While cleaning out our pantry, I came across an opened bag of green lentils that needed to be used up, which was a find that serendipitously followed watching Ina Garten prepare a recipe for them on the Food Network.
Back in the early days when The Food Network seemed more focused on serious cooking than on competition shows and celebrity, Jamie Oliver, a British chef, made his debut on the network in 1999 with a series called The Naked Chef. As might be inferred from the show’s title, Oliver took a minimalist approach to home cooking, stripping recipes to their bare essentials.
I was a fan then and still am, after twenty years of watching him on television and reading his books at home. Recently, while viewing our local PBS channel here in San Diego, I came upon what I believed to be his latest show, 5 Ingredients—Quick & Easy Food. After watching several episodes, I purchased the eponymous book spawned by the series. All the beautifully illustrated book’s recipes do actually adhere to the limit of 5 ingredients, except for kitchen staples like salt and pepper, olive oil, vinegar, etc. and most can be prepared relatively quickly, making them perfect choices for weeknight cooking. Many of the recipes can also be found online on Oliver’s website.
About four months ago, my better half sent me a link to a recipe for “Jamie Oliver’s Eggplant Parmesan.” It took me to an adaptation of the British chef’s version of the dish by Marian Burros, who substituted roasting for Oliver’s grilling of the eggplant. When I make this dish again, I will probably opt for grilling, since the roasting method required a lot of coaxing to render the eggplant slices “golden brown.” After 10 minutes in the oven, the slices had only the slightest shade of brown; even after an additional 5 minutes, I had to resort to broiling to give them some color. Eventually, however, after almost 30 minutes of roasting, the eggplant acquired sufficient color for me to consider them done.
With summer almost upon us, zucchini have begun appearing at our local farmers market. Indeed, seeing them there last week brought back memories of two childhood dishes my aunt would always make throughout the summer. One of these was a zucchini salad with fresh mint and garlic dressed simply with vinegar and olive oil, which I wrote about here last year. The other was zucchini a scapece, which uses the same ingredients but a different preparation that gives the dish its name. The Italian “scapece” is a derivative from the Spanish word, “escabeche,” used for a variety of foods marinated in vinegar after cooking.
How often have you heard or even said “I don’t have time to cook.” Despite the rise of home-delivery meal kits from companies like Blue Apron, Plated, etc, which require one to cook, it seems to me from observing packages left at our condo that ordering-in from local restaurants via a similarly wide array of online meal-delivery companies like Grub Hub, Door Dash, etc. are even more popular since all they require one to do is click on items and press ENTER.
Perhaps, I’m too old for these millennial driven trends and therefore, when I know that my time is limited, I look for and collect recipes that take a minimum of prep, usually about 10 minutes, and require as few pots or pans as possible. This last requirement is typically met with either a sheet pan or a hefty cast-iron skillet.
This week, I prepared two recipes that took about 10 minutes to assemble and used only a sheet pan or a Dutch-oven as the cooking vessel. The 40 to 60 minutes of required cooking provided ample time for a leisurely cocktail with my husband. Okay, there’s the postprandial cleanup; but that too can be a time for family conversation and just winding down.
The first recipe, Baked Pork Chops, I adapted from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen by Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. With paper towels, pat-dry thick bone-in pork chops (1 to 1 1/4 inches) and place each chop on a 12-inch square of aluminum foil.
Season each chop with salt and freshly ground black pepper and coat with a mix of finely minced garlic and fresh sage or rosemary (about 1/2 teaspoon per chop). Drizzle each chop with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil, close the foil packets tightly, and place on a sheet pan.
Cook in the oven for 1 hour. The chops can be served on plates and drizzled with their cooking juices or in the foil packets folded back and shaped into boats.
These were some of the juiciest pork chops I’ve ever had since pork is lately being raised more to be lean than flavorful. The herbs, garlic, and olive oil compensate for any lack of browning.
