone with K when I made this discovery, and she reminded me of the time when she got her terminology confused and used an entire head of garlic instead of just a clove.)

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds yellow or red onions, halved and sliced thin
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup cognac
5 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock (I use homemade chicken stock. Jack recommends homemade beef broth as traditional, but says not to use canned beef broth because it’s just too salty, though canned chicken or vegetable are OK. Personally, I think if there’s any way you can make some homemade broth of any kind, you should go for it, because this soup is just basically onions and broth, so the quality of the broth matters. But maybe now that I have my chicken-broth-making skillz, I’m just becoming a big fat Stock Snob.)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh parsley
freshly ground black pepper
6 thick slices French bread, toasted
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

1. Heat the butter and oil in a large soup pot (Jack asks for a heavy casserole or Dutch oven, but I just use my Revere Ware kettle) over medium heat. When this is warm, add the onions and cook them, stirring often, until they wilt and start to brown. (Jack said this should take about 10 minutes, but my onions must have been incredibly juicy, because they let off an incredible amount of liquid and became nice and soft and broken down, but stubbornly refused to brown for at least 20-25 minutes, until all the liquid had finally cooked away. I think this probably made them turn out even better, but it made the cooking take a lot longer than the recipe instructed. I think the pan may have been too crowded for them to brown properly.) When they look a little brown, add the teaspoon of salt, raise the heat to medium-high, and continue to cook them, stirring more often, until they're nicely browned (Jack said 15 minutes, but again, it took me a little longer). When browned bits get stuck to the bottom, scrape them off with the spoon and mix them into the onions, because browned flavor is good here.

2. Add the cognac to the onions and simmer until the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Mmm, alcohol and onions. Add the stock, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, and black pepper. Here is where Jack confused me, because there was never an instruction to remove the bay leaves at the end, as is usual (who wants big leaves floating in the soup?). And he never says what to do with the thyme and parsley—chop it? Or leave it whole and then remove that, too? Because I like herbs with onions, I went ahead and minced the thyme (I also used a lot more than two sprigs—more like a couple teaspoons) and the parsley (about a tablespoon).

4. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the flavors have blended, “about 10 minutes” (a little longer is OK, depending on how much prep you have to do for the cheesy toasts).

5a. Traditional method, requiring use of overproof bowls: Preheat your broiler, set 6 ovenproof soup bowls on a rimmed baking sheet, ladle the soup into the bowls, float a piece of toasted bread in each bowl, sprinkle 1/3 cup Gruyere over each bowl, and place the baking sheet in the oven until the cheese browns.

5b. Handy Bookcook detour method, for those who don’t have ovenproof bowls (or aren’t sure if they do): slice up the French bread (my baguette was very thin, making the resulting slices more like croutons, so I did more than 6) and put it on a baking sheet under the broiler for a minute or so on each side just to toast it, then put Gruyere on each piece of bread and broil it until melts and gets a little brown. Then just ladle the soup into bowls and float the little cheesy croutons in the soup. Or, if you're making leftover portions and don't want the croutons to get soggy, store the croutons in a plastic bag and don't add them to the leftover soup until you're ready to eat it.

Serves: 5-6 (Jack says “6 as a first course or for lunch”; we were eating it as a main course for dinner, so we got 5)
Time: 1 hour

Friday, January 21, 2005

SPAGHETTI WITH SPINACH IN GARLIC-CREAM SAUCE


Despite the luxurious-sounding title, this recipe is nothing fancy, really, something I only tend to make when I’ve got extra cream in the refrigerator to use up and spinach is one of the only fresh vegetables in season. Sure ain’t anything wrong with it, though—quick and easy as a wink, all creamy and cheesy and garlicky, with nice green spinach livening it up. I made this on Wednesday night after fighting the traffic home from work for an hour and a half, and I still had the time and energy to rearrange the entire living room after dinner. In my world, that’s a true testament to a simple and speedy recipe.

Note: If I have half-and-half in the fridge instead of cream, I substitute 1 cup half-and-half for the 1/2 cup cream and 1/2 cup milk. Same diff.

1 pound spaghetti
10 to 12 ounces fresh spinach
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup milk
a pinch of nutmeg
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for cooking the pasta. When it boils, add the spaghetti and cook it until it's almost done.

2. If the spinach is not prewashed, wash it. Tear off and discard the stems and tear up the leaves (I've skipped this when I'm lazy or in a rush, however, and it turns out just fine). When the pasta is almost done, add the spinach to the water (with the pasta still in it). Stir the spinach into the boiling water and cook until it's wilted and the pasta is done, about 2 minutes, then drain it (and the pasta) in a colander.

3. Return the (now empty) pasta pot to the stove over medium-high heat and add the olive oil to it. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until warm, add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, pour in the cream and milk, and then stir in the drained pasta and spinach. Sprinkle on the nutmeg, salt, and a lot of black pepper, toss everything together, and heat it for 1 minute. Serve each portion sprinkled with cheese.

Serves: 6
Time: 20-30 minutes

Thursday, January 13, 2005

FETTUCCINE MARGHERITA


This is not a surprising recipe, but it combines a lot of things that go well together into a rich, flavorful whole. I’ve had it for quite a while (where’s it from? Don’t know), but don’t make it too often. Mostly when I do, it’s when I crave tomatoes but fresh ones aren’t available. I used to really hate canned tomatoes, but now I’ve made my peace with them. Especially since I can get such good ones at Trader Joe’s. Maybe the tomatoes are what made it so good this time around, or maybe it was the real wine, not cooking wine, or maybe the brown (cremini, I think?) mushrooms instead of the plain white ones, but whatever it was, this was probably my best execution of this recipe and we thoroughly enjoyed it. A nice, luxurious, comforting winter pasta that's surprisingly simple to put together.

