butternut squash risotto

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The first time I made this risotto, all the smoke from the chicken I was roasting set off the fire alarm in my apartment building. Everyone had to go stand outside in the cold (this is back when I lived somewhere where it actually got cold), but I didn’t want to leave the stove because I needed to stir my risotto! So Dave was the one who had to go confess to everyone that the alarm was my fault. He loved that.

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And I loved this risotto. It isn’t nearly as rich as the pumpkin risotto I made a couple years ago; that one has twice the cooking fat and a generous dollop of mascarpone. All that cheese mutes the flavor of the squash, and squash is what I want to highlight in a squash risotto.

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This recipe has a trick (it’s a Cooks Illustrated recipe; of course it has a trick) to eeking out all of the possible flavor from squash, and that’s to sauté to fibers and seeds, then use them as a base for the liquid used to cook the rice. It’s almost like making a squash broth, which is the perfect way to incorporate squash flavor into the entire risotto, not just in the chunks of squash distributed throughout the rice.

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The risotto was much better than that alarm-raising chicken. It involves some annoying steps with straining the broth and of course the tedious peeling and chopping of squash, but it isn’t anything as bad as explaining to your neighbors why they have to stand out in the cold on a Sunday night.

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One year ago: Pomegranate-Glazed Salmon
Two years ago: Brown Rice with Black Beans
Three years ago: Sushi Bowls

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Butternut Squash Risotto (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 as a main course and 6 as a first course

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice (about 3½ cups), seeds and fibers reserved
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small onions, chopped very fine (about 1½ cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1½ cups dry white wine
¾ cup (1½ ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves

1. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add about 3½ cups of the squash in an even layer and cook without stirring until the squash is golden brown, 4-5 minutes; stir in ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender and browned, about five minutes longer. Transfer the squash to a small bowl and set aside.

2. Return the skillet to medium heat; add the reserved squash fibers and seeds and any leftover diced squash. Cook, stirring frequently to break up the fibers, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a large saucepan and add the chicken broth and water; cover the saucepan and bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a bare simmer.

3. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in the now-empty skillet over medium heat; when the foaming subsides, add the onions, garlic, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and remaining ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the rice to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are translucent around the edges, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until fully absorbed, 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, strain the hot broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the strained broth to the saucepan and discard the solids in the strainer; cover the saucepan and set over low heat to keep the broth hot.

5. When the wine is fully absorbed, add 3 cups of the hot broth and half of the reserved squash to the rice. Simmer, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is almost dry, about 12 minutes.

6. Stir in about ½ cup of hot broth and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes; repeat with additional broth 2 or 3 more times, until the rice is al dente. Off the heat, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter, the Parmesan, sage, and nutmeg. Gently fold in the remaining cooked squash. If desired, add an additional ¼ cup of broth to loosen the texture of the risotto. Serve immediately.

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turkey ricotta meatloaf

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Of all the food we ate in Italy, probably the most interesting dishes were made by friends in their home, not ordered in a restaurant. One night, after a first course of spaghetti with tomato sauce, they served thin slices of pork loin (or possibly veal) with a sauce made from canned tuna (which I later found is a traditional Piedmontese dish called vitella tonnato). The next night, we ate trofie al pesto, which Wikipedia claims is the “most symbolic of Genoese meals”, fitting, considering that we were indeed in Genoa.

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But it was the main course that night that really impressed me. It was a sort of loaf, which I know doesn’t sound appetizing, but it was wrapped in pancetta, which does sound appetizing. It was light colored and didn’t have the coarse texture of most American meatloaves. I asked about the recipe several days later, but our friend didn’t know what his wife had put into it other than turkey and ricotta.

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Searches for turkey ricotta meatloaf didn’t turn up anything that looked similar. The closest I found was a beef meatloaf with ricotta, so I started there, changing the ground beef to ground turkey, skipping the chunks of mozzarella (but keeping some shredded, to increase tenderness), and eliminating the tomato sauce to more closely replicate the one I’d had in Italy.

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This meatloaf was not very similar to my friend’s meatloaf. But it was very good regardless, and other than cooking it in a smaller pan to concentrate instead of burn the juices, I wouldn’t do anything differently. Except maybe eat it with friends in Genoa while overlooking the Mediterranean, but that goes without saying.

