Birthday Lasagne

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Today is Loretta's eighth birthday.

Why does that sound so much older than seven? Looking through photos tonight, I'm struck again by what a happy baby and toddler she was and what a happy second grader she is now. Recently, I watched this amazing Ted Talk where Jennifer Senior (author of the parenting book All Joy and No Fun) gave a rousing rebuttal to this idea that parents are responsible for their children's happiness. She says that's too high a bar to set and pokes a little fun at all the ridiculous parenting books out there that serve as "monuments to our collective panic." If I relax, my experience is that parenting itself is the antidote to all the "shoulds" that dominate us. Loretta wants me to get on the floor and play with her and the dog. If I say yes, I get a lot more fun in my day. If I say no, I still get to watch her do it! And that's fun, too.

More than anything else--vacations, basketball games, priceless photo moments--we get to be in each other's orbit. We get to brush our teeth together (especially since our upstairs bathroom is being remodeled!), argue over whether or not she stole my hairbrush again, do chores on Saturdays, share our imperfect lives together. Parenting is about relationship, not about performance. And for me, it's a relationship that gets me to take myself a lot less seriously. 

Happy Birthday, Big Girl. 

P.S. She requested lasagne for dinner. I've pointed you to my standby recipe.

P.S.S. I wrote this a few weeks ago after bedtime.

Daughter Sleeping

Walking past her room
after bedtime,
covers are tangled,
her hair is fanned
across the pillow,
and she’s finally stopped
asking questions,
doing cartwheels.
In this quiet minute,
the pressure is off
to be a good parent,
be wise, present, or funny.
She’s here,
I’m here,
that is enough.

Grandma's Lasagne
This is the recipe I've been using for at least ten years. Ripped out of a Food and Wine magazine, and everything you want lasagne to be. I swear by the no-boil noodles and never buy the curly kind.

 recipe 

Back to School Baked Ziti

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I have been gone from here a long time. I've been hiking and swimming with my kids, making endless snacks, doing the barest minimum of work, and cooking only when I have to. (Not including roasting hatch chiles. When I see them piled up at the grocery store, I cancel all my plans.)

All of that is about to change, and I'm okay with that. Isn't it amazing how we pine for summer, and then we are so ready for it to end? 

To celebrate the last night of summer, I made something I knew the kids would scarf down. No chard or kale, no whole grains, no spicy chiles. Just soft tubular pasta, tomato sauce with sausage, and the most beautiful, bubbly cheesy top. 

After a dreamy summer, I am full of reflections about life, about parenthood, about how fast time goes. I've read some great books, re-established my meditation routine, slept in more than once, and fretted about my low client load, the inequality in this rich country, and how I ignore dirty laundry. What I've come to (no surprise--it's always the same) is that all I can do is love well every day--love my family, my dog, my neighbors, people that drive me *&$ing nuts, strangers, clients, and the people I have yet to meet. We are not on this earth long enough to do otherwise. We've got this one, slippery, fleeting chance.

Back to this casserole. America's Test Kitchen contacted me and asked if I'd cook a recipe out of their new cookbook The Make Ahead Cook. I ignore most promotional offers in my inbox unless I really believe in them. I listen to the ATK podcast every week (Christopher Kimball. Love.) and am a fan of anything that helps home cooks get in the kitchen and start cooking with confidence. I always joke that I'm a "measure-once-cut-twice" type of gal, and that's why I need people who are otherwise. ATK is a "measure-a-million-times-cut-once" kind of outfit. When you follow one of their recipes, you can be sure it will turn out perfectly and you'll feel like a million bucks. 

What I like about these recipes is that they are tested with the premise that they will be sitting in the fridge before they are eaten or cooked. This pasta, for instance, is cooked just 5 minutes before you drain it and assemble the casserole. I would have cooked it much longer (and got mushier results) without these meticulous test kitchen folks. And the best part? We were gone all day and just had to pop this in the oven when we got home.

Happy Fall, friends. May you be blessed in all your comings and goings.

Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage

1 lb. ziti or other short, tubular pasta
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4" pieces
2 Tb. chopped fresh basil
8 oz. (1 cup) whole milk or part-skim ricotta cheese

To finish and serve:
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
2 Tb. chopped fresh basil

To prep:
1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add pasta and 1 Tb. of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1 1/2 c. cooking water, then drain pasta. Rinse pasta with cold water and drain again, leaving pasta slightly wet in colander.
2. Dry now-empty pot, add 1 Tb. oil, and return to medim-high heat until shimmering. Add sausage and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, bring to simmer, and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, 30-45 minutes.
3. Stir reserved cooking water, pasta, mozzarella, and basil into cooled sauce; transfer to 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Combine ricotta, remaining 3 Tb. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in bowl; cover.

To store:
4. Wrap dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate zit and ricotta separately for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

To finish and serve:
5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Unwrap dish and cover tightly with greased aluminum foil. Bake casserole until beginning to bubble around edges, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and dollop rounded tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over top. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan and bake, uncovered, until casserole is hot throughout and cheese is melted and begins to brown, 15-20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and serve.  

Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

turkey meatballs
If you've been around me at all in the last three weeks, you know I'm engaged in a purge-a-thon around my house. If I don't absolutely love it or it's not essential and useful, it's being unloaded at Goodwill. This has meant (gasp!) several cookbooks, too. Usually ones that had nostalgic value, but hadn't been cracked open in years.

Jordan and I were wandering through the bookstore while she was home from NYC, and I had just finished pronouncing I was done with books. If I can't get it at the library or on my Kindle, forget it. Sarah the Minimalist is moving in. Then we came to the cookbook table, and Nigella Kitchen was 50% off. Beautiful, hardbound, full of her witticisms, great photos, and practical recipes. I looked at Jordan and said, "Forget everything I just said."

This recipe is an example of her accessibility. Granted, I don't need a recipe for tomato sauce or meatballs, but sometimes the discipline of following one gets me out of my ruts and habits. For instance, I'd never put pureed celery in a sauce. But the way she does it here give the sauce a brightness and sprightliness that I love.

Mixed with a pound of whole wheat spaghetti, topped with snowy shavings of parmesan, this made enough for two family dinners and a few lunches, besides. Definitely enough to justify the space the cookbook takes up. Right?

Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
I've changed the recipe significantly in that I bake the meatballs instead of dropping them into the sauce (as called for) or frying them, as many recipes suggest. I've never been happy with either method. Frying takes forever, as you need to do it in batches to avoid crowding. And dropping them in is supposed to produce the most tender meatballs, but the last time I did that, Mush Central. So I'm all about this new method. Perfect! Easy! Tender!


For sauce:
1 peeled onion
1 celery stalk
2 Tb. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 c. water
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
pepper, to taste

For meatballs:
1 lb. ground turkey
1 egg
3 Tb. breadcrumbs
3 Tb. grated Parmesan
2 Tb. finely chopped onion and celery (from tomato sauce ingredients)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. dried thyme

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the onion and celery in a food processor and blitz to a mush. Remove 2 Tb. for the meatball mixture.

