curry coconut chickpea soup

When my parents brought home a half-grown boxer puppy, I asked them why they got such an ugly dog. With her squashed face, beady eyes, and unproportional torso, she was a far cry from the beautiful German shepherd I’d grown up with. Then we took her out to the backyard to run around and within minutes, I was exclaiming that she was the cutest thing ever! She raced back and forth, eagerly stopping by our sides for head pats. She had no tail to speak of, so instead wagged her entire butt back and forth. What a great dog (except for the drool and the farts). She certainly taught me an important lesson about how it’s what’s inside that really counts.

This soup might look oddly curdled to you, with random chunks of red floating on top. But I know that the mottled look is from sweet rich coconut milk, and the soup is full of healthy tomatoes and red peppers. I know that quinoa adds a bit of crunch to the soup, and chickpeas offer something to chew on.

We gave the boxer puppy an ultra-feminine name, Belle, to counteract some of her less feminine traits. And maybe that’s why this soup has such a descriptive name. Without all of those flavorful ingredients right in the title, how would you have any idea what’s in that suspicious orange-tinted broth? Your first impression might not reflect how good it really is.


(photo taken by my friend Ramie Pierce)

One year ago: Baked Ziti
Two years ago: Herbed Lima Bean Hummus
Three years ago: Maple Walnut Cupcakes

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Coconut Curry Chickpea Soup (adapted from epicurious via Cook, Pray, Love)

Serves 4

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped tomatoes, seeded and peeled, fresh or canned
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1. In a medium stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, curry powder, and garam masala; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, and black pepper; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

2. Stir in the coconut milk; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Garnish with the herbs; serve over rice, couscous, or quinoa, if desired.

I’m submitting this entry to Branny’s Charity Souper Bowl, in which she will donate a dollar to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for each post submitted.

pasta puttanesca

Dave’s been traveling occasionally for work, and every time we say goodbye, I get all, “nooooo, don’t leave me!” and then he’s gone, and I’m like, hey, now I can eat anchovies. Woohoo!

My standard dinner routine for when I’m on my own is pasta puttanesca on weeknights and pissaladiere on the weekend. Both combine Dave’s two least favorite ingredients, olives and anchovies. He doesn’t like such strong flavors – olives with their brine and anchovies with their salt. But if you combine the two, they battle for dominance and neither overpowers the other.

The first time I made puttanesca, I was a little overwhelmed. Looking back, I think I had made an understandable error – I added salt. The anchovies provide all the salt you need for this dish. Then that’s enhanced by bitter parsley and spicy pepper flakes, and everything comes together in a wonderful clash of flavor in your mouth.

One year ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Two years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage and Roasted Red Peppers

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Pasta Puttanesca (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves four

I use 12 ounces of pasta instead of 16 ounces; also, I don’t prefer spaghetti with chunky sauces like this.  To increase the protein, sometimes I add 2 cans of solid tuna, drained.

4 medium cloves garlic, minced to a paste or pressed through a press
Salt
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
4 teaspoons minced anchovies (about eight fillets)
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, ½ cup juice reserved
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped coarse
¼ cup minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, mix the garlic with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl; set aside. When the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; stir to separate the noodles. Immediately heat the oil, garlic mixture, hot red pepper flakes, and anchovies in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.

2. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, then return the pasta to the pot. Add ¼ cup of the reserved tomato juice and toss to combine.

3. Stir the capers, olives, and parsley into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to combine, adding more tomato juice to moisten if necessary. Adjust the seasonings with salt to taste and serve immediately.

pasta with brussels sprouts and pine nuts

It sounds plain, doesn’t it? What exactly is offering the flavor here? Is a bowl of carbs, green vegetables and nuts worth eating?

Because there aren’t many ingredients, it’s important to maximize each one. Browning food is key for developing flavor, so that means toasting the nuts and pan-roasting the Brussels sprouts. Plenty of garlic and a pinch of spicy red pepper flakes add another layer of interest. A generous handful of parmesan glues the sauce together, both in texture and taste.

It isn’t much, as you can see. But what it lacks in ingredients – and, therefore, ingredient prep – it makes up for in flavor. It’s a simple dish, but a healthy one that might surprise you by adding up to far more than its individual components hint at.

One year ago: Pizza, Green Tea Crème Brûlée, Herbed Lamb Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce, Soft and Sexy Grits,
Two years ago: Chocolate Truffles (with a chocolate comparison)

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Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pine Nuts (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

4 servings

Please note the very important “reserve a cup of pasta cooking water” step! I sometimes forget, but I’ve found that putting a measuring cup in the colander will remind me to scoop up some water when it’s time to drain the pasta.