I found the second recipe on the New York Times Cooking website. Olive Oil Braised Chickpeas and Broccoli Rabe.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. In a large enameled-cast-iron Dutch oven, combine extra-virgin olive oil, smashed garlic cloves, a sprig of fresh rosemary, fennel seeds, and chili flakes. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the mixture is fragrant and the garlic lightly golden.
Turn the heat off, add a bunch of rabe, woody stems removed, and toss until coated with the oil mixture. Scatter a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas around the rabe and stir to coat with the oil. Season well with salt and pepper.
Cover and bake for about 40 minutes. The beans should be soft and crispy in parts and the rabe tender but the stems not mushy.
Cool slightly before serving and remove the rosemary.
I served the broccoli and chickpeas over some farfalle, but crusty bread would certainly provide a delicious and more expedient alternative for mopping up the seasoned oil.
Wine Pairing: Dry Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc
Sometimes I find that it’s the end of the week, and I’ve served nothing but meatcentric meals. More often than not this is due to buying what’s on sale at the market, re-purposing leftovers, or just my hankering for a steak.
It’s at times like these that I start to look for a non-meat dish, which usually winds up being pasta or, as my better half bemoans, “all too seldom,” fish. In my search, I came across this recipe from Mario Batali’s cookbook Molto Gusto. Just the word “ragu” made my mouth water.
Except for the frequent stirring of the cauliflower, it’s a relatively simple dish to prepare and, as the recipe points out, it can be made days in advance. I did find, however, that I needed to extend the three cooking times for the cauliflower, especially at the third stage. I’ve given the recipe’s original times, but strongly suggest that you taste the cauliflower for tenderness at each stage.
Serves 6 people
1 medium cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Maldon or other flaky sea salt
1 ½ to 2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 pound pennette
¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
½ cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs fried in olive oil until golden brown
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1. Halve the cauliflower. Cut off the leaves and reserve them. Cut out the core and reserve it. 2. Cut the cauliflower into small bite-sized florets, reserving the stalks.
3. Chop the core, stalks, and leaves. (I used a food processor for this step.)
4. Combine the oil, onion, garlic, and cauliflower leaves, stalks, and core in a large pot, season with Maldon salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the leaves are just beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. (This step took me at least six minutes.)
5. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower leaves are just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. (This step took me at least 26 minutes.)
6. Add the cauliflower florets, red pepper flakes, and 1 cup water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is very soft and almost falling apart, 22 to 25 minutes. (I added about 10 minutes to this step.)
7. Add the butter, stirring gently until it melts, then season well with Maldon salt and remove from the heat.
The cauliflower ragú can be prepared up to 3 days ahead. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate; reheat in a large pot over medium-low heat before adding the pasta.
8. Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large pot and add 3 tablespoons Kosher salt. Drop in the pasta and cook until just al dente.
9. Drain the pasta, reserving about 2/3 cup of the pasta water.
10. Add the pasta and 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water to the cauliflower ragú and stir and toss over medium heat until the pasta is well coated (add a splash or two more of the reserved pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce). Stir in the cheese.
11. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and rosemary, and serve, with additional grated cheese on the side.
As you can see, I opted for big boy breadcrumbs.
Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio
One memory I have about my childhood summers was my aunt planting zucchini at our country house and harvesting vast quantities of them through the season. This routine assured her an adequate supply of zucchini flowers, which she would fry or use to make fritters, frittatas, and even pizza. (In the 50s and 60s, zucchini flowers–not then known as “blossoms”–were hard to come by.)
With the zucchini themselves, she would prepare a variety of dishes: among them, ciambotto, an Italian version of ratatouille; cocozelle (zucchini sauteed with onions and then combined with gently scrambled egg); a simple saute with garlic and oil as a side dish; scapece (fried slices of zucchini marinated with vinegar, garlic, and mint) and this simple salad similar to scapece but not fried.
2 small zucchini
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs mint
1/4 cup apple cider or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon oil
1- In a 3 quart sauce pan bring water to a boil.
