Making love to your taste buds.

Brown butter is a labor of love. It takes time and a keen eye and practically continuous stirring to get it right. It can go from perfection to disaster in mere seconds. But, if you are able to bring the butter right to the edge of Blackened-Butter Abyss, when it’s exquisitely nutty and a rich brown, whatever you are serving will benefit from it in scores. Because we all know butter is tasty.  But when you times it by ten (which is how I rate brown butter), it’s not just tasty, it’s sexy, it’s… making love to your taste buds.

And, though every browned butter recipe is special, this one is even more so.  It takes dainty (otherwise a bit boring) broccolini and envelopes it in a luscious shallot-garlic-and-pecan brown butter sauce. Yes. Pecan brown butter.  And yes, it is as good as you can imagine.  The whole dish is nutty and buttery and garlicky.  And it’s down-right pretty on the plate—make sure not to take off too much of the slender broccolini stems, those long legs look (and taste) beautiful.

I found the recipe in the latest Bon Appetit (I’ve had some great luck with Bon Appetit recipes in the past few months—though it may be Gourmet’s red-headed stepchild) and served it at Thanksgiving.  It can be made hours ahead and re-heated on the stove-top when you are about to eat—so if you were thinking of not serving this for the holidays, think again.  I’ll be remaking it for Christmas… and New Year’s… and President’s Day… and whenever I can find the excuse.

Broccolini with Pecan Brown Butter

adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2008

serves 6

If you are nervous about making brown butter, here is a good color guide for you.

  • 5 bunches broccolini, cut off at the very bottom, hard part of the stems
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter + 1 tablespoon if making ahead and reheating
  • 5 shallots, minced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup pecans, crushed
  • kosher salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add broccolini and cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Drain and put in ice water.

In a large skillet, add butter and melt.  Add shallots, garlic, pecans and cook until shallots are soft.  Turn the burner to medium-high and begin to brown the butter, stirring constantly, until it turns a rich brown color and has a nutty aroma (this is a little hard to figure because of the pecans).  When you are there, add the broccolini, reduce the heat, and toss gently until heated through and done to your liking.  Salt generously with kosher salt.  Serve hot.  If reheating later, leave broccoli in the skillet you used, then heat it up over a low heat with the extra butter until hot—about 15 minutes.

More love… coleslaw love.

I made this coleslaw the other day—with grainy mustard and red wine vinegar—and Jim surprised me with an unknown fact. He never used to eat coleslaw before he met me. OK, not never, but he wasn’t a coleslaw aficionado, as we are now. It was shocking news. I had thought he loved coleslaw because, in fact, I wasn’t accustomed to eating coleslaw before I met Jim. I had thought he just really liked it, so I went along. Turns out he did the same for me.

I’ve tracked it down to one day, earlier in our relationship, when we were first forming our ritual grocery-shopping routine where we spend hours shopping, trying samples, and kissing in the produce section. We were going to make hamburgers and wanted a side. I enthusiastically asked if he wanted coleslaw, thinking it was a smart thing for me to suggest. He enthusiastically agreed. We both took one another’s enthusiasm to mean a fervent fondness for coleslaw. Since that day, whenever we’ve made anything that could go well with coleslaw, one of us goes out to get, or makes, coleslaw and proudly presents it to the other. The other will make a show of giddiness to make his or her partner feel that being obsessed with coleslaw is okay.

Somewhere down the line though, after all the great coleslaws (and all the bad), after all the discussion of what makes a good coleslaw and all the bonding that we were trying to do, we both began to love coleslaw. I think really, our love for coleslaw came into play right around our first verbal “I love you’s.”

And it’s only gotten better from there—on both accounts. Today’s coleslaw is the perfect example of a nurtured love of coleslaw. It’s got flavorings, but none that muck up a good coleslaw taste. The grainy mustard wards off the too-sweetness that carrots can pack, and the red wine vinegar keeps everything alive. There’s lots and lots of cabbage, and nothing is too wet or soggy. It’s great taco-coleslaw, or on-the-burger coleslaw; it doesn’t taste overly mayonnaissed or—worse—like there’s too much sour cream. And it went perfectly with….

