Category: cooking

Mushroom Ragu

This recipe has a number of steps and requires some patience. Like any good ragú, this sauce gets most of its flavor and personality from a long, slow cook, at least an hour if you can swing it. Do not be deterred. The sauce will pay it forward in spades with deep layers of flavor. It’s perfectly suitable for a quiet Sunday afternoon amidst a mountain of laundry waiting to be folded and a pile of e-mails waiting for responses.

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 ounce dried mushrooms, preferably porcini, soaked in 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 pounds cremini or baby bella mushrooms, rinsed, 1 pound quartered, ½ pound minced in the Cuisinart
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots, minced (you can use a food processor for the shallots, carrots and celery if you prefer)
  • 1 large carrot, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, minced
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 14-ounce can tomatoes
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 Parmesan rinds
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Bouquet garni of 2 sprigs rosemary, 4 sprigs thyme and 2 bay leaves

Using a food processor or Cuisinart, pulse the shallots, carrot, and celery to fine pieces. Set aside. Add ½ pound of rinsed mushrooms and soaked porcinis and pulse to fine pieces. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium-size rondeau over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add half the quartered mushrooms. Let the mushrooms sear for several minutes before jostling them gently and adding a big pinch of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper. Stir gently to evenly sear, adjusting the heat as needed so the bottom of the pan doesn’t scorch. Once the mushrooms are almost evenly seared, add a tablespoon of butter and stir to evenly coat. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the same pot and repeat with the rest of the quartered mushrooms.

Once all the quartered mushrooms are seared, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and sear the minced mushrooms. Sear until evenly browned, then scoop out of the pan and set aside with the seared quartered mushrooms.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the over medium-low heat along with the vegetables. Sweat the vegetables until softened, about 10 minutes, scraping up the mushroom fond with a wooden spoon. After 3 or 4 minutes, season the vegetables with salt and pepper.

Turn the heat to medium and add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze any lingering bits of fond. Add the tomato paste and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and mix well. Add mushroom tea and enough water so that the vegetables are nearly entirely submerged in liquid.

Simmer over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the milk, bouquet garni, and Parmesan rinds. Reduce again by half until the sauce is nicely thickened.

Once the ragu is the right consistency, finish by stirring in one tablespoon of butter.

This ragu freezes beautifully. If you are freezing it, thaw it in the fridge overnight before you need to use it, then reheat slowly and mount in another pad of butter before serving.

 

 

Fresh Pasta Dough

Here is the ratio I usually start with. For fresh pasta made in the northern style, ideally, you’d use 00 flour, which is ground finer than A.P. and renders a smoother, silkier texture. If you have 00 flour, by all means use it. But the dough will turn out just fine if you use A.P.

There are many different types of fresh pasta recipes. In the south, pasta is primarily made with water and a hard wheat flour, such as semolina made from durum wheat. You can also add other agents to your dough like pureed spinach or squid ink, to impart different flavors and colors.

That being said, this is a solid base recipe to start with.

  • 2 cups A.P. flour
  • 2 egg yolks + 2 eggs

Pour the flour onto a clean surface. Use a wood surface if you have one — it is easier to make and shape the pasta dough on wood. Make a well in the center of the flour. Pour in the eggs. Using your pointer and middle fingers, start slowly mixing the eggs and incorporating them into flour by gradually pulling bits of flour into the egg. Go slowly so you don’t break the wall of flour that keeps the eggs from spilling out. Keep incorporating wet into dry, eventually using a bench scraper to fold the outer edges of flour into the wet mass. By now, you should have a shaggy mass of dough. Start kneading by hand by pushing the heel of your hand down and forward, then folding the dough in half toward you, turning 90 degrees, and repeating. It should look like: Push, pull/fold, turn. Push, pull/fold, turn.

Knead the dough until you get a smooth, stiff mass, about 8-10 minutes. Cover with plastic and let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes before using.

Cut the dough into four pieces. Feed one piece through the pasta rollers at the widest setting. Fold the dough in thirds like a book. Turn the dough 90 degrees and feed it through again. This is a secondary process of kneading. Do this several more times until the dough feels silken and even.

