fresh pasta with braised quail

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I have never seen a Meyer lemon for sale where I live. My local store used to stock blood oranges in the winter and rhubarb in the spring, but I didn’t see either this year. Sheets of nori? I’ve started ordering them online, along with golden syrup, peppermint extract, a big container of sprinkles, espresso powder, 00 Italian flour, herbal tea, looseleaf black and green tea, passionfruit concentrate, and my favorite brand of soy sauce. Living in a small town has its disadvantages.

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But I seem to have a steady supply of game meats. I’ve bought quail a few times, and this is my favorite way to use it (which isn’t to say that chicken drumsticks or thighs wouldn’t also be great in this dish). What I’ve learned about quail is that they are so tiny that it can be hard to find the meat. As someone who doesn’t much appreciate messing around with their food as they eat it, a salad topped with a whole quail was frustrating (although pretty).

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This pasta dish, with so little in it besides the quail, cooks it down to its essence. What sauce there is is concentrated quail stock. It’s intensely savory. It coats the pasta in the thin layer, with bits of shredded quail meat dispersed throughout. You can garnish the dish with teeny tiny drumsticks. And, amazingly, this is a dish I can actually find all the ingredients for in my little town.

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Fresh Pasta with Braised Quail (adapted from Marcella Hazen’s Marcella Cucina via epicurious)

Serves 4

4 whole quail, washed and dried
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
½ stalk celery, minced
½ medium carrot, minced
1 fresh sage leaf, minced
6 rosemary leaves (remove from 1 sprig), chopped very fine
½ cup dry white wine
1 roma tomato, diced small
1 pound fresh pappardelle or fettuccine
½ cup (1 ounce) freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1. Season the quail generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and quail, and cook without moving for 3-4 minutes, until well browned. Flip the quail; continue to cook until all sides are browned, propping the quail against the sides of the pan if necessary. Transfer the browned quail to a plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the vegetables and herbs; cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and use a spatula to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, return the quail to the skillet, and cover. Cook, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the tomato, cover, and cook for another 20-25 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep the pan from drying out, until the meat can easily be removed from the bones.

3. Remove the quail from the pan and shred the meat, discarding the bones. If desired, reserve the drumsticks with their meat for garnish.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just tender, 2-4 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water.

5. Add the shredded quail meat, pasta, ¼ cup pasta cooking water, and parmesan to the pan with the sauce. Toss the contents together until well mixed, adding more pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan and the reserved drumsticks.

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carrot-ricotta ravioli

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I recently made potstickers, and it reminded me how much easier dumplings like these ravioli are to make with homemade dough than with those little square wonton wrappers. With homemade pasta, you have a long strip of dough; after you drop dollops of filling along the strip, you can just fold the whole thing over at once, sealing the long end before cutting in between the filling. Contrast this with individually folding and sealing each square of dough when you use pre-made wonton wrappers. Granted, my method based on homemade dough can only make square dumplings, but it’s so easy that I’m tempted to make square potstickers from now on to avoid individually sealing each one.

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This is an easy filling too. The carrots and shallots are roasted in large chunks, browning and sweetening in the oven. The vegetables are transferred to the food processor with ricotta and parmesan, and then your filling is made with the touch of a button.

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The sauce, if you can call it that, is simply melted butter with parsley. A generous shaving of parmesan on the ravioli provides some salty contrast to the sweeter filling. Homemade ravioli is one of my favorite starter courses, and it really isn’t that hard – provided you start out with sheets of pasta and not a tedious stack of tiny squares.

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Carrot-Ricotta Ravioli with Herbed Butter
(slightly adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy)

4 main course or 8 first-course servings

3 large carrots (12 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large shallot, quartered
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
5 ounces (½ cup firmly packed) ricotta
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg yolk
1 recipe fresh pasta dough, rolled to the second-to-last setting on a pasta roller
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced parsley
salt

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish, toss the carrots and shallot with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Let cool slightly.

2. In a food processor, combine the carrots, shallot, and cream and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Stir in the ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg yolk.

3. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 2 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Fold the pasta sheet lengthwise over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza cutter to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Ravioli can be formed several hours in advance and covered and refrigerated or can be flash-frozen, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. Do not defrost before cooking.)

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with ¼ teaspoon salt and the parsley.

5. Boil the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water and transfer them directly to the skillet with the butter. Once all the ravioli are boiled, lightly toss them in the butter to thoroughly coat. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan.

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poblanos stuffed with black beans and cheese

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Sometimes I try to have quick, healthy weeknight dinners that don’t include any grains. I’ve found that melty cheese is a satisfying way to replace the simple comfort of starches – although I’m not sure that replacing brown rice with cheese is much of a nutritional improvement.

