Around the beginning of this pandemic, my husband decided to devote his Aerogarden exclusively to basil. Because we use this herb quite often and in so many dishes, we didn’t want to be without it. Five months ago, however, we didn’t realize just how much basil our hydroponic wonder would provide.
After months of sheltering in place and thinking we deserved a treat, my better half suggested splurging on a delivery from D’Artagnan, a purveyor of organic meats, poultry, and sausage as well as luxury items like foie gras, wild mushrooms, and truffles. Known for high quality, they cater to some of the finest restaurants in New York City. As might be expected, they’re also expensive.
When I saw this chicken recipe on Diane Darrow’s Another Year in Recipes blog last week, I knew I had to make it. Diane is among the most intelligent and eloquent food writers I know. Along with her wine-maven husband Tom Maresca, she’s authored two cookbooks on Italian cooking and can always be relied on for expert advice on the subject of authentic Italian cuisine.
Diane found the recipe in Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook, published in 1978 and has been writing a series of three posts from it that cover three standard courses of an Italian meal (primo, secondo, dolce). Her description of the book, along with the posted recipes, motivated me to purchase a used copy of it, which I’ve found to be an unsung gem, both instructive and engaging to read.
Yes; another shrimp dish. But during these times, they’re the only fresh seafood that’s readily available to us. Moreover, they’re a steal at $5.99/pound; easy to prepare for a weeknight; and utterly delicious.
Some zucchini in the fridge from our local farmers market brought to mind a recipe from Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian that I had come across a few weeks ago. Like many of the recipes in this book, this one yields enough food to serve 6 to 8. Therefore, since I was cooking only for two, I cut down on some, but not all, of the ingredients. For example, rather than cooking two pounds of shrimp, I used one and similarly reduced the number of zucchini from four to two.
During these long days of sheltering at home, I find myself endlessly, and at times mindlessly, surfing the web, diving through email, floating on social media, and swimming in the sea of blogs. To maintain my sanity, I’ve made it a rule to suspend all such e-aquatic activity for the day before we sit down to our preprandial libation and eventually move on to dinner. Given the current social and political climate, our dinner hour(s) provide, more than ever, a refuge from what we’re all facing. And one of the most reliable sources of comfort at our table is pasta.
Once again, during this crisis, I tentatively prepared a New York Times recipe for a ragù that I had filed away but wasn’t quite sure would work out because of the quality of the main ingredient: sausage.
Under normal circumstances, I would have been using sausage from my local salumeria, but given our shelter-in-place restrictions, this was not a possibility. Thanks to the extraordinary kindness of some young neighbors, however, I was able to procure, among a load of other groceries, a log of bulk sausage from our local supermarket.
Ever since we’ve given up driving, one sure way to get me to make a dish is that it requires no trip to the market. Another inducement is a request for it from my better half. Recently these two incentives merged and led me to prepare Lidia Bastianich’s Garlic Risotto.
Once again, I have to attribute the origin of yet another blog post to my better half. A couple of weekends ago, we were watching an episode of “Lidia’s Kitchen” on our local PBS channel. As she was cooking, I remarked that my only disappointment with Lidia Bastianich’s show is her neglecting to provide exact measurements for key ingredients to a dish.
While I continue to maintain she does it to promote sales of the cookbooks on which her shows are based, Andrew more forgivingly attributes it to Lidia’s being a “q.b.,” or “quanto basta,” chef, an expression found in Italian cookbooks that means “just enough” or “as much as you think you need.” However, when he recently surprised me with a copy of Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking, which he “happened” to order after watching the aforementioned episode, I’m sticking to my “profit-motivated” position.
One problem led to another this weekend, which eventually led to cancelling a dinner party and leaving me with a bunch of potatoes and a plethora of chicken thighs. The problematic weekend also took its toll on writing a post for this blog, which I wasn’t able to get to until today.
After all the drama, I really wasn’t up to cooking last night but needed to put those spuds and thighs to good use. It’s at times like these that I turn to reliable favorites among my cookbooks for a no-brainer recipe requiring minimal prep and cleanup. It didn’t take me long to find one that met these requirements: Baked Chicken with Potatoes and Lemon. It’s from Michele Scicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes, one of the most comprehensive and dependable collection of Italian dishes there is.
With a successful braise, the whole is typically, and understandably, greater than the sum of its parts. This low, slow cooking method melds the flavors of the braising-liquid and the meat components to yield a dish with elevated layers of complementary flavors. Given the rather quick braise in this New York Times recipe, however, the individual parts, while good on their own, never achieved the synergy of a successful slow one. Yet despite its lack of greatness, this dish was nonetheless enjoyable.