Roasted Tomato Pesto

tomatoes

This sauce has a lot of concentrated flavor: tomato, garlic, herbs, with a touch of creaminess. It’s easy to do. And it all takes place in your oven, with a quick stint in your food processor.

Use this sauce for your favorite pasta. It’s earthy, luscious, and unforgettable!

Roasted Tomato Pesto

10 fresh Roma tomatoes

3-4 garlic cloves, peeled, quartered 

salt to taste

about 1 tablespoon sugar

3-4 fresh oregano sprigs

3-4 fresh tarragon sprigs

3-4 fresh mint sprigs

(or substitute, sage, rosemary, or your favorite herbs)

olive oil to drizzle

2-3 tablespoons half & half

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Line a sheet pan with foil. Drizzle a thin layer of oil over foil. On a clear work surface, or cutting board, cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Over a bowl, push out all of the seeds into bowl. Place tomato “shell” on prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the rest of the tomatoes. Place a piece of garlic in some or all of the tomatoes. Season with salt, sprinkle with sugar. Scatter herb sprigs on top of and between tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes. Place in oven and roast for about 30-40 minutes, until tomatoes get wilted and browned in places. 

Remove from oven. Let cool. Pick out the herb sprigs, and about half of the garlic. When cooled, place tomatoes in a food processor and pure until smooth. Spoon sauce into your pasta serving bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of half & half, stir in until combined. Add hot, drained pasta. (Quantity is good for 1 pound.) Stir to coat.

Quick Tasty Mini Spinach Pies

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mini spinach pies

This is one of those recipes that works great when you have a sheet of dough ready in your freezer. Like I did!

One sheet of puff pastry (preferably made with butter, and not hydrogenated oils — actually, Publix just came out with an all-butter puff pastry). It takes maybe 20 minutes at the most to thaw. In that meantime, you can put together the filling and preheat the oven, so when you roll out the dough and fill and shape your spinach pies, it’ll be just 20 minutes later when you’re eating.

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mini spinach pies about to bake

Wow. Quick. Easy. Tastes great. And you know exactly what’s in the food you’re eating (as opposed to a fast PU at a quickie restaurant). Make your own snacks!

(I added some minced sorrel to my mixture, because my friend, Danusia, once made spinach pies with sorrel. That subtle addition of taste was so good! She gave me a plant this season and it’s been thriving. So, lucky me, I’ve got sorrel! But you don’t need it. Works fine without, too.) *FYI: that’s my sister in the video. My sous chef.

Enjoy!

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mini spinach pies

Mini Spinach Pies

1-2 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

6-9 ounces of spinach (I get triple washed)

4 ounces crumbled feta or goat cheese

salt & pepper to taste

1 egg, beaten for egg wash (add a little splash of water)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Sauté diced onion in the butter. When softened (about 2-3 minutes), add spinach and let it wilt — add a little salt. Drain. Remove to a mixing bowl and crumble in cheese. (Add a couple of sorrel leaves, minced, if you have it — or another herb you may love — mint? basil? or nothing else…) Season mixture with some more salt and some pepper.

Roll out your sheet of puff pastry…to about half as much thinner. Cut into 3-inch squares. Spoon some filling into each square, fold square in half in a triangle shape. Press edges to seal with your fingers, use a fork to press edges a bit more to seal. Place on a parchment or silpat-lined sheet pan. Brush with some egg wash. Poke one little hole in the top each for steam release while baking. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden. Eat.

 

 

Tasty Recipe for Cornish Hen

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roasted Cornish hen

Oh, they are so little! They border on game, but aren’t really. Still there’s a slightly deeper taste to the meat (than, say, chicken). They cook up fast (because: oh, they’re so little!) and are so easy to make tasty.

May fave way is to make a quick pesto of your favorite herbs. Add as many as you like — or use just one. Pulse in a food processor with a little garlic. Add salt and a little olive oil. Press the pesto under the breast skin.

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Jim, Karen, and Chuck dressing hens in my class

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Barbara & Vickie getting hens ready in my class

I rub some butter all over the bird. Add some thyme leaves to the pan and some quartered lemons. Stuff a few lemon pieces inside the bird.

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ready for the oven 

Season well with salt and roast at 400 degrees for about 40-45 minutes. Instant read should say 180 (a bit more than the 165 for chix). And ta-da!