Well, you’ll find out what goes with this coleslaw next post. See you then.

Coleslaw with Grainy Mustard

adapted from Tyler Florence

You can easily double this recipe.  Add salt at the last minute so your coleslaw won’t get all watery and gross.

  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 head savoy cabbage finely sliced
  • 1/2 head purple cabbage, finely sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced on mandoline
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the mustard, mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar and sugar. Mix well and add finely sliced savoy cabbage, purple cabbage, green onions and carrots. Season with pepper, to taste, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. About 1/2 hour before you want to serve, add salt to taste.

Red, round, and crunchy.

Red, round, and crunchy: I’m having a love affair with radishes. Especially the ones available now. They’re crisp, slightly sweet, and mild with the touch of heat you expect of radishes. I’ve always heard, “the hotter the soil, the spicier the radish” and while I’m not sure if this is true, all my radishes have been mellow and delicate lately.

These radishes make their way into all kinds of dishes but, sometimes, the little red orb can take second fiddle—all too often falling into the “garnish” category. So, even though this recipe is hardly one—not even close to a meal, hardly a side dish, and less than a salad—it’s the recipe that’s got me ga-ga for radish. And now that I’ve learned how good radish-lovin’ can be, I’m never letting go.

I simply make a very mustardy vinaigrette to coat the radish slices. Radish is, afterall, in the mustard family; so I’m not surprised that the combination works so well. A good, aged balsamic vinegar levels the mustard’s bite. My balsamic’s aged 15 years and I got it on sale. But ever since my first sweet-tangy taste of it, I knew I’d spend anything—sale or no—for this stuff. Trust me, it’s nothing like supermarket balsamic, closer to a good port wine. And well… I think that balsamic may have played matchmaker between me and my radish.

It may not be much… but eating these radishes—picking them out of the bowl with my fingers—made my day yesterday, just when I was feeling my worst.  There’s something about the spicy mustard, the snappy vinegar, and the crunchy radish that makes eating out of hand–and licking your fingers—invigorating.  The perfect bit of bite.

Radish in Mustard and Vinegar

serves 1-2 for a snack

The mustard taste is strong here.  If you aren’t a total mustard fan, start with 1 tsp and add more to taste.

  • 1 bunch red radishes
  • 2 tsp good balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 small shallot, grated
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Slice radishes thinly.

In a small bowl, add balsamic, mustard, shallot, and mix.  While stirring, drizzle in oil.  Stir until completely combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in radishes.  Eat immediately or let marinate for up to 4 hours.  Serve alone or with crusty bread.

How to cook when you can’t.

As you know, I’ve been out-of-sorts lately.  I’m having back problems and, no matter how much I want to, I can’t spend hours in the kitchen cooking the dishes that I most like to cook.  In honesty, more than 20 minutes in the kitchen is liable to have me cursing myself the next day.  But I’m determined, doggedly determined, not to eat take-out and frozen foods throughout my recovery.  No more pizza!  No more subs! No more sushi… okay, a little more sushi.

Not about to let my bad back bring me—or this blog—down, I’m planning to showcase a few super-easy, hardly-active dishes.  For those of us too sick, or hurting, or just too lazy out there, food doesn’t have to take much to taste good. This cauliflower saute proves that rule.  Cauliflower is the miracle vegetable for good reason, no? And this version’s creamy and very barely sweet.  Like hash without the trouble of corning your own beef a few days earlier— and don’t worry, I make up for the loss of fatty corned beef with a whole stick of butter.  Yes.  A stick.  Because quick food shouldn’t have to taste healthy, either.

Cauliflower, Carrots, and Cashews

serves 4

Three C’s makes the ingredients in this dish quite easy to remember.  Another trick to cooking when you can’t. (heh.)

