turkey porchetta

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I have made this twice in the last year. Once, it was one of the most complicated things I’d done in the kitchen. The other, it was quite simple.

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The first time was part of a big turkey dinner I cooked in January, as I’ve gotten into the tradition of hosting the last several years. Starting with this recipe, the menu had an Italian focus – mashed potatoes with fontina, Brussels sprouts with pancetta, cranberries with grappa. And porchetta, a Italian dish of spiced pork belly (which I have never actually had).

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The turkey porchetta recipe uses just the breast, so Kenji also developed recipes for turkey thighs (braised in red wine, although mine mostly roasted on top of red wine and kind of dried out) and turkey sausage (which I stuffed into mezzalune – ravioli-type dumplings made from gnocchi dough; my favorite item of the meal). This meant breaking down the whole turkey into its parts, removing the legs and wings, carefully removing the skin without ripping it, then cutting off the breasts in whole pieces. One thing you should know about me is that I am terrible at breaking down chickens – and this was the same process but a lot bigger.

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After breaking down the turkey, butterflying the breasts, seasoning the meat, rolling it, tying it, letting it rest overnight, then browning it and roasting it, I got distracted by stuffing my face with turkey sausage mezzalune and accidentally overcooked the turchetta. A friend who grew up eating real porchetta in northern Michigan, however, loved it and said it tasted just like what he was used to.

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Still, I wanted to get it right. Months later, I tried again – this time starting with a boneless turkey breast. You can imagine that without breaking a whole turkey down into its parts, this was remarkably easier. It wrapped up into a thicker roll, plus I monitored its cooking time more carefully, and this time, it was everything I could have asked for. (You’d think I could have taken some new and improved pictures when I didn’t have guests over and ten other dishes to finish, but you’d be wrong.) The skin is browned and crisp, the meat is juicy and salty and spiced. When you don’t overcook it, turchetta deserves to be the star of a holiday meal – and if you start with a turkey breast, it’s not any harder roasting a turkey.

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Turkey Porchetta (not significantly adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab at Serious Eats)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus ½ tablespoon whole black peppercorns
¼ cup fresh sage leaves
4 medium cloves garlic
½ tablespoon whole fennel seeds
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 whole bone-in, skin-on turkey breast (about 4 to 5 pounds), patted dry
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 quart low sodium homemade or store-bought chicken or turkey stock

1. Combine 2 teaspoons kosher salt, whole black peppercorns, sage leaves, garlic, fennel seed, and red pepper flakes in the bowl of a food processor. Process until a rough paste is formed, scraping down sides as necessary, about 30 seconds.

2. Carefully remove the skin from the turkey breast and lay it flat. Using your hands and a boning knife, carefully remove the breast meat from the carcass. Set aside the tenderloins for another use.

3. Lay one breast half on top of the turkey skin and butterfly the thicker end by cutting through it horizontally, leaving the last ½-inch intact, then folding out the flap. Repeat with the other breast half.

4. Make a series of parallel slashes at 1-inch intervals in the turkey meat, cutting about ½-inch into the meat. Repeat with a second series of slashes perpendicular to the first. Rub the spice/herb mixture into the meat, making sure to get it into all of the cracks.

5. Carefully roll the turkey meat into a tight cylinder, using the skin to completely enclose it. Tie the roast tightly with butcher’s twine at 1-inch intervals, as well as once lengthwise. Transfer the roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.

6. When ready to cook, adjust an oven rack to center position and preheat the oven to 275°F. Season exterior of turkey lightly with salt and pepper. Heat remaining tablespoon canola oil in a large cast iron or stainless steel skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the turkey and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer the turkey to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Roast until the thickest part of the turkey registers 145 to 150°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 hours. Remove from the oven, transfer to a cutting board, and let rest for 10 minutes. Snip off the twine using poultry shears. Carve and serve.

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vietnamese shrimp quinoa salad

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Does anyone else think shrimp can have an off-putting texture sometimes? It’s not just when it’s overcooked and chewy; even cooked correctly, there can be an unevenly textured graininess that I don’t like. The smaller the shrimp, the less that texture is an issue. On the other hand, the smaller the shrimp, the more shrimp you have to peel.

