Lentil & Orzo Stew

Lentil & Orzo Stew

Serendipity led us to last night’s scrumptious vegetarian dinner. On Friday, my husband sent me a recipe by Yewande Komolafe he found in The New York Times for a lentil and orzo stew with roasted eggplant. Little did he know that, just the day before, I had already chosen the very same dish for a future post.

Given the recent dank and dreary weather, atypical for San Diego, the stew was the perfect entree: earthy lentils, slowly simmered with aromatic vegetables and orzo, brightened by finishing with the juice and zest of lemon, and then topped with meaty chunks of eggplant roasted with warm and citrusy coriander. A few shavings of salty ricotta salata or even some crumbled feta completes the dish.

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Cheesy Bean & Tomato Bake

Bean & Tomato Bake

The other day, my “Daily Briefing” email from The New York Times led me to a recipe for a Cheesy White Bean Tomato Bake. The photo accompanying the recipe looked so good that I simply had to make the dish that night.

When I started to cook, however, I began to find elements of the recipe that I needed or wanted to change. First off, because my pantry only had one can of cannellini beans, I had to substitute a can of chickpeas for the second can called for by the recipe. I believe this forced change was fortuitous since the chickpeas added another layer of flavor to the dish.

Next, I thought that cooking the garlic in heated oil for only one minute over medium-high heat wouldn’t yield the depth of flavor as would adding the garlic to unheated oil and slowly simmering it over low heat for five of six minutes. I similarly extended the time for “frying” the tomato paste from 30 seconds to a minute and a half, but made sure that the tomato paste didn’t burn by stirring it.

In addition, to add a little heat, I added a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to simmer with the garlic and oil.

In the recipe’s second step, I opted for the longer cooking time in the oven, a full ten minutes, at which point the mozzarella had started to melt. And as the recipe had anticipated, the cheese still was not as toasted as depicted in the recipe’s photo, so as suggested, I ran the skillet under the broiler for at least 2 minutes.

Although the final dish was very good, a perfect comfort food, I believe the recipe still needs some tweaking. Perhaps rendering some pancetta at the beginning or using a smoked mozzarella would do the trick. I’ll let you know how it turns out the next time around.

Ingredients

Ingredients

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 generous tablespoons double concentrated Italian tomato paste
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup boiling water
Kosher salt and black pepper
⅓ pound mozzarella, coarsely grated (about 1 1/3 cups)

Preparation
Heat the oven to 475 degrees.

1) In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, simmer the olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes over low heat, until the garlic turns slightly golden, about 5 or 6 minutes.\

Simmering oil, garlic, pepper flakes

2) Raise the heat to medium low and stir in the tomato paste (be careful of splattering) and fry for 1 ½ minutes, reducing the heat as needed to prevent the garlic from burning.

Stirring the tomato paste
Tomato paste after simmering

3) Add the beans, water and generous pinches of salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Adding the beans

4) Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top, then bake until the cheese has melted and browned in spots, approximately 10 minutes.

Adding the cheese
After 10 minutes baking

5) If the top is not as toasted as you’d like, run the skillet under the broiler for a 1 to 2 minutes. Watch closely to avoid burning.

After broiling

Serve at once with crusty bread.

Wine Pairing: Zinfandel, Primativo

Musing: No Time To Cook?

Photo by Jordan Benton from Pexels

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.

Baked Pork Chops

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.

Broccoli Rabe & Chickpeas

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.

Over Farfalle

Wine Pairing: Dry Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc

String Beans and Spaghetti

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String Beans and Spaghetti

Here’s a simple dish based on memories of my Sicilian mother in the kitchen. I hadn’t planned on posting this recipe, so the only photo I have is of the plated pasta. However, the preparation is so straightforward that illustration might appear excessive.

My mother would often serve this dish during Lent, but also during the summer when she preferred the patio to the kitchen. Although she would French her string beans by hand, I use good-quality frozen ones.

Sometimes if they’re on hand, I’ll saute some thinly sliced scallions along with the garlic or add some toasted pine nuts to the sauteed beans.

