pasta with cauliflower, walnuts, and ricotta salata

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I was recently reminded me of why I unabashedly (okay, maybe a little abashedly) stole Smitten Kitchen’s “one year ago” idea (although all the cool kids are doing it these days it seems). I’ve had this pasta recipe bookmarked since she posted it, and every week when I plan my meals, I consider it, and then pass over it. I didn’t realize I’d been doing this for an entire year until I saw this recipe featured from one year ago.

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Seriously, I love pasta, and we eat it one or twice a week. Also, cauliflower? My favorite vegetable, ever since I was a kid. And quick vegetarian meals are our standard weeknight fare. And, I’ve been meaning to try ricotta salata for ages. I was outrageously overdue for making this recipe.

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But, when I finally made it, I thought it had a lot more potential than it did flavor. The problem is that the recipe’s original author, Alice Waters, took a very easygoing, flexible route with the recipe, providing only approximate ingredient quantities and no recommended cooking times.

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In a nutshell, the cauliflower is pan-roasted, then onions and crushed red pepper are added, then garlic, then lemon juice, white wine vinegar, and toasted walnuts. All of that is mixed with pasta and soft cheese. It’s a nice combination of ingredients and you’d be hard-pressed to make it bad, but ‘not bad’ is generally not my goal for food.

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The next time I made it, in an effort to bump up the flavor, I decreased the pasta significantly. (You could also think of it as increasing the cauliflower, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and walnuts.) I’ve also quantified things. Willy-nilly, splash of this, pinch of that recipes drive me crazy and usually end up underseasoned.

Other than the ratio of pasta to everything else, the recipe really isn’t so different from the original. And hopefully it’s reproducible now, so you can have the exact same spicy, fresh flavor from this dish that I enjoyed.

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One year ago: Breakfast Strata with Mushrooms, Sausage, and Monterey Jack

Whole Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts and Ricotta Salata (from Chez Panisse Vegetables via Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 4

10 ounces whole-wheat pasta
½ cup walnuts
1 tablespoon olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 small heads cauliflower, cut into 1.5-inch florets
1 large or 2 small onions, sliced very thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta cooking water
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 ounces ricotta salata, chopped
extra virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)

1. Bring 3 to 4 quarts water to a rapid boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to package instructions. Before draining the cooked pasta, put about 1 cup pasta cooking water in a separate bowl and set aside. After draining the pasta, return it to the cooking pot.

2. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a large, not nonstick pan over medium heat until fragrant. Put the walnuts in a small bowl and set aside.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the same pan over medium heat. When hot, add cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4-5 minutes. Add onions, red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Continue cooking and stirring until the onions are softened and the cauliflower is crisp-tender. Stir in the garlic, then immediately remove the pan from the heat. Add the lemon juice, walnuts, and cheese.

4. Stir the cauliflower mixture into the pasta. Add enough of the reserved pasta cooking water to moisten the mixture. Adjust the seasonings to taste and serve, garnishing each plate with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if desired.

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pasta with roasted red pepper sauce

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I read the Pioneer Woman’s cooking blog, even though I don’t find too many recipes there that are my style.  Ree tends to add more butter, more oil, and more cream to her dishes. And yes, all of those things make food very good. But it’s a safe bet that I live a more sedentary life than Ree does on her ranch, so I can’t be adding extra butter to everything I cook.

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Occasionally, though, Ree makes a dish that does click with me, like this one. It’s an easy, fairly healthy, vegetarian, one-dish pasta meal. That is exactly how we normally eat.

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The sauce is simply sautéed onions and garlic with pureed roasted red peppers, pine nuts, and heavy cream stirred in. I used less cream than Ree, of course, and I decided to keep the pine nuts whole instead of grinding them with the roasted peppers. I’m sure either way is fine; recipes as straightforward as this are easy to adapt to your preferences.

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I also burnt the pine nuts and under-roasted the peppers, but these aren’t changes that I recommend that you make. Fortunately, this pasta is so good that even that couldn’t ruin it.

