Eggplant Involtini

cooked involtini

On the fussiness scale, this recipe is up there. I hate to start on such a negative note, especially when these little ricotta-stuffed rolls turned out to be so stinking good, but I’ve become really lazy in the kitchen. When I see recipes that call for salting and draining and blotting dry, or for deep frying, or for assembling little parcels — as adorable as they may be — I tend to shy away.

But I’ve had this recipe bookmarked since last Christmas when I first opened Tartine Bread. And with eggplant season peaking and with my homemade tomato sauce and ricotta cheese obsession persisting, the timing seemed right. And right it was. Oh boy. Somehow the flavors of lemon and thyme in the ricotta cheese pervade the eggplant shells, all of which meld together with the fresh tomato and cream sauce base, a perfect combination in this early fall dish.

Seriously, please don’t let the opening of this post deter you from this recipe. Try to remember that I’m lazy, you’re not. I have to admit, too, that the dish came together much faster than I had anticipated. And while I begrudgingly trudged through each step of the recipe, I ultimately found myself enjoying the stuffing and the rolling and the assembling of the eggplant packages. I know you will, too.

Oh, one last thought. Are you thinking about baking this weekend? Perhaps with plums? If so, I recommend you take a look at these posts, one from The Garden of Eden and the other from House to Haus. I made the zwetschgentorte today actually — delicious! — and I can’t stop thinking about Darcy’s Plum crumble. Hoping to get around to it this weekend as well. Yum yum yum yum yum.

cooked involtini

lemon & thyme

fried eggplant

assembled involtini in dishes

involtini, rolled

Involtini

Adapted from Tartine Bread
Serves 2

Notes:
• I made a half recipe.
• The book offers a recipe for tomato sauce, which I’m sure is delicious, but I have been hooked on this one since discovering it.
• I used these fabulous mini gratin dishes, but feel free to use a standard sized baking dish.

Involtini

1 eggplant
kosher salt
olive oil for frying (I used canola oil)
tomato sauce, this is the one I adore, but feel free to use your favorite store-bought
heavy cream
freshly grated Asiago cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano (I used parm)

Stuffing

bread crumbs, about 1/2 cup, made from about 3 slices day-old bread*
1 cup whole milk ricotta, homemade is easy and delicious
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1. Trim the stem end of each eggplant. Using a mandoline, cut the eggplant lenthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. You should have about 12 slices. Sprinkle the eggplant on both sides with kosher salt, layer them in a colander, and let stand for 1 hour. (I was impatient and only let them drain for about a half hour… worked out just fine.) Press the moisture from the eggplant and blot them dry with paper towels. Pour olive (or canola) oil to a depth of 1 inch in a deep, heavy saucepan or large skillet (I used a cast iron pan) and heat to 360ºF on a deep-frying thermometer. (I did not use a thermometer — just watched the oil and tested when I thought it was ready.) Place 3 to 4 eggplant slices in the hot oil and cook until the slices take on some color, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the slices to a colander (or paper-towel lined plate) to drain. Repeat with remaining slices.

2. Meanwhile, make the stuffing. In a bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, ricotta, lemon zest, juice, thyme and salt.

3. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Spoon tomato sauce into a medium-sized baking dish (or individual gratin dishes) till bottom of dish is covered in a thin layer. Place a spoonful of filling at one end of each of the eggplant slices. Roll the slice around the filling and place it seam-side down in the dish on top of the tomato sauce. Spoon a tablespoon of cream (or less) over each roll to moisten. Bake until the edges of sauce around the sides of the dish are dark and the rolls are nicely caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish with the Asiago (or parm) before serving.

* After burning a batch of homemade bread crumbs, I decided to go with Panko. If you want to make homemade, do something like this:

Homemade Bread Crumbs

3 slices day-old bread*, each 1-inch thick, torn into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 T. olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence** (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a bowl, toss the torn bread with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the herbes if using. Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Midway through baking, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly. Once cooled, place croutons in a ziplock bag and using a rolling pin or your hands, crumble them more finely.

involtini, one down

Bacon, Cheddar and Pear Panini

bacon, cheddar and pear panini

I do not know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s just one of those things, like pancakes and French toast, that burns on the outside for me before it’s done on the inside. A little over a year ago, I found a solution to my French toast woes, but I’m still searching for the equivalent recipe for pancakes: Can you bake pancakes? That would be amazing.