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Crushed red pepper to taste
8 ounces French-cut string beans (I used frozen.)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces spaghetti or linguine broken into 1-inch pieces
Grated Pecorino Romano

Preparation

  1. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. When it reaches a boil, add a good amount of salt.
  2. When the water returns to a boil, place the string beans in a sieve and blanch in the water for about two minutes.
  3. When the beans are tender but still crisp, remove them in the sieve and shock in a bowl of iced water. Lift the beans from the water and set aside.
  4. Bring the water used to blanch the beans back to a boil and add the broken pasta. Cook until al dente.
  5. Meanwhile, in a wide skillet, over medium-low heat saute the garlic and crushed pepper until the garlic softens but does not get brown. Then add the drained beans to the pan and saute for two to three minutes.
  6. When the pasta is done, transfer to the skillet and toss with the beans over low heat for about a minute. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Turn off the heat and add a generous amount of the grated cheese.
  8. Serve on warmed plates along with some grated cheese for sprinkling.

Wine Pairing: Grillo, Greco di Tuffo

 

Penne with Cauliflower Ragu

Penne with Cauliflower Ragu

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.

Ingredients

Ingredients
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

Kosher salt

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

Directions
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.

Core, stalks & leaves

3. Chop the core, stalks, and leaves. (I used a food processor for this step.)

Chopped core, stalks & leaves

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.)

After 3 to 5 minutes of cooking.

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.)

After 18 to 25 minutes of cooking

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.)

Cooked florets with red-pepper flakes

7. Add the butter, stirring gently until it melts, then season well with Maldon salt and remove from the heat.

Adding the butter

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.

Ragu awaiting cheese and 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.

Stirring 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.

Bread crumbs and rosemary

As you can see, I opted for big boy breadcrumbs.

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio

Zucchini Salad

Zucchini Salad

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.

Ingredients

Ingredients

2 small zucchini
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs mint
salt
1/4 cup apple cider or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon oil

Preparation

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.

Peeled Zucchini

3- Quarter the zucchini and then slice into 2-inch wedges and thinly slice the garlic.

Prepped Zucchini & Garlic

4- Tear the mint leaves.

Torn 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.

Zucchini Chillin’

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.

Served as a salad

I served this as a salad after Mark Bittman’s Deviled Chicken Thighs.

Deviled Chicken Thighs

Wine Pairing: Southern French Rose

Calabrian Chili Pasta

Calabrian Chili Pasta

I know this recipe may offend some traditionalists; nevertheless, I’m posting it for two reasons. First of all, it’s my first encounter with Calabrian chili paste, an unctuous spicy condiment that I see becoming a staple in my pantry. Secondly, the recipe takes an innovative approach to cooking pasta that eliminates using a dedicated pot for its boiling. I admit that I was skeptical about this method, but for someone who cooks at home almost every night, having one less pot to clean seemed most appealing.

This relatively quick and easy recipe is from an episode of Giada DeLaurentiis’s “Giada at Home” that I saw while having breakfast early on a Sunday morning. The finished dish looked so good that immediately after church I made a trip to my local Italian specialty store to look for the chili paste. I was surprised to find there a couple of varieties, both imported and domestic, but chose the imported one from Tutto Calabria.

My only variation on the recipe was using heaping tablespoons of the chili paste, which although quite spicy, is not very hot.

Rather than pairing this dish with a southern Italian red, I opted for a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo–perfect for a warm spring evening.

Here’s a link to the original recipe and video.

Ingredients

1 pound penne pasta
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup grated pecorino
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 tablespoons Calabrian hot pepper paste
1/3 cup chopped chives
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon juice, from 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a 10-inch high-sided saute pan, bring 1 inch of water (about 4 cups) to a boil over high heat. Add the penne and the salt.

Pasta with about an inch of water

Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, about 9 minutes; there should be a little water left in the pan.

The cooked pasta

Sprinkle the pecorino over the pasta; toss to coat. (Work quickly, making sure that the cheese doesn’t clump together and is evenly distributed.)

Add the tomatoes, chili paste, chives, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil, and toss.

Wine Pairing: Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo or Sauvignon Blanc

Pasta con Ceci

Pasta Con Ceci

A few years ago, I posted my family’s recipe for pasta with chickpeas, Pasta Ceci. It’s always been one of my favorite dishes passed down to me during my grad-school days from my Sicilian mother.