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One year ago: Red Kidney Bean Curry (We had this for dinner twice last week.)
Two years ago: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Cider Vinaigrette
Three years ago: Mulled Cider

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Turkey Ricotta Meatloaf (adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s Cooking from the Heart of Italy)

Serves 8

½ cup milk
1 cup stale bread cubes, crusts removed (from 2 slices sandwich bread)
2 pounds ground turkey
2 large eggs
10 ounces ricotta
4 ounces (1 cup) mozzarella, shredded
2 shallots, grated
1 ounce (½ cup) grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup minced parsley
pinch nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8 ounces pancetta, thinly sliced

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, mix the milk and bread; set aside for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the bread is saturated with milk, use a fork to mash the mixture until it’s smooth. Add the turkey, eggs, ricotta, mozzarella, shallots, parmesan, parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper to the bowl with the bread. Use your hands to mix the ingredients until evenly combined.

3. In a 9 by 13-inch pan, shape the meat mixture into a cylindrical loaf shape about 12 inches long. Drape the pancetta slices over the loaf, tucking the slices under the bottom. Cover the pan with aluminum foil.

4. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the foil; bake for an additional 45 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer reads at least 170 degrees when inserted into the middle of the loaf. Let the meatloaf rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the accompanying juices in the pan.

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fresh pasta

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While I don’t think I’ll ever come home from work, do a load of laundry, get my workout in, and then roll out pasta dough, making fresh pasta is getting easier and faster every time I do it. Some of this is experience – I know where the best place to clamp the pasta roller to the counter is, and I know to err on the side of drier rather than sticky dough. But I’ve also picked up a few tricks along the way.

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One is that one egg’s worth of pasta is plenty for a pan of lasagna, starter courses for four people, or main courses for two people (which is the serving size shown here). Another is that, despite what the first recipe I followed led me to believe, thinner sheets of pasta are not always better. Ravioli made from paper thin pasta will fall apart when you try to boil it. Thicker pasta has more substance, more chew. And it requires less work.

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It also doesn’t hurt that fresh pasta is best with simple sauces that enhance rather than bury the pasta you just put all that effort into. With all of my tomato plants dead, the basil in my garden is taking over, so I used one of the many batches of pesto I’ve made lately to top this pasta. I also, in my jealousy over everyone else’s peak season tomato availability, tried roasting store-bought grape tomatoes to get some of that intense tomato flavor.

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The pesto was a success, and the tomatoes were fine – one-dimensionally sweet, but not bad. But the pasta was the star, as it was meant to be. And it actually didn’t take me hours to make it.

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One year ago: Grilled Corn Salad
Two years ago: 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Three years ago: Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

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Fresh Pasta

Makes 4 main-course servings or 8 first-course servings

You can mix and knead this in a stand mixer instead of by hand.

I’ve successfully substituted up to half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour.

1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 eggs

1. Add the flour to a wide bowl, making a well in the center. Lightly beat the egg and add it to the well. Stir the flour and egg together until thoroughly mixed. Knead, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from being sticky, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Don’t be concerned if you need to add quite a bit of extra flour; the dough should be malleable but not at all sticky.

2. Divide the dough into 6 balls. Work with one ball of dough at a time and leave the others covered with a damp dishtowel. Flatten the dough slightly, then roll it through the widest setting on a pasta roller. Fold it in thirds like a piece of paper going into an envelope, then roll it through the pasta roller again, feeding it with one of the open sides first. If at any point the dough is sticky, brush it with flour. Repeat the folding into thirds and rolling a few times. Without folding, run the pasta through the widest setting once more. Adjust the pasta roller to the next-thinner setting and roll the dough through the machine. Continue to gradually thin the dough. For lasagna, thin to the third-to-last setting; for fettuccine and ravioli, thin to the second-to-last setting. Brush the dough with flour if it starts to stick at all. If the strip of dough becomes too long to handle, cut it into two shorter strips and work with each strip separately. Repeat the rolling, folding, and thinning with the remaining balls of dough, laying the sheets of pasta on dry dishtowels.

3. Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and serve with your desired sauce. Instructions for ravioli can be found here; for lasagna, here.

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pesto

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Pesto is super simple, right? Just dump some ingredients into the food processor, and thirty seconds later, you have pesto. And while that’s true, with a few extra simple steps, you can ensure that your pesto will live up to its maximum potential every single time.

