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
Perhaps owing to the bounty of summer produce at the market at this time of year, I inevitably wind up making ratatouille. Usually, I prepare it on top of the stove, cooking most of the vegetables individually. This year, however, I was lazy. (I’ll blame the excessive heat.) For this reason, I chose to make Mark Bittman’s oven-baked version from his book How to Cook Everything. What I especially liked about his recipe was that it called for cooking all the vegetables at the same time in the oven.
I admit that I was not totally faithful to Bittman’s recipe when it came to the amount of vegetables, the sizes in which they were cut, and the amount of olive oil. I also erroneously covered my casserole, which may have produced a more watery, though no less delicious result. The next time, I’ll choose the uncovered route. It will probably give the dish a more roasted flavor. I will also not make the mistake of scattering the fresh-herb sprigs over the vegetables, as removing them at the end of cooking was a chore.
Oven Baked Ratatouille (Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 onions, chopped
2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
2 round tomatoes, cored cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup grape tomatoes
10 cloves of garlic, halved
Several sprigs fresh thyme and rosemary tied with a string for easy removal
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
The prepped vegetables
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Film a casserole or heavy oven proof skillet dish with a couple tablespoons of the olive oil, then make a layer onion, followed by one of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and half the the garlic (the order doesn’t matter at all). Repeat and make a second layer. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
Bake for about 1 to 1.5 hours, pressing down on the vegetables occasionally with a spatula, until they are all completely tender. When they are tender remove.
Garnish with more herbs and drizzle with a little more olive oil, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
I chose to serve the ratatouille as a side dish with a roasted chicken.
Wine Pairing: Dry Rose
Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve written about facing some of my culinary fears like calamari and risotto. Well, last night I faced yet another of them: stuffed artichokes. As I was growing up, they were a frequent side dish at my family’s table, one of my Neapolitan aunt’s favorites. Stuffed with a mixture of dried breadcrumbs, pecorino-Romano cheese, garlic and parsley all moistened with olive oil, they were slowly cooked, over low heat, covered in a pot just large enough to hold them upright, with a modicum of water and a drizzle of olive oil.
As a child, I would simply lick the savory stuffing off the leaves until my aunt admonished me for leaving the best part behind and then proceeded to demonstrate how to eat them properly. She plucked off one of leaves, carefully balancing the stuffing that was on it, placed it between her teeth, closed her mouth, and slowly pulled it out scraping off the edible part of the leaf. After a few tries, some of which left me with a mouthful of leaf threads, I mastered the art of eating these delicious green globes of goodness. They became one of my favorite vegetables growing up, and I often requested that my aunt prepare them when I would return to my childhood home as an adult.
Yet for some reason, I’ve always shied away from cooking them on my own. Yesterday, however, when I saw some beautiful artichokes on sale at the market, I decided to confront my fear. Upon returning home, I searched through some cookbooks for a recipe and was startled when I found one that was identical to my aunt’s in Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Vegetable Cookbook. While I closely followed her clear instructions for preparing the artichokes, I did take some liberties with the measurements of the ingredients, and was a little heavy handed with the cheese and the garlic. The results, however, were superb and made a perfect accompaniment to a chicken sauté with green olives, capers, onions, and diced lemon.
As I didn’t plan on writing this dish up, I don’t have any photographs of its preparation. But the internet has plenty of instructional videos on preparing artichokes as well as a version of Scicolone’s recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website adapted from of her earlier books, which can be accessed by this link.
Author’s Note: This is my first posting after a long hiatus from blogging. I can only attribute my absence to teaching a Saturday writing course to college-bound high-school sophomores. The course, which comes to an end next week, although most rewarding, took far more of my time than I thought it would when I signed up for it. Now that’s it’s over, you can expect postings from me on a more regular basis.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve prepared Italian fennel sausages. Last night, however, influenced by some cooking show, I opted to grill rather than fry them. Not as fortunate as the show’s chef, who used an open fire, I was limited to a stovetop grill pan. Yet despite this restraint, I’m happy to report that this grilling method yielded thoroughly cooked links that were delectably moist and juicy.
To grill the sausages, I made a shallow slit, about a 1/4-inch deep, lengthwise along one side of each sausage and spread it slightly open to expose the meat. I then placed the sausages slit-side down on a hot grill pan over medium-high heat and cooked them for 5 minutes. When they were nicely browned, I turned and cooked the sausages for about an additional 5 minutes.
I served the sausages accompanied by this classic peperonata inspired by my Neapolitan aunt.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 bell peppers, sliced into 1/4-inch wide strips (I prefer red, yellow, and orange to green)
1 large sweet onion, sliced lengthwise
3 small cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon dry Marsala
In a large sauté pan heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the sliced peppers and cook them, tossing occasionally, over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until they start to become tender and slightly charred.
Add the sliced onion and garlic, sprinkle with some salt, and cook them with the peppers, still over medium-high heat, for about another 10 minutes, again tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Add the Marsala, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. and cook for an additional minute or so. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Pairing the peperonta with the grilled sausages makes a perfect weekday supper as we start to enter fall.
Wine Pairing: Barbera d’Alba, Syrah
Friday night, end of the week, and being tired generally lead to a quick and easy supper to linger over with a glass of wine. Since we had our share of meat, fish, and pasta this week, I looked through my cookbooks for something vegetable centric. My search eventually led me to Giuliano Hazan’s recipe for a cauliflower gratin in Every Night Italian.
Despite being vegetarian, however, this dish is definitely not “light,” given the amount of cheese and butter it calls for. Nevertheless, as a main course for a meatless supper, I guess its fat content, which, after all, contributes so much flavor, can be rationalized in one way or another.
The ingredient that initially attracted me to this recipe was the fresh sheep’s milk cheese from southern Italy known as primo sale, “first salt.” It was one of my aunt’s favorite cheeses to serve at a Saturday lunch when our family would return from its weekly excursion to the local Italian markets and salumerie. If you can’t find it, Hazan recommends substituting any white sheep’s milk cheese firm enough to slice. A Google search may help you find the primo sale locally.
Cauliflower Gratin with Tomato and Fresh Sheep’s Milk
Adapted from Giuliano Hazan’s Every Night Italian
1 large cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
1 small onion, chopped fine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (28-ounce) can of whole peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed. (You should have a total of 2 cups with some of the juice.)
3/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
6 ounces primo sale or other fresh sheep’s milk cheese firm enough to slice, sliced thin
Bring a pot of water large enough to accommodate the cauliflower to a boil over high heat.
Preheat the oven to 375° F.
Quarter the cauliflower, discarding the leaves, and add to the water when it has reached a boil. Do not add any salt. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. When done, drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Cut the cauliflower into bite-size pieces and set aside.
Meanwhile, sauté the onions in 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 10 inch sauté pan over medium-low. When the onions turn a light gold, add the tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, and the optional ground cloves.
Cook the tomatoes for about 20 minutes or until they have thickened into a sauce.
Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Gently fold in the cut cauliflower and taste again for seasoning. The cauliflower should be well coated with the sauce.
Place half of the sauced cauliflower in an 8 by 8 inch, flame-proof baking dish. Cover with half of the sliced primo sale. Cover with the rest of the cauliflower, and top with the remaining sliced cheese. Dot with the remaining tablespoon of butter.
Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake until the cheese melts, about 15 minutes. If not sufficiently browned, place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Wine Pairing: Nero d’Avola, Syrah