Most often, when I see recipes with quantity-ingredient combos such as one cup heavy cream, two sticks butter, a quarter pound cheese, I don’t give them a second look. It just never seems necessary — comfort food can succeed at comforting without heavy doses of heavy ingredients.
But after reading the preface to this pasta alla vecchia bettola recipe in The Barefoot Contessa’s Foolproof, I had to make it despite the cup of cream. More than being a mainstay on the menu of one of Ina’s favorite restaurants for 20 years, what struck me about the recipe was the method, which calls for sweating onions and garlic, reducing vodka, adding canned San Marzano tomatoes, and baking the mixture in a covered pan for one-and-a-half hours. The recipe originates from a restaurant in Florence, and Ina likens the dish to the classic penne alla vodka “but with so much more flavor.”
Friends, I opened the mailbox this morning and found a hand-written note from a dear old friend. I had to transcribe it and share it with you.
I hope this letter finds you well. I just wanted to write because with the holiday season rapidly approaching, I know you and I and many of your friends will be spending a lot of time together. I feel awkward reaching out like this, but I think it’s best I voice my concerns now. You see, while I love that you and so many others have discovered my versatility — really, I mean it, I loved those blondies — I’m feeling a little torn about all of the attention I’ve been receiving in recent years.
OK, I’ll just say it: the truth is is that I miss sage. And I miss crisping up its leaves in a pan filled with butternut squash ravioli. And I miss being tossed with ribbons of pappardelle and toasted pine nuts. And I miss bathing with fillets of sole.
There. I said it. I just wanted to remind you of, well, what I once considered my strength. I think you will understand. And I hate to impose, but if you wouldn’t mind sharing this with anyone you think might be interested, I would so appreciate it.
To say that the move north — from the weeks of packing to the two-day drive to the week of unpacking — has taken a toll on the children’s diet would be an understatement. There has been too much takeout, too many salty snacks, too many drive-thru visits. And I fear there has been irreparable damage: A few days ago when I pointed to a bunch of carrots in one of Graham’s favorite books, he, with complete confidence, identified them as, “hotdogs.”
Oiy. In this season of vegetable bounty, there is no excuse. I immediately set to work making a pasta sauce — sauce counts as a vegetable, right? — I learned years ago from The Tra Vigne Cookbook, a recipe Michael Chiarello learned from Jacques Pèpin. In the book, Chiarello pairs the sauce with stuffed chicken thighs and notes that any leftover sauce can be used to poach fish roulades, no doubt a suggestion made by Pèpin.
But that the sauce can be used for such a preparation gives you an idea of its consistency: it’s watery. And while I have always loved its fresh, clean flavor — there are no onions or garlic or crushed red pepper flakes (all of which I love) — these days I like it better when it’s cooked down even further until nearly all of the water evaporates and the tomatoes and bell peppers and basil reduce into a sweet, summery concentrate.
Do you ever find yourself needing to prepare a meal for a friend? Perhaps a new mom? Or someone on bed rest? Or just someone in need?
As comfortable as I feel in the kitchen, cooking for these sorts of occasions makes me panicky. I never know what to make. I know comfort food is the name of the game, but I worry that my comfort food might not comfort others.
Fortunately, I have friends who thrive in these situations — friends who can throw casseroles together in their sleep; friends whose pantries never fail them at these critical moments; friends whose freezers at any given time are stocked with a half dozen of these sorts of meals already. It was one of these such friends who passed along this recipe after I mentioned I had no idea what I was going to make for my friend who had just returned from the hospital with a new baby girl. I didn’t even have to note that this new mom was avoiding dairy and a few other foods. Amanda knew exactly the recipe I needed.
On many Sundays during the summer we find ourselves at 2Amys, tired and famished after a long morning at the zoo, trying to keep our two thrashing children from making too much of a disturbance. An order of arancini — deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with cheese — usually does the trick, settling the children (and us) at first bite.