Warm the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven and add the onion/celery mixture, garlic, and dried thyme. Cook on moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and water.  Season with sugar, salt and pepper, stir and let it come to a bubble, then turn the heat down to simmer gently while you make the meatballs.

Put all the ingredients for the meatballs, including the reserved onion and clergy mixture, into a large bowl and mix together gently. Don't overmix, or the meatballs will be heavy and dense.

Form the meatball mixture into heaped teaspoon-sized balls and put them onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Put into the preheated oven and cook while sauce simmers--about 25 minutes.

When meatballs are cooked through, drop them into the sauce, let it simmer for a couple more minutes, and serve over whole wheat spaghetti with shaved parmesan.

Cumin Fried Rice with Chorizo and Kale

 

cumin fried rice

Remember when I went on and on about my wok? With romantic metaphors, even? I suppose we are past infatuation and into the settled domestic partners stage. The patina is developing as planned, and I can now fry rice, noodles, or meat without any fear of sticking. I've often thought what a wonderful gift it would be to season a wok for someone else. But I don't want to give up cooking with mine.

I haven't posted a ton of wok recipes because most the things I make in it are so completely and utterly everyday. I'm not sure there's a lot of interest in a fried-rice-a-day calendar. I've sizzled a few delicious numbers, but it's too damn dark at night for decent photos. So you'll have to trust me on this wok thing.

Except for today's version of fried rice, which is a typical example of what I've been up to. This weekday lunch was made possible by:


  1. The fact that I am self-employed.
  2. My addiction to cleaning out the fridge.
  3. The hard work I put into cleaning and prepping vegetables (a ritual part of every weekend around here).
  4. My habit of cooking up some kind of whole grain (brown rice, in this case) and having it in the fridge all week.
  5. PCC's stocking of chorizo in the deli. Real stuff. I couldn't get it in my neighborhood before. Dangerous.
  6. My ongoing commitment to use my wok almost daily. This is a very serious relationship.

Have I mentioned I'm on another health kick? Choosing whole grains over stripped ones, working to get all my servings of fruits and vegetables in, watching my portion sizes, cutting down on sugar and fats. I'm thankful for this body that has such grace for me and responds so energetically when I take care of it. In this season of overeating and constant indulgence, this is my little rebellion.

Cumin Fried Rice with Chorizo and Kale
Serves as a light lunch for two. The important thing with fried rice is that your rice is cold--it's been in the fridge for at least a few hours. For this reason, I always make more than I need and refrigerate the rest. And using brown rice here is no sacrifice--I think it makes a much more delicious version. If you don't have a well-seasoned wok, a large nonstick skillet will work. And you can certainly use other veggies here--peppers, green onions, carrots. The important thing is that they are cut to uniform size.


1 Tb. olive oil
1 Tb. cumin seeds
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 large clove garlic, minced
2" length of cured chorizo, finely diced
1 small zucchini or 1/2 medium zucchini, finely diced
2 c. shredded green cabbage
2 . chopped kale
kosher salt
1 1/2 c. cold brown basmati rice
squeeze of lemon
handful of crumbled feta

Heat your wok on high until a drop of water flicked into it disappears instantly. Add oil, swirl to coat, and add cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, and garlic. Stirfry with a metal spatula for 10 seconds, stirring constantly.

Add chorizo, zucchini, cabbage, and kale, and stirfry to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add salt and rice and cook for 2-3 more minutes until rice is warmed through and vegetables are getting crispy in places. Dump into two bowls, squeeze some lemon over, and top with a bit of crumbled feta.

Farfalle with Kale, Bacon, and Mint

farfalle with kale
Yesterday, home alone for lunch, a few quiet minutes between meetings. How I love weekday lunches at home. Luxury. Especially when wilted kale, salty bacon, and mint are involved. And especially when the work of making it came the night before. One of my absolute favorite things is refried pasta. Have you ever noticed that microwaved leftover pasta is rather unsatisfying? If there's any cream or cheese, it turns to oil. If anything was once crispy, it becomes soggy. So I prefer to heat up the wok or nonstick skillet (pasta will stick to anything else), pour in a bit of olive oil, and crisp everything up.

Then Yancey came home, Loretta in tow, lots of chatter about painting in preschool and who cried for their mom. Yancey heated up the wok again, sat down across from me, and our kitchen saw another day in its life of home office, bistro, and incident command center.

P.S. I have a secret. In the last month, we have been eating mostly rice and beans. When I sit down to menu-plan on Sundays, absolutely nothing comes to mind. I can't seem to remember one single thing I've ever cooked. I have no creativity and scant motivation, so I fill up a bowl and soak more beans. My friend Aimee, whose family came over for Night # 4 of tostadas, said, "Why don't you write about this on your blog?" So I am. You are not alone.

Farfalle with Kale, Bacon, and Mint
I've got kale coming out my ears in my garden. Everything else is rotting, but that little row of kale could feed an army. And I've got tons of herbs still, which is where the mint came from. You can, of course, leave the mint out, sub spinach or chard for the kale, use another kind of pasta, leave the meat out or sub chorizo or other sausage. As always, this is more a record of what I did than a prescription for what you should do. This will serve four hungry adults.


1 lb. farfalle or other pasta
2 bunches kale, washed, ribbed, and coarsely chopped
couple big glugs of olive oil
1 bunch broccolini, stems halved lengthwise and cut into 1" lengths and florets broken up
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz. (or more!) thick-sliced bacon, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. good quality sundried tomatoes, julienned
1 c. finely shredded parmesan
finely grated zest and juice of one small lemon
2 red Thai chiles, seeded and finely chopped
handful chopped fresh mint
handful chopped fresh oregano

Set a big pot of salted water on to boil.

In a small bowl, mix 1/4 c. of the parmesan, lemon zest, chopped chiles, and chopped herbs. Set aside.

In a large skillet, crisp up bacon. Remove bacon from pan, reserving most of the bacon fat, and turn down to low.  Add broccolini stems and cook for 5 minutes. Add florets,garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring often, and saute until broccolini is tender, not mushy. Add sundried tomatoes.

Pour pasta into boiling water and cook until tender. At the last minute, throw kale in there, using a spoon to submerge it in the boiling water. Drain pasta and kale, reserving 1/2 c. of cooking water.

To the pasta and kale, add bacon, broccoli mixture, cooking water, parmesan and olive oil.  Stir and divide among pasta bowls, topping each with the herb mixture.


Roasted Vegetable Lasagne

roasted vegetable lasagne
By now, you've all made your Roasted Tomato Sauce, right? Good. Get that gooey jar out.

Before the recipe, I want to say that I'm ending this week with a lot of gratitude. A couple days ago, I was extremely anxious about work--the kind of anxiety that causes one to forget about lunch (unheard of around here!), tense up everywhere, and take an inventory of everything I don't know and can't do. I am much better now, thanks to some stern self-talk, coaching from my mentor, and a bouquet of flowers from my husband. I've had lots of learning this week, but here's a big one: Asking for help is a good idea. Vulnerability, though we hate it, turns out to be the only real path to success and connection sometimes.