In any case, I do know how to make a panini, which is to say that I know how to take out my Krups panini machine, plug it in, and let it do its magic on whatever assembled sandwich I place between its irons.

I love my panini machine. Its genius. Within minutes of getting to work, it perfectly brands both slices of bread with nice grill marks, thoroughly heating everything else in between while allowing just a touch of cheese to ooze out its side (for presentation purposes obviously… such a thoughtful gadget.) If you can afford the kitchen real estate for a rather large uni-purpose tool, I highly recommend adding one of these presses to your arsenal of equipment. And while I’ve never tried one of these cast iron models, I imagine they might be quite good? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Anywho, I mentioned this sandwich last week while posting about thyme-roasted grapes — so delicious. Both recipes appeared in this month’s Real Simple magazine, and both are fantastic, though I must note there is nothing novel about the combination here. A double pairing of sweet and salty — jam and bacon, cheddar and pear — makes every bite worth savoring. I find the combination irresistible and even served these at a little dinner party. Casual is the new cool, right? It was fun, and at the very least, a lovely way to welcome fall.

bacon, cheddar and pear panini

panini ingredients

Mmmmmm… bacon. I don’t know how you cook bacon, but I like to place mine on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast it at 400ºF for about 20 minutes. It cooks evenly and isn’t as messy as stove-top cooking.
cooked bacon

bacon, cheddar and pear panini

Bacon, Cheddar and Pear Panini
Adapted from Real Simple September 2011
Serves 1, (obviously, this recipe can be multiplied as necessary)

Note: For the original recipe, follow this link.

1 tablespoon jam, such as currant or fig or Ikea’s lingonberry (what I used)
2 slices of nice, bakery-style bread, from a multigrain or Italian boule for example
2 slices Cheddar
2 slices cooked bacon
1/4 small pear, thinly sliced

1. Heat a panini machine. (Note: If you want to make a grilled cheese, follow the directions on the RS website — link is above.) Spread the jam on 1 slice of the bread. Layer the pear, bacon and cheddar on top.

2. Press the sandwich in the panini machine until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes total depending on your machine.

bacon, pear and cheddar panini

Chez Panisse Eggplant, Caramelized Onion and Tomato Pasta

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

I don’t know about you, but I’m up to my eyeballs in eggplants here. My CSA delivery last week could have fed a small village, and I’m still feeling a little overwhelmed. Overwhelmed in a good way though. I mean, I’ve been eating my way though a very delicious eggplant chapter in Chez Panisse Vegetables, so far delighting in eggplant gratin with tomato and onion, and roasted eggplant and tomato pizza. I know, it’s been rough.

But this pasta. Oooooh, this pasta. This pasta recipe unexpectedly has eclipsed its chapter companions, its deliciousness attributed to perfectly ripe eggplant, the freshest tomato sauce, sweet basil, caramelized onions, and above all to a most unsuspecting ingredient: sherry vinegar. I don’t know how just a splash of anything could so transform a dish, giving it a depth of flavor that subtly persists through layers of tomatoes and eggplant and onions, but somehow the sherry vinegar has.

There’s something, too, about the way the roasted eggplant melds with the caramelized onions and the tomato sauce that makes cheese totally unnecessary. No cheese on pasta, you ask? Hogwash, you shout!  I mean it. This roasted eggplant tomato sauce spiced with crushed red pepper flakes and freshened with basil was enough for me. I even had some homemade ricotta in the fridge. I even had a bowl of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano sitting inches from my plate throughout dinner. I had no trouble refraining.

While I know a bowl of hot pasta perhaps isn’t crossing your mind very often in late summer, eggplants are reaching their peak right about now, and they are oh so good. Give this recipe a go. It’s a keeper for sure.

Finally, if you like  summer pastas, you might like this dish, too.

Chez Panisse Vegetables Cookbook

Eggplant from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
eggplant from our CSA

eggplant, uncooked and cooked

Making the Sauce

Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onion Sauce

Gemelli with Eggpplant and Tomato

Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables
Serves 4 to 6 (or 2 generously…see my notes for a smaller yield)

2 large globe eggplants (I used 1 eggplant, which yielded about 3 cups of diced eggplant weighing about 9.5oz)
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful basil leaves
1 handful parsley leaves (I used only basil)
kosher salt
1 lb. penne (I used 1 cup of Gemelli pasta but use whatever you like)
sherry vinegar
2 cups tomato sauce (I used 1 cup of this sauce)
red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. ricotta salata cheese (I used no cheese, but served grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the eggplants into cubes about 3/4-inch square, toss them lightly with olive oil and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. (Note: I’ve made this twice now, and my instinct the first time was to toss the eggplant with some kosher salt before roasting. The instructions don’t call for this, and second time around, I used no salt, and I think the eggplant came out better.) Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or so, until the eggplant is brown and tender.

