Thursday, March 31, 2005



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


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


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
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


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


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.