And a little lasagne never hurt, either. I love the meat-laden 9x13 as much as the next person. But if you want something different and less artery-clogging, this is it. This was a true leftoverist meal--sauce from a couple days ago, mushrooms and squash from the produce stand, a fennel bulb knocking around underneath the wrinkling peppers in the crisper. On my way home from the library, trying to remember what was in my fridge, I stopped at the store for lasagne noodles and créme fraiche. Everything else was here. Something else to be grateful for--this crazy, stuffed fridge of mine, doling out plenty in a time of want.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagne
I'm a big fan of the no-boil lasagne noodles. They're EASY, and so much more tender than the curly, tough kind. You can cut right through these with a fork. The key is to make sure they're totally covered in sauce (doesn't have to be a thick layer, but make sure there are no dry noodles hanging around) and to loosely tent your casserole with foil while baking--a little steam helps the noodles soften up, too. And this exact combo of veggies isn't necessary. I wouldn't sub out the mushrooms, as they bring a needed meatiness and texture. But you could do more mushrooms and less squash, leave out the fennel, sub eggplant for squash. The layers in this version might be a bit more scant than other lasagnes you've made--I think that makes it better.


4 cups roasted tomato sauce (or fresh tomato sauce or marinara)
1 pkg.(9 oz.) no-boil lasagne noodles
1.5 lb crimini or portobello mushrooms, coarsely chopped (i.e. halved if crimini are medium-size)
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise then sliced into 1/2" half-moons
8 whole garlic cloves
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
coarse salt
pepper
red pepper flakes
1/4 c. olive oil
3/4 c. créme fraiche or sour cream
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 lb. whole milk mozarella, grated
1 c. grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 425.

Toss mushrooms, zucchini, fennel, and garlic cloves with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Toss with your hands till everything is evenly coated. Spread on a baking sheet and bake until mixture is softening and charred in places, about 35 minutes. You don't want it so everything is non-distinct. Remove from oven and let cool and turn the oven down to 375.

Mix grated mozarella and parmesan in a small bowl and set aside.

In another small bowl, combine creme fraiche with lemon juice and set aside.

To assemble lasagne, pour 1 c. of the sauce into the bottom of a 9x13. Lay 4 of the lasagne sheets horizontally on the bottom, just slightly overlapping one another. Then layer 1/3 of roasted veggies, 1 c. of cheese mixture, drizzle of creme fraiche mixture, and one more cup of sauce. Repeat this twice more, using up all of the veggies and creme fraiche, but saving about 1 c. sauce and some cheese. Over the last (fourth) layer, put one more layer of lasagne noodles, the remaining sauce, and the remaining cheese over that.

Loosely tent with foil and bake until noodles are soft and the whole thing is bubbly, about 45-50 minutes. Take the foil off for the last 10 minutes. Let rest at least 10 minutes before cutting it.

Green Spaghetti with Greens

green on green

No, I didn't grow the basil for this pesto. In Seattle?! At this rate, my basil won't be up until Halloween. I cannot believe the absolute lack of sunlight we've been experiencing. But Trader Joe's basil will do nicely. (If you're soaking up the sun in some other clime, I sort of don't want to hear about it).

The greens, however, did come from my garden. A huge pile of tender arugula, spinach, and baby kale, chopped up and thrown into the hot pasta till it's just wilted. It might have been a more accurate description to say "Greens with noodles." I've wondered about iron deficiency lately because of all the fatigue I've been experiencing. My Mom said, "There's no way you could be anemic. You eat too many greens." Case in point.

This has nothing to do with green noodles, but I can't write tonight without saying what a fabulous birthday celebration Bethany and I had yesterday. We (belatedly) celebrated our June birthdays with a ritual day at Olympus Spa (aka"Korean Spa"). Usually, we're extremely lucky to get 10 minutes on the phone before one of us has to break up a fight or ration snacks. Oh, the conversations that can happen in eight whole hours! And the bi bim bap and pajeon to be had at Lynnwood Korean restaurants! In all the moments of uncertainty or frustration that are certain to come down the pike between now and my next birthday, I'll pull these hours out. I'll draw strength from them and remember that, in the end, loving and being loved is all there is. (Okay--eating's somewhere in there, too). xoxo, Bethany.

Green Spaghetti with Greens
Serves four. Making your own pesto couldn't be easier if you have a food processor. But you could certainly used purchased pesto here. If you do, add a clove of minced garlic and a little extra salt, as I find it to be lacking the punch that homemade pesto has.

1 lb. spaghetti (reserve 1/2 c. of the cooking water)
1/2 c. homemade pesto or purchased pesto (and maybe  more to taste)
1/2 c. heavy cream
salt
pepper
1 c. halved cherry or grape tomatoes
Big bowlful of coarsely chopped washed and dried greens--at least 6 cups. I used arugula, spinach, and baby kale.
1/2 c. crumbled feta or shaved pecorino or parmesan for garnish

Boil spaghetti in lots of salted water. Reserve a little cooking water before draining it.

Dump drained pasta back into the pot, then add pesto and cream over low heat. Use a wooden spoon and tongs to gently incorporate all the cream and pesto into the pasta. You want every noodle covered. Add salt and pepper, and taste to see if you want to add a little more pesto. Add a little of the cooking water to loosen a bit if needed.

Gently fold in greens and tomatoes, stirring until the greens are wilted. Turn off heat.

Mound into pasta bowls, and top with crumbled feta and maybe a drizzle of olive oil.

We are Dating...

wok

...and will be married soon. My wok and I, that is. I have a new love in my life, and we're diligently working on our relationship. Grace Young introduced us. It wasn't love at first sight. A $28 pan at Uwajiymaya, looking pretty flimsy and not capable of much, actually. Could I count on him to bring home the bacon? Would he be reliable, kind, and patient? Would he disappoint me like other dysfunctional woks in the past?

I realize now that I wasn't willing to face my own issues with previous woks. I didn't really believe all the stuff about cheap carbon steel woks being brought to life with proper care and seasoning. I didn't really believe the recipes that instructed me to turn the heat up to hellish temperatures and high flames. I was too timid, too slow, too Western. And I wanted something for nothing--a perfect stir-fry without all the research and failures. I wanted the art without learning the art form.

It's overwhelming to really let anyone in on our intimacy at this point. I'm the wrong person to give thorough tutorials, and don't know enough yet to counsel anyone else. When I wash and dry my wok at night (no soap!), I inspect him anew each time, watching closely for signs of the patina that will keep our vows strong. The darker and more variegated he gets, the more content I am, imagining all the things we'll create together, how we'll be partners through thick and thin.