  • 1 stick (8 tbsp) butter, divided
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 5 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, optional
  • 1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1/2 cup cashews

Add 4 tablespoons butter into a large pan over medium.  Once melted, add cauliflower and carrots.  Stir to coat evenly. Add tumeric and cover.  Go lie down and leave pan to cook 15 minutes.

Uncover pan, add white wine and raise temperature a bit.  Let wine cook off, then add rest of butter, salt, and cashews, stirring.  Cook until everything is tender to your liking.  Go back to the couch and serve coffee-tableside.

Naked tush on the beach… and mushrooms.

If you happened to be at Napeague Beach in East Hampton this weekend, you just may have seen my naked tush running full speed into the crashing ocean waves.  And if you were wondering what the hell is that naked tush doing running full speed into the crashing ocean waves, I’ve gotta tell you – it was one of those spur of the moment ideas that just seems so right—the water felt warm, I’d forgotten my bathing suit, the beach was empty save for a few walkers in the distance, and you only live once. I mean, everyone needs to run naked into the ocean in broad daylight once in their lives, right?

I couldn’t have imagined myself performing this act of public indecency a year or two ago—one of the wonderful things about getting older.  I’m no longer a teenager and I no longer care if the little-dots-that-are-people walking far in the distance on a practically deserted September beach would like me in my birthday suit.  I like me in my birthday suit—but that’s besides the point—and I like jumping in the ocean every chance I get.  And there’s no better chance than when the water in September is still warm and the sky has cleared up for a moment in your otherwise-rainy weekend in Hamptons.

Now, if you are wondering why in the hell this relates to food, well, it doesn’t.  Except that, alongwith my newfound mid-twenties attitude (ohmygodijustrealizedi’llbe25thisyear), I’ve grown to love lemon.  Maybe my tastebuds have a better attitude now too, but whatever it is, I can’t get enough of lemon.  Fresh lemon-juice and oily lemon rind.  There’s something so fresh, so don’t-worry-that-it’s-not-summer-I’m-around-all-year about the taste of lemon that just makes me smile.  A big, puckered smile.

Pair it with a good olive oil, young pecorino cheese, and shitake mushrooms and I don’t know if I’ll be able to control myself.  Seriously.  I might have to make a big bowl, strip down, and jump into this dish.  The lemon sparks up the mushroom’s earthy dankness while cutting through the silky olive oil and creamy cheese; parsley gives a good herbaciousness to it all.  You can (and should) make this dish ahead—making it the perfect dinner party dish, for when everyone comes in from their last romp at the beach.

Shitake Mushrooms with Young Pecorino

makes 6 servings//from Bon Appetit, October 08

  • 7 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 lemon, peel cut into long thin slivers (yellow part only)
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, cut into 1/2-inch-wide slices or left whole if smaller than 1 1/2 inches in diameter
  • garlic clove, peeled, flattened
  • 8 ounces young pecorino cheese (pecorino fresco) or Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves

Whisk 5 teaspoons lemon juice and mustard in small bowl. Gradually whisk in 6 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in lemon peel slivers. Season dressing to taste with coarse salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Toss mushrooms, remaining 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons oil in large bowl. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle mushrooms with coarse salt and pepper. Roast 15 minutes. Using spatula, turn mushrooms over and roast until soft and beginning to brown around edges, about 10 minutes longer.

Pour half of dressing over hot mushrooms on sheet. Add garlic and toss to coat. Let cool on sheet.

Combine mushrooms, cheese, parsley, and remaining dressing in medium bowl. Let marinate at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Discard garlic clove. Serve mushrooms and cheese with toothpicks, if desired.

Keepin’ it real.