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However, I love the flavor. Sweet and briny, it’s so good in a huge variety of dishes. This is one of my recent favorites. The vegetables are crunchy and fresh, but the shrimp and quinoa keep it satisfying.

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I’ve found a trick that seems to solve my texture issues with shrimp, although it’s an extra tedious step on top of the already tedious peeling. After cooking, I cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. As an added bonus, it makes them closer to bite-sized for me, so I can get a forkful with all the goodies – shrimp and quinoa and vegetables and herbs. This one simple trick makes me love shrimp – both the flavor and the texture.

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Vietnamese Shrimp and Quinoa Salad (adapted from Serious Eats)

You can save some time by cooking the quinoa in water instead of the cooking liquid from the shrimp, starting to cook the quinoa around the same time as the shrimp.

Shrimp:
1 pound shrimp, unpeeled
2 cups water
5 cilantro sprigs
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 lime

Salad:
½ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
1 red pepper, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, quartered lengthwise, and sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
2 scallions, sliced thin
¼ cup cilantro, minced

Dressing:
¼ cup lime juice from 2 limes
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1. For the shrimp: In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the shrimp, water, cilantro sprigs, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Juice the lime into the saucepan, then add the lime peels to the saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the shrimp turn pink, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the shrimp, reserving ¾ cup of the shrimp broth. Rinse the saucepan.

2. For the salad: Add the shrimp broth and quinoa to the rinsed saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the broth boils. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let set, covered, for 10 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, red peppers, cucumber, carrot, scallions, and cilantro. Peel the cooled shrimp and add it to the bowl.

4. For the dressing: Mix everything. Pour over the salad and stir to combine. Serve immediately, or cover and chill for up to four hours.

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bittersweet chocolate and pear cake

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Earlier this summer, one of my coworkers brought in peaches from his tree, so I took some and made peach cupcakes to share at work. Then a couple weeks ago, another coworker was giving away apples, so I took some and made apple pie-cake for everyone. After that, the apple grower was excited to find someone to offload her apples to, so she brought me another bag, and I made apple cake and then apple muffins. Also, my mom gave me pears, so I made pear chocolate cake.

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It sounds weird, right, pears and chocolate together? That’s what most of my coworkers said, but then they said that it definitely worked. It’s a fun recipe, with the eggs beaten until foamy and the batter spread in the pan with the fruit and chocolate on top. As the cake bakes, it rises up due to all the air beaten into the eggs, incorporating the fruit and chocolate.

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Just like in a chocolate chip cookie, the chocolate here provides a bitter richness to compliment the sweet butteriness of a fruit-based cake. Sugar and butter being, of course, the perfect compliments to almost any fruit. Basically, if you have too much fruit, give it to me and I will make cake out of it.

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Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake (rewritten but not significantly adapted from Al Di La Trattoria via Smitten Kitchen)

My homegrown pears were small, so I used five of them.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
3 pears, peeled, cored, and diced into ¼-inch cubes
¾ cup (4.5 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chunks

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick baking spray (or oil and flour the pan). In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, start swirling the butter around the pan. When the milk solids sink and turn brown and the butter smells nutty, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a small bowl or measuring cup so it stops cooking.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), beat the eggs until light yellow and thick, about 5 minutes on a stand mixer and 9 minutes with a handheld mixer. When the whisk is removed from the bowl, the egg should flow off of it in a thick ribbon. Gradually add the sugar to the eggs, beating for 1 minute after it’s all added. Reduce the mixer speed to its lowest setting and add one-third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, another third of the flour, the rest of the butter, and the rest of the flour, beating just until combined.

3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Evenly distribute the pears and chocolate over the top of the batter. Transfer to the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If desired, dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

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kale caesar salad

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Dave and I have a friend who we affectionately refer to as Crazy Running Guy. He’s training for a marathon right now, which means he’s running upwards of 80 miles per week. He ran the Boston marathon several years ago (thankfully not the year of the bombing) and was deeply disappointed by his time of 2 hours and 40 minutes.

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It’s not unusual for us to invite him over for dinner on Saturday, and he and Dave will hang out at the bar in the kitchen while I cook…and cook…and cook some more. We’ll eat tiny servings of five or even seven different courses. Sometimes I have some prep done ahead of time and get to relax a bit, but other times, I spend almost the whole evening on my feet, except when I’m eating. I’m enjoying myself, and no one else seems disturbed that I’m cooking more than socializing.

