Baked Fontina

baked fontina with herbs and garlic

I am all for buying two or three wedges of nice cheeses, plopping them on a cutting board, surrounding them with grapes and nuts and maybe something exotic like quince membrillo, and crossing “make-hors d’oeuvres” off my to-do list.

But every so often it’s nice to present something a teensy more special, more awe-inspiring, more spectacularly delicious. This baked fontina is the favorite party trick of my aunt — not the one that introduced me to salsa di parmigiano, the other one. She serves this bubbling fontina-herb-and-garlic-filled cast-iron skillet just as instructed with lots of crusty bread and swears that not a morsel ever remains. Because it is quite decadent, her other offerings consist of crispy kale chips and radishes with sea salt. My aunties are just full of good ideas. [Read more…]

Salsa di Parmigiano; Homemade Advent Calendar, for next year perhaps

salsa di Parmigiano and grilled bread

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with two of my aunts in northern Virginia. Over the course of seven hours, we found a reason to use this sauce — salsa di Parmigiano — three times. For our lunch, we spread it onto French bread and made paninis filled with artichoke hearts, golden cherry tomatoes, and fontina cheese; for the children’s dinner, we tossed it with pasta; for our meze-style dinner, we spooned it onto grilled bread, which we ate all evening along with some olives, feta, and various other treats. It was a delicious spread, but this dipping sauce received the most attention by everyone who joined the party.

This is a nice little sauce to know. Made mostly in the food processor, it comes together in less than ten minutes and makes enough to last you for weeks. Apparently, at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, every table receives a bowl of the sauce along with crispy bread before the main courses arrive. Sounds heavenly. [Read more…]

Green Olive, Walnut & Pomegranate Salad; Thanksgiving Day Recap

green olive, walnut and pomegranate salad

Tired of cooking? Me too. But I have one more teensy tiny recipe to share with you before I disappear into I-don’t-feel-like-cooking-anything mode. And it’s a good one. You HAVE to make this. Not immediately, but soon and definitely before the end of the year, because nothing will look more festive on your holiday table and nothing will taste more restorative in the season of endless feasting.

The recipe comes from the book Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf, which my aunt introduced to the family last winter when she served this stunning salad at a dinner party. The myriad textures and sweet-salty-hot dressing make this salad irresistible. [Read more…]

Suzanne Goin’s Slow-Cooked Kale & Stuffing, Maybe

slow cooked Tuscan kale

I’ve been trying to do a test run of Suzanne Goin’s stuffing with slow-cooked kale, but I can’t get beyond the cooking of the slow-cooked kale step. I’ve tried twice, but the kale keeps disappearing, and as a result, my loaves of country bread and bulbs of fennel continue to be neglected.

Cooking kale in this manner is new for me. For one, like many people, I have taken to eating it raw not only because it tastes good but also because one raw bunch can be stretched over more meals than one cooked bunch. Second, if I do sauté it, I do it very quickly over high heat with a little olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. I’m not sure I’ll ever do that again.

In Goin’s method, the kale is blanched first, [Read more…]

Pizza with Lemon, Smoked Mozzarella & Basil

pizza with lemon, smoked mozzarella & basil

As much as I love lemons, the thought of placing them atop pizza never would have crossed my mind. Squeezing a wedge of lemon over a slice of white clam pizza — that’s natural; biting into whole slices of lemon, rind and seeds included — that takes some convincing.

But the story and photo of Kesté’s Pizza Sorrentina, a Neapolitan pizza topped with lemon slices, basil and smoked mozzarella, in the WSJ a few weekends ago sent me racing off to the store to find smoked mozzarella. Story goes that this pie was invented in Naples by a great pizza maestro’s daughter who created it for her lemon-adoring mother.

Never would I have imagined this group of ingredients to work so well together, but they do. And it makes sense. Lemon cuts the smokiness of the mozzarella; basil, even after seven minutes in the oven, adds a touch of freshness. The bites with lemon slices are big — tart and tangy and refreshing all at the same time; the bites without beg for one. But the beauty of the pizza lies in the balance: it would be a shame to overdo the lemon, to be flinging pieces aside rather than longing for more.