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Traditionally, pesto was made in a mortar and pestle, which smashes the ingredients into each other instead of cutting them like the food processor does. It sounds horribly tedious. You don’t want to do that.

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However, it is important to do more than slice basil with the food processor blade. Consider that when you want to smell an herb, what do you do? You rub it between your fingers, not tear it in half, because bruising the leaves is what produces flavor. So to maximize the flavor of your basil, you need to bruise the leaves before cutting them.

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You can do this with almost no extra effort using a trick I picked up from Jamie Oliver – just put the basil in the food processor, but with the plastic dough blade instead of the knife blade. It takes only a few seconds longer and produces just one more small utensil to clean, but it makes a big difference in flavor. Before I started using this trick, sometimes my pesto would taste grassy, but now it always tastes basil-y.

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You probably also know that toasting nuts brings out their flavor, and it isn’t hard to do on the stovetop. I also like to toast the garlic, because I am not a fan of the tongue-stinging sharpness of raw garlic. Toasting the unpeeled cloves in a dry skillet tames garlic’s bite with very little effort. And that’s it – you’ve maximized the potential of every ingredient in pesto, ensuring dependably outstanding pesto, and it only took an extra minute or two.

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One year ago: Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebabs
Two years ago: Tortellini Soup with Carrots, Peas, and Leeks
Three years ago: Summer Rolls

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Pesto

2 ounces pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
Salt
1 large bunch (6 ounces) basil leaves, washed and dried
1-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ ounce (¼ cup) freshly grated parmesan

1. Heat a small empty not-nonstick skillet over medium heat for several minutes. Add the pine nuts and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, until they’re golden brown and fragrant. Pour the nuts into a food processor bowl fitted with the knife attachment. Add the garlic to the skillet and toast, without stirring, for about 1 minute. When the first side is dark brown, turn the garlic cloves onto another flat side and continue toasting for another minute. Peel the garlic and transfer it to the food processor with the pine nuts.

2. Add ¼ teaspoon salt to the garlic and pine nuts. Process until the nuts and garlic are finely ground, 10-15 seconds. Replace the knife attachment with the plastic dough blade. Add the basil to the food processor and pulse until the basil is bruised and fragrant, about ten 1-second pulses. Remove the dough blade from the bowl and return the knife attachment. Process until basil is finely chopped, a few seconds.

3. With the machine running, slowly pour the oil into the feed tube. Scrape the sides of the bowl; process until evenly mixed. Stir in the parmesan. Serve, refrigerate for a few days, or freeze for months.

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bruschetta with chickpea puree

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I wouldn’t say I have a black thumb, but I certainly don’t have a green thumb. Every spring I get really excited about gardening. Besides the quality and convenience of produce from the backyard, I love to watch things grow. I especially enjoy watching seeds sprout, as the green shoot springs up and then slowly uncurls, stands tall, and spreads its first two leaves. I like creating something so impressive from almost nothing at all.

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Gardening in southern New Mexico is relatively easy. Our growing season, from last frost to first frost, extends from March all the way to November. Overwatering and mold certainly aren’t problems, since it almost never rains here. Our soil is hardpacked clay, but it wasn’t difficult or expensive to build a small raised bed. A layer of mulch and the lack of rain keep most weeds at bay. With a timed sprinkler system, there’s little effort involved with keeping a garden beyond the initial planting.

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Except for the bugs. Squash bugs always get my zucchini plants eventually. And last year I think grasshoppers ate more tomatoes than I did. This year, even worse, I bought a diseased tomato plant and it spread its fungus to the rest of the bunch. They’ll have to be pulled, I’m afraid.

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So my hopes for panzanella, slow-roasted tomatoes, BLTs, pasta with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, big pots of sauce to freeze, and a whole long list of other tomato recipes I love – this isn’t the year for that. Instead of topping grilled garlic-rubbed slices of Tartine’s country bread with fragrant tomatoes from my garden, I’ll have to find other ideas.

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While nothing is going to live up to perfectly ripe summer tomatoes, I won’t complain about this chickpea spread. Something that could so easily be bland – a bowl of mashed beans – is kicked up with all sorts of good things, like tangy bits of red onion, spicy red pepper flakes, sweet balsamic vinegar, and tart lemon juice. Then it’s topped with crunchy toasted nuts and fresh herbs. It’s not garden-fresh tomatoes, but it’ll do in a pinch.