Like other infatuations, my wok and I have been spending time together every day. None of those stories have ended up here yet, but they'll come out over time. For now, here's what I can pass on:

  • What you need is a 14" carbon steel wok, available for around $30 at lots of places. Mine is Joyce Chen.
  • Meticulously follow the directions for seasoning that come with the pan. Seasoning beats and blackens the pan, creating a natural nonstick surface over time.
  • My wok Bible is Grace Young's Breath of a Wok. I've been studying it diligently for weeks. Gorgeous photos, detailed explanations for wok dummies like me.
  • High heat is paramount. Don't be afraid. High heat cooks all the ingredients quickly so they're seared on the outside but retain their moisture.
  • Don't overcrowd your wok or everything will steam.
  • Except for meat (which you should brown undisturbed for a minute before flipping it), keep everything else moving, letting the ingredients take their turn on the bottom, the hottest part of the wok.
  • Buy a metal shovel-shaped spatula at an Asian market for a few dollars.
  • Cut your ingredients to uniform size and have them all totally ready before you turn on the heat.
  • Heat up your wok before pouring the oil in. If your ingredients don't hiss the second they hit the pan, your wok's not hot enough.
  • Saveur just ran a great article on wok cooking. Read it here.
  • Wok cooking really is an art form, and I plan on perfecting it. I haven't been this obsessed with something for awhile. I hope you'll join me.

Everyday Noodles
I'm getting closer to the day when I'm not using recipes for stir fries. I'm not there yet, though--not because of the ingredients, but the precise ORDER in which things should be added. This recipe is adapted from Saveur. My kids wolfed it down with unbelievable gusto.

3 tbsp. canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1  1" piece ginger, minced
2 medium carrots, julienned
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 c. small broccoli florets
6 scallions, finely chopped
2 Tb. soy sauce
2 Tb. oyster sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
8oz. dried Chinese egg noodles, boiled according to package directions, rinsed under cold water, and vigorously shaken dry
1 tbsp. Asian sesame oil
Salt

Stir soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar together in a small bowl and set aside.

 

Heat a 14" wok over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add 1 tbsp. oil around edge of wok; swirl to coat bottom and sides. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 seconds. Add remaining oil, carrots, and onions and cook until softened, about 2 minutes . Add broccoli and stir fry for 2 more minutes. Add soy sauce mixture. Cook, stirring, until hot, about 30 seconds.

Add scallions, noodles, and sesame oil; cook, tossing, until hot, about 1 minute. Season with salt.

Cauliflower Fried Rice with Sharp Cheddar

cauliflower fried rice

One of my favorite things is a weekday lunch at home.  I make the kids whatever they're clamoring for ("Top Ramen! Top Ramen!"), then scrounge in the fridge.  If there's leftover soup or pasta, it's a no-brainer.  Seems we don't have many leftovers these days, though, since Yancey takes 3 meals plus snacks to the station when he's on shift.  If you're a veteran firefighter, you can fire up the rig and convince everyone to go find a sushi bar.  If you're a rookie, though, you'd better pack your lunch.

Today, I found some cold rice and cauliflower florets.  Not too inspiring, unless you happen to be me.  This little number was just what I needed on a rainy day, and it was done in a flash.  It's an example of the sort of thing that happens all the time in this kitchen but doesn't make it to the blog.

P.S. Can't really think about anything today except the devastation in Haiti.  May strength, courage, hope, and miracles be visited on every victim and on every aid worker helping and bearing witness.

Cauliflower Fried Rice: Heat a glug of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet.  Mince a clove of garlic into the hot oil, swirl a bit, then add a big handful of small cauliflower florets.  Let them get crispy.  Meanwhile, fry an egg in another small skillet--I like mine over-easy.  When the cauliflower is browned in spots and getting a little soft, add a big handful of cold, cooked rice; 1/4 c. of chopped parsley or cilantro; and one sliced green onion; salt and pepper; and something spicy--aleppo pepper or ancho chile powder or the like.  Pour a bit more olive oil and let the whole thing get hot and crispy.  Dump it into a bowl, slide the fried egg in, and top with a shower of grated sharp white cheddar.  Ah.

Puttanesca

puttanesca

It's here, isn't it?  Christmastime, I mean.  I'm not one of those people that gripes, "It just gets earlier every year!"  I know the premature lights are usually erected to get us buying more, but I've decided not to care. Until today, it's been abysmally dark and wet, so putting up more lights makes a lot of practical sense.  It's either that or we all succumb to Seasonal Affective Disorder.  That's a real problem in the Northwest--means we have to stick together, check on one another, and keep the lights in the kitchen on.

Phyllis, my mother-in-law, called last night to make sure we were okay.  She had been watching news of the manhunt on T.V. Turns out, the guy that killed four cops was caught in my neighborhood early this morning. There is an absolute firestorm of rage, anger, and fear going on the Seattle area right now, and a lot of folks asking, "What's wrong with this world?"  This violence is real, the pain of these officers' families is real.  But I still think part of the problem is that we aren't telling the stories of peace and reconciliation that are out there, the stories of healing and recovery.  I have no interest in pretending bad things don't happen.  They do--we all carry the pain of them around all the time.  But it's also true that stories of peace don't sell well. Even these last couple days, I've checked the news far more obsessively than if a peace accord was about to signed or a treaty to slow global warming might be reached.  Maybe it's that recovery is usually so slow and violence so quick.  We don't have the attention span to wait around for the good stuff.  Where do you get your good news?  Any favorite magazines or websites?  Seems like we should share those with one another in this season of lights.

And we should share this with one another--this tangy tangle of noodles, olives, anchovies, tomatoes.  (Notice again my warped ability to link anything to food.  You'll forgive me, I hope.) When the days start getting shorter, I have an unstoppable impulse to make puttanesca.  Every ingredient is something that's almost always in my pantry.  So I don't have to go to the store or put this on a menu plan--it's always there, like the most attentive and reliable friend.  The kids, of course, pick out the olives and capers, but there's plenty in the tomato-infused olive oil for them to slurp.

I've had versions that are basically marinara sauce with some olives thrown in.  Not so this version--or, if I'm snotty about it--the real kind.  Real puttanesca should be an olive oil-based sauce.  More olive oil than tomatoes. Clearly, not for the diet-conscious.  But, #!*!. So deliciously, crazily comforting.

I don't know what's wrong with the world, either.  I have theories and guesses, but lately, none of them help much.  I do know that there are millions and millions of things RIGHT with the world, though, and I hope you can catch a glimpse of them while you're standing in line at Home Depot, arms full of Christmas tree lights.

Pasta Puttanesca
If you're a vegetarian or an anchovy-avoider, you can certainly leave them out.  I love the depth and richness they add, though.  And I only use spaghetti when I make puttanesca.  Other pasta shapes just don't hold the oily bits as well.

1 medium onion, finely diced
4 or 5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. capers, drained
1 1/2  c. pitted Kalamata olives, some coarsely chopped and some left whole
4 or 5 flat, olive oil-paced anchovy fillets, finely chopped
3/4 c. best quality olive oil
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tb. tomato paste
salt and freshly ground pepper
red pepper flakes
1 lb. spaghetti
grated parmesan and finely chopped parsley for garnish

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 c. of the olive oil.  Add onion and garlic and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add capers, olives, and anchovies and the rest of the olive oil, and saute another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add diced tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste, and red pepper flakes, and simmer until flavors are melded and sauce has begun to darken, about 25 minutes.  You might even want to add a little more olive oil before serving (yikes!).