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One year ago: Blueberry Poppy Seed Brunch Cake

Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks)

Note from Bridget: This is fairly similar to the original recipe, in that it uses the same ingredients in almost the same proportions, but I’ve changed the directions slightly, mostly to give them some more detail. You can roast the peppers a few days advance, and keep them refrigerated (or frozen) either peeled or unpeeled. Also, Ree warns that this dish needs quite a bit of salt, and I found this to be the case. Please don’t be afraid to add salt at the end until the sauce has some flavor!

Serves 2

2 red bell peppers
6 ounces dry pasta
salt
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley
fresh Parmesan, shaved, grated or shredded

1. Adjust an oven rack to the top position and heat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut a ½-inch ring off the tops and bottoms of the peppers. Remove the seeds and stems, then cut the remaining cylinders of pepper in half lengthwise, into two wide strips. Lay the strips of pepper and the rings skin-side up on the foil-lined pan, pushing the strips down. Broil until thoroughly blackened, 6-8 minutes. Put the broiled peppers in a bowl; cover the bowl and set aside for at least 10 minutes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, until al dente. Drain and return to the cooking pot.

3. Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet, preferably not nonstick, over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and toast, shaking the pan occasionally, until golden brown and fragrant, 3-6 minutes. Remove the pine nuts from the pan and set aside.

4. Peel the skins off of the peppers. Add them to a blender or food processor and purée.

5. Add the olive oil to the now-empty skillet over medium heat. Once heated, add the onion. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened and just browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then stir in the red pepper puree and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour in the cream and toasted pine nuts, and stir until the sauce is evenly heated. Check for seasoning, adding additional salt if necessary.

6. Add the sauce to the cooked pasta, and stir over medium-high heat until everything is heated and the pasta absorbs some of the sauce. Serve, topping each portion with parsley and Parmesan.

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black bean squash burritos

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One of my (many) goals for this year was to cook less. And boy have I. My cooking and baking was getting out of hand there for a while and getting in the way of other things I needed to be doing. Like working. But I swung too far in the other direction, because do you realize that I haven’t posted a non-baked recipe in a month? In fact, I almost ran out of anything I could post about. Now I’m getting back on track with trying new, easy, healthy dinner recipes.

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Black bean and squash burritos have been on my radar for a while, but then when I finally decided to make them, I couldn’t find a recipe. I ended up just writing my own. For the squash, I knew I wanted to avoid peeling and dicing it while it was raw, as that whole process always ends up pissing me off. So I sliced the squash, seasoned it, rubbed it in just a little olive oil, and roasted it until it was soft and browned.

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While the squash was in the oven, I sautéed some onions, then added garlic and spices before stirring in green chiles and black beans. When the squash was done, I pulled the peels off and roughly chopped the flesh, which I threw into the pot with the beans. That simple mixture was my main filling, and I served it with salsa and cheese.

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I thought they were really good. And they’re so easy, and they’re healthy, and cheap. An overall success in my book. Dave…um, he thought they were fine. His exact words were, “I like regular burritos better.” I told them he should judge these based on their own merits instead of comparing them to something else, and he said, “Too squashy.” Pbbth. Whatever. I thought they were seriously tasty.

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One year ago: Gooey Chocolate Cake – my first recipe with Tuesdays with Dorie

Squash and Black Bean Burritos

Note: The burritos are also good when they’re made with chipotle chiles instead of green chiles.  If you go that direction, I’d use four, and more if you like a lot of spice.

Serves 4-6

2 small acorn squash
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped small
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
8 ounces green chiles, diced
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
10 (7-inch) flour tortillas, warmed
salsa
4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled, or shredded cheddar (about 1 cup)

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450F. Halve the squash and scoop out the seeds. Cut each half into ¾-inch slices. Spread 2 teaspoons of olive oil on a baking sheet and lay the squash slices on the oil, turning each slice over to thinly coat each side. Generously season with salt and pepper. Roast until the squash is browned on the edges and tender throughout, about 20 minutes.

2. Heat 4 teaspoons olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until just browned around the edges, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and coriander. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in the chiles, beans and a pinch of salt. Lower the heat to low, cover, and heat just to warm.