2. Put a large (or small) pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook the pasta al dente.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil and onions over medium heat. Sauté the onions until just caramelized. (Note: I started the onions when I put the eggplant in the oven — I find that caramelizing onions slowly over medium heat works best. I also added a pinch of kosher salt while sautéeing. The onions probably sautéed for 25 minutes to 30 minutes total.) Add the garlic and cook for a moment more, and then deglaze with a splash of sherry vinegar. Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Heat the sauce to simmering. Drain the pasta, add it to the tomato sauce pan, and toss gently. Chiffonade the basil and add it the pan.

4. Serve the pasta with a generous garnish of the chopped parsley (I omitted) and ricotta crumbled over the top (I also omitted, but served Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

Pizza Margherita, Homemade Tomato Sauce, Homemade Ricotta

classic pizza margherita

Oh my gosh, I have so much deliciousness to report to you all, I don’t know where to begin. I suppose it all started last week after Food 52 reminded me of Marcella Hazan’s widely adored tomato sauce recipe and the NY Times reminded me of the pleasure of eating fresh ricotta cheese, a delicacy (a nonentity, really) in my neck of the woods. And then I remembered seeing a Barefoot Contessa recipe for homemade ricotta cheese on Gwyenth Paltrow’s blog, which reminded me of a different GP entry about homemade pizza, all of which has led me to so many wonderful discoveries this week. Is your head spinning?

Let me summarize:

1. Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is every bit as delicious as everyone has claimed. I’ve never had success making tomato sauce. Never. I had accepted that jarred sauce tasted better than anything I could produce at home. That is until this past Tuesday, when I dipped my wooden spoon into my pot of gently simmering tomatoes, lifted it to my mouth, and tasted the freshest, lightest, most delectable flavors. And I have been smiling ever since. For all of you food bloggers, I know this is nothing revelatory. But friends, family, and any of you out there who have tomato sauce making fears, rest assured that you, too, can cook like an Italian grandmother. This sauce is gold.

2. Thanks to discovery #1, I’ve finally made a classic pizza margherita at home. One of my all-time favorite spots for thin-crust pizza is 2Amys in Washington D.C., which serves an incredible pizza margherita topped with a most memorable fresh tomato sauce. 2Amys Pizza was my first thought after tasting Hazan’s sauce. Now, I’ve accepted that until I build my wood burning oven, I’m not going to achieve a restaurant quality crust at home. But I no longer have an excuse for not making pizza margherita. This sauce is so damn good. I credit nothing other than the sauce for producing the pizza that emerged from my oven today. It was one of the best. Less is more is the key here: a thin layer of this sauce topped sparingly with fresh mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of fresh basil out of the oven does the job. Yum yum yum.

3. Making fresh ricotta cheese at home is as easy as the Barefoot Contessa’s latest book promises. And it is SO delicious. I made myself nectarine and fresh ricotta bruschetta for lunch today. It was heaven. And then I remembered one of my all-time favorite pizza combinations — nectarine with basil and reduced balsamic — and made a variation of that for dinner. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to spread what’s left of my fresh ricotta on a toasted bagel and top it with one of my CSA tomatoes. I’m really living it up here.

The most fragrant purple basil freshly picked from my garden, a treat I have my brother-in-law to thank. Thanks Mr. T!
tomatoes and basil

Making tomato sauce:
making homemade tomato sauce

Straining homemade ricotta through cheesecloth:
homemade ricotta

Homemade tomato sauce and fresh ricotta cheese:
homemade ricotta and tomato sauce

Sauce approved by a silent and contemplative kitchen assistant:
Ella eats pasta

unbaked margherita pizza

Classic pizza margherita:
classic pizza margherita

classic pizza margherita

Nectarine and ricotta pizza with fresh basil:
nectarine and ricotta pizza

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Recipes
Marcella Hazen’s Tomato Sauce
Note: I watched the video on Food52 on blanching tomatoes, which I found to be helpful.