Recently, however, I came across another version of this dish on the Food52 website, adapted from Victoria Granof’s cookbook, Chickpeas. This recipe seems to have Neapolitan roots, with much of its flavor derived from frying tomato paste in garlic infused olive oil.

What made this dish immediately appealing for a weeknight meal is that it requires only one pot, as the pasta is cooked along with the chickpeas with a minimal amount of water. My only variations on the recipe were sautéing some crushed red pepper flakes along with the olive oil and garlic, adding some chopped rosemary during the last five minutes of cooking, and doubling the amount of pasta.

I also recommend using the imported double-concentrate Italian tomato paste in a tube. I find it has deeper flavor than most canned varieties.

While this may not be the most authentic version of this dish, it is nonetheless most delicious and quite satisfying.

VICTORIA GRANOF’S PASTA CON CECI Adapted from FOOD52

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons good tomato paste (I used heaping tablespoons.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup uncooked ditalini pasta (or another small shape, like macaroni) (I used a full cup)
2 cups boiling water (You may need to adjust the amount of water if you add more pasta.)
Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (I added the crushed pepper to the pasta during the last 5 minutes of cooking.)

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until it becomes lightly browned and fragrant.

Browning the Garlic

Stir in the tomato paste and salt and fry for 30 seconds or so.

Frying the tomato paste

Add the chickpeas, pasta, and boiling water.

Adding chickpeas and pasta
Adding the water

Stir to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, lower the heat, and simmer until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Adding the rosemary
The finished dish

Taste and adjust seasoning. To serve, ladle the pasta into shallow bowls, sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes, and drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil on top.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Asparagus Frittata

Asparagus Frittata

I’ve always like omelets. Growing up in an Italian household, my introduction to them was through frittatas. Large and made with plenty of eggs and grated Romano, they typically featured fried peppers or potatoes and sometimes even left over spaghetti, which was sautéed until a light crust formed on the pasta.

I remember how my aunt stood over the frying pan, wooden spoon in hand, pushing the eggs towards the center allowing the more liquid portion to fall to the sides. “You can’t rush these,” she’d say. Then came the moment of the flip, where she placed a large plate over the pan and, in a flash, inverted the frittata and then slid it from the plate into the pan to finish cooking. Another few minutes of slow cooking followed during which she’d gently shake the pan. When I asked, how did she know it was done, she replied “il naso,” the nose. “You can smell when it’s done.”

The finished frittata was puffy and light, never dry, and the eggs seemed like pillows to whatever the filling.

Eventually, I discovered the French omelet; totally different from the Italian, but that’s a story for another post.

One morning, not too long ago, over breakfast I saw Lidia Bastianich prepare an asparagus frittata on television. The 10 minute spot evoked memories of my aunt and so I decided to make one for dinner that evening. Below is her recipe along with a link to the video i saw that morning.

I modified the recipe by adding a generous handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the eggs before beating. I also flipped the frittata as my aunt did to finish cooking the other side.

Wine Pairing: Falanghina

Lidia Bastianich’s Asparagus Frittata

Ingredients

1 pound pencil-thin asparagus
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 large eggs

Preparation

1. Remove and discard the tough lower ends of the asparagus. Cut the spears into 2-inch lengths.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, sauté the asparagus spears in olive oil, sprinkling them lightly with salt. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until asparagus is tender but still firm, about 5 minutes.

3. Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl with salt and pepper. Add the eggs to the asparagus, scrambling the mixture lightly with a fork. Cook 2 minutes, or less depending on the texture desired, until eggs are set, and serve immediately.

Video Link

Pasta with Cauliflower

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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

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Ingredients
1 small onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
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

Prepped cauliflower and onions
Prepped cauliflower and onions

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.

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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.

Simmered tomatoes
Simmered tomatoes

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.

After adding cauliflower to the sauce
After adding cauliflower to the sauce

Reduce the flame to low, cover the pot, and continue to cook , stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.

Cooked Cauliflower
Cooked Cauliflower

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.

Cauliflower with Pasta
Cauliflower with Pasta

Wine Pairing: Nero d’Avola