Jim and I finished up the last bits of our coq au vin at 6 a.m. Friday morning.  The breakfast—coq au vin, a small scoop of mashed potatoes, and a fried egg on top—has been had all week; it’s a pick-me-up before I go off to work and fuel for Jim’s creativity (he’s working on some fabulous short stories).  I’m really going to miss it now that it’s gone—just possibly enough to make it all over again this weekend.

for the marinade

Thankfully, now that I’ve made “real” coq au vin, it’s no longer in my pile of “scary culinary dishes” that I’m afraid to try.  I don’t even understand, now that it’s done, why I ever thought coq au vin was scary.  It’s almost fibbing to say that it takes a few days to make since most of those days require no work whatsoever besides dipping into your marinade and moving things around a bit.  And the real work (on the day you cook the bird) is hardly hard work.  It’s definitely not brain surgery (or pastry making for that matter) and as long as you have a big pot and another pan handy, you’re up for the task.

chicken browned in bacon fat
chicken browned in bacon fat

It’s a bit time consuming—the chicken cooks for about 2 hours in the oven and you’ll spend a portion of that time prepping the bacon, onion, and mushroom “garnishes,” but it’s well worth it for that brown-food taste (any one out there Anne Burrell fans? Brrrooooown food!).

white buttons

If you can get your hands on a stewing hen, do so—for tradition’s sake.  But if you don’t have a local meat producer (you should search around if you aren’t sure) just use a good, organic bird (preferably one that’s a little older, with strong bones, if you are able to get it from a butcher or farmer).  The longer you marinate the bird in wine and vegetables, the more delicious it will taste—you could start marinating on Thursday for a Sunday feast—and what wine you use really matters.

pearl onions
pearl onions
pig n pearls
pig n' pearls

Wine matters in a coq au vin (you’re using a full bottle of it!)  I urge you to try a Burgundy or something with a big body from France but you could also do a Cabernet Sauvignon from California for a slightly different taste.  Try and buy in the $10-$20 range, and don’t go under $10 (ok, $8 if your budget is strapped).  It was somewhat sacrilegious to me to use a whole $20 bottle in a recipe, so I sneaked a glass.  I’m happy to report that it didn’t damage the coq au vin one lick.

coq au vin
coq au vin

I can’t really describe the coq au vin’s tastes to you, it’s too deliciously dreamy.  I’ll just say this: chicken, bacon, onions, mushrooms, slow-cooked buttery wine.

Put that together with olive oil mashed potatoes and you head just might explode.

le vrai coq au vin
le vrai coq au vin

Real Coq au Vin

serves 2 over the course of a few days (or 4-6)

from County Cooking of France by Anne Willan

Marinade

  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp. peppercorns
  • 1 bottle (750 mL) red wine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Chicken

  • One 5- to 6- pound stewing hen or large roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 oz piece of lean smoked bacon, cut into lardons
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth, more if needed
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large bouquet garni

Garnish

  • 2 tablespoons butter, more if needed
  • 16-18 baby pearl onions, about 8 oz, peeled
  • 8 oz mushrooms, trimmed and quartered if large
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley

For the marinade, combine the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, peppercorns, and wine in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Let the marinade cool completely.

Pack the chicken pieces in a deep, nonmetallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade over them.  Spoon the olive oil on top to keep the chicken moist.  Cover and leave pieces to marinate in the refrigerator for at least a day, turning them from time to time, and up to 3 days if you like a full-bodied wine flavor.

Take the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels.  Strain the marinade, reserving the liquid and the vegetables separately. Heat the oven to 325ºF.

To cook the chicken, heat the vegetable oil in a saute pan or flameproof casserole over medium heat.  Add the lardons and saute until browned and the fat runs, about 5 minutes.  Transfer them to a bowl using a draining spoon and set aside.  Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, to the pan and saute over medium heat until thoroughly browned, at least 10 minutes.  Turn them and brown the other side, 3 to 5 minutes longer.  Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.