If you have bacon fat (or better yet, pancetta fat, which is what I used) available, I highly recommend it. Because there aren’t a lot of ingredients here, the more flavorful each one is, the better. If that sounds too rich for your blood, using olive oil certainly won’t spoil your dish. One tablespoon will be enough if you’re being stingy, but you’ll have better browning of the sprouts with two.

Pasta dishes like this don’t have a high heat capacity. To keep dinner warm until I’m finished eating, I like to warm the serving bowls in the oven while the pasta is cooking.

12 ounces pasta (rotini or another open short shape)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces (¼ cup) pine nuts
24 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1-2 tablespoons butter, olive oil, or bacon fat
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup water
juice of 1 lemon
2 ounces (1 cup) freshly grated parmesan

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. When it boils, add a tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Cook according to the package directions. Drain, reserving about a cup of the pasta cooking water.

2. Meanwhile, heat a 12-inch not-nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts; cook and stir until fragrant and lightly toasted, 1-2 minutes. Transfer to nuts to a small bowl; set aside.

3. Add the fat to the now-empty skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and a big pinch of salt; cook without stirring for 2 minutes. Stir; repeat the cooking and stirring twice more, for a total of 6 minutes. Push the sprouts to the edge of the pan and add the garlic and pepper flakes to the cleared center; cook and stir constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir into the sprouts.

4. Add the water to the pan; immediately cover and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Remove the lid, scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and let any remaining liquid evaporate.

5. Add the drained pasta, Brussels sprouts mixture, lemon juice, and ½ cup of pasta cooking water to the pot the pasta was cooked in. Stirring continuously, sprinkle the parmesan over the pasta, adding more pasta cooking water if necessary to keep the mixture from drying out. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary; serve immediately, preferably in warmed bowls.

classic burritos

This is not my most gourmet meal. It’s mostly fancy Taco Bell. It kind of looks like dog food. It’s delicious and easy and kinda healthy. I like it.

It’s at least fancier than we made it when I was a kid. Back then, we (usually my brother) browned some ground beef, dumped in a packet of burrito seasoning and some water, and stirred in a can of refried beans. Then we glopped it on tortillas with fixin’s and were happy.

Then my brother started getting creative. He would add green chile to the mix or use shredded chicken instead of ground beef. I don’t like change. I just want my fancy Taco Bell.

What I have changed is to get rid of the sodium and preservative-filled spice packet and the pasty canned refried beans for some good stuff – browned onions, fresh garlic, spices that I already have anyway, and pinto beans I mush up myself. Plus I use ground turkey instead of ground beef, because it tastes the same once it’s mixed in with everything else, and it’s a little healthier. Same goes for Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

Sure, it’s just a regular old burrito, and it costs 79 cents at a fast food chain. But if you make it yourself, you can use high quality ingredients – lettuce that is actually crisp, cheese that has flavor, spices that are fresh – and it isn’t much harder than going through the drive-thru.

One year ago: Bran Muffins
Two years ago: Spinach Artichoke and Red Pepper Strata

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Classic Burritos

4-6 servings

The filling also reheats really well, so I usually make enough for more than one meal and have an easy leftover night a few days later.

These are my favorite fillings for these very basic burritos. Obviously you can go wild here with whatever you like – salsa, hot sauce, green chile, guacamole…

Filling:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chile powder
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 pound ground turkey (or other ground meat of your choice)
1 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup water

Toppings:
flour tortillas
green leaf lettuce, sliced
tomatoes, diced
cheddar cheese, shredded
black olives, chopped
sour cream (or Greek yogurt)

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until just browned around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the spices and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the meat and salt and cook, stirring occasionally to break up large chunks, until no longer pink. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the beans to it; use a potato masher to break up the beans slightly. Stir in the water and simmer over medium heat until the liquid mostly evaporates. Serve the filling with toppings of your choice.

penne alla vodka

People keep asking me how my recent vacation was, and I can’t think of any response other “so, so good.” How else do you sum up a week of playing in the waves, drinking margaritas, snorkeling, baking cookies, swimming with sea lions, watching shooting stars, eating shrimp tacos, and just basically everything that is good. I didn’t even get sunburned. I want to go back.

At least I had an easy meal planned for my first night at home. This is my ‘just got back from vacation’ dish. After traveling all day, I don’t want to spend much time cooking. There’s no time to defrost anything. We haven’t been home, so there isn’t a lot of fresh food around. I’ve been eating out all week on vacation, so I don’t want to get takeout.