At this point, slowly start narrowing the width on the pasta rollers until you reach your desired thickness. Each pasta machine has different numbers that correspond to different thicknesses. If making a filled pasta like ravioli or tortelli, you’ll need to roll the pasta out to nearly translucent since you’ll be doubling up the dough. I normally roll my sheets for cut noodles and lasagna sheets to #6 on my Kitchen Aide pasta roller.

From here, you can fill the sheets for a filled pasta such as ravioli, or you could start shaping your favorite pasta. I especially love cappellacci dei briganti. Agnolotti dal plin is a fun-filled pasta shape.

 

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

This is one of those recipes that anyone can tackle. It comes from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, the doyenne of Italian cooking. The ingredient is short (and probably all stuff you have in the pantry). The process is simple and streamlined. Best of all, it yields a sauce whose flavor is robust in its generosity.

In the introduction to this recipe excerpted in Genius Recipes, Kristen Miglore shares this quote from Marcella: Simple doesn’t mean easy … I can describe simple cooking thus: Cooking that is stripped all the way down to those procedures and those ingredients indispensable in enunciating the sincere flavor intentions of a dish.”

  • 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, or canned tomatoes
  • 5T unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, halved
  • kosher salt

Put the tomatoes in a medium saucepan with the butter, onion, and salt. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring periodically, folding the fat back into the tomato once it starts to separate. Mash the tomatoes with the back of your spoon to encourage them to disassemble and merge into the sauce.

To finish the sauce, you can leave it textured and slightly chunky or pass through a food mill for a smoother consistency. Marcella suggests tossing out the onion before serving, but I quite like milling the whole thing so bits of onion comingle with the tomato.

Serve with pasta and loads of parm or use as a braising liquid for your favorite meatball recipe.

 

Aromatic Chicken Soup

This broth could be repurposed in a number of ways. Use it to make risotto, or sip it as is and fold the picked chicken with some diced celery, mayonnaise, and some minced tarragon for a quick chicken salad.

Broth:

  • 1 organic whole chicken, rinsed
  • 2 stalks celery, thick slices
  • 1 onion, thick slices, w/ the skins
  • 1 carrot, thick slices
  • 2” piece of ginger, thick slices
  • 1t black peppercorns
  • 1T dark soy sauce (omit if you don’t have on hand)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3T kosher salt
  • Filtered water to cover

Veggies for soup:

  • 2 leek, white part only small dice
  • 3 celery ribs, small dice
  • ½ fennel, small dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1” knob ginger, minced or grated on Microplane
  • 4T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • ¼ C white rice
  • 1 lemon, juiced

For the broth: rinse the chicken well, taking care to remove any bits of organ meat hidden underneath the rib cage area. Split the chicken in half using kitchen shears. This makes it easier to fit the chicken snugly in the pot. Place the chicken in a large soup pot. Add the rest of the ingredients along with 1 cup of ice. Cover with cold water. Bring the liquid up to a strong simmer, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Skim off the scum that rises to the top with a ladle and cook for about an hour.

Once the meat starts to pull away from the bone of the drumsticks, remove the chicken with tongs and set on a sheet tray to cool slightly. Once it’s cool enough to handle, pick the chicken meat, keeping the breast and thigh meat separate. Strain the broth into a large bowl or another large pot using a fine-mesh strainer. Set aside.

For the vegetables: Wash the pot you used to cook the broth. Add 2T extra virgin olive oil and sweat the leek, celery, and fennel to soften, about 10 minutes, adding a large pinch of salt after 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sweat for another 2-3 minutes. Add 1T olive oil and the rice toast in the oil, stirring periodically until the pot smells toasty, 3-5 minutes. Add half the broth back into the pot and cook the rice, about 10 minutes.

To finish the soup, fold the dark meat into the soup. I prefer to save the white meat for another preparation (see quick chicken salad in the recipe intro). This is a personal preference; add whatever mixture of meat you like. Add enough broth to keep the soup loose and broth-y. Depending on how much water you started with, you may end up adding all the broth. Save whatever’s leftover; it freezes beautifully.

Season the soup with lemon juice and more kosher salt. Since the broth is mostly unseasoned, you’ll need to add at least a couple more large pinches of salt. Once it’s tasty, chill the soup. There will be some residual fat that rises to the top of the container and congeals. Scrap that off once the soup is fully chilled and save for another use – such as frying an egg, folding into fried rice, or finishing a pasta.