Add the reserved marinade vegetables to the saute pan over medium heat and fry until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring, until it browns, 2 to 3 minutes.  Pour in the marinade liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens.  Simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in the broth, shallots, garlic, and bouquet garni.  Replace the chicken, pushing pieces down under the sauce.  Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook, turning the chicken occasionally, until the pieces are tender and fall easily from a two-pronged fork, 1 to 1 1/4 hours for a roasting chicken and at least 30 minutes longer for a stewing hen.  If some pieces are tender before the others, remove them and set aside while the rest continue to cook.

Meanwhile, cook the garnish.  Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and brown them, shaking the pan from time to time so they color evenly, 5 to 7 minutes.  Lower the heat, cover, and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally, until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more.  Lift them out with the draining spoon and add to the reserved lardons.  Put the mushrooms in the pan, with a little more butter if needed, and saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add them to the lardons and onions.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces and set them aside.  Wipe out the saute pan, add the garnish, and strain the sauce on top, discarding vegetables and seasonings.  Reheat the garnish and sauce on the stove top over medium heat.  If the sauce seems thick, add a little more broth, taste, and adjust the seasoning.  Add the chicken pieces, pushing them will down into the sauce, and heat gently for 3 to 5 minutes so the flavors blend.  Coq au vin improves if you keep it, well covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 day and up to 3 days so the flavors mellow.

To serve, reheat the chicken with the garnish and sauce on the stove top if necessary.  Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or individual plates, and spoon the garnish with a little sauce over them.  Sprinkle the chicken with the parsley and serve the remaining sauce separately.

Olive oil mashed potatoes.

I know it’s just beginning to be fall (and it still feels like the dog days of summer) but I’ve been cooking for winter…  but it’s not my fault!  I visited my favorite farm on Saturday and, when asking what they were up to, found out that they had just slaughtered their 3-year-old laying hens!  (Okay, I know it may seem funny to have happy exclamation marks and the word slaughtered in the same sentence, but when it comes to ethical meat eating, eating the meat from a hen who’s lived a long three years romping around an idyllic farm is the ultimate experience.)

At the sound of the word stewing hen, my face lit up, and the words coq au vin spewed out of my smile.  To seal the deal, the hens were sold to me for $5.00—I just can not pass up a bargain.  I picked up a bottle of Burgundy on the way home, and had my birds marinating within the hour. 36 hours later, heaven was chewed up and swallowed.

But you’ll have to wait for that (sorry!) because tonight all I have to offer you is olive oil mashed potatoes.  These potatoes, however, deserve much more respect than I am giving them by setting you up for coq au vin first and while they aren’t as delicious as the coq au vin (nothing could be), they are delicious.  These potatoes stood up for themselves on the plate—they didn’t let the chicken cast too big of a shadow over them, and their presence was much appreciated.

I’ve had coq au vin with mashed potatoes before—and had those potatoes get lost in the shadow.  For some reason, butter mashed potatoes, as good as they are, become, I dunno, passe when served with a wowzer like coq au vin.  Everyone’s had butter mashed potatoes, most people can recall their goodness instantly.  So when you are serving them with a doozey, it’s easy to eat (and enjoy) but to not really notice them.

Olive oil mashed potatoes are a different story.  They’ve got a little somethin’-somethin’.  Diners can’t take more than two bites without pausing to hmmm and wonder what makes these mashed potatoes special.  It’s worth every penny to use a great-tasting, salad-dressing quality olive oil here, as the flavor of it will shine.  If you really like the olive oil flavor, try making this potatoes without the whipping cream; I couldn’t give up the creamy mashed potato taste and added it in.  They go wonderfully with chicken but would also pair well with bluefish or salmon.

Now go get your hands on some stewing hens and check back with me in a few days for the coq au vin recipe.

Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

serves 4-6

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, halved (or quartered if large)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt, pepper

Place potatoes in a pot and add water enough to cover by half an inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until potatoes are tender when poked with a fork.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the potato water.