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He isn’t much into cooking, but in a strange way, I feel like he gets me. He’s our Crazy Running Friend; I’m his Crazy Cooking Friend. Which, when you think about it, is a good match, right? Fortunately, he isn’t picky and eats almost anything I throw at him. He didn’t seem fazed at all by kale caesar salad. He didn’t get any wine though, due to a tough run planned for the next day. No wine? I definitely prefer being crazy about cooking instead of running.

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Kale Caesar Salad (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

4 to 6 servings

As always, I substituted Greek yogurt for a portion of the mayonnaise.

1 pound (about 2 bunches) Tuscan, tough stems removed, leaves roughly chopped (about 4 quarts loosely packed leaves)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
5 ounces hearty bread, roughly torn into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
⅔ cup mayonnaise
6 anchovy filets, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1½ ounces (about ¾ cup) Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1 small white onion or 2 shallots, finely sliced

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the kale and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Use your hands to knead the oil into the kale until the kale is dark green and slightly softened, about 2 minutes.

2. Transfer the bread, 1 tablespoon oil, and salt and pepper to taste to a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until the largest pieces of bread are about the size of a chickpea. Remove the preheated baking sheet from the oven. Add the remaining one tablespoon of oil to the pan, using a spatula to spread it evenly. Transfer the bread pieces to the pan. Bake until toasted, about 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through the baking time. Let cool slightly.

3. Add the mayonnaise, garlic, anchovies, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and parmesan to the empty food processor bowl. Process until smooth.

4. Add the onions, dressing, and half the bread pieces to the kale; stir to combine. Serve immediately, topping each serving with the remaining croutons.

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noir bars

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When I made this, I had eight types of chocolate in my pantry, plus cocoa nibs, plus two types of cocoa. I’m a chocolate hoarder.

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A chocolate cookie topped with chocolate cheesecake filling and finished with chocolate ganache will make a dent in that. The cookie base only has a couple ounces of melted chocolate in it, and I considered replacing some of the flour with cocoa, because, if you’re making a chocolate dessert, it should be as chocolatey as possible, right? No. The other pound of chocolate in the pan is quite enough.

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The middle layer may call itself a cheesecake filling, but it’s made from cream cheese, melted chocolate, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract – so it’s really chocolate cream cheese frosting. Okay, so these were rich. But they were also delicious. And after making chocolate frosting the next day, I’m down to six types of chocolate. Time to start stocking up again.

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Noir Bars (slightly adapted from Sugarcrafter)

The only significant change I’ve made to the original recipe is to increase the cream in the ganache topping. I used the original, lower amount, but when the dessert was chilled, it was too solid – each bite squished out the filling instead of cutting through the topping.

I used a mix of 60% cacao chocolate and 80% cacao chocolate in the topping. Unless you like your chocolate really bitter, I recommend sticking to something closer to 60%.

My favorite way to melt chocolate is in a fake double boiler: Put about 1 inch of water in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and place a small heatproof bowl (preferably stainless steel, but glass will work; it just takes longer in glass) over the saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add the chocolate and stir occasionally with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is completely melted, about 5 minutes.

Chocolate cookie base:
1¾ cup (8.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (⅓ cup), melted

Chocolate cheesecake filling:
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
pinch salt
6 ounces (1½ cups) powdered sugar
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (⅔ cup), melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Ganache:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (2 cups), melted
1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick spray. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.

2. For the cookie base: Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat the butter on medium-low speed until it’s smooth, then add the sugar and salt. Continue beating on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running, add the egg, then the vanilla and melted chocolate. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined.

3. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan. Bake until set, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature.

4. For the cheesecake filling: Place the cream cheese, butter, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the powdered sugar. When the sugar is incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high (high on a hand-held mixer) and beat until smooth and lighter, 2-3 minutes. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla. Spread the mixture over the crust. Chill until set, about 2 hours.

5. For the ganache: Stir together the chocolate and cream. Spread over the filling. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

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peach raspberry galette

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I know this is crazy, but I’ve already started on my New Year’s resolutions for 2015. Resolution-haters are always saying that they don’t need to make resolutions at the new year, because if they see changes they want to make, they just make them, regardless of the date. And I get their point, but I also think that right after the busy, indulgent holiday season when things slow down to a more manageable pace is a great time to think about personal changes. While I am expecting the next four months to be rushed, I was worried I would lose momentum by the new year, so I’m dipping my toe in now.