This dish solves all those problems. It takes as long to make as it takes pasta to cook. There are only a couple ingredients to chop. It’s fairly healthy. And it uses ingredients that I can buy before I leave and trust that they’ll keep until I get back – pasta, canned tomatoes, onion. And of course, it tastes great.

I bet it would taste even better on vacation. Everything is better on vacation.

One year ago: Potato Tomato Tart
Two years ago: Banana Coconut Muffins

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Penne alla Vodka (from Cooks Illustrated)

You can never go wrong following a Cooks Illustrated recipe precisely. I, however, don’t, in this case. Because I almost always make this after a day of traveling, I simplify it wherever possible. Instead of pureeing half of the tomatoes and dicing the rest, I simply stick a pair of kitchen shears in the tomato can and snip away. I don’t separate the liquid and the tomatoes in order to measure a certain amount; I just pour all of the liquid in to the sauce. I like to use 2 shallots instead of half an onion. If I don’t have cream, I use milk. If I don’t have milk, I skip the dairy. If I don’t have basil, I use parsley. If I don’t have parsley, I skip the herbs or use dried. It’s tomatoes, pasta, and alcohol; it isn’t going to be bad.

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion, minced (about ¼ cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
¼-½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
table salt
⅓ cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
fresh parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Puree half of the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Dice the remaining tomatoes into ½-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine the pureed and diced tomatoes in a liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1⅔ cups). Add reserved tomato liquid to equal 2 cups.

2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are light golden around the edges, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Stir in the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka. Return the pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until the alcohol flavor is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower the heat to medium if the simmering becomes too vigorous. Stir in the cream and cook until hot, about 1 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain the pasta, reserving ¼ cup cooking water, and transfer the pasta back to the Dutch oven. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss over medium heat until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in the basil and adjust the seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls and serve immediately, passing Parmesan separately.

roasted red pepper pasta salad with peas and beans

I had my doubts about this salad the whole time I was shopping for it, making it, testing it for seasoning, and serving it. But now, weeks later, my doubts are gone and I want some more. Except with better peas.

Most of the doubts came from an unsuccessful shopping trip for ingredients. Sometimes I complain after shopping at my regular grocery store, but in truth, I usually get by just fine with what I can find there. However, it is a 7-minute drive from my house. Walmart, while not my favorite place on earth, is a 2-minute drive. I tried to cut corners, and I paid the price. Walmart didn’t have whole wheat pasta, any sort of fresh pea or bean, frozen petite peas (which are sweeter and less starchy than regular peas), or shallots.

So, yes, frozen petite peas would be better than the larger starchy ones, and fresh peas are so fun, and I would love some sort of fresh beans, and yellow beans would add a nice contrasting color. But one change I was forced to make, skipping the shallots, actually worked out better I think, with some lightly pickled red onions adding tartness to the salad instead.

And even at its simplest, this salad is unique and interesting, with smoky sweet roasted red pepper dressing coating pasta, creamy white beans, and crisp vegetables. Plus I learned a valuable lesson about driving that extra five minutes to the regular grocery store, and how it’s worth every second.

One year ago: Sourdough Bagels
Two years ago: Danish Braids

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Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad with Peas and Beans (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Deb based this salad on one she had in a restaurant, which also included yellow string beans, fava beans, fresh cranberry beans, among other wonderful bean types that simply aren’t available in small desert towns. I would have loved any or all of those, but the salad was wonderful at its most simple as well.

1 pound small pasta
salt
¼ red onion, very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 ounces snow pea pods, ends trimmed, cut on an extreme diagonal
1 cup peas (from about 8 ounces with their shells, if you can find fresh)
1 (15-ounce) can great northern (or navy) beans, drained and rinsed
¾ to 1 cup Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette (recipe below)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook according to the package instructions. One minute before the pasta is done, add the peas. Drain the pasta and peas together.

2. Meanwhile, combine the onion, vinegar, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl; set aside for 10 minutes. When the pasta has cooled, add the remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly. Taste and add more salt if necessary, which it probably will be.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Makes about one cup of dressing

1 red bell pepper, roasted, skinned and seeded or the equivalent from a jar, drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus up to 1 tablespoon more
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or vinegar if necessary.

pasta with asparagus and goat cheese

I feel like I used to have this room (my life), and it had some stuff in it; mostly stuff I liked (cooking, reading, teaching, gardening), although of course there were things I didn’t (cleaning). My main problem was that it was too empty. There was too much space, and I could never get it arranged in any pleasing way. It made me frustrated and unhappy, and I took less enjoyment even from the things I did like.