Place potatoes, olive oil, cream, and 1/2 cup of the potato water in a bowl and mash with a masher.  You can whip the potatoes with a hand mixer or in a kitchenaid to make them creamier.  Add more olive oil and cream to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Late-Summer Risotto

The past few evenings over here have been perfect for sitting out on the porch, the air is not quite chilly and the stars are out. I’ve begun to savor the warm wind, knowing that it’s not going to last much longer. Soon we’ll have that biting crisp air all around us.  Soon we’ll have to huddle under blankets and warm sweaters.  We’ll have to sip hot cider and eat warm, beefy meals.

On warm, late-Summer nights I think about these things that will be coming our way—I think about them with a touch of sadness but also with lots of excitement.  Fall is fun, it brings apples, squash, and Halloween.  It brings Thanksgiving and hot chocolate and pumpkin pie.  If it wasn’t for the loss of plump strawberries, juicy tomatoes, and verdant zucchini, I’d be all for Fall.

So, while I’m not going to mourn over the loss of Summer this Fall, I will savor every last moment of it.  Every meal I eat for the next few weeks will be packed with vegetables.  Zucchini.  Peppers.  Tomatoes.  Corn.  I’m hoping really, that just maybe I’ll eat so much that I’ll be sick of it all and welcome Fall with open arms.  But I wouldn’t bet on it.

August Risotto

serves 4-6

Pureed corn added to vegetable broth enhances the creaminess in this risotto – you won’t even miss the cheese!

  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 small or medium green peppers, diced
  • 4 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cobs, divided
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 vegetable bouillon cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup vermouth
  • about 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 1 pinch saffron, optional
  • dash of heavy cream, optional

Melt butter (or oil) in a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add onions and peppers and cook until translucent and almost browning, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring water and bouillon cubes to simmer in a medium saucepan.  Once hot, take about 1 cup of the broth and put it in a blender.  Add two ears worth of corn kernels into the blender and puree until smooth.  Add this mixture back to the simmering broth.

In the dutch oven, add rice and vermouth, stirring rice so that it gets coated in the liquid.  Let all the vermouth evaporate and then add in a ladle of the corn-broth, letting it soak into the rice.  Add the zucchini. Once the liquid gets soaked up by the rice add more liquid, stirring, and repeat this process until the rice is creamy and tender.  Before adding your last ladleful, add the tomatoes, remaining corn kernels, herbs, saffron, and heavy cream (if using.)  Stir a bit more and then serve.  After dinner, make sure that you go outside and take in the warm late-Summer air.

There’s good pasta, then there’s…

Great pasta. It’s something I don’t come across often; great pasta is hard to come by because, let’s face it, most pasta is delicious. There’s just something about a good noodle, some sauce, and a bunch of cheese that just can’t be bad (excluding, maybe, spaghetti-o’s.) Pasta is practically fool-proof, and so easy, that most of the time when I’m making it, it’s because I want something quick, satisfying, and ahem, sprinkled with parmigiano-reggiano. I hardly put any real effort into my pasta—and I’m always happy with the result.

But every once in a while, a pasta dish gets made with some extra time, thought, and love. The ingredients are paired with care, the cooking of everything is closely watched. Bacon is involved. The happy result of these pastas is greatness. You sit your friends down at the table, and they’re thinking cool, pasta. Can’t be bad. And then they eat… and they are like, totally wowed. Like, oh my gosh this is the best pasta ever and I can’t believe everything works so well and it doesn’t even need anything else and Robin you are the coolest girl in the world will you marry me?

Now that’s pasta greatness. It doesn’t come around often, nor should it, or you’d have the neighborhood banging down your doors. But great pasta should be made every once in a while and you’d be smart to make this one. It takes a bit longer than your everyday pasta dish but not much longer—it’s still an easy-enough recipe to be suitable for these late, lazy, Summer days.

The pine nuts are toasted to enhance their flavor, the sliced zucchini well-salted (and cheesed) before roasting, and, if you are too lazy (like me) to make your own pasta, the good stuff should be used—either fresh from your local market or fancy, dried pasta imported from Italy. Both options will be a dollar or two more than the cheap stuff but since this pasta doesn’t have a tomato sauce, it’s really worth it.