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Essenza and Fish Sauce

You could use this same seasoning combination to dress any hearty roasted vegetable – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage – but I especially love the way the sauce catches in between the layers of the Brussels sprouts.

This is a ideal bed for seared steak or gochujang-glazed pork chops. I like them served over a pile of steamed rice with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and thinly sliced scallions. You’ll be hard-pressed not to eat them all off the sheet tray.

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (quartered if they’re big)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2T fish sauce (I like Red Boat; try not to buy one with caramel coloring and other additives)
  • 2T San Giacomo essenza, or another good balsamic

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, toss the Brussels with a hefty pinch of kosher salt, 5-6 grinds of black pepper, and the olive oil. Lay on a parchment-lined sheet tray in a single layer.

Roast until evenly browned, 10-12 minutes, turning the tray half-way and stirring up the Brussels so the outside edges don’t burn.

Upon removing from the oven, douse with the fish sauce and essenza. Don’t be shy. Mix well with a large spoon to comingle the flavors. It’s important to add the seasonings while the veggies are still hot so that flavors penetrate the vegetables with greater ease.

 

Italian-inspired Seafood Salad

This recipe is a labor of love. But the boon is everything can be prepped ahead of time, which makes serving a breeze. Make sure you have a large enough vessel to fit everything at the end. It’s essential to toss it all together in the same bowl prior to serving to ensure the seasoning is even and bright.

Recipe Adapted from Daniel Gritzer/Serious Eats

Seafood:

  • ¾ pound sea scallops, medium dice
  • 2 cups fresh lemon juice, divided
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 fennel ends, washed and roughly sliced (use scraps from fennel used for salad)
  • 1 cup celery scrap, washed and roughly sliced (use from celery in salad)
  • 1/2 cup white wine or dry vermouth
  • 2 pounds shrimp, 26-30 count, peeled and deveined
  • 4 pounds mussels, debearded and washed well
  • 2t coriander seed
  • 5 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ lemon, striped with a peeler
  • 2 pounds squid, cleaned, bodies sliced, tentacles halved
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Salad components:

  • 2 bulbs fennel, shaved thinly on a mandolin or with a sharp knife (save scraps for seafood poach, see above)
  • 8 pieces celery, peeled and cut on a sharp bias (save scraps for seafood poach, see above)
  • 1 bunch parsley, minced
  • ¼ C chervil, minced
  • ¼ C chives, minced
  • ¼ C dill, minced
  • 2T celery leaves, minced

Vinaigrette:

  • 3t coriander seed, toasted and crushed
  • 2t freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 pinches cayenne pepper
  • ½ C lemon juice
  • ¼ C parsley
  • 1 C extra-virgin olive oil

In a non-reactive stainless-steel bowl, toss the scallops with a big pinch of salt and cover with lemon juice (roughly 1 cup). Marinate for 1 hour, then strain the scallops and set aside in the fridge.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in an 8-quart rondeau. Sweat the onion, garlic, fennel and celery scarps over medium-low heat until softened, no color. Add the mussels, a large pinch of salt and the wine. Shake the pan vigorously and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Steam the mussels until they open, 4-6 minutes, over medium-high heat. Once opened, scoop out the mussels and transfer to a sheet tray to cool completely. Discard any mussels that don’t open.

Add 2 quarts of cold water to the mussel steaming liquid along with 3 big pinches of salt, coriander, bay leaves, black peppercorns and lemon peel. Add the squid to the poaching liquid and cook to tender, taking care not to let the water heat past a gentle simmer (170 degrees). It should take around 5 minutes, depending on the temperature of your cooking liquid. It’s cooked once it’s opaque and slightly springy to the touch. Once cooked, scoop the squid out, toss with 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and cool on a sheet tray.

Add another 2 big pinches of salt to the poaching liquid. Bring it up to a simmer, add the shrimp and turn off the heat. Let the shrimp cook gently until pink, 3-4 minutes. Scoop out the shrimp, toss with 3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice and let cool.

Make the vinaigrette: Put everything minus the olive oil in a bowl and whisk well. Slowly stream in the oil and whisk. Set aside.