1 pound fettuccine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
12 ounces (4 and 1⁄2 cups) sliced mushrooms
4 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, well drained and chopped
1⁄4 cup white wine
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the pasta.

2. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When this is hot, add the mushrooms and sauté until they brown and the juices begin to evaporate (the recipe says about 7 minutes).

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

4. When the mushrooms are cooked, add the garlic and red pepper to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and wine and boil for 2 minutes, stirring often. (I like my tomatoes pretty broken-down, so I try to cook them a lot longer, more like 10 minutes--or however long I can get away with before the pasta's done.) Then add the cream and salt and boil for 1 minute.

5. When the fettuccine is done, drain it and add it to the sauce, sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese, toss quickly, and serve.

Serves: 6
Time: 40 minutes

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CASHEW SOUP

Eh. This is, I think, the second time I’ve made this recipe, and it had been a long time since the first time, so I was doing a check to make sure I really liked it enough to make it worthy of inclusion in my recipe book. Everything seemed so good in theory. I’d spent the better part of the day—Sunday, this was—making homemade chicken stock, which should have boosted everything up a notch, flavorwise. And cashews are delicious, and squash and butter and cinnamon and brown sugar all go together very well, but—eh. A and I were underwhelmed. The flavors went together so well they sort of just became one big flavor, one big sweet flavor, and although adding more salt and pepper helped, it just wasn’t enough. The soup wasn’t unpleasant, just blah. I think I’ll yank it from my recipe book, but I felt like I should post it anyway, because (a) then if I change my mind and want it later it’ll still be floating around in cyberspace, and (b) maybe someone else will try it and like it. I think I should only be not posting recipes here if they’re so incredibly bad that I want everyone to stay away from them, and even then a disastrous cooking story is always fun to tell, so who knows. But I feel a little bad for this one and kind of want it to find a home somewhere else, because it is healthy and easy to make, but just needs a little help. Maybe someone can fix it and nurse it back to health? Meanwhile, I think I’ll go looking for a different butternut squash soup recipe.

I served this with Cheesy Bread (French bread sliced lengthwise and sprinkled with shredded Cheddar, then toasted lightly under the broiler) and a green salad, both of which I enjoyed more than the soup itself. But we were watching the premiere of 24, so that made everything better.

1 butternut squash
1⁄2 cup salted cashews
2-4 cups stock
5 dashes nutmeg
2-3 dashes cinnamon
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Trim the ends from the squash, cut the squash into quarters, scoop out the seeds, and bake or microwave it until tender. (The recipe is really this vague; after consulting a baked butternut squash recipe in one of my cookbooks--as always, thanks, Jack Bishop--I preheated the oven to 450, placed the squash quarters in a lightly oiled Pyrex baking dish, covered the dish with tin foil, and baked for maybe 45 minutes. The squash came out quite tender, all the better for pureeing.)

2. When the squash has cooled slightly, scoop out the flesh and discard the skin. Put half the squash flesh in the blender with 1-2 cups of chicken stock (just eyeball it based on the consistency you like) and half the cashews, and puree this until it's very smooth. Pour the soup out into a saucepan, then repeat with the remaining squash, 1-2 cups broth as needed, and cashews. Puree this and add it to the saucepan.

3. Season the soup with the nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, butter, salt, and pepper and heat it on medium-high heat until it just begins to bubble, then serve.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 60-90 minutes, but most of that is squash-baking time

Friday, January 07, 2005

ZUCCHINI FRITTERS


Don’t you just love the word “fritter”? And all the crispy, golden, fried goodness it implies? As the author of this recipe, Jack Bishop, points out, however (in Vegetables Every Day), “These fritters are more like savory pancakes than conventional fritters…. The batter is pan-fried in a film of olive oil until the exterior of the fritters becomes crisp. The interior remains soft and a bit creamy.” Sounds just fine to me, Jack. And they are. Nice, green pancakes, a little eggy, a little garlicky. Not too challenging to make, either (though I did go through a lot of paper towels, between the squeezing of the water out of the zucchini and the patting the oil off the cooked fritters). Jack says they can be served as a side dish with chicken or fish, or as a light main course accompanied by salad. I served mine with North Beach Grilled Chicken (sorry, too tired to link to it), and it was good. Next time, I’ll let the oil get a little hotter and let them get a little browner, but overall, thumbs up from A and me. But how could fritters really let you down?

1 pound zucchini
1 large garlic clove, minced
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
1 large egg
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for garnish (optional)

1. Trim the ends from the zucchini and then coarsely grate them (the zucchini, not the ends) on a grater with large holes. Wrap the shredded zucchini in several layers of paper towel (or you can use a kitchen towel, which I find works nicely because it doesn't tear) and squeeze gently to get rid of excess water. Continue squeezing, using new paper towels periodically (this would be a good paper-towel commercial, because my inferior generic-brand ones got soggy and tore pretty quickly), until the zucchini seems pretty dry.

2. Place the zucchini in a large bowl and add the garlic, salt, pepper, and egg. Mix well, then stir in the flour.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it's good and hot, fill a 1⁄4 cup measuring cup with the batter, turn the batter into the frying pan, and use the back of a spoon (or, even handier, the bottom of the measuring cup) to shape it into a 2-to-3-inch patty. Repeat until the pan is full, but not too crowded (for me, this was 4 pancakes). Saute until the fritters are nicely browned on the bottom, 2-3 minutes. Flip the fritters over and continue cooking until they're browned on the other side, another 2-3 minutes. Transfer the fritters to a plate lined with paper towels.

4. Briefly heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet, then repeat the process, adding the remaining batter to make more fritters. Cook the fritters until brown on both sides, then drain them on the paper towels. Serve garnished with lemon wedges, if desired.

Serves: 2-4
Time: 30 minutes