And please, don’t shy away from the bacon grease, it simple must to be added to the dish. Great pastas are rare luxuries and calories are not to be counted.

Great Pasta

serves 4

  • 4 small-medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1/2 cup parmigianno-reggianno, grated
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 6 slices good bacon, cut crosswise into three pieces
  • 1 pound good dried or fresh spaghetti pasta
  • another 1/3-1/2 cup parmigianno-reggianno
  • small bunch of basil, cut into a chiffonade
  • generous pinch of red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place zucchini slices on a big baking sheet (you may need to use two) and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and cheese. Drizzle olive oil over slices. Roast in oven for 20-30 minutes, or until tender and beginning to crisp up.

Meanwhile, start cooking your bacon in a pan over low heat. In a small skillet or saucepan, toast pine nuts over medium heat until fragrant. Fill a pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to directions.

Drain pasta and place back into the pot. When done, add in the bacon (with the grease!), pine nuts, and zucchini. Throw in the basil and red pepper flakes. Stir around so everything gets coated in that beautiful sheen that is bacon grease. Serve topped with extra cheese.

The star.

It’s mid-August—and I’m worrying about tomatoes. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten enough this Summer. Maybe it was that whole salmonella scare thing—I’ve eaten those little grape ones and have had a good slice on a burger or two but I just haven’t gotten into tomatoes this year. I know, that’s like, blasphemy. I felt thoroughly ashamed by Deb’s post—the woman freakin’ dries them. Others out there are making tomato tarts, salsa, preparing tomatoes sauces; I, on the other hand, made a bolognese last week… with canned tomatoes.

The problem is that I’m just not all that inspired by tomatoes in the Summer. Tomatoes, on most accounts, make me think of winter. Of thick sauces. Of chili. Of roasted tomato soup. Summer tomatoes, for me, are a sideshow—sliced on a sandwich, or thrown in with some buttery avocado for guacamole. I hardly ever come up with a dish that makes a tomato the star.

Not so for this one. Down the street from my new house, there’s a few crates in front of someone’s house, filled with peppers, peaches, melons, green beans, and, of course, tomatoes. The tomatoes at this humble market are not your ordinary variety—they are big uglies. Meaty, juicy, and ugly. I knew that they would need to be stars. So I grabbed two, placed two dollars in the plastic bag that accepts your money (I just love living in a town that is that trustworthy!) and thought of the Boucheron that I had in the fridge.

Boucheron-stuffed tomatoes were born. They are absolutely simple. Cut the top off your tomato and scoop out some flesh (but not too much, remember that the tomato is the star), then fill it with any herbs you have, some, garlic, and Boucheron (or any other semi-soft cheese you love.) Cook until bubbly. Then all you have to do is savor the summer’s star, tomato.

Boucheron-stuffed Tomatoes

serves 2

  • 2 large, heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of any herbs you have—I used basil, tarragon, thyme, and chives, chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/4-1/3 cup Boucheron, or any other semi-soft goat cheese, cream cheese, or blue

Preheat the oven to 400º. Cut the tops of your tomatoes. With a spoon, scoop out some seeds and flesh, but not much since the dish should remain mostly tomato. Set in an oiled baking dish.

In a small bowl, throw chopped in herbs and garlic and a bit of salt and pepper. Mash everything together with the back of your fork for a few seconds, then fill the bottoms of the tomatoes with this garlic mix. Put a few bits on the rim of your tomato for prettiness.

In another small bowl, mash the cheese to crumble it up. Then fill the tomatoes—you should mound it, don’t press the cheese in too hard or you’ll hurt your precious tomato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper again and bake for 10-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and tomato skins have begun to split.

Let cool for a few minutes before serving. This dish goes delightfully with some chicken risotto and a good white wine.