I know some people could go with a whole Cornish hen for a serving, but I split them in half down the breast line and serve each person half a hen (so there… you have a new band name: Half a Hen). 🙂

Yum, yum, yum, yum.

Roasted Cornish Hen in 5-Herb Vinaigrette (serves 4)

2 Cornish hens

1/4 cup parsley leaves

1/4 cup oregano leaves

1/4 cup mint leaves

1 tablespoon sage leaves

2 garlic cloves, peeled and rough chopped 

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

2 lemons, 1 zested/1 quartered 

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2-3 thyme whole sprigs

salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

You can roast hens whole of to spatchcock: cut the backbone out of the 2 hens so that they can lay flat, skin side up, spatchcock-style. Line a sheet pan with foil. Place a grate into the pan — or use without.

Add the parsley, oregano, mint, sage, and garlic to the bowl of a processor. Pulse until minced fine. Scrape into a medium mixing bowl. Add thyme leaves, lemon zest, and a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt & pepper. Stir to combine.

Loosen breast skin from hens. Stuff pesto until skin of the breasts. Place hens on sheet pan. Rub with butter. Season with with salt & pepper. Toss thyme sprigs, and lemon quarters on top. Roast for about 45 minutes until golden brown and instant read thermometer reaches 180 degrees. Cut each hen in half, down the bread line. Serve hot.

Italian Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

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Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

I remember that exciting time when Easter pies lined the glass counters of Italian bakeries in New York. These savory pies — also known as Pizza Rustica — showed up just before Easter. They’re an elaborate, rich celebration of cured meats at the end of Lent.

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Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

The pie is over-full with chunks of salami, mortadella, cappacollo, ham…that’s my version. You can mix up the meats to include pepperoni or soppressata, or prosciutto.

Pie chopped ingredients

Chopped cappacollo, salami, ham, mortadella, & mozzarella

They meats are mixed with ricotta, eggs, parmigiano, and — in my version — provolone for a little sharpness. 

Pie ricotta mix

Meats mixed with cheeses

The whole pie is baked in a flaky crust and served in slices for an appetizer — or part of your Easter lunch or dinner.

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The pie keeps well, refrigerated, for a few days. You can sneak irresistible tasty slivers for as long as a week.

Don’t worry if it looks involved — it’s not hard! It’s authentic — one of those rustic culinary traditions that Italians look forward to every year (including me). Once you taste it, you’ll make it one your traditions, too. Let me know how it goes. : )

Buona Pasqua!

Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica

For the Pastry:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

pinch salt

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup cold dry white wine

For the Filling:

2 cups ricotta

3 eggs, plus 1 more egg for egg wash

1/2 lb. mozzarella, diced

¼ lb. mortadella, thick sliced, cut into small dice

¼ lb. capacollo, thick sliced, cut into small dice

¼ lb. salami, thick sliced, cut into small dice

1/4 lb. ham, thick sliced, cut into dice

1 cup grated Parmigiano or Pecorino

1/4 lb. diced pecorino or provolone cheese

salt & pepper to taste 

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Put the flour and salt in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Cut the butter into cubes and add to flour. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the chilled wine. Process until a ball of dough forms — about 15-20 seconds. If ball isn’t forming, add a tablespoon or more wine.

Take dough out of the processor and divide into two pieces—about 2/3 and 1/3. Flatten each into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight. 

In a large mixing bowl mix together the ricotta with the grated cheese. Stir in the mozzarella, mortadella, capacollo, salami, ham, and diced cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. In a small bowl, beat together the 3 eggs. Season eggs with salt. Stir into ricotta mixture, and combine well. 

Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Roll out the larger piece of dough to fit a the pan, with dough coming about half-way up the sides of the pan. “Dock” the dough by poking a fork all around the dough. Fill with the ricotta filling. Roll out the smaller piece of dough and place on top. Crimp the edges to seal it together with sides of the bottom pice of dough. . Cut about 4-5 steam slits in a circle around the center into the top dough.

Beat the last egg with a teaspoon o f water. Brush lightly on the dough.

Bake for about 1 hour until the crust colors to golden. Let pizza rustica sit for about 15 minutes before unsealing the sides of the springform pan. Let cool for another 30 minutes-1 hour before cutting into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature. The pie keeps, refrigerated, for a few days.

 

Easy Cream Puffs with Ice Cream

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puffs ready to fill

It’s funny how the most complicated recipes become so uncomplicated after you do them a few times.