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My goals are mostly cooking-related, as usual:

1) Use more cookbooks. It’s not the first time I’ve made this resolution, but I didn’t do a great job before. This time, I’m going to make myself a schedule to stick to, and hopefully that will lead to a routine. Because I love cookbooks so much, but if I don’t use them, I feel guilty for having them.

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2) Cook a wider variety of cuisines. There is delicious food out there that isn’t Italian, and maybe I should try some of that once in while. I’m particularly interested in Asian food. I’m intimidated by the ingredient availability issue, but if I’m cooking more of it, I should be able to use up ingredients before they get lost in the back of the refrigerator or pantry.

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3) Read Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. Also not the first time I’ve made this resolution. I started it but got bogged down.

4) Bake more pastries. I’ve gotten into a bit of a bar cookie rut, partly because almost everything I bake is brought to work to share, and it’s easier for coworkers to grab a fruit crisp bar than a slice of pie. But after four years of almost weekly treats, my coworkers seem happy with anything I bring in.

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So far, I’m doing good with my not-New Year resolutions. I’ve been going to bed a little earlier almost every night to read On Food and Cooking. I recently made kung pao tofu, and last night, we had summer rolls for dinner. And I made these galettes from Tartine, perhaps my favorite baking book. Since they’re sort of pastries, so I killed two birds with one stone.

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My coworkers, as expected, did not mind cutting themselves a slice of galette, transferring it to a plate, and spooning a dollop of whipped cream on top. And I had fun tackling a more ambitious baking project than usual, even on a weeknight. Maybe I need to join the New Year’s resolution haters and create my own not-New Year’s resolution tradition.

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Raspberry Peach Galette (adapted from Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson’s Tartine)

Makes two 10-inch galettes, serving about 16

Galettes are often lauded as the lazy man’s pie, with only one crust and no crimping. This recipe belies that description. In order to maximize the flakiness of the crust, the butter is rolled into the flour several times, then the dough is rolled several more times after the water is added. I was pleasantly surprised that this process only took half an hour.

I didn’t use quite enough fruit, mostly because I was too lazy to peel and slice a fifth peach and too cheap to buy a second container of raspberries. However, I am recommending that you use the extra fruit, as my crust to fruit ratio was slightly high, even as delicious as this crust is. Tartine recommends substantially more crust, but the reduced amounts listed here (which are what I used) were perfect for two galettes (or it would be, with a little more fruit than I used).

24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter
18 ounces (3¾ cups) unbleached flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1¼ teaspoons salt
¾ cup ice water
4 cups peaches (4-5 large peaches), peeled and pitted, sliced ⅛-inch thick
2 (6-ounce) containers raspberries
¼ to ½ cup (1.75 to 3.5 ounces) sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 small egg, whisked with a pinch of salt

1. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes; freeze for 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and salt.

2. Transfer the dry ingredients to a pastry cloth or clean work surface; spread out to ⅓-inch thickness. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, tossing them to coat with flour. Use a rolling pin to flatten the butter pieces into the flour. When the flour/butter mix has been rolled to the edge of your work surface, shape it back together to a ⅓-inch thickness. Repeat the rolling and reshaping three more times, until the mixture resembles large flakes.

3. Form the mixture into a pile and clear a well in the middle of the pile. Pour in the water, then use a bench scraper to mix the dough into the water with a cutting motion. Use a well-floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle about 10 by 14 inches. Fold it into thirds, then in half the opposite direction. Repeat the rolling and folding three more times. Roll the dough into a 14-inch by 7-inch rectangle. Cut the dough in half to form two 7-by 7-inch squares. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

4. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Roll each square of dough into a 14-inch round. Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheets; chill 10 minutes.

5. Divide the peaches evenly between the two dough rounds, leaving a 2-inch border. Top with the raspberries, then sprinkle 2-4 tablespoons of sugar (depending on how ripe and sweet your fruit is) over each pile of fruit. Fold the sides of dough over the fruit, pleating as necessary. Brush the dough with the egg wash, then sprinkle with sugar.