For the Sauce:

2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled (see video on Food52 for guidance)
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste

1. Place the prepared fresh tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato.

2. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (or don’t) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Save the whey — you can make bread with it. Use the ricotta immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

Classic Pizza Margherita
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe tomato sauce
fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Nectarine and Fresh Ricotta Pizza
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe Homemade Ricotta Cheese (recipe below)
1-2 nectarines
olive oil
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Summer Squash Gratin

Summer Squash Gratin

Summer Squash Gratin

This is the recipe that broke the streak. A two-month-long, five-meal-rotation streak consisting of burgers, meatloaf, roast chicken, burgers and quiche. It was time. It was time to put some effort into dinner; to try something new; to open up a can of anchovies; to crack a jar of capers; to pour some brown butter over fresh bread crumbs. Yes, brown-butter bread crumbs. They are so good.

Let me tell you, my efforts paid off. I’m all about simple recipes these days, and when I have fresh ingredients on hand, simple can be best. But this recipe reminded me of ones I used to attempt all the time, ones with so many layers of flavors and textures, ones that leave eaters guessing, “what is that?” after every bite.

And don’t let me scare you: There’s nothing complicated about making this dish. It’s just that for me these days, anything that requires more than forming burger patties and tossing a salad seems like a chore. I took a few shortcuts, too, opting to make the salsa verde in one step in the food processor, which saved a wee bit of time, but I encourage you to read through the original recipe first on Food 52. It’s a fabulous site!

If you’re in need of a nice, summery, vegetarian dish to add to the mix, this is the one. It’s light — no cream in this gratin — and the vegetables remain firm even after 40 minutes of cooking. I served it as an entrée with a simple salad and some fresh bread, but it would make a wonderful side dish as well.

For all of you fathers out there, have a wonderful Father’s Day weekend! And to the four fathers in my life, I love you very much.

Summer Squash Gratin

Salsa Verde Ingredients

Salsa Verde

Mise en Place

Summer Squash from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
Ingredients In Bowl

Tossed Ingredients

Uncooked Gratin

Kitchen assistant sneaking a bite:
Sneaking a Bite

Kitchen assistant caught in the act:
Kitchen Assistant

Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde and Gruyère

Source: Food 52 via Suzanne Goin
Serves 4 as an entrée

Salsa Verde:

1 teaspoon fresh marjoram or oregano leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint
1 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic
1 anchovy
1 tablespoon capers, drained (rinsed if salt-packed)
1/2 lemon, for juicing
Freshly ground black pepper

Gratin:

2 pounds summer squash
1 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cups sliced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 New Mexico chile or jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the salsa verde. Using a mortar and pestle (or a food processor), pound the herbs to a paste. You may have to do this in batches. Work in some of the olive oil, and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Pound the garlic and anchovy, and add them to the herbs. Gently pound the capers until they’re partially crushed, and add them to the herbs. Stir in the remaining oil, a pinch of black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste for balance and seasoning. (Note: I basically made this in one step in the food processor — I pulsed everything with the exception of the capers together, then stirred the capers in at the end.)

3. Make the gratin. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash into 1/8-inch-thick slices. (A mandolin makes this a quick task.) Toss the slices in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and let sit 10 minutes.

4. Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl. Heat a small saute pan over medium heat for 1 minutes. Swirl in the butter and cook for a few minutes, until it browns and smells nutty. Pour the brown butter over the breadcrumbs (being sure to scrape all the brown bits into the bowl with a rubber spatula). Wait a minute or so for the butter to cool, and toss well.

5. Drain the squash and transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Add the shallots, minced garlic, thyme, chile, 1/2 cup salsa verde, and some pepper. Toss to combine, and add the cheese and half the butter-coated breadcrumbs. Toss again, and taste for seasoning. (The raw garlic will taste strong at this point but will be delicious when cooked.)

6. Place the squash in a pretty 9-by-9-inch (or equivalent oblong-shaped) gratin dish. Scatter the remaining breadcrumbs over the top, and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the squash is tender and the top is crisp.

Summer Squash Gratin

Easiest Rack of Lamb

Cut Rack of Lamb

Cut Rack of Lamb

I think I found a magic sauce. It transformed my chicken-breast eating experience and now my rack-of-lamb-eating experience. Never would I have guessed that a simple stir of mayonnaise, mustard and some fresh herbs would play such a role in my meat-cooking endeavors these days. Seriously, everything this sauce touches turns to mouth-watering goodness.