For lemon lovers, of course, this pie is a winner; but skeptics beware: it’s beguiling enough to win you over, too. [Read more…]

Big Apple Pancake

dusted with powdered sugar

I posted this recipe to Facebook over the weekend, so I’ll keep this brief. I have made this big apple pancake two weekends in a row now, and I have a feeling the run will continue for the remainder of the fall. It is one of the most fun recipes to prepare as it comes together in just minutes, puffs dramatically in the oven, and feeds four comfortably (so long as you provide some bacon or sausage on the side.)

This past weekend’s pancake came out better than the first, namely because I followed the instructions and made the effort to pulse the flour-egg-milk mixture in the food processor rather than just whisk by hand, which left the batter extremely lumpy. I also doubled the amount of apple this time around, ensuring that loads of tender apple slices filled every bite.

I love this recipe, but I find the name to be a bit of a misnomer — it tastes nothing like a pancake to me, leaving my pancake-making woes to persist. Alas, with a new delicious addition to the morning repertoire, I have no complaints. Hope you all had a nice weekend. [Read more…]

Super Fast Pasta Dish: Rotini with Butternut-Sage Sauce

pasta with butternut squash sauce

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…]

Getting the Most From Your CSA + Two Favorite Potato Recipes

CSA, 9-20-2012

There was a time in my life when subscribing to a CSA had little appeal. I wanted to buy what I wanted to buy when I wanted to buy it. Today, I am happy to have somebody else make the decision for me.

In the past six years, subscriptions to CSAs in eastern Pennsylvania, southern California and northern Virginia have forever transformed how I eat and cook. I have learned to plan meals based on the vegetables I have at hand not the protein. I have learned to appreciate vegetables in their freshest state seasoned with little more than olive oil, salt and pepper. I have eaten more dark leafy greens than I ever imagined.

During this time, too, I have allowed more than one bunch of radishes to shrivel up and rot, a kohlrabi bulb or two to desiccate, and a few bags of okra to mold over. It is painful — shameful — to see these foods spoil. Today, not a morsel of my CSA goes to waste.

Below, I have compiled some things I have learned these past six years that help me utilize my CSA to its fullest potential. [Read more…]

The Best Grilled Cheese

grilled cheese with comte, thyme & shallots

Grilled cheese, like pancakes, has always troubled me in the kitchen. Without fail, the bread burns before the cheese melts. Various techniques employed over the years have improved the final product slightly, but not so much as to leave me satisfied. So when I read the r.s.v.p. section of the September Bon Appetit, which supplied a recipe for a gruyère grilled cheese from L.A.’s Lucques, I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen.

The recipe calls for crisping country white bread slices in a skillet on one side before topping them with cheese and sautéed shallots. The open-faced halves finish cooking in the oven before being pressed together into a traditional sandwich.

It almost pains me that such a simple technique produces such a brilliant result: perfectly golden bread flanking perfectly melty cheese. Why could I have not figured this technique out on my own? Like 10 years ago? Such a find would have prevented years of shame and embarrassment and the inevitable self-questioning after every failed grilled cheese attempt: Who doesn’t know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich? [Read more…]

Eggplant Caviar on Grilled Bread

eggplant caviar

Last summer the eggplant chapter of Chez Panisse Vegetables treated me kindly, introducing me to a favorite pasta recipe as well as a most-delicious gratin with tomatoes and onions. And with this eggplant “caviar,” a mash-up of roasted eggplant, fresh parsley, and macerated shallots and garlic, the chapter just seems to keep on giving.

In each of these recipes, eggplant is roasted (as opposed to fried), which requires minimal oil, allowing the eggplant’s sweet flavor to really shine. And after a gentle mashing with a fork, the eggplant’s flesh becomes creamy, a perfect consistency to whip into a spread to spoon over grilled bread. Here, shallots and garlic that have soaked in vinegar add both sweetness and bite without taking over, but I imagine eggplant can hold its own in the presence of even stronger flavors — anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers come to mind.

With eggplant season peaking, now is the time to experiment. And for you eggplant lovers in particular — I know eggplant can be polarizing — get roasting. [Read more…]