Cook spaghetti in a large, salted pot of water until al dente.  Drain, return to stockpot, and add all of the sauce, mixing well. Immediately serve in pasta bowls, garnishing with lots of freshly grated parmesan and finely chopped parsley.

Fried Greens and Rice with Ginger

fried greens and rice with ginger

I had planned on taking Milo and Loretta to the play gym yesterday morning, but the community center has moved the playtime to 1:00.  What toddlers are awake at 1:00?  Budget cuts, probably.  So we're in the car, in the middle of a torrential downpour (Did I sing the praises of fall recently?  I take it back.), and I'm not about to go back to the messy house. Grocery shopping to the rescue again.  We drove to the Safeway that has truck grocery carts with little steering wheels--you know, the kind that are impossible to steer and make you feel like a drunk driver.  The two of them sitting side-by-side lasted about five minutes, but I tried. We left a trail of goldfish around the store, and a few shoppers even thought we were cute.  Those smiles matter a lot to me, actually, because they make up for the leers I've gotten from bumping into other shoppers with my cumbersome cart.

I could dedicate several posts to how much I dislike Safeway, but sometimes torrential downpours and fighting toddlers prevent me from going to the produce stand and other favorite places.  Things I never buy at Safeway:  spices, olive oil, coffee, salsa. Things I rarely buy:  fruit and vegetables.  Good deals at Safeway:  flour, sugar, eggs, milk. Don't get me started on grocery store comparison.  Okay.  I'll say one thing--Ballard Market is my favorite.  We lived near there when we were first married, and I'm still hopelessly attached.  Every once in awhile, I'll drive up and shop there for a treat.  Some women go the spa, I go in search of a good bulk foods department.

But I found a gorgeous head of Savoy cabbage at Safeway yesterday--bright green outer leaves, tight and curly, lying there in the bin just waiting for Georgia O'Keefe to paint it.  And some fresh brussel sprouts.  Good ones are bright green, tightly closed, and have shiny skins.  When we got home, I sliced the Savoy into thin ribbons and made little wedges of the brussels, fried them over high heat with lots of julienned ginger, Thai chile, and garlic.  I threw in a little bit of cooked rice at the end, doused everything in soy sauce, and ate Fall in a Bowl while the kids stopped fighting long enough to eat their bagel and cream cheese.

I didn't call this "fried rice" because it's really more a bunch of greens with a little rice to bind it together.  Like chopped salad or soup, this is a great way to get heaps of vegetables in one serving, and you'll have energy aplenty to get you to dinnertime. After you've braved Safeway with toddlers, you'll need it.

Fried Greens and Rice with Ginger
Serves two.  If you want to make more, do it in batches.  I've talked here about why--you want crusty bits and not a mushy pile. Lately I've been using my big nonstick skillet for fried rice instead of my wok, because I'm still having trouble with starchy things sticking to my cast-iron wok.  I'm either doing something wrong, it needs to be seasoned more (!!), or it's just not the best medium for fried rice.  Stay tuned--I know you're on the edge of your seat.

1 Tb. vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2" piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 Thai or other spicy chile, seeded and cut into strips
4 c. thinly sliced savoy cabbage (or other cabbage or leafy green--collards, kale)
1 c. brussel sprouts, cut into about 6 wedges each
1 c. broccoli florets
3/4 c. cold cooked rice (or other grail, like quinoa, barley, etc.)
2 Tb. soy sauce
handful of fresh cilantro, washed and chopped
2 egg, fried over-easy or sunny-side-up

Heat a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat.  Add vegetable oil, heat up for a second, then add garlic, ginger, and chiles.  Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add cabbage, brussel sprouts, and broccoli, and saute over medium high heat until cabbage starts to wilt and the brussel sprouts are becoming blackened in spots, about 3 minutes.  You can add a little more oil if things seem too dry.

Add rice and soy sauce, stirring to break up rice and coat everything with soy sauce.  Dump into bowls, put a hot fried egg on top, and garnish with cilantro.

Gnocchi with Roasted Tomato Sauce and Lemon Zest

gnocchi with roasted tomato sauce

It seems like just yesterday that I was fawning over my tomato starts, compulsively checking their growth and the moisture level in the soil.

Then summer happened--kids on the deck "helping" my plants along, vacations when all my plants went unforgivably long without water, the reality of my distracted self.  Still, in spite of neglect, I've got tomatoes out there, hanging on to bedraggled stems, bright, splitting orbs in the middle of brown leaves.

out of the oven

Here's what to do with those.  You'll have to leave your oven on for awhile, but the concentrated tomato flavor is worth it. With the Seattle rain starting in earnest, you won't mind anyway.  The longer you cook it, the thicker it will be--thick enough to put on toast with goat cheese or brie.  If it's a bit thinner, what a beautiful sauce it makes.  Or tangy bath for fried bread.  It will be quite seedy, especially if you've got cherry tomatoes.  Tomato seeds don't bother me one bit, though.  Maybe I should put on my recipe-naming hat and call this "Rustic Roasted Tomato Sauce."  I don't want to go down the rustic road, though, because almost everything I make should contain that modifier if I'm being honest.

My friend Sue is a brilliant gardener, and when I saw her artfully trellised tomatoes a couple weeks ago, I started planning for next year. I've got a lot to learn.  This is Year Four of my vegetable garden. I've gotten a little better, but more than that, I've gotten better at just accepting what it is.  A crazy, unkept, terrifically imperfect little plot that reminds me where food really comes from and blesses me with harvest though I feel I don't deserve it.

with brie on toast

Roasted Tomato Sauce
Makes about 4 cups.  I cooked mine for around two hours.  You can leave it in longer if you want to cook more liquid out of it.  Also, though I don't mind seeds, a bunch of tomato skins in your sauce is probably more rustic than you want.  I just pick through with my fingers after it's cooked and cooled, pulling out the skins. Many of them have come off naturally and rolled up into little cylinders.  For ones that are still stuck to tomatoes, they will pull off really easily.  OR you can plop all your fresh tomatoes in boiling water for one minute before roasting them.  This will loosen the skins and you can peel them before putting them in the oven.

3 lbs. tomatoes (any kind--I used a mixture of cherry, beefsteak, and roma), skins removed before cooking or after (see above)
handful fresh thyme, oregano, rosemary, or mixture
3 large garlic cloves, minced
lots of kosher salt
1 Tb. sugar
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

Combine everything in a 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350 for 1 1/2 to 3 hours.

parmesan and lemon zest

Gnocchi with Roasted Tomato Sauce and Lemon Zest
Serves 4.  Here's how we ate our sauce last night.  !!!!!  It went down way too easy.  You don't smother the gnocchi in sauce-just enough to coat all of it lightly.