3. When the squash has cooled enough to handle, peel the skin off of each slice. Roughly chop the squash into ¼- to ½-inch pieces and stir into the black beans.

4. Layer the squash-black bean mixture, salsa, and cheese in center of each tortilla. Fold and serve.

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roasted kale

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I would not have predicted a couple years ago that kale would become one of my favorite vegetables. Or that one of my favorite ways to eat it would be topped with an egg.

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I recognize that the dark olive green color of cooked kale may appear unappetizing. Furthermore, it’s a leafy green vegetable, which we’re trained from childhood to distrust. To be honest, I still don’t even like cooked spinach – too mushy, if not in reality, then certainly in my mind.

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Kale, though, retains a nice crunch after it’s cooked, because it’s much heartier than spinach. It has an earthy flavor, which I know makes it sound like it tastes like dirt, but to me, it’s more of an umami-type meaty flavor.

The problem is that the only way I had prepared kale before this was by braising it, which, although delicious, takes at least half an hour. This roasted method takes, I kid you not, only ten minutes in the oven, and the kale is just as tasty.

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The texture of roasted kale is a little different from braised. Some of the leaves, those on the edges of the baking pan I suppose, were a little crispy, while some of the kale was more moist. Both textures were fine by me.

With a lovely poached egg on top, and some mustardy roasted potatoes, kale makes a delicious, hearty, easy, and healthy meal.

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One year ago: Banana Walnut Pancakes

Roasted Kale (slightly reworded from Tuesday Recipe)

Serves 2, generously

1 bunch kale (about ½ pound)
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt
sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Cut the stems off the kale and discard; rinse and shake the leaves dry. Stack the leaves and cut them crosswise into strips about 1 inch wide. Put the kale in a big bowl and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat well (about 2 tablespoons). Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, then gently toss the leaves. Spread the kale on a large rimmed baking sheet and pop it in the oven. Set the bowl aside without washing it.

2. Roast the kale until some of the leaves are tinged with brown, about 7 minutes. Remove baking sheet and stir the kale around, then put it back in the oven for another 3 minutes or so until all the leaves are starting to crisp. Immediately put the leaves back in the bowl you first tossed them in, then drizzle with another tablespoon of oil and a few splashes of vinegar. Toss kale with the tongs, taste, and add more oil, vinegar, or salt as needed. Toss again and serve right away.

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twice-baked potatoes with broccoli, cheddar, and scallions

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I think every food blogger recognizes that there are copyright issues with what we do. Very few of us have only original recipes on our blogs, which means the recipes we publish are from other sources – sources who would prefer that people pay money for their recipes instead of stumbling upon them in a blog.

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Most of us dutifully provide the source of the recipe and then hope for the best. It’s also fairly common knowledge among bloggers that one loophole is to write out the recipe directions in our own words, because ingredient lists can’t be copyrighted. Not that this is foolproof – it’s the creative idea that is copyrighted, not the wording of the directions.

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It’s not unlike birth control – the only method to guarantee that you won’t get into trouble is to abstain from blogging. If you’re not willing to do that, you take whatever precautions you’re willing to and then hope for the best.

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The idea for this particular recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated. I used to make it once a month or so, since it’s easy, balanced, and fairly healthy. I hadn’t made it in over a year, but I decided not to look up the recipe. I still remembered the gist of it, and this way I could make it my own, thus avoiding the whole copyright issue. Besides, I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be able to combine these ingredients and get anything that wasn’t good.

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These are simply lightened-up twice-baked potatoes. I cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets, steamed them, and seasoned them with lemon juice and a bit of salt. Then I mashed up the baked potato innards with just enough butter to moisten them, and stirred in enough buttermilk to get the texture I was looking for – moist but not wet. Buttermilk is great with potatoes because it tastes like sour cream but isn’t nearly as fattening. I tried to be judicious with the cheese, and then scallions provided the perfect overtone of onion flavor. I stuffed the shells with the filling and put the whole thing under the broiler for a few minutes to reheat it and melt the cheese. (The final step, of course, is to drop it on the counter while transferring it from the baking sheet to a plate.)