I LOVE arancini, but they’re a total pain to make, not only calling for leftover risotto, but also requiring a lengthy assembly process — shaping, stuffing, breading and deep frying. Crispy on the outside, oozing with cheese on the inside, these “little oranges” are worth their every effort — once I made them at home — but they are not something to whip up every day, better ordered out a place like 2Amys, best (not that I speak from experience) picked up at a vendor parked along a Palermo sidewalk. Read More
Homemade breadcrumbs slipped into our dinner regimen slowly, appearing on our salads to start, the kale caesars in particular, quietly replacing croutons altogether. But shortly after their introduction, perhaps encouraged by their warm reception, they made haste, and soon began garnishing our pastas, mingling with our roasted vegetables, delicately topping our fish fillets. These days they’ve gotten completely brazen, sometimes accompanying every item on the plate. I don’t know when this trend will fizzle, but I’m liking it very much at the moment.
The inspiration to start whizzing my stale bread in the food processor, storing the crumbs in the freezer, and toasting them in a skillet with olive oil at the dinner hour, came from two sources: a great chef interview on the kitchn in early November and the editor’s letter in this month’s bon appètit, which offered tips on how to be a better cook from seven renowned chefs around the world including Mario Batali who admits that “there’s almost nothing [he] wouldn’t put homemade breadcrumbs on.” I’m starting to share this sentiment. These crunchy, salted, olive-oil toasted bits are truly addictive. Read More
Every so often all of my recipe hoarding proves worthwhile. A couple of nights ago, while fishing through my pasta file, pulling out every gnocchi recipe I have saved over the past decade, I found a recipe — penne with butternut-sage sauce — from a November 2006 Gourmet. Over the past six years, I have thought about this recipe often, as I do most of the recipes I tuck away, but especially this time of year when the butternut squashes and bundles of sage start arriving in my CSA.
I suspected this sauce would be good — the pairing of squash and sage rarely disappoints — but I didn’t imagine loving it as much as I did. It seemed too simple. But somehow the sauce, made with only butter, sage, squash, onion and water, tastes almost cheesy or as if it were made with cream or stock or something to provide richness. The butter, of course, adds considerable flavor, and the amount of butter, though I haven’t tested it, probably could be scaled back. But if you’re not afraid, just go for it. Adults and children (who likely will think it’s mac n’ cheese) alike will gobble it up. It’s a perfect dish for this time of year. Read More
This time of year, all I want to eat is fresh fish. Grilled whole, pan-seared, raw — I don’t care. Unfortunately, the markets in my town make this sort of desired eating an impossibility. Where I live, the freshest fish comes from a can. Fortunately, canned fish is rather good.
I recently discovered Wild Planet products and particularly like the salmon, sardines and dungeness crab, all of which are nice to have on hand when throwing together dinner is the name of the game. The addition of a can of crabmeat to this favorite summer pasta dish not only made it a touch tastier but also a smidgen more complete, especially for those who don’t consider a sprinkling of cheese a suitable protein. Crabmeat of course could be substituted for any other canned fish or meat or left out altogether — it is a wonderful and summery dish on its own — but crab is a particularly tasty addition.
Finally, I have some exciting news for those of you wanting to try Afeltra pasta but without direct access to Eataly. A company called Po Valley Foods is selling Afeltra pasta online — they are currently accepting orders but note that the pasta won’t be available till the 15th. In the past few weeks I have tried a variety of their other pastas including the buckwheat and the la campofilone tagliatelle and linguine (featured in this post), all of which are incredibly delicious.
Finally, finally, commenters Kellie Ann and Allegra will receive a set of Julia Child notecards. Have a nice weekend everyone.
Linguini with Roasted Red Peppers, Crabmeat & Basil
roasted red peppers*, about 4 whole, cut into slivers
2 to 3 cloves garlic, crushed
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. linguine** (or less — I used about 6 oz of dried fresh linguini)
6 oz. crabmeat — this Wild Planet Dungeness is fantastic
big bunch fresh basil
fresh cracked pepper if desired
*You could certainly use jarred, which would save time, but if you have the time, make them from scratch — they’re so easy and delicious!