Then I added this huge, I don’t know, piece of furniture or some other room-dominating thing (a full-time job). And now the room is too full. I like it more overall, I just don’t know where to put everything. Some things I’m willing to give up (hours mindlessly spent searching the internet), but the rest I’m trying to rearrange. Where does exercise go? What about blogging? Keeping in touch with friends, spending quality time with my husband, learning new things? I know there’s room for them all, I just have to find out how to make it work.

I’m not going to stop cooking, obviously. But I will change the way I cook most nights of the week, keeping things simple. This dish, with only a handful of ingredients and one ingredient to chop, is a perfect example of how easy meals can still be tasty meals. This meal definitely fits into my crowded new room, and it leaves me plenty of space for exercise, a full day of work, a long chat with a friend, and even a batch of brownies. A life too full is certainly better than a life too empty.

Two years ago: Kung Pao Shrimp

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Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Lemon Pasta
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 6

16 ounces pasta
salt and pepper
2 pounds slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut into 1- to 1½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
8 ounces soft goat cheese

1. Bring at least 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and cook the pasta until it is almost tender, about 2 minutes short of the package instructions. Add the asparagus and cook until it is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain the pasta and asparagus.

2. Return the pasta and asparagus to the pot and add the oil, zest from the whole lemon, juice from ½ the lemon, goat cheese, a generous grinding of pepper, and ½ cup pasta cooking water; stir until the goat cheese melts. Taste and add salt (you’ll probably need some), freshly ground black pepper, and more lemon juice if necessary. If the sauce becomes thick and sticky, stir in more pasta cooking water.

quinoa tabbouleh

I have annoying eating habits at work. Carrots – crunchy. Bananas – smelly. Hard-boiled eggs – crunchy (during the peeling) and smelly. My officemate is very tolerant. And on our first day in the office together, she asked me, “So is that how you stay thin? By eating healthy all the time?” Hmm…

  1. Call me thin some more, if you will. I will use it as an excuse to skip my workout this evening.
  2. Define “all the time.” Because…no. Not so much.

She asked me what I normally make for dinner, and I was at a loss for an answer. I’m a food blogger; I repeat dinners maybe once every couple of months. The quickest way I could think to answer that question was to give her the link to my blog. My third day at work, and I already outed myself as Food Obsessed.

She asked me what I was making for dinner that night, and when I answered, she asked what quinoa was. I was reminded: I’m the weird one when it comes to food. And so are you, probably, if you’re reading a food blog. I wonder what percentage of people in my small isolated desert town know what quinoa is?

Which is sad, because, as you know if you are also one of the Food Obsessed, quinoa is what all of the other whole grains (I know, I know, not technically a grain) want to be – hearty and healthy, but fluffy and slightly sweet, the way most grains don’t taste until they’re refined. Mixing it with vegetables, herbs, and feta makes it even healthier, which is perfect because that way I get dessert.  No one can eat healthy all the time, right?

One year ago: Strawberry Lemon Sorbet
Two years ago: Ricotta Spinach Tofu Ravioli

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Quinoa Tabbouleh (adapted from Bookcook via the kitchn)

Makes 3-4 main course servings

Some things: I didn’t quite follow this method to mellow the bite of the onions, and my method did not work. The leftovers were particularly intense. Soak the onion in water! You may want to add the garlic too, although I have no evidence that this method would work for garlic. It just seems like it could.

The original recipe includes mint, but I don’t usually like mint with savory food. It also called for olive oil, and I intended to add it but after tasting the salad, the oil didn’t seem necessary. And less oil in dinner means more cookies for dessert.

The standard directions for cooking quinoa seem to be 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water, so I’ve left that as it was in the original recipe. But I’m suspicious: my pot had a lot of water left in it at the end of cooking that had to be drained off. Next time I’m trying 1½ cups water for 1 cup quinoa.

I know traditional tabbouleh is more parsley than grain, but it’s also more side dish than main, which wasn’t what I was going for.

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
½ red onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced ⅛-inch thick
1 bunch parsley (about 2 cups), minced
8 ounces feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Rinse the quinoa well under cold water. Put it in a medium saucepan with 2 cups of water and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Transfer the cooked quinoa to a large bowl to cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, cover the diced onion and a pinch of salt with water. Let the onion soak while you prepare the other ingredients.