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One year ago: Stuffed Squash Flowers
Two years ago: Dried Fruit Compote
Three years ago: Sautéed Shredded Zucchini

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Bruschetta with Spicy Chickpea Purée (adapted from Rick Tramonto’s Fantastico via epicurious)

8 slices rustic bread
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (16-ounce can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ small red onion, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use more or less to taste)
½ teaspoons honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 lemon wedges

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the chickpeas, onion, 2 tablespoons of oil, lemon juice, vinegar, red pepper, and honey. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. The texture of the paste should be that of spreadable peanut butter; if necessary, thin it with water and pulse again.

2. Prepare gas or charcoal grill or preheat the broiler or a panini press. The heating elements or coals should be medium-hot. Cut the slices in half and brush both sides with a generous amount of olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the bread, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides. Rub 1 side of the toasts with garlic.

3. Spread the bean paste on the bruschetta. Sprinkle with pine nuts, tarragon (if using), and parsley. Drizzle with olive oil, and serve garnished with lemon wedges for squeezing over the bruschetta.

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slow cooker spinach mushroom lasagna

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Lasagna cooked in the slow cooker is not that different from lasagna cooked in the oven. It has the same ingredients, the same layers, the same browned cheesy top – and the same amount of effort required to make it. Really the only thing that’s different is the amount of time it takes to cook.

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This was good news in a way. I was surprised that the lasagna wasn’t watery and that the top looked almost exactly the same as a baked lasagna. The problem, of course, was that it wasn’t any easier to put together.

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Another problem is apparently that béchamel sauces curdle in the slow cooker. This recipe was originally based on a cream sauce instead of tomato sauce. Since béchamel didn’t work, the recipe called for a jar of Alfredo sauce.

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I’m not usually one for dumping jars of prepared foods into my recipes, but after a scan of the jar label revealed no unrecognizable ingredients, I had just about acquiesced to buying it – until I looked at the fat content. Jarred Alfredo sauce (like homemade Alfredo sauce) is almost pure cream, and I just couldn’t stomach the idea of adding all that fat to what I intended to be a weeknight meal.

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Replacing the cream sauce with tomatoes made this recipe very similar to my favorite vegetarian lasagna, but that’s okay, because they’re flavors I like. In fact, the lasagna had a lot of qualities I love, with its meaty flavor without any meat, plenty of cheese, and plenty of vegetables to even out the cheese.  While it wasn’t any better than oven-baked lasagna, it wasn’t any worse, and it can’t hurt to have the option for a longer cooking time.

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One year ago: Basic Pancakes
Two years ago: Brioche
Three years ago: Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese

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Slow Cooker Spinach Mushroom Lasagna (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Slow Cooker Revolution)

Serves 6 to 8

I have a 4-quart slow cooker, but I don’t see any reason this wouldn’t work in a 5- or even 6-quart cooker.  The lasagna just won’t be as tall.

I did not line the slow cooker with foil, because it seems so wasteful. Individual slices of lasagna were still surprisingly easy to serve intact, although the first one was messy.

I used half this amount of cheese. I’m sure the full amount is great, but I was trying to lighten it up a bit.

nonstick spray
8 curly-edged lasagna noodles (7 ounces), broken in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1½ pounds white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
16 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1¼ cups (2½ ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup minced fresh basil
1 large egg
4 cups (1 pound) shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Line the slow cooker with an aluminum foil collar: Layer and fold sheets of heavy-duty foil until you have a six-layered rectangle that measures 16 by 4 inches. Press the collar into the back side of the slow cooker insert. Fit two more large sheets of foil into the slow cooker, perpendicular to each other, with the extra hanging over the edges of the cooker for a sling to help remove the lasagna later.

2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the broken lasagna noodles and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until the noodles are al dente. Drain the noodles, rinse them under cold water until cool, then spread them out in single layer over clean kitchen towels and let dry. (Do not use paper towels; they will stick to the noodles.)

3. Heat the oil in the same pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt, cover, and cook until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover, add the onions, and continue to cook until the mushrooms are dry and browned, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Stir in the spinach, cover, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt.

4. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 cup (2 ounces) Parmesan, basil, egg, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper together. Spread ½ cup of the mushroom-spinach sauce into the prepared slow cooker.