**Use whatever shape pasta you like.
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a big pinch of kosher salt. (I add about a tablespoon). Place the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small skillet and turn heat to high. When the oil and garlic begin to sizzle, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric burner, as I do, remove pan from the heat source if the garlic begins to brown.)
2. Cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Drain pasta and place in a large bowl. Immediately toss with the garlic-red pepper flake oil. Add the sliced roasted red peppers, crab meat and fresh basil to the bowl. Toss together. Taste. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid if necessary. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary.
Several years ago I bought a Benriner turning slicer. It is a ridiculous (but fun) tool that sits in my cupboard 364 days a year. To justify hanging on to it, I pull it out every year, just once, at the start of zucchini season, when I set out to make one of my favorite spaghetti recipes, the very dish that inspired its purchase.
I had read about the turning slicer in Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne Cookbook, which extolled the tool for its ability to cut vegetables into long spirals, perfect for making cucumber salads or for preparing potatoes for the deep fryer or for turning out zucchini slices for this very spaghetti recipe. That sounded like fun, I thought, and I ran out to Fante’s to see for myself.
While the gadget works beautifully and while it, unlike some of my other slicers, poses no risk to my fingers, my experimentation has extended no further than this single recipe. Truthfully, I prefer the shape of the long thin wisps created by a mandoline.
While neither tool is required to prepare this pasta recipe, having one helps. The beauty of the dish lies in the delicateness of the zucchini and summer squash strands, which cook in the final minute of the assembly process while they’re being tossed with the just-boiled spaghetti.
The sauce for this pasta is simple: extra-virgin olive oil heated briefly with minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Lemon zest and lots of chopped basil and parsley add a touch of freshness. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a must.
I love this pasta. It’s simple and summery, and it always inspires me once again to unearth such a promising gadget. Maybe this summer will be different? Maybe we’ll take to feasting on whimsical cucumber nest salads and carrot and daikon radish slaws? Maybe we’ll grow accustomed to sliding our grilled steaks onto beds of crispy potatoes? It’s unlikely, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Notes: The original recipe called for 3/4 lb. spaghettini, 3/4 lb. zucchini and 1/2 cup olive oil. I have reduced the amount of pasta and olive oil, but essentially kept the amount of squash the same. I also added lemon zest, which goes nicely with zucchini and adds a touch of brightness. Also, don’t be confused by the photo with the halved lemon and reamer — I don’t actually add any lemon juice, though I can’t imagine a squeeze would do too much damage. Your call.
1/2 lb. spaghetti
1/2 lb. or more zucchini or yellow squash (I used 11 oz. weighed after being trimmed sliced)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more or less)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of one lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup finely chopped parsley (optional — sometimes I just use basil)
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly ground pepper
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a big pinch of salt. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or Benriner turning slicer, cut the squash into long thin strips. Alternatively, cut the squash with a knife as thinly as you are able. Place the sliced squash in a colander in your sink. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid (though you might not even need it — I never seem to with this dish).
2. Place the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small skillet and turn heat to high. When the oil and garlic begin to sizzle, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric burner, as I do, remove pan from the heat source if the garlic begins to brown.)
3. Drain the pasta over the colander containing the squash, then transfer pasta and squash to a large bowl. Add the garlic-red pepper oil to the bowl. (Note: I add all of the oil at once, because I like the pasta to be nicely coated, but I could see how some people might find it too oily. If you are wary of oil, add about half of the oil to start, then add more as needed.) Add the zest and the herbs. Add the Parmigiano. Toss. Taste. Season with kosher salt (if necessary — I add a lot of salt to the pasta water so I usually don’t have to add any extra salt) and pepper to taste. If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water (I didn’t need any), more olive oil (didn’t need it) or salt and pepper.