6. Bake until the fruit is bubbling and the crust is browned, 45-55 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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summer vegetable gratin

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Can I talk about my garden some more? I’m sorry, I’m just really excited about it. I’m finding that I get nearly the same enjoyment from my vegetable garden as I do from cooking lately. I can’t stop myself from wandering between the beds, just looking at the plants; looking for new fruit growing, checking on whether anything is ripening, plucking weeds, crushing stinkbugs.

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I’m so proud that I grew half of the vegetables in this dish. Despite my hit or miss success with gardening, the tomatoes, zucchini, thyme, and basil in this dish all came from the backyard (or the basil would have if I’d remembered to use it).

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It’s one of those dishes that toes the line between being healthy and feeling indulgent. I brought it to a comfort food-themed potluck where I knew there would be a lot of (really delicious) cheesy baked pasta, hoping that a second helping of vegetable gratin would keep me from a third helping of macaroni and cheese. It didn’t work – I had both a second helping of gratin and a third helping of mac and cheese – but at least only my healthy-ish gratin leftovers came home with me. My favorite part of gardening is the part that involves eating, and this combination of summer vegetables and herbs is exactly why that is.

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Summer Vegetable Gratin (from Cook’s Illustrated)

6-8 servings

I didn’t use this much oil. I sprayed the pan with cooking spray instead of using a tablespoon of oil, and then I used less with the garlic, maybe just 1 tablespoon instead of three.

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 pound summer squash (yellow), ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons table salt
1½ pounds ripe tomatoes (3 to 4 large), sliced ¼-inch thick
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin pole to pole (about 3 cups)
¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large slice white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 medium shallots, minced (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a 13- by 9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil; set aside.

2. Toss the zucchini and summer squash slices with 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; transfer to a colander set over a bowl. Let stand until the zucchini and squash release at least 3 tablespoons of liquid, about 45 minutes. Arrange the slices on a triple layer of paper towels; cover with another triple layer of paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.

3. Place the tomato slices in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels and sprinkle evenly with ½ teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Place a second double layer of paper towels on top of the tomatoes and press firmly to dry the tomatoes.

4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and dark golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Set the onions aside.

5. Combine the garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, remaining ½ teaspoon pepper, and thyme in a small bowl. In a large bowl, toss the zucchini and summer squash in half of the oil mixture, then arrange in the greased baking dish. Arrange the caramelized onions in an even layer over the squash. Slightly overlap the tomato slices in a single layer on top of the onions. Spoon the remaining garlic-oil mixture evenly over the tomatoes. Bake until the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes are starting to brown on the edges, 40 to 45 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, process the bread in a food processor until finely ground, about 10 seconds. (You should have about 1 cup crumbs.) Combine the bread crumbs, remaining tablespoon oil, Parmesan, and shallots in a medium bowl. Remove the baking dish from the oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture evenly on top of the tomatoes. Bake the gratin until bubbling and the cheese is lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the basil and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

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goat cheese-stuffed mini peppers

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I’ve been lucky to have a lot of opportunities for tapas lately. It started, I believe, last year when Dave and I met my brother for a weekend in Los Angeles, and we shared an exceptional tapas meal. Since then, my brother is tapas-crazy.

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On our family’s recent trip to the beach, we collaborated to serve nine different tapas to eleven people (in a house with no dishwasher). Two weeks later, Dave and I had the opportunity to go tailgating in the parking lot of an opera house before seeing Carmen; tapas was the obvious choice again. Less than a week after that, a friend hosted a potluck dinner, and the theme she chose was tapas.

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These are among some of my favorite of the options at each dinner, with nods also going to gazpacho and anything with bread (obviously). There are so many bread-based snack options that I love offering something different, especially something with vegetables. But the vegetables are filled with cheese, so they can hold their own on a table filled with garlicky shrimp and things-on-bread. With this recipe in my pocket, I’m ready for many more tapas dinners.

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Goat Cheese-Stuffed Mini Peppers

Makes 24 appetizers

I don’t take the seeds or veins out of these when I make them. It hasn’t been a problem.

24 miniature sweet peppers
8 ounces soft goat cheese
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch salt
Pinch black pepper

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut a 1 to 2-inch slit down the side of each pepper. Arrange the peppers in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, cut-side up. Roasted until softened and slightly browned, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, mix the goat cheese, scallions, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a wide tip or a zip-top bag with a corner cut off. (I tried spooning the filling into the peppers once, and it didn’t work at all. Piping is definitely the way to go.)