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This has become a new favorite, in that it takes the main flavors of some of my fallback rice and bean dishes and stuffs them inside of a pepper. (I’m always reaching for the bag of frozen Hatch green chile we keep in the freezer so I can add it to the beans, and I have to remind myself that there’s plenty of spicy chiles in this recipe already.)

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With beans, Greek yogurt, and a simple guacamole, there’s plenty to keep me full here, even with a restrained amount of cheese. Even if it isn’t, in the end, any healthier than my normal bowl of rice and beans, it’s worth it for a meal as good as this one.

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Poblanos Stuffed with Black Beans and Cheese (inspired by Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook)

2 generous main course servings or 4 side dish servings

You can, of course, add more cheese, but I was trying to keep it light, and I found this amount to be satisfying.

4 medium poblano peppers
2 teaspoons oil
1 onion, diced
salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can black beans (about 2 cups)
½ cup salsa
3 ounces cheddar, monterey jack, cotija, or queso fresco, shredded or crumbled
1 avocado, peeled and seeded
juice from ½ lime
¼ cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
cilantro

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut a slit in each pepper from the stem to the end. Place the peppers in a rimmed baking dish; bake for 15 minutes, until softened.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the salsa and beans. Simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir half of the cheese into the beans.

3. Remove the peppers from the oven. When they’re cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to remove the seeds and veins. Pour out any liquid inside the peppers. Spoon one-quarter of the bean mixture into each pepper, then stuff the remaining cheese into the peppers over the beans. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cheese is spottily browned and the peppers are soft, 15-20 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, mash the avocado with a pinch of salt and half of the lime juice. In a separate bowl, mix the Greek yogurt with the remaining lime juice. Serve the roasted peppers with the avocado, yogurt, and a sprinkling of cilantro.

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creamy brussels sprouts and mushroom lasagna

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After making a few lasagnas that all started to look the same, I needed new ideas. Here’s one, cooked in homemade broth with meatballs between the layers of pasta, that breaks the mold. 19 steps! 125 miniscule meatballs! I’ve been excited about that recipe since the moment I saw it, almost a year and a half ago, but even with my obsessive weekend cooking habits, I haven’t found time to make it.

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This one isn’t quite that original, but I had never put brussels sprouts, one of my favorite vegetables, in lasagna before. I can’t remember adding heavy cream to lasagna either, instead depending on the bechamel and cheese to add rich creaminess.

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I did reduce the cream by half, and I still found it plenty decadent. The mushrooms dominated the flavor, but not in the overly earthy way of some pure mushroom lasagnas. It definitely hit the spot, even without meat or tomatoes, some of my standard lasagna crutches. But I still want a completely free weekend that I can spend making homemade broth and (125!) tiny meatballs to layer with fresh pasta.

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Creamy Brussels Sprouts and Mushroom Lasagna (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

8-10 servings

Stirring the creamed mushrooms and the creamed brussels sprouts together does not result in an attractive mixture. However, it won’t make a difference in the final lasagna, and it simplifies the layering.

As the picture above shows, I divided the ingredients between a loaf pan and an 8-by-8-inch pan. I baked one immediately and put the other in the freezer for an easy and indulgent meal a few weeks later.

For instructions on boiling and rinsing the noodles, see step 4 of this recipe. You’ll only need half of a recipe of fresh pasta.

I’ve increased the brussels sprouts and decreased the mushrooms slightly, because even though I didn’t have enough mushrooms when I made this, they were the dominant flavor. I love brussels sprouts and want to taste them.

Mushrooms:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
16 ounces button mushrooms, roughly chopped in a food processor in 4 batches
2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup white wine or sherry
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Brussels sprouts:
2 tablespoons canola oil
24 ounces Brussels sprouts, shredded on the grated disk in a food processor
salt and pepper
½ cup heavy cream

Bechamel:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
12 ounces mozzarella, shredded
salt and pepper

To assemble:
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles or 12 7-by-3-inch lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 ounce) grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. For the mushrooms: Heat the butter in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid they give off has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to sizzle and brown, about 12 minutes. When the mushrooms are browned, add the shallots, garlic, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until the mixture is reduced to a loose paste, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl; wipe out the skillet.

2. For the brussels sprouts: In the same skillet, heat the oil over high heat until shimmering. Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and a pinch of salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until well-charred on most sides, about 10 minutes. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until reduced to a loose sauce-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms; stir them together.