I used to be intimidated by cream puffs. You start on the stove? Then mix in your mixer? You have to pipe the batter? And they have to bake properly so they puff up and remain almost empty inside?

Yes. All true. But it all happens very easily.

Here’s my recipe for the batter they call pate a choux. You can make cream puffs or eclairs — depending on the shape that you pipe.

And here’s a tip. No need for piping on the puffs. You can use 2 teaspoons to make a small (and doesn’t need to be perfect) round of batter on your baking sheet.

After they come out of the oven. Poke each one with a toothpick to allow steam to release. If you don’t do that, the steam may stay inside and might make the inside too wet.

Cut them in half side-wise. Dollop some vanilla ice cream, and put the top on. Of course, you can fill them with pastry cream instead. But if we’re keeping this easy, ice cream does the trick! You can also dust them with powdered sugar, or not (optional)…

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…but do drizzle some chocolate sauce on top of each serving.

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Cream Puffs w Ice Cream & Chocolate Sauce

1 cup water

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)

pinch salt

1 cup flour

4 eggs

1 pint vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the water, butter and salt in a medium saucepan until bubbling. Take off heat and add the flour. Whisk to combine till incorporated. Put back on the heat and whisk until mixture dries a bit and pulls easily from the sides of the pan.

Transfer mixture to the bowl of a mixer using the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time until each is fully incorporated. Mix until you have a smooth batter, but don’t overmix. Place batter into a piping bag with a small tip with a round hole (or use a ziplock bag and cut a small hole in the corner). Work with half of the batter at a time. (Or instead of piping, use 2 teaspoons to spoon batter onto baking pan.) 

On a parchment-lined sheet pan, pipe small balls about an inch and a half big. (Batter should fill 2 sheet pans.) Bake until golden about 20 minutes. Let puffs cool and poke each one gently with a toothpick to allow steam to escape.

Cut each puff in half. Add about 2-3 tablespoons of ice cream to bottom half. Cover with top half. Serve 2-3 to each person. Drizzle chocolate sauce. 

Chocolate Sauce:

3/4 cup chocolate chips (preferably bitter or semi-sweet)

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

1/2 cup heavy cream

Melt the chocolate, cream, and instant espresso in a small heavy saucepan until combined and smooth. Drizzle sauce lightly over filled cream puffs.

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Quick Yummy Meat Sauce for Pasta

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This is the kind of recipe I do without thinking. It has been so much  part of my whole life that I can probably spin a few other plates at the same time and not worry about how this sauce will come out.

And you don’t have to worry either because it is so easy. And so right on. And so dependable, reliable, and quick, too.

Nothing is more comforting than some pasta with a saucy meat sauce. Usually made with ground beef — or maybe a mixture of ground beef, pork and/or veal — this one uses ground beef with chunks of sausage. It’s pretty amazing how much that sausage spikes the chart with flavor. You’re not even sure what that umami is — but it’s the sausage, accompanied by all the usual wonderfully flavorful suspects. 

This sauce cooks in 30 minutes. Not like the many-hour ragu’s where the meat needs to braise to break down into tenderness. Here we have ground beef and chunky sausage pieces— meat that cooks fast.

The tomatoes? I use canned crushed tomatoes and I love a lot of different brands. Crushed are a little more thick than puree…which Italians call “passata.” Add a little tomato paste, if you like, for a thicker consistency.

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And the aromatics? Onion, diced. Garlic cloves, peeled and crushed.

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Choose your favorite pasta for this. But Italians will invariably go for the cut pasta for a sauce like this, rather than long straws of spaghetti or linguine. Yes, there is some logic to which pasta goes with which sauce. Logic, and then the perfect answer for any pasta choice: “this is the pasta shape I really like the most.”

Today I’m using a ziti shape. But I’m getting my ziti from these long-strand ziti’s that you break into the lengths you desire. Just some added fun to pasta cooking.

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You can find these long-strand pastas in some Italian specialty food stores — or — dare I say — occasionally at TJ MAXX or Home Goods, which is where I got mine. Imported from Italy, they are so blissfully authentic.

Cook this. You’ll be so happy. 🙂

Quick Tasty Meat Sauce for Pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, small dice

2 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed

1/2 lb. ground beef

2 Italian sausages, meat removed from casings

1/3 cup dry white wine

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

salt & pepper to taste

12-16 ounces of your favorite pasta

grated parmigiano for individual servings

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and garlic. Cook on medium heat until onion softens, about 3-4 minutes. Add the meats. Brown meat, breaking up into smaller pieces, with some larger chunks (making for a rustic mixture of meat pieces). When the meat is not longer pink, add the wine. Let it sizzle and mostly evaporate. Add the can of tomatoes. Season with salt & pepper. Stir to combine. Simmer for 20 minutes, cover askew.