1 lb. gnocchi (I bought the frozen kind from DeLaurenti.  So tender.)
2 c. roasted tomato sauce, warmed
1/2 c. finely grated parmesan
zest of one large lemon
2 Tb. fresh thyme or lemon thyme, leaves stripped off stem
1 T. fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 ts. aleppo pepper
kosher salt

Combine parmesan, lemon zest, fresh herbs, aleppo, and salt in small bowl.

Cook gnocchi according to directions--mine took 3 minutes.  Drain, then toss with warm tomato sauce.

Divide into bowl, top with a generous sprinkle of parmesan mixture.

Roasted Veggie Mac 'n Cheese

Airstream at Sun Lakes

Wow!  Back from Sun Lakes, flip open the computer, find 31 comments!  All about my little trip to Portland. You'd think I'd gone to Rome or something.  Not Rome--just existential tangents about everyday minutiae and yes--more leftovers.  Rome is overrated anyway (so is Hawaii and Turkey and Prague and Tokyo and all those other places I'll write about someday).

Anyway, thanks for being so curious about my small life and hardworking kitchen.  I suppose that's what makes my (or anyone's) world bigger--getting to share it.

One little story and a recipe from our trip to Sun Lakes in Central Washington, where we spent the last five days with Yancey's mom and stepdad (aka Grammy and Poppy Dick). And let's be honest here--I'd make a pretty miserable travel writer.  I always fail to give you the real details--how one would make reservations, what the average temperature is--and am so busy using up all my leftovers that even the restaurants get short shrift.

Wyatt at Sun Lakes

One afternoon, while Yancey and Wyatt were swimming in the lake, Loretta woke up from her nap and wanted a snack.  I usually like it when my kids ask for snacks because it feels like something so tangible and immediate I can give them.  And I do it well (unlike many, many other parenting duties.  Sigh.).  This particular snack was a sliced peach, which seemed just about perfect to me.  The ensuing (conversation?) went thus:

Loretta:  I don't want peach.

Me:  Why?  This peach is so delicious.  You love peaches.

Loretta:  I don't want peach.  I want yogurt.

Me:  Mommy will put some yogurt on your peach.  [Open fridge, scrounge, put yogurt on peach, sigh heavily]

Loretta:  I want honey on it.  New honey.  [That little devil had somehow noticed that I had put a bottle of "new"honey in the cupboard of our cabin]

Me:  [Get honey down from cupboard, squeeze an ungodly amount on peach and yogurt, sigh again, think "I am spoiling this child to death.  Who's in charge here, anyway?"]  There.  You happy now?

Loretta:  [Silence.  Slurping.  Chewing.]

Loretta:  Mommy, you know what?  I love you.

So what's the moral of this story?  Mostly that I'm glad I let her order me me around in exchange for a couple minutes of sweetness. Her sitting on my lap, eating  peach and yogurt, declaring her love for me in the way only a sleepy, bossy, honey-covered two-year-old can. Like Rome, boundaries are overrated.

Loretta at Sun Lakes

Okay.  I made this in our cabin with things I brought from home.  The sudoku in the photo wasn't shoved in there at the last minute.  I really was playing it.  That's how relaxed I felt about this dinner.

Roasted Veggie Mac 'n Cheese

But I hope you haven't gotten your hopes up for this recipe.  I tricked you.  It's really Ratatouille Mac 'n Cheese!  Do you hate me? Not only am I not writing about Rome, I'm recycling this for the third time!  Here, here, and now this.  So clean out your produce drawers and harvest that tattered garden--onions, garlic, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, basil, lots of olive oil. Roast it down, mix it with pasta and this easy cheese sauce, pour a glass of red wine, and we'll pretend like we're in Rome.  It's good to be back with you.

This Week's Version of Ratatouille

Roasted Veggie Mac n' Cheese
There are lots of ways you can make a quick cheese sauce--feel free to do your favorite one.  This was made from what I had on hand--more cream, more sharp cheddar.  They are finally gone (!!), which is probably good for all of us.  And you could do so many combos of veggies in the ratatouille.  Even just roasted tomatoes would be sublime.

3 c. ratatouille
2 c. heavy cream + 2 c. whole milk OR  4 c. 1/2 and 1/2
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 c. grated sharp white cheddar (or Gruyere)
salt and pepper
one pound penne, cooked for about 11 minutes until it's tender but not mushy, drained
more grated cheese for top

For ratatouille: Follow this recipe (roughly, of course).

For cheese sauce:  Combine cream, milk, and minced garlic in a heavy saucepan.  Bring just to a boil slowly, then turn it down.  Add cheddar and stir until it melts into the sauce.  Set aside (in my case, I made this a couple days in advance).

To assemble: In a large stockpot. combine cooked pasta, cheese sauce, and ratatouille. Pour into a 9 x 13 pan, sprinkle with about a cup more of cheese (cheddar, feta, Gruyere, etc.).  Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 20-35 minutes until hot, bubbly, and a little crusty in places.  Your cooking time will depend on how hot your ingredients are when you put them in.


Popcorn and other Tidbits

popcorn

Five tidbits tonight--popcorn, motivated snacking, Wyatt's proud fish photo, an emergency orzo salad, and a plea for Helen's recipe.

First, and definitely foremost, popcorn.  White popcorn.  I cannot believe I've been blogging for over 4 months and haven't dedicated at least one post to popcorn yet.  Yellow popcorn is not a temptation.  Too spongy and squeaky.  White popcorn, on the other hand, is the nemesis of my life.  Sure, you can say, like the health columns do, "Oh, just do it in a air popper and eat it without butter." As if!  I pop it in a pan with vegetable oil and am free with the butter.  It is the Greatest Snack of All Time.  My sister and I had it for an after-school snack almost every day of our lives.  We'd sit on the front porch of the Williams Street house and talk about what happened at school and my mom would bring us glasses of orange juice.  A movie could never be made about my life because it's been too perfect.

I took the kids to Goodwill this evening to look for shoes.  We lucked out--one pair for Wyatt, two for Loretta, all for under $5. Cute leather ones, too.  We got home at 7:00 and I made a colossal bowl of popcorn for dinner.  Wyatt said, "Mom, does this mean you're not going to eat popcorn after we go to bed?"  He hates it when I do that.  I loved all six of our hands in that big bowl, Wyatt crunching away with his missing top tooth and Loretta asking for more bubble water.  Maybe I can take some money out of their therapy fund and buy an immersion blender.  They seem pretty well-adjusted to me.

Second, I'm admitting that I'm a "motivated snacker."  I read this term in one of my magazines lately. Apparently, motivated snackers are poor candidates for diet and weight loss because they will go to great lengths to eat what they are craving--i.e. "Honey, will you drive to Gelatiamo and bring me a pint of coconut gelato?"  Actually, I rarely make late-night food runs because--hello!--my kitchen is so ridiculously stocked. Tonight after the kids went to bed late, I definitely felt I deserved a treat for keeping them alive another day. So I made a bittersweet chocolate ganache, toasted some almonds, and put it all over coffee ice cream with a sprinkle of sea salt.  That's motivation for you.  In fact, I'm motivated to have it again tomorrow night.