3. For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture is pale brown and nutty, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk in a thin, steady stream. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and 12 ounces mozzarella. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. To assemble: Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread one-sixth of the cheese sauce on the bottom of a 9-by13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Top with one-fourth of mushroom/sprouts mixture, another one-sixth of the cheese sauce, and a sprinkle of grated mozzarella. Repeat the pasta, sprouts, and sauce layering three more times. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining béchamel and mozzarella.

5. Transfer to oven and bake until heated through and top is browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley, let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

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arugula salad with prosciutto, figs, walnuts, and parmesan

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This is my salad of the season. It seems like there’s always one, something I make every time we have a big meal (i.e., every Saturday night). This one was so good we had it for Sunday lunch too.

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Maybe I should start making soup as a first course instead of salad, especially this time of year, but this salad seems appropriate for winter. It has deep, rich flavors from the prosciutto, figs, and walnuts, so it doesn’t taste bright and light like a lot of summer salads do.

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And yet, even piled with crisp prosciutto and slivers of parmesan, it’s still a salad, still mostly vegetables. That makes it a great accompaniment to rich winter braises and casseroles. If this is my salad of the season, I’m glad it’s still early in the season.

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Arugula Salad with Prosciutto, Figs, Walnuts, and Parmesan (from Cook’s Illustrated)

4-6 servings

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into ¼-inch-wide ribbons
1 tablespoon raspberry jam or honey
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup dried figs, stems removed, fruit chopped into ¼-inch pieces
1 small shallot, very finely minced (about 1 tablespoon)
Table salt and ground black pepper
5 ounces lightly packed stemmed arugula (about 8 cups)
½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved into thin strips with vegetable peeler

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; add prosciutto and fry until crisp, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper-towel-lined plate and set aside to cool.

2. Whisk jam and vinegar in medium microwave-safe bowl; stir in figs. Cover with plastic wrap, cut several steam vents in plastic, and microwave on high until figs are plump, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons oil, shallot, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper; toss to combine. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Toss arugula and vinaigrette in large bowl; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Divide salad among individual plates; top each with portion of prosciutto, walnuts, and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

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pumpkin apple pizza

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As a general rule, I’m not a big fan of adding fruit to savory foods – but the more I try to define that rule, the more exceptions I find to it. I like the occasional salad with dried currants, figs on pizza, bacon-wrapped dates, cranberry sauce on my turkey sandwiches. I won’t be adding fruit to every salsa I make, but clearly I’m not completely grossed out by sweet/savory combinations.

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Still, I strongly considered leaving the apples off of this pizza. I don’t even love apples and pumpkin together in desserts, much less for dinner. But Kenji indicated that the apples would blend in, enhancing the pumpkin more than calling attention to themselves, so I compromised and kept the apples, but reduced them by half.

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I don’t agree that the apples blended in; for me, they were the strongest flavor. But, surprisingly for this supposed sweet+savory hater, it was a flavor that I liked. Pumpkin on its own is more earthy than sugary, and that combined with salty pancetta and three types of cheese made sweet cubes of apple a nice contrast. I have yet another exception to my no-fruit-in-dinner rule, but I still don’t think I’ll be adding pineapple to my guacamole anytime soon.

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Pumpkin Apple Pizza (rewritten and slightly changed from The Food Lab)

Makes 4 generous servings

I made half the recipe but cooked the entire pumpkin and apple, using the leftovers and more cheese to top crostini the next day.

You can leave the pancetta out (using 1 tablespoon butter to cook the apples and wedge of pumpkin), but I really like the combination of cured pork with winter squash.

1 pound homemade or store-bought pizza dough
1 small sugar pumpkin, quartered, seeds and pulp discarded
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch ground cinnamon
pinch grated nutmeg
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 crisp baking apple, such as Golden Delicious, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves, plus ¼ cup roughly torn leaves, divided
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded gruyère cheese
6 ounces (1½ cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 ounces (½ cup) grated parmesan cheese
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place three of the four pumpkin wedges in a medium oven-safe skillet. Spray or rub with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes, until the pumpkin flesh is very tender. Scrape the flesh from the skins; transfer to a medium mixing bowl and mix in the maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

2. Place a pizza stone on a rack about 3 inches below the broiler and heat the oven as high as it goes. Shape the dough into 2 balls; cover and set aside for 10 to 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax so the dough will be easier to stretch.

3. Peel and dice the remaining wedge of pumpkin. Heat the same skillet used to roast the pumpkin over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until its fat has rendered and it begins to brown (it will finish browning while the pizza bakes); transfer to a plate. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the diced pumpkin and apple to the rendered pancetta fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons minced sage. Set aside.