Once all the seafood is cool, pick the meat out of all but 15 mussels. Toss the mussels with the rest of the seafood, half the vinaigrette, and a couple large pinches of salt.  At this point, the salad can rest overnight in the fridge.

When ready to assemble the salad, toss the dressed seafood with the sliced vegetables and minced herbs (to peel celery, use a peeler to peel the ribs off the outer surface of the celery – this makes eating the celery much more pleasant). Taste and adjust the seasoning with more vinaigrette and/or salt. Serve chilled with extra vinaigrette on the side.

 

Slow-roasted Salmon

Here’s a recipe that pays well-deserved homage to fresh herbs. It’s my favorite way to eat salmon. The original recipe says to bake the salmon on a bed of rock salt to ensure even, slow cooking. I skip this step, not because it’s useless, but because I don’t always have heaps of coarse salt lying around. I bake the fish slowly in a gently heated oven and keep an eye on it so it doesn’t overcook. But if you have coarse salt, cover the sheet pan first with aluminum foil, then a layer of rock salt. Lay the fish on top of the salt, skin-side down.

I like the classic mixture of fines herbs: parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon. You could do any combination of fresh herbs you have on hand. A squeeze of lemon is all it needs. If you have crème fraiche or Greek yogurt on hand, a dollop of that on the side makes it.

Salmon:

  • 2 pounds wild salmon, skin-on, pin bones removed
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • ½ C parsley, minced
  • ¼ C tarragon, minced
  • ¼ C chives, minced
  • ¼ C chervil, minced
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 2 t coriander seed, toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle

Vinaigrette:

  • 2T shallots, minced
  • 3T red wine vinegar
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 1 t sugar
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 1 t Dijon mustard
  • ½ C extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lay the salmon on a parchment-lined sheet tray, skin-side down. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and rub the oil into the skin. In a bowl, mix together the herbs and lemon zest and coriander. Pat this mixture onto the flesh of the fish. The oil should help the herbs adhere to the skin.

Once the salmon is in the oven, turn the temperature down to 275 degrees and roast it to your desired doneness. This will depend on your oven and the thickness of your filet, so use a thermometer if you’re not sure. I like mine medium-rare, which means I pull it from the oven at around 110 degrees. This generally takes around 20 minutes in my home oven with convection. When you take the temperature, be sure to probe in the thickest part of the filet. Pull it 5 degrees lower than your desired doneness to account for carry-over cooking.

As the salmon rests, mix the vinaigrette. Add the shallots to a small jar with a lid. Cover with red wine vinegar and lemon juice and let sit for 5 mins to soften slightly. Add the rest of the ingredients. Shake well. Drizzle vinaigrette over salmon to serve.

 

Crema Ice Cream Base

I love this recipe from Ice Cream Social by Mary Jo Thoresen and Anthony Tassinello. It’s similar to a vanilla custard base, except you whip the eggs and sugar first to incorporate more air into the base, resulting in silky, ethereal ice cream.

This is delicious on its own but also serves as a great base to sprinkle in your favorite toppings: a swirl of fudge or caramel, M&Ms, chocolate peanut butter cups, chocolate wafers, Oreo cookies. I especially like the combination of amarena cherries, cacao nibs, and bits of dark chocolate.

I’m going on record: There is nothing more satisfying than freshly spun ice cream.

  • 5 extra-large eggs
  • 1 extra-large egg yolk
  • 330 g sugar
  • 2 C whole milk
  • 1 ½ C heavy whipping cream
  • 112 g corn syrup
  • 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out

Set-up your chilling station: fill a large metal bowl with ice and a little cold water. Nestle a slightly smaller metal bowl inside the bowl with ice. Then set a fine-mesh strainer inside the smaller bowl. This is where you’ll strain the cooked custard base.

Combine the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar in a mixing bowl and whip, using a stand mixer or a hand-held mixer, over medium speed until light, fluffy and light yellow in color, about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed while you prepare the milk.

In a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart pot, add the milk, heavy cream, corn syrup, scraped vanilla bean flesh, and vanilla bean pod. Heat until steam rises from the surface and little bubbles start forming around the edges of the liquid. Stir intermittently to dissolve the corn syrup.