Third, what was I thinking not posting this photo from Ross Lake?  A 15.5" rainbow trout caught at 6 a.m. with his Uncle Charlie--Wyatt couldn't be more proud.  I love that kid.

Wyatt at Ross Lake '09

Fourth, I woke up this morning and made two galettes for the Street Bean fundraiser (see below) and then remembered I needed/wanted to bring something to my brother-in-law's birthday party.  I had to leave the house in 45 minutes, me and the kids weren't dressed yet, and I'd already wasted too much time online checking my Google Analytics account to see how many hits this blog got the day before.  (Maybe I shouldn't buy that immersion blender--my children are a bit neglected).  I pulled a box of orzo out of the pantry, pulled out my trusty grill pan, and made this delicious salad.  There's no photo because I was in too much of a hurry.

Fifth, one of my new readers, Helen, dropped by three GORGEOUS pastries this morning for the fundraiser. That made my day.  She was up early with her husband and toddler and made a raspberry basil lemon cake and two pear/brie/olive tarts. They were warm when she brought them and indescribably perfect.  Everyone at the event freaked out about the tarts--a nut crust, all buttery and flaky, formed into oblong perfection.  Will you give us the recipe, Helen?  I promised to beg.  You can send it to my inbox and I'll post it here. Thank you so much.  I'm inspired by your generosity.

Helen's tart

Sixth, I needed to go to bed a long time ago.  I have to get up early tomorrow morning to check Google Analytics.

Orzo Salad with Grilled Zucchini, Lemon, and Feta
1 lb. orzo
4-6 small zucchini
juice and zest from one lemon
1 yellow pepper, finely diced
4 oz. feta, crumbled
3 ts. aleppo pepper
handful fresh mint
handful fresh chives
handful cherry tomatoes, halved
big glug of olive oil
salt and pepper

Cook orzo in lots of salted boiling water.  Rinse with cold water and drain.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over.

Slice zucchini lengthwise into 1/2" strips.  Brush with olive oil and put on a hot grill or grill pan for about 2 minutes per side. Cool a bit, then dice.

Combine zucchini and everything else (including more olive oil) with orzo and taste, adding more of anything to your liking. Make sure to follow the Leftoverist rule of reserving some of the ingredients to garnish the top.

Egg Noodles in Soy Broth

 


This Mark Bittman creation has been circulating all over the tweet-blogging interscapes the last couple weeks (here and here), and I drooled every time I saw it.  So I had to make it.  Plus, easy peasy.  Plus, you are now quite familiar with my childrens' love of Top Ramen.  Mark (Bittman, of course) calls this the un-ramen, meaning--you actually know what goes into it and the noodles aren't deep-fried.

It seems silly to repeat the recipe since you can actually watch Mark make it online (I have a new crush, obviously). But  I'll put it in here so you don't have to skip around and I can list my very basic additions.

I lined the bowls with spinach and chunks of soft tofu, put the cooked noodles on top of that, then ladled broth over the whole thing.  Then topped with chopped scallions.  Yum.  It's late at night as I type this, and I would consume a vat of it if it were in front of me.  The kids devoured it, and I'll have to work hard not to make it twice a week.  I could have done that in my pre-blogging life, but the pressure's on now.  Although I'm very comforted by this Orangette posting about how all desire to cook new things has gone out the window.  We've gone through many phases of nachos/quesadillas/repeat. I'm sure another one is just around the corner, only this time it might be noodles in soy broth followed by noodles in Nigella's ginger chicken broth.  I'm saving that one for another posting.  I need something up my sleeve when the creativity runs out.

In addition to being delicious, noodle soups really are comforting just like everyone says.  Our Great Grandma Luella passed away last month.  She was a life and laughter-loving woman who beat all sort of odds to live until 93.  After the memorial and graveside service (during which Wyatt was extraordinarily quiet and curious), we all went back to Dick and Phyllis' (my in-laws) house.  Phyllis had made a giant pot of chicken soup with udon noodles, and it was just the thing.  Everyone gravitated to it, just enjoying holding the warm bowls, standing around the steaming pot.  How good it is to eat together, whether we're happy or really sad.

There are so many other things you could add to this--leftover chicken or pork, bean sprouts, Asian basil, thinly sliced bok choy.  It won't surprise you to know that my children prefer it PLAIN, and I overload mine with spinach and spice the hell out of it.  Three cheers for things that please more than one generation.

Pappardelle with Lentils, Sausage, and Kale

Pappardelle with lentils, kale, and sausage     

If Yancey and I had kept stats on our fights over our 14-year marriage, most of the pie chart would be taken up with "fights because Sarah was hungry."  I don't know if I technically have low blood sugar, but anecdotally, I do.  Famously so. We argue about the dumbest things while I'm trying to get dinner on the table.  When we finally sit down and the wine is poured, all of the sudden I become congenial and chatty and actually care about what happened during Yancey's day.  Sometimes we think this is funny and other times we don't. Often I can't rise above everyday annoyances because, as Yancey says, I'm in them. Rising above seems mostly to happen later. After the kids are in bed.  If you've got more zen than I do, please send it through the miles.

So last night while I was making this pasta, I couldn't really focus on how lucky I was to be in my kitchen about to eat with my family because I was too hungry.  Yancey's been getting home at 7:00, and since I'm on a kid schedule, that means I've eaten lunch at 11:00.  And lately, mostly thanks to this blog, I've been forgetting to snack.  You KNOW something's up when that happens.

But once we sat down, I was thankful, and I'm thankful all over again remembering how good this pasta was. I hope it's alright with you that I don't have a problem tooting my own culinary horn.  All my other shortcomings even things out, believe me.  Though Emily says I shouldn't too too self-deprecating here.  I told her my goal was to be the Anne Lamott of food writing.  Anne doesn't really do anything too exciting in her life. She just makes fun of herself and writes about donuts and sleeping in and she's sold millions of books.  That's a compliment, Ms. Lamott.

If you don't like dark, leafy greens, you are SOL on this blog lately.  Because this pasta features another one. Imagine an announcer's voice, like that red-haired guy on Letterman.   And tonight, it's BLAAAACK D-I-N-O KALE!!!  It's lusciously textured, and looks like this:



It's not actually black, but it's so much darker than curly or red kale that it's black by comparison.  I got it at my nearest PCC (Seward Park) and they often have it.  I sauteed it down with lots of garlic and olive oil (surprise), found some dried pappardelle from Trader Joe's in my cupboard, and am still trucking along with my big jar of lentils.

I worry about it boring you (so I don't list this every time) but, if I were reading this recipe on someone else's blog, here are the options/substitutions/opinions that would run through my mind:

  • I don't have sausage, so I'm leaving it out.
  • There's no way I'm going to PCC for triceratops kale or whatever that is.  I'll use spinach instead.
  • Like I have time to cook lentils.  I'm going to use those pre-cooked kind they sell at Trader Joe's.
  • All I want is the greens, pasta, and garlic.
  • All I have is penne, so I'm using that instead.
  • Why does she have ricotta salata around?  What is that anyway?  I'm using parmesan instead.