3. Squeeze the goat cheese mixture into each pepper, widening the cut in the pepper if necessary. Serve at room temperature (can be made 2 days in advance).

meatball-stuffed zucchini

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I joke about not being good at gardening, but the truth is, it’s no joke. I am not good at it. Every year, at least half of what I plant is a failure. This year, in fact, in one raised bed, it’s exactly half, with two tomato plants and one pepper plant doing quite well, and two tomato plants and one pepper plant not doing much of anything at all.

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This year, I’m having more success with my zucchini plant than ever before. (Keeping with the theme, the beans in the same bed aren’t producing at all.) Maybe the disgusting and destructive squash bugs will move in eventually, but so far, so good. I get about three zucchinis each week, which has been just right for making old favorites like these enchiladas and this pasta, while also providing an opportunity to try a new favorite.

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This has become my go-to zucchini recipe this summer. I like it as a first course, maybe with a pasta dish served afterward, but it would work well as a main dish too. If things keep going well with my zucchini plant – and in my garden, that’s not a guarantee – I might just make this once a week until the season is over.

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Meatball-Stuffed Zucchini (adapted from Dominica Cooks and Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes 4-6 first course servings or 2 main course servings

I’ve used ground lamb for these (which is what the pictures show) because we love it, and I’ve used ground venison because someone gave us a bunch that we need to use up.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped with scissors in the can
salt
1 slice white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small cubes
¼ cup buttermilk or 3 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg yolk
pinch ground black pepper
½ pound ground beef or lamb
2 large or 3 small zucchini or summer squash, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out and discarded

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the oil and 1 clove of garlic to an 8-by-8-inch (or equivalent size) baking dish; transfer to the oven until the garlic is sizzling, 5-8 minutes. Stir the tomatoes and a pinch of salt into the oil; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the bread and buttermilk or yogurt and milk; set aside for 10 minutes for the bread to soften. Stir in the cheese, parsley, egg yolk, remaining garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper. Using your hands, evenly mix in the ground meat.

3. Divide the meat mixture evenly between the halved and cored zucchini. Arrange the stuffed zucchini in the baking dish. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake until the zucchini is softened and the meat is cooked through, 30-40 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. To serve, spoon the tomato sauce over the zucchini and top with parmesan cheese.

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quinoa puttanesca

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Based on whether it leaves a bunch of half-used ingredients leftover, this may not be the best single-person dinner, but it’s one of my favorite meals for when Dave is out of town anyway. For years, Dave didn’t like anchovies or olives, so those were the things I ate when he traveled. He’s come around to both, but the tradition has stuck, and this has become a treat for myself while he’s gone.

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It’s very similar to the pasta version, but I like to think quinoa is a little healthier than pasta. Certainly, quinoa has a stronger, earthier flavor, which required adjustments in the other ingredients. More briny olives, more salty capers, and more bitter parsley were all necessary to stand out next to the quinoa.

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Even if it doesn’t fulfill my no-leftover-bits-of-ingredients rule for single-person dinners, it meets the rest of my criteria – easy, healthy, minimal dishes. Fortunately, I like it so much that I’m willing to make it twice in one week while Dave travels, which is the perfect way to use up the half cans of tomatoes and tuna leftover from one serving. That puts this back on the list of great meals for cooking for one.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Quinoa Puttanesca (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Spaghetti Puttanesca)

4 servings

I use the higher amount of anchovies, because I love them, but I understand that not everyone shares that opinion. The tuna is not at all traditional in puttanesca, but it increases the protein of this one-pot dish.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6-8 anchovies, minced
8 ounces (1⅓ cups) quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, coarsely diced in the can with scissors
2 (5-ounce) cans solid white tuna in water, drained and flaked into bite-sized pieces (optional)
¼ cup capers, drained
1 cup kalamata olives, finely chopped
¼ cup minced parsley

In the medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, and anchovies until sizzling and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the quinoa, tomatoes with their juice, and tuna (if using). Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture simmers, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir once, then replace the cover, remove the pot from the heat, and let set for another 15 minutes. Stir in the capers, olives, and parsley; serve immediately.