2- Partially peel the zucchini in alternating strips. If the zucchini are very young, you can leave the peel on.
3- Quarter the zucchini and then slice into 2-inch wedges and thinly slice the garlic.
4- Tear the mint leaves.
5- Add salt to the boiling water and slide in the zucchini wedges. Blanch for approximately 3 minutes.
6- When done, place the blanched zucchini in an ice bath.
7- Drain the zucchini and transfer to a small serving dish just big enough to hold them in a single layer.
8- Salt the zucchini and then drizzle with the vinegar and oil. Add the garlic and mint leaves.
8- Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours stirring once or twice.
Serve as a side dish or with crusty bread as an appetizer or salad.
I served this as a salad after Mark Bittman’s Deviled Chicken Thighs.
Wine Pairing: Southern French Rose
What does it say about your marriage when you opt for celebrating at home over dining out? After four years together, I think it says we don’t need anymore than we already have to be happy and that most of all we treasure our time together alone.
Our menu was simple. After Champagne with smoked salmon on pumpernickel (OK, maybe a bit of a spurge), we sat down to one of our go-to meals: roast chicken, stuffed with lemon and herbs accompanied by roasted potatoes with rosemary, a mushroom gratin, and roasted cherry tomatoes.
The recipe for the chicken comes from Mark Bittman’s tome, How to Cook Everything. Here’s a link to the basic recipe and some variations:
As you can see, I opted to add some herbs and lemon wedges.
The sides were family classics, all of which went into the oven along with the chicken at different intervals. The potatoes went in at the start and the tomatoes and mushrooms about 15 minutes later.
The potatoes are cubed, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary. About midway through, turn the potatoes.
For the mushrooms, I combine dry bread crumbs with minced garlic, finely chopped Italian parsley, grated Romano cheese, sat and pepper and moisten the mixture with some olive oil. I the sprinkle the crumbs over sliced button mushrooms and roast for about 35 minutes.
For the tomatoes, I take a pint of grape tomatoes, several cloves of peeled and smashed garlic and a generous pinch of crushed red-pepper flakes and drizzle with olive oil. Toss the tomatoes to make sure they’re coated with the oil and roast for about 30 minutes.
Our wine choice was a simple Chianti Classico.
In my youth, I would have probably gone for a far more elaborate meal to celebrate an anniversary, but now nearing seventy, I’ve begun to take a more relaxed approach to cooking and dining but nonetheless still insist on warmed plates, polished flatware, and most important candle light.
Recently, my brother called me to ask for my mother’s recipe for cauliflower in tomato sauce. It’s one of the dishes we had as kids that came from the Sicilian side of our family. More often than not it was served on its own, without pasta, as a primo, or first course. However, once I a while my mother would mix it with pasta most likely to satisfy my father who wanted pasta almost on a daily basis.
The dish calls for just a few ingredients and requires minimal preparation, which makes it perfect for a weeknight meal.
Pasta with Cauliflower
1 small onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
1 small head of cauliflower, rinsed and cut into small florets
1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound pasta like farfalle, shells, orecchiette
½ cup grated Romano or Parmigiano
6 leaves basil, torn
In a heavy-bottomed 3 to 4 quart (preferably enameled cast-iron) casserole, over medium heat sauté the onion with a pinch of salt in the oil until translucent and just lightly colored. As the onions are sautéing you may add the optional ground cloves.
When the onions are done, add the tomatoes and their juices and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat until the tomatoes come to a simmer.
At this point, add the cauliflower, gently pushing down on them so that they are lightly covered with the tomatoes. If there is not enough sauce to cover the cauliflower add a little water.
Reduce the flame to low, cover the pot, and continue to cook , stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.
Meanwhile,cook the pasta until al dente. Then drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Add the cooked cauliflower, grated cheese, torn basil, and toss.
Wine Pairing: Nero d’Avola