3. Drain the onions; add them to the bowl along with the garlic, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, and feta; stir to combine. Add the lemon juice and toss to coat. Taste for seasoning (more salt? more lemon juice?) and serve.

pasta with baked ricotta and sweet tomato sauce

I’m all about taking water out of ingredients. Zucchini, eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, tofu, even bread for French toast. Water doesn’t contribute flavor, so if it isn’t improving texture, I have no use for it.

In this recipe, ricotta is drained in cheesecloth for several hours, then baked. What I thought would happen is the cheese would lose a small but significant portion of water during the draining stage, and then it would brown a little in the oven.

I was wrong. My ricotta actually gave off no liquid during straining, and I’m thinking now that the baking isn’t so much to brown the ricotta as to concentrate flavor by evaporating even more liquid.

The sauce to accompany the baked ricotta is a simple tomato sauce that is sweetened with balsamic vinegar. I used fresh pasta, which when topped with the sauce, ricotta, a handful a parmesan and a sprinkling of basil, made for a great adaptation of a classic pasta and tomato sauce dish.

One year ago: Pot Roast
Two years ago: Comparison of 4 Vanilla Frosting

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Pasta with Sweet Tomato Sauce and Baked Ricotta (adapted from Jamie Oliver via Cate’s World Kitchen)

I used one pound of (store-bought) fresh pasta instead of dried pasta, and it was so good that I think I’ll stick with fresh pasta for this recipe in the future as well.

Serves 4-6

1 (15-ounce) container ricotta
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano, divided
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound wide pasta, such as pappardelle or fettucine
a handful of fresh basil, torn
½ cup (1 ounce) freshly grated parmesan

1. Line a fine-mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth. Spoon the ricotta into the strainer and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

2. Adjust a rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spread the ricotta onto the baking sheet in a 1-inch layer. Season the ricotta with ¼ teaspoon dried oregano and a generous pinch of both salt and pepper. Rub 1 teaspoon of the olive oil over the seasoned ricotta. Bake for 15 minutes, until dry and slightly browned at the edges.

3. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in an 8 to 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the edges just start to brown, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ¼ teaspoon oregano, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Use a spoon to crush the tomatoes, of, if you’d like a smooth sauce, transfer the mixture to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. Stir the balsamic vinegar into the sauce.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

5. Combine the pasta and sauce, thinning the mixture with pasta cooking water if necessary. Fold in the basil and ricotta and top with the parmesan.

jalapeno-baked fish with roasted tomatoes and potatoes

I need every weekday meal to be exactly like this one.

First, it took only 20 minutes of actual effort. Sliced potatoes are softened in the microwave right in the baking dish. Meanwhile, I pureed a few other ingredients, mostly straight from cans, with my immersion blender. Then I laid some fish filets over the potatoes and poured the pureed sauce on top.

Second, it only bakes for 20 minutes. This was the perfect amount of time for me to empty the dishwasher, clean up the kitchen and unpack groceries.

Third, it’s nice and light, with lean white fish, vegetables, and just a small amount of oil to help the potatoes cook.

Fourth, and of course the only point that really matters, it was just so good. The fish, potatoes, and sauce were balanced nicely and the spice level was just right.

My favorite meals have all the ingredients jumbled together like this, protein and starch and vegetables. It’s especially nice on a weeknight so I don’t have to make side dishes as well. I haven’t found many fish recipes like that, so this is perfect – in every way, really.

One year ago: Red Velvet Cake comparison
Two years ago: Olive Oil Bread

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Jalapeno-Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
(from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday via Dinner and Dessert)

Serves 4

4 medium (1 pound total) red-skin boiling or Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
Salt
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
1 large garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
⅓ cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
About ¼ cup sliced canned pickled jalapenos
1 tablespoon jalapeno pickling juice
Four 4- to 5-ounce (1 to 1¼ pounds total) skinless fish fillets, preferably ¾ to 1 inch thick

1. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees. Scoop the sliced potatoes into a microwaveable 8×8-inch baking dish. Drizzle on the oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Toss to coat, then spread the potatoes in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and poke a couple of holes in the top. Microwave on high until the potatoes are nearly tender, about 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, combine the tomatoes with their juice, garlic, cilantro, jalapenos, and pickling juice. Process to a puree, leaving just a little texture.

3. Lay the fish fillets in a single layer over the potatoes. Pour the tomato mixture evenly over the fish and potatoes.

4. Slide the baking dish into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the fish flakes when pressed firmly.

5. Scoop a portion of the fish-potato-sauce onto each dinner plate, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve right away.