This would be a perfectly acceptable conversation to have with this recipe.  I encourage it.  Any pasta recipe in the world is just a combination that someone happened upon and decided to share, and the combinations are so utterly endless.  And of course, if you happen upon one you're excited about, I want to hear about it.

Pappardelle with Lentils, Sausage, and Kale
(serves 4)

8 oz. pappardelle (broad, flat egg noodles--I broke mine into smaller pieces) 0r other dried pasta
3 c. cooked lentils (cook 2 c. dried lentils in lots of boiling water for about 25 minutes and drain)
1 big bunch coarsely chopped and de-ribbed dino kale or other leafy green (kale, chard, spinach, broccoli raab)
4 cloves garlic, minced
couple big glugs olive oil
1 lb. cooked Italian sausage
1 c. ricotta salata or feta, cubed
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
chopped fresh oregano (optional.  I have it coming out my ears)

Cook pasta in a big pot of boiling water and brown sausage in a skillet.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in another big skillet.  Add kale and garlic and saute until wilted and tender, about 10 minutes.  Salt to taste.

Drain pasta.  Add pasta, lentils, sausage, and ricotta salata to kale mixture in the skillet and toss gently.  Salt and pepper to taste and add lemon juice.  Serve with more cheese, red pepper flakes, and fresh oregano on top.

Most Distracted Mother Award

I burnt my big-time hand last night while trying to get ready for our final welcome-home dinner.  I was so mad at myself.  Yancey maintains that I burn myself in the kitchen more than anyone he's ever seen.  Hello?! Maybe it's because I'm always in there.  It's just a matter of probability.  And I'm usually trying to do too many things at once.  Last night, for instance, while I should have been tenderly giving the children a bath and reading their favorite books, I was cutting out business cards, keeping the laundry going, making rhubarb galette (don't worry--you'll see it soon), neurotically checking for comments on my last posting, and experimenting with some flatbread that I watched Mark Bittman make in this video. It looked so alluringly easy when he did it, and so delicious when he took a big bite on screen.  I couldn't rest until I had tried it.

I will definitely not be giving a recipe or technique for it here, as it was a complete flop.  Watch Mark do it if you're interested. He's more entertaining anyway.  I used roasted garbanzo flour, which seemed like it would be delicious.  It might have been alright if the center of the bread didn't remind me of modeling clay.  But the point of this whole story is that, as I was taking the skillet out of the oven while yelling at Wyatt to put on his pajamas, I burned the hell out of my hand.  I'm using profanities just to give you a tiny taste of what it was actually like here last night.  Sorry, kids.  I'll put another quarter in your counseling fund.

At Yancey's graduation lunch today, as I was nursing the wound and telling this story, Emily and my Mom said I needed to write about it.  Otherwise you, dear reader, might get the impression that everything which emerges from my kitchen is photo-worthy.  Wyatt said, laughing, "You should have taken a picture of that bread."  I would have if I wasn't too busy cursing and blistering.

Here's a quote to hold you over until the next real posting.  Right after the disaster, Wyatt said, "Mom, you've made 500 recipes from all your cookbooks that turned out, so don't feel bad that this one didn't."  I stopped, ice melting down my arm, and said, "You're right, honey.  I needed to hear that."  And I did.

Oh--here's a couple photos to hold you over, too.  I'm too tired right now to give a recipe, but we had another version of welcome-home pasta last night that I couldn't get enough of.  (You didn't think I'd stay on the failure thing too long, did you?) I chopped up a gigantic bunch of broccoli rabe from the Columbia City Farmer's Market and sauteed it with tons of garlic, olive oil, and anchovies.  I also blasted some cauliflower in the oven (that darn head was taking up my whole produce drawer).  I tossed the cauliflower and rabe with whole wheat pasta and cubes of ricotta salata.  Between that and Yancey being home for good, I really can't complain.


Welcome-Home Pasta


The good news is this pasta was delicious.  The bad news is the whole pan of oven-dried tomatoes has been demolished already.  There go all my meal plans for the week.  And my serving had more tomatoes on it than Yancey's-- I've been watching the kids all week, so I think that's a fair trade.



When Yancey comes home after four days at fire school (we're in week 10 of 12 weeks), we usually eat a late welcome-home dinner.  He's been eating chicken-fried cubed steak and iceberg lettuce shreds all week and is particularly appreciative of me on Thursday nights.  For a family with young children, a late dinner is anytime after 6:00, by the way.   I console myself with the fact that eating earlier is supposed to be better for your health.  



After I got home from my meeting and once the kids started watching Ruff Ruffman, I took stock of anything that might be worthy of a welcome-home dinner.  This is the reason pasta was invented.  In addition to the much-touted tomatoes, I had spaghetti, MORE chevre! (if you buy something at Costco, you'd better be reading my blog for ideas), half a loaf of stale Macrina onion rye and some fresh herbs from my "garden" (read:  struggling plants that prove the existence of a higher power.)  



I quite delight in stale bread, actually.  The better to fry with.  Slice it up, throw it in a hot skillet with olive oil.  There's nothing better.  You can eat the slices alone, as bruschetta, or cube them as I did here to top the pasta with.  I often begin a fritatta this way as well--frying stale cubes of bread in a skillet, pouring the eggs over the top, dotting the whole thing with cheese and herbs, and watching it puff up.  A kind of stovetop savory bread pudding.  Remind me to tell you more about that later.




Anyway, we had a wonderful reunion dinner, exchanging details about the fires Yancey put out during the week and how many people posted comments on my blog.  Sadly, the numbers are still quite low, but I put a brave face on.  



Lest you think the dinner was executed without chaos, take comfort from this photo of my cutting board. Now that Yancey's home, he can clean up.




Welcome-Home Pasta

1 lb. spaghetti

1 log chevre, crumbled (about 6 ounces, I think?)

two big handfuls chopped fresh herbs (I used chives, dill, and oregano)

5 or 6 large slices of fried artisan bread--fry in a couple glugs of olive oil on medium high, then cube it

1 c. oven-dried tomatoes 

olive oil (even better, use the olive oil that the tomatoes roasted in if you can.  I forgot to tell you to reserve it)

salt and pepper to taste

Finely grated parmesan



Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water.  Drain it when it's done.  Toss hot pasta with chevre, most of the herbs, tomatoes, salt, pepper, enough olive oil to moisten it to your liking.   Serve in pasta bowls and top with fried bread, parmesan, and another sprinkle of herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.  Whether you're alone or have Ruff Ruffman blaring in your ear, be thankful you made it through another week.



P.S.  Again, this is a recipe in the barest sense of the word.  If you haven't left your oven on for hours for the tomatoes like I have, you could roast some eggplant cubes in olive oil and garlic instead (about 45 minutes) or saute some greens (kale, chard, spinach) or use some good olive-oil packed sundried tomatoes.