Let’s see, how else can I sell this recipe to you? It takes five minutes to prepare. It’s foolproof. And if you enjoy gnawing on bones as if they were lollipops, this recipe is for you. Make it.

Rack of Lamb — Just Out of the Oven

Rosemary & Thyme

Lamb — Prepped for Oven

Cooked Rack of Lamb

Rack of Lamb

Serves 2
This rack of lamb goes beautifully with crispy fingerling potatoes.

1 rack of lamb, about a pound
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
2 T. mayonnaise
2 tsp. mustard
chopped fresh herbs*: rosemary, thyme, chives, mint, tarragon — whatever you have

*Rosemary and lamb always go well together but I adore tarragon with this recipe as well.

1. Preheat the oven to 475ºF. Place lamb on a parchment-lined (for easy clean-up) rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper on all sides. Mix together mayo, mustard and herbs. Spread in an even layer across the rack of lamb — you might not need it all.

2. Place pan in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 400º and bake for 10 more minutes. Take pan out of the oven and place lamb on a board to rest. Let rest for at least 10 minutes. Seriously, no less than 10 minutes — I can’t emphasize resting enough. Cut and serve.

Notes: The lamb takes about 20 minutes to cook but depending on the size of the rack, the temperature of the lamb (room temperature or cold), and the reliability of your oven, the time will vary slightly. It might take a teensy bit of practice to nail it. For example, I made a rack today that weighed .92 lbs, and I removed it before the 20-minute mark because after 18 minutes it felt perfectly firm.

Rack of Lamb

Lidia Bastianich’s Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter

butternut squash gnocchi with sage brown butter

butternut squash gnocchi with sage brown butter

I haven’t been drawn to a recipe like this in awhile. It’s not that butternut squash with sage brown butter doesn’t sound insanely delicious — seriously, what sounds better this time of year? — it’s just that these days my brain surrenders and my eyes cross when I see too many steps in a recipe. I’m better off sticking to quick and easy (also insanely delicious).

But if you’re in the mood for this sort of thing — for planning, thinking, going all out to capture the essence of the season in a single dish — this is the recipe for you. You won’t be disappointed. Lidia Bastianich nailed it. Just as I was feeling the slightest bit uninspired, the October Bon Appetit arrived in my mailbox. Five minutes later, I ran out the door to buy a ricer, which has been on my wishlist for months. I had been told a ricer would change my life.
So far, it has.

butternut squash gnocchi with sage brown butter

sage, potatoes and parmesan

butternut squash

mixing gnocchi dough

gnocchi dough

gnocchi dough

cut gnocchi

shaped gnocchi

butternut squash gnocchi with sage brown butter

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter

Source: Lidia Bastianich via Bon Appetit
This recipe along with a few others I am dying to try appeared in the October 2010 Bon Appetit. If you’re feeling even the slightest bit uninspired, this is a good little spread to check out.
Serves 4 to 6

1 1-pound butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 12- to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled, quartered
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (I used less)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Additional grated Parmesan cheese

Special Equipment:
Potato ricer (I bet a food mill would work well, too.)

Notes:
1. It helps to really read the recipe thoroughly before beginning.

2. You will have tons of leftover butternut squash.

3. I needed about 2 potatoes to get 2 cups.

4. I find it easier to cook gnocchi in small batches, so I think this meal makes a better dinner-for-two than a dinner-for-a-crowd. After I filled up one sheetpan with shaped gnocchi, I stuck in the freezer. After an hour or so, I scooped all of the gnocchi into a Ziplock bag and stored it in the freezer, where it now awaits for a future dinner.

5. Seeing how a friend and I polished off half the gnocchi in a single sitting, I feel the recipe more accurately serves 4.

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut squash lengthwise in half; discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and brush with oil. Roast until squash is very tender when pierced with skewer and browned in spots, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh from squash into processor; puree until smooth. Transfer to medium saucepan; stir constantly over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, about 5 minutes. Cool. Measure 1 cup (packed) squash puree (reserve remaining squash for another use). Note: This can be made several days in advance.

2. Meanwhile, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, less than 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl; cool completely. Measure 2 cups (loosely packed) riced potato (reserve remaining potato for another use).

3. Mix squash, potato, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls. Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.

4. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Sprinkle parchment lightly with flour. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough out on floured surface to about 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep chilled. Note: Gnocchi can be frozen at this point – freeze them first on a sheetpan, then transfer them to a Ziplock to prevent them from sticking together.