3. Gently flatten the dough, then pick it up and stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

4. Line a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) with parchment paper and transfer the round of dough to the paper, rearranging it to something reasonably circular. Spread the roasted pumpkin mixture over the dough, leaving the outer ½-inch of dough uncovered. Top with half of the gruyere and half of the mozzarella, then half the pancetta, half the diced pumpkin and apples, and half of the remaining sage leaves. Top with half the parmesan. Transfer the pizza to the hot pizza stone.

5. Immediately turn the oven off and the broiler on (to high, if yours has settings). Bake the pizza for about 4-6 minutes, until the bottom is spotty browned and the cheese is bubbling. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack; sprinkle with half the scallions. Cool about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

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sweet potato mezzalune with sausage ricotta filling

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Last year, I got all excited about turchetta and couldn’t wait to get started cooking it as part of a big turkey feast. And then I waited, and waited, and waited, until I had time to spend two days cooking an extravagant meal (not required, I realize, but I love doing it). It was January before I could dedicate the time, plus round up some friends to help us eat all the food I insist on making.

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The wait wasn’t bad though, because it gave me time to peruse untold numbers of recipes to find just the right ones for my fusion of Italian food and Thanksgiving food. That was my favorite part. I had a lot of fun cooking too. The meal itself…well…of the thirteen recipes I made, I’ve chosen to share just four with you (although the rustic dinner rolls were really good too). The turchetta and wine-braised turkey legs were overcooked, the pumpkin panna cotta separated, the green bean pasticcio wasn’t beany enough.

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Or maybe the main meal just didn’t seem as good because I’d already filled up on the mezzalune I served as an appetizer. Mezzalune are like ravioli, but wrapped in gnocchi dough instead of pasta dough. Gnocchi dough, it turns out, is easier to work with than fresh pasta; it’s sticky, but on a well-floured surface, it stretches easily and doesn’t break.

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I made turkey sausage with the turkey tenderloins that don’t get used in the turchetta, but if you don’t feel the need to go overboard on everything, feel free to just buy some sausage, turkey or otherwise. (I also made these with homemade venison sausage for Game Night.) The mezzalune can be formed and boiled ahead of time, so when it’s time to eat, you just need to add them to a skillet with some butter and push them around a bit until they’re nice and crisp and brown. And then don’t spoil your dinner by filling up on them. Or, even better, make these your dinner so you can eat as many as you want.

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Sweet Potato Mezzalune with Turkey Sausage Ricotta Filling (mezzalune inspiration from John Besh; gnocchi from Gourmet via epicurious; filling from Lidia Bastianich)

Makes about 50 appetizer-sized dumplings

Dough:
1¼ pounds russet potatoes
1 (¾-pound) sweet potato
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1½ to 2 cups (7.2 to 9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
⅓ cup (0.67 ounce) grated parmesan cheese

Filling:
12 ounces turkey sausage
1 cup ricotta
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan
¼ cup minced parsley

4 tablespoons butter
additional minced parsley for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Pierce the russet and sweet potatoes in several places with a fork. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, turning once, until no resistance is met when pierced with a fork or skewer. Cool the potatoes slightly, then peel and force through a ricer or the fine holes of a food mill into a large bowl. Spread the potatoes over the surface and up the sides of the bowl to allow steam to evaporate. Cool potatoes completely, stirring once or twice to release more steam.

2. Push the potatoes to the sides of the bowl, forming a well in the center. In the well, beat together the egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir the egg mixture into the potatoes. Add 1½ cups of flour and ⅓ cup parmesan to the potatoes, kneading to evenly incorporate. Add additional flour as necessary, until the mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausage, ricotta, ¼ cup parmesan, and parsley.

4. Divide the dough in half. On a well-floured surface, roll half of the dough to 1/16- to ⅛-inch thickness (a millimeter or two), flouring the top of and below the dough as necessary. Use a 2½-inch round cutter to cut as many circles as possible. Scoop a scant 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each round. Working one a time, pick up a round, gently pull two opposite sides of the circle, then fold the stretched ends of the dough over the filling, pinching the edges to seal. Transfer to a floured tray or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining cut rounds. Before re-rolling the scraps, roll, cut, fill, and seal the other half of the dough. Re-roll the scraps as necessary to use up the remaining filling.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add one-quarter of the mezzalune, and cook until they begin to float, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mezzalune to a tray or damp dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining mezzalune. At this point, the mezzalune can be covered and chilled for several hours before finishing.

6. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Transfer half of the mezzalune to the skillet. Cook, flipping occasionally, until browned and crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining mezzalune. Serve immediately, topping with the remaining parsley.

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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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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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Printer Friendly Recipe
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).