Stop the mixer. Add the whipped egg + sugar mixture to the hot milk mixture, whisking well to fully incorporate. Over medium heat, cook the custard until it coats the back of a wooden spoon (temperature should reach around 170 degrees). Stir with a spatula and be sure to get in the corners to prevent scorching and to keep the egg from overcooking.

Quickly pour the custard through the strainer into the chilled mixing bowl. Do not scrap the bottom of the pot. Lightly tap the strainer with the heel of your hand to encourage the liquid to pass through. Do not press down on the solids in the strainer.

Stir the strained custard base with a clean spatula periodically until it’s cooled completely. Transfer to a clean container and rest in the fridge at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Spin the base according to the ice cream maker’s instructions. I used a Cuisinart ice cream mixer, and I spin this base for about 45 minutes.

Optional: during the last 5 minutes of spinning, sprinkle in your favorite toppings. Transfer to a clean container and chill well in the freezer.

 

 

Why I Eat

Confession: I love food.

I love it so much that I should be carrying an extra 25 pounds based purely on my cheese and olive intake.

I have always gravitated to the kitchen. When I’m a guest in someone else’s home, it’s as if a magnetic force pulls me toward the room with the oven. When I was younger, I would run over to my best friend’s house after dinner and sit in her family’s kitchen among the dirty dishes because it made me feel good. Sometimes I even did the dishes. I was an odd kid.

It’s not that I always felt compelled to cook nor to eat; it was enough just to be around food, to be fully immersed in a place centered on the creation of something that sustained another human being.

My mom introduced me to food through her uncomplicated home-cooked meals. She didn’t always have the time or the energy or the will to make it, but she did it. I consider her consistent creation of home-cooked meals to be one her greatest feats as a mother — not to belittle any of her other feats, such as raising me. I bow to any mother who consistently gets dinner on the table.

My mom also threw some pretty kick-ass dinner parties. Back when my bedtime was 8 P.M., I would lie awake listening to the laughter that emanated from her dining room while people carefully pried open salmon papillote. I marveled at the way she could make someone smile with an apple crisp and an antique dessert plate. Even though I didn’t understand it, I delighted in watching peoples’ reactions to her food.

For my mother it seemed food was a vehicle that she used to offer a part of herself to others. She made fresh coffee cake when me or my sisters had friends sleepover. She roasted chicken for the neighbors after they had a baby or lost a parent. She used food to comfort and delight. She used it to bring people together. Being around my mom sparked an urge in me to explore this mystical relationship between food and community.

Later on while I was in college, I spent a semester studying in Sevilla, Spain. I lived with Nani, a sassy Spaniard who raised three children on her own and didn’t take crap from anyone. She yelled at the T.V. She smoked and had a mouth like a sailor. She was unapologetic in the way she lived life. Her cooking reflected the same attitude.

She managed her own business making hand-sewn Flamenco dresses. She would run home during lunch hour and whip up the most insane gazpacho I’d ever tasted. She was a different kind of mom with a different style of cooking that still managed to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Her dishes were simple. Her dining room table was small and casual. But the understated furnishings stood in stark contrast to the energy and vibrancy in her food. She encouraged table banter that far outlasted the coffee and fresh oranges we noshed on after dinner.

After college, I lived in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer. The day I arrived at the small village I would call home, Mina, my host mother, read the fear and shock on my face. She sat me down in her kitchen and invited me to help her shuck corn. In her small kitchen with turquoise walls and a wood-burning stole she preformed triage. Instead of a splint, she handed me a dull knife. In place of a bedpan, I got a bucket to collect the kernels.

She taught me how to make tortillas de maize and sopa de gallina indina. Each tortilla, black bean, and fried egg she served carried a little bit of Mina in it. Her round belly, short stature and permanent smile made her loveable; her food made her unforgettable. When I contemplated changing sites due to on-going health issues, it was the moments I spent with Mina in her kitchen that made me pause.

Each woman represents something different for me, but I am inextricably linked to all of them through the moments we shared in the kitchen. It was a linchpin, a place to connect through the communal process of creating something bigger than us.

In moments of pure, unadulterated joy and heavy, low-hanging sadness, the kitchen has always been the place where I’ve found sattva, a lucidity, an equilibrium. The acts of eating and cooking serve a guidepost to mark what matters most: the people with whom we most long to connect and cherish.

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