5. Working in 2 batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, 15 to 17 minutes (gnocchi will float to surface but may come to surface before being fully cooked). Using slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to same parchment-lined baking sheets. Cool. DO AHEAD Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover loosely and chill. Note: It was hard for me to tell when they were done. I cooked them for about 12 minutes — I took one out, tasted it, and went with it.)

6. Cook butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat just until golden, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add sage; stir 1 minute. Add gnocchi; cook until heated through and coated with butter, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Serve with additional Parmesan. Note: Unless you have an enormous pan, it’s easier to cook the gnocchi and butter in smaller batches. Half of this recipe in one pan is doable.

Fresh Corn Polenta — Where Have You Been All My Life?

Fresh Corn Polenta with Egg on Top

Fresh Corn Polenta with Egg on Top

Fresh corn polenta — oh fresh corn polenta! How could I have forgotten about you? I discovered you this time last year. I was out to eat. You were in my bowl. It was love at first bite. You were the very best polenta I had ever tasted, your sweet corn flavor discernible even through the jus of the pair of braised short ribs smothering you. How could this be, I wondered? I chalked it up to lots of butter and cheese and the sort of restaurant trickery that just can’t be duplicated at home. And so I forgot about you. For a whole year. Oh fresh corn polenta! I’m so happy you’re back in my life. In my home no less. And for good this time.

This is the sort of recipe I want to tell everyone about. I want to call all of my friends and family. I want to spark up conversation with people in checkout lines, knock on my neighbors’ doors, stop strangers in the street. It is so good and much to my surprise calls for no sort of restaurant magic — just a box grater, a little butter, and a sauté pan. It’s the kind of thing I could eat every night for dinner, and this week I basically have. I love it with sautéed greens or with a poached egg or just on its own with some cracked pepper and parmesan cheese. Before the season ends, I hope to try it with some sautéed mushrooms, too, which is how they serve it at La Toque, the source of this wonderful recipe.

You’ll discover it takes no time to whip up, just a little elbow grease during preparations — grating the ears of corn can be tiring. With that in mind, this is not a dish to make for company. It is the perfect dinner-for-1 or-2. It is simple and delicious. It is restaurant worthy certainly, but comfort food at its core. And I hope it will leave you wondering, as it has left me, where have you been all my life?

corn

One ear’s worth of grated corn:
grated corn

I found this recipe from The View from the Bay online. There’s a little video included on the website, which is sort of helpful to watch, but not critical. The original recipe hails from La Toque, where they serve it with sautéed chanterelles. Yum Yum Yum.

Fresh Corn Polenta

Serves 1

2 ears corn
2 teaspoons butter
kosher salt
grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1. Clean the corn, removing all husks and threads. Working over a large bowl, grate the kernels off of the cob on the coarse side of a box grater. You will have a very wet coarse pulpy mixture.

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the grated corn and season with a good pinch of salt. Simmer over low heat, stirring to prevent browning, for about 3 minutes. The mixture is ready when it just begins to thicken and set.

3. Top with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano and/or a poached egg or some sautéed greens.

Note: It is delicious served with this recipe: Catalan Spinach.

Fresh Corn Polenta with Parmigiano Reggiano

Sautéed Corn + an End of Summer Salad

veggies

veggies

I’m spoiled. Really spoiled. I live in a place where even tomatoes still taste good this time of year. I’m not trying to rub it in, just expressing my gratitude.

I do realize, however, we are approaching mid-October and already the idea of cool, raw, crisp veggies in a salad might not sound so appealing. But even so, sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying for dinner than a big salad and some warm bread. If you find yourself craving this sort of meal in these colder months, here’s what I suggest adding: sautéed corn.

At least twice a week these days, I top a big salad — usually some sort of combination of roasted red peppers, boiled fingerlings, diced orange, shaved zucchini, sliced avocado, a little lettuce and some goat or blue cheese — with an ear’s worth of sautéed corn. The warm corn ever so slightly melts the cheese and wilts the lettuce, making a lovely combination on its own even more delectable. It is so delicious. Top it all off with a poached egg or some broiled sliced chicken and you have a nice meal on your hands.