5. Arrange 4 lasagna noodle pieces in the slow cooker, overlapping if necessary, then dollop 9 rounded tablespoons of ricotta mixture over noodles. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella, then spoon 1 cup more mushroom-spinach sauce over top. Repeat the layering of lasagna noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella and mushroom-spinach sauce twice more. For the final layer, arrange the remaining 4 noodles in the slow cooker, then top with the remaining mushroom-spinach sauce and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and remaining Parmesan.

6. Cover and cook until the lasagna is heated through, about 4 hours on low. Let the lasagna cool for 20 minutes. Using the sling, transfer lasagna to serving platter and serve.

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baked eggs in mushrooms with zucchini ragout

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When Cara asked me to guest post and offered the suggestion of focusing on a vacation that I’m excited about, I jumped at the chance to chatter to a new audience about my upcoming trip to Italy. Italy! Venice! The Cinque Terre! Tuscany! Rome! And then there’s the stuff that I’m really excited about – wine and espresso and cheese and pesto and bread and seafood. Also wine. Check out Cara’s blog to read about the Baked Eggs in Mushrooms with Zucchini Ragout I made, which involves no wine or espresso or pesto or bread or seafood. At least there’s cheese.

chocolate hazelnut biscotti

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I went through a phase a couple years ago, when I was unemployed and had plenty of free time to bake, where I made a lot of biscotti for Dave. He doesn’t usually like to bring treats to work to share with coworkers, but he got in the habit of bringing a couple extra biscotti every day to give to his boss.

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His boss was impressed with the almond biscotti. Then a week later, I made the same recipe, substituting hazelnuts and dried cherries for the almonds. But I was experimenting with different methods for the second bake, and they didn’t get as crunchy.

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Dave’s boss said: “Too much egg, I think. Last week’s was better, almost perfect; this week’s needs work.”

Huh? Too much egg? He might be an expert in contaminant migration, but he doesn’t know squat about biscotti.

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I made these shortly after the batch with “too much egg.” Mindful of recent complaints about biscotti that was too soft in the middle, I erred on the crunchy side and left the biscotti in the oven, with the heat turned off and the door propped open, for half an hour after the recommended baking time.

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There were no complaints this time, although I did think they were a little crumbly and difficult to roll into logs (maybe they needed more egg?). Not only were the biscotti hard enough to dip into coffee, but the rich chocolate flavors were brought out by the dark espresso overtones. Jacque chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted.

One year ago: Dressy Chocolate Cake
Two years ago: Honey Peach Ice Cream
Three years ago: Cappuccino Cream Puff Rings

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pizza with caramelized onions and fennel

After a year and a half living in a small town, I still haven’t fully adjusted to the grocery store situation. I don’t think I’ve walked out of the store here once without thinking wistfully of Wegman’s. My new store isn’t a bad place; I’m just spoiled. They do occasionally stock random items, and I’ve learned to jump on those opportunities and worry about finding recipes later.

Sometimes I buy the item just to encourage the store to keep it up. In the last few months, we’ve eaten haricot vert, Copper River salmon, yellow carrots, and now fennel. Since I moved here, I’ve bitterly overlooked fennel recipes, thinking my fennel days were over, and then once I found fennel, I could only remember one of those recipes.

It’s a memorable recipe because it has a lot going for it. For one thing, it’s pizza, which is always good, but it’s even better since I’ve started playing with a new crust recipe recently (which will be the next blog entry). For another, the onions and fennel are caramelized, and who doesn’t like turning vegetables into candy?

Lindsay laments that this pizza was pale and homely, so I added some color in the form of black forest ham (ideally prosciutto, but my store was out of it) and a sprinkle of parsley. Not only is the splatter of pink and scattering of green welcome, but the salty bites of ham and bitter bits of parsley complimented the sweet onions and the licorice of the fennel. It’s too bad I don’t know when the next time I’ll find fennel is, because I’d love to make this one again.

One year ago: Quinoa Tabbouleh
Two years ago: Croissants
Three years ago: Franks and Beans

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Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Fennel, and Fresh Mozzarella (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Serves 6

I cooked the onions and fennel separately (not because I love doing dishes and wanted to use more than necessary; I had leftover caramelized onions to be used), and I found that the fennel didn’t caramelize, it just browned slightly. It may behave differently if onions are around.