Place a pasta pot of water on the heat. When boiling, salt water. Add pasta. Cook until al dente (not to soft, but tender to the bite). When done, drain. Add to a large serving bowl. Spoon some sauce and gently coat. Remember that Italians like some sauce with their pasta — not some pasta with their sauce. So don’t “drown” the pasta in sauce. You can add extra sauce on top of individual servings. And dust with some grated parmigiano.

Make Mine Short-Order

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I’m always looking for quick recipes. Sometimes I start a quick recipe and then realize — hey, this ain’t as quick as I thought. But I plod on — usually so absorbed and fascinated by each step that it doesn’t matter how quick it is. 

I like to cook my meals because — I like to cook. But also, because I like to know what’s IN THEM. I love choosing each ingredient — knowing how I’m treating that ingredient, and leaving myself no mysteries. The mystery is usually a magic not entirely my own. Just the sheer alchemy of cooking. Molecules, ions, nuclei shuffling together in heat ….wow, a little bit of stardust in the food.

Which brings me (and how could it not) to the joy of watching a fast order cook at work. Talk about magic. Talk about seeing every ingredient go right into the recipe. Talk about deftness of hand aerobatics. Talk about concentration, follow-thru, and thoroughness.

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Okay, let’s talk about it. Growing up in NY, and being of an everyday-food persuasion, I have, for a long time, found myself in diners. I have trouble trumping diners with high-fancy restaurant fare (excuse that word over there). I just love diners. 

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In the old days, diners were everywhere in NYC. You either went around the corner. Or you decided to walk five blocks to another, because you liked the decor better. Or because you were meeting a friend who lived five blocks away. Or — who knows, maybe you needed a walk. Because there wasn’t much difference in the food from diner to diner. They ALL knew how to make that menu shine and it always shined. My faves: scrambled eggs soft, with home fries, and whole wheat toast. Diners in NYC include tea or coffee in the price of the breakfast (I’ve learned that’s not true everywhere).

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Or get a grilled cheese with tomato (with maybe bacon?)

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Or venture further for a club sandwich, a meat loaf dinner, some Greek specialties like: spanakopita, or shish kebabs. Most diners in NYC are run by Greeks. There are Lobster Tails (the seafood, not the pastry) and Fettuccine Alfredo and NY Strip Steak on the menu, too. Okay— I probably wouldn’t order those things… I like the traditional diner fare. But people do order those dishes. I’ve seen them go by on the way to another table. Riveting.

Wandering around NYC streets, you sometimes get hungry while you’re neighborhoods away from home….you can always be saved by a diner. Looking to kill 20 minutes before your appointment? Siddle up to the counter and have a hot tea and a toasted English muffin. Or maybe a corn muffin (you don’t see corn muffins in the South…cornbread, yes, but not the muffin). I used to LOVE the diner corn muffin. They’d cut it in half, toast it on the griddle and serve with butter on the side. Groan. Yum.

But my favorite part is getting the seat at the counter just behind the short-order cook. It’s the kind of show that could entertain me for days. 

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Here’s where you will find some differences from diner to diner. Not in the competence of the cook or the menu, but in how the cook arranges things. What side of the grill is the bacon? How often does he scrape off the excess oil? Are the eggs all broken into a gallon-sized pitcher, ready for use? Or does he crack them as he uses them? Have the home fries just arrived to the griddle or have they been there for hours? (And hours.) Does he wear a baseball cap, a do-rag (du-rag?), a hairnet, or just hat-less, loose and free?

Doesn’t matter. The show must go on. The pressure of orders coming in fast keep the action of the story moving. WITHOUT a hitch.

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It’s even more fun when he’s cooking YOUR order. Watch closely — you’ll almost feel like you’re cooking it yourself. You can see every second and every morsel and every technique going into your plateful. Then it’s delivered. Live. In front of you on the counter, steam wafting, aromas poking your nose. Your fork poised, your diminutive diner napkin on your lap, your taste buds rushing forward, ready for sensations.

Time to EAT!

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(Dessert? No other place has so many choices.)