And I know you all know how to make salad dressing but this is what I’ve been doing recently based on a long-time favorite recipe in Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables, which calls for macerating shallots before whisking in the oil:

Finely chop a shallot and place it in a bowl. Squeeze two oranges over the shallot. Sprinkle the mixture with a little salt, a pinch of sugar and a splash of vinegar. Crack some pepper over top and let sit for 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes, slowly drizzle in olive oil whisking constantly while doing so. Taste every so often to gauge how much more olive oil to add. I like a ratio of about 2 parts oil to one part juice or vinegar. Pour it all into a jar and you have dressing on your hands for the week. Nice.

sautéed corn

Sautéed Corn

Serves 1

1 ear of corn, kernels removed
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt

Heat a skillet over high heat. Add olive oil. When it begins swirling in the pan, add the corn and season it to taste with kosher salt. Don’t stir the corn until it begins to pop — about 45 seconds to a minute after it has been added to the pan. When it begins popping, give it a good stir and remove from the heat. That’s it. It’s done — 1 to 2 minutes total.

roasted cauliflower

After sautéed corn, roasted cauliflower is my most current obsession. It’s delicious right out of the oven. The crispy salty charred bits are as yummy as french fries. Leftover cauliflower dipped in hummus makes a nice snack.

Roasted Cauliflower

Serves 1 to 2

1 head cauliflower, florets removed from stem
extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Spread the florets of cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss with olive oil and season with salt (I tend to be liberal with the salt on these guys). Place sheet in the oven for 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes, check on the cauliflower, giving it a stir or flipping the florets over if desired. Cook for 5 minutes longer.

cauliflower

Have you ever tried purslane? It’s just about the healthiest thing on the planet. Here’s a little rundown:

In the 1980s, Artemis Simopoulos, author of The Omega Diet, discovered that purslane, a wild green, contained high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, leading her to suspect that animals feasting on these greens might also be a rich source of this essential fatty acid. To test her theory, Dr. Simopoulos hard-boiled a few eggs laid by free-ranging chickens living on her family farm in Greece and brought them back to the National Institute of Health for analysis. The free-ranging eggs, she discovered, contained 20 times more omega-3 fatty acids than supermarket eggs. Simopoulos’ findings, printed in several high-profile journals, inspired egg producers across the country, most notably George Bass of The Country Hen, to feed their chickens fish oil and flax seed, two foods loaded with omega-3 fatty acids.

purslane

ball jar

Veggie Veggie Salad

Chicken Legs Baked with White Wine, Olive Oil & Parmigiano Reggiano; Making the Most of a Whole Chicken Part Two

Parmesan Chicken

Can you remember one-third cup? That’s really all you need to know in order to make this recipe: one-third cup olive oil, one-third cup white wine, one-third cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Garlic and thyme are nice additions but optional. Just whisk everything together, season the chicken with salt and pepper, throw it in a 450ºF oven and you’re done. Crispy skins. Tender meat. A delicious meal to add to your repertoire.

As the title of this post mentions, this is part two of a making-the-most-of-a-whole-chicken series. I have other recipes for the dark meat, but let’s just start with this one, k? It’s the simplest one I know and perhaps my favorite as well.

So you have a game plan now, right? Buy a chicken. Cut it up. Make stock. Serve broiled tarragon breasts for dinner one night, chicken legs baked with white wine, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano another. Fry up that liver for a snack. And cook up those little tenders to add to a salad or a sandwich? I don’t have many creative ideas for the tenders nor much experience with the liver but I’m confident you will not let these bits go to waste. And, any tips you might have for cooking the liver would be much appreciated … I sort of just throw it in a pan and cross my fingers. Yum yum yum.

Chicken Legs Baked with White Wine, Olive Oil & Parmigiano Reggiano

Serves 2

2 chicken drumsticks + 2 chicken thighs
kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
a few sprigs fresh thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.

2. In a small shallow baking dish such as a pie plate, whisk together the white wine, olive oil, about half of the cheese, and the garlic. Throw in the thyme sprigs and the chicken and toss all around to coat.

3. Turn chicken so that the skin is facing up and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Place in the oven for 30 minutes. Take a peak. If the skin is getting too brown, reduce the heat to 400ºF. Continue baking for about 20 more minutes, or until the meat is pulling away from the bone on the drumstick. The time it takes to cook this chicken will vary depending on your oven, on the size of the legs, if the chicken was cooked directly from the refrigerator or if it had been brought to room temperature before baking, etc. Trust your nose — if you think it’s done, take a stab. After you’ve made the recipe once or twice, you’ll have a better idea about the timing.