1 pound pizza dough, fully risen and at room temperature (½ of this recipe)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
Salt
8 ounces whole-milk fresh mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
4 ounces prosciutto, cut into slivers
freshly shaved Parmesan cheese
sprinkling parsley

1. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500ºF. Divide the dough in two and shape each portion into a ball. Set the balls of dough aside, loosely covered, to allow the gluten to relax.

2. Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, fennel, and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking and occasionally stirring until the onions are golden brown, about 15 minutes.

3. Work with one ball of dough at a time on a lightly floured surface or a damp cloth. Flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently 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. Transfer the round of dough to a large square of parchment paper; slide onto a pizza peel.

4. Top the dough with half of each of the caramelized vegetables, cheese, and prosciutto. Slide the pizza with the parchment onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is browned around the edges. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack without the parchment; top with parmesan slivers and a sprinkle of parsley. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

semolina bread

Supposedly, my freezer is organized to have a shelf for meat, one for bread, one for prepared foods, and one for ingredients (mostly green chile and egg whites). In reality, bread tends to find its way onto each of the other shelves and eventually takes over. During my last freezer overhaul, I gave baked bread its own shelf and bread dough got moved to the ingredient shelf, which has plenty of open space now because we are, sadly, almost out of last year’s crop of green chile.

Besides our weekday snack supply of muffins (for Dave) and whole wheat bagels (for me), there’s usually homemade hamburger buns, hot dog buns, and sandwich thins, several bags of pizza dough, odds and ends of loaves whose genesis I don’t remember, and both baked and unbaked versions of whatever rustic bread I’m playing with at the time. The lovely s-curve of this semolina bread recipe caught my eye as soon as I got Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, years ago. I know I could have used that shape for any free-form loaf, but I saved it until I made the recipe it accompanies.

The three loaves of this semolina bread, one baked immediately and two frozen after shaping, didn’t last long in the freezer. I found every opportunity to bake up another loaf of this chewy golden bread. I’d start a new batch if there was any room in the freezer for what we don’t eat in one night.

One year ago: Brown Sugar Cookies
Two years ago: Brandied Berry Crepes
Three years ago: Breakfast Strata with Mushrooms, Sausage and Monterey Jack

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Semolina Bread (adapted from Pane Siciliano from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

1 recipe pate fermentée (recipe follows)
1¾ cups (8 ounces) bread flour
1¾ cups (8 ounces) semolina flour
1¼ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1¼ cups water, room temperature
sesame seeds

1. Remove the pate fermentée from the refrigerator 1 hour before mixing the final dough.

2. Stand mixer: Mix the pate fermentée, flours, salt, yeast, oil, honey, and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on medium-low speed until the dough is elastic and supple, about 8 minutes. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – smooth and tacky, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel.

By hand: Cut the pate fermentée into 8-12 pieces. Mix the flours, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the pate fermentée, olive oil, honey, and water. Stir the mixture until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured board or countertop and knead, incorporating as little flour as possible, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and supple. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – smooth and tacky, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel.

3. Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

4. Divide the dough into three equal portions. Very gently pull the edges of each portion around to one side and pinch them together to form a ball. Roll the dough between the palm of your hand and a lightly floured board or a damp kitchen towel (my preferred method). With the seam side up, push the sides of your thumbs into the dough, pulling the dough into an oblong. Pinch the seam together; repeat the process once more on the same dough ball to form a rope. Roll the rope, pushing it out into a longer rope, until it’s about 24 inches long. If it resists you at any point, let it rest for a few minutes before trying again. Then, working with each end simultaneously, coil the dough toward the center, forming an S-shape. Arrange the shaped loaves on parchment paper and sprinkle them with sesame seeds. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

5. The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Let it warm up and, if necessary, finish rising, which will take a couple hours. The dough is ready to bake when it has doubled in size and remains dimpled when poked.

6. While the dough is rising, place a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and a heavy metal baking pan on the top rack. Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

7. Transfer the risen loaves with the parchment paper to the hot baking stone. Pour 1 cup hot water into the metal pan on the top rack and close the door. After 30 seconds, open the door and spritz the sides of the oven with water. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake for 25 to 30 minutes longer, until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature is between 200 and 205 degrees.

8. Transfer the bread to a wire rack; cool 45 minutes before serving.

Pate fermentée

1⅛ cups (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1⅛ cups (5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon instant yeast
¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 to 7 ounces) water

1. Stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer). Add ¾ cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81 degrees.

3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1½ times its original size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it slightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.

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