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The result is the ideal healthy-ish one-dish-meal baked potato. The shells are crispy, the broccoli is cooked just right, the potato filling is creamy, and the flavors meld perfectly. Cooks Illustrated couldn’t have done it any better.

One year ago: Country Crust Bread – my favorite sandwich bread

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions

Serves 2

This is admittedly heavy on the broccoli. You can use less if you prefer, but we like broccoli and it’s so healthy.

2 medium to large baking (russet) potatoes
2 small (or 1 large) broccoli crowns, cut into 1-inch florets with stems no longer than 1 inch
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter, softened
½ cup buttermilk
1 scallion, sliced then
1 ounce (¼ cup) cheddar, plus ½ ounce (2 tablespoons)
salt
black pepper

1. Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes and stab them several times with a fork. Place them on the oven rack and bake until a fork inserted into the potato meets no resistance, 60-75 minutes.

2. Remove the potatoes from the oven and set them aside until they’re cool enough to handle. Heat the broiler. Meanwhile, bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Place the broccoli florets in a steamer basket and put the steamer basket in the saucepan, making sure that the water does not come into contact with the broccoli. Cover the pot and steam for 4 minutes, until the broccoli is just crisp-tender. (You want it more on the crisp side, since they’ll continue to cook as they cool, plus they’ll spend some time under the broiler.) Remove the steamer basket with the broccoli from the saucepan and discard the water in the pot. Dump the broccoli into the pot and season with a pinch of salt and the lemon juice.

3. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the potatoes, leaving a thin coating on the potato skin. In a medium bowl, use a potato masher to mash the potato flesh with the butter. Stir in ¼ teaspoon salt, a pinch of ground black pepper, the broccoli, plus the remaining ingredients, except ½ ounce cheddar.

4. Spoon the filling into the potato shells and top with the remaining cheddar. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is spotty brown and the tops are crisp. Serve immediately.

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chopped salad

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Last month, I was looking at pictures with my 2-year-old nephew, and when we came to a picture of my sister when she was six months pregnant, he pointed to her and said, “That’s Aunt Bridget!” Wow, thanks buddy. I know my pants fit kind of tight lately, but at least they’re size-six pants!

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So I’m thinking I should eat more salads. Okay, that isn’t the reason – mostly, I just like salads. I like salads served either as the main dish or before the rest of the meal. Too often salads are an afterthought pieced together from iceberg lettuce, out-of-season tomatoes, and bottled dressing, and they’re served alongside a meal that they don’t compliment.

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I know chopped salad hardly needs a recipe – just take your favorite vegetables and serve them over lettuce. I’m just excited about this particular combination – in about a week, I had it for dinner twice and lunch once.

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My salad includes romaine lettuce, along with carrots, cucumbers, celery, red pepper and red onion. I added hard-boiled eggs for protein and avocado to mellow the tartness of the vinaigrette. I chopped everything except the lettuce into about ¼-inch cubes, which made them easy to scoop up with a fork. There’s just enough lettuce to get maybe one small piece with each forkful of chopped vegetables.

Nothing makes me feel healthier than eating a big bowl of salad for dinner. And that makes me look forward to dessert that much more.

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Chopped Salad (adapted slightly from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

Serves 4

Vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons vinegar – good choices include balsamic, sherry, red wine, white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, peeled
4 stalks celery stalks, preferably from the heart, washed
1 medium red onion
1 medium red bell pepper, washed
1 regular-sized cucumber or 2 english cucumbers, washed
1 avocado, halved, seed removed, flesh scooped from skin
2 hardboiled eggs, peeled
2 romaine hearts, washed and dried

1. For the vinaigrette: Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tightfitting lid and shake until combined.

2. For the salad: Chop all ingredients except romaine into ⅛- to ¼-inch cubes and place in large bowl. Cut romaine into approximately 1-inch pieces and add to bowl.

3. Add vinaigrette to salad ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve.

pasta with broccoli, sausage, and roasted red peppers

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Wow, New Years Resolutions are seriously unpopular this year. While I understand that January 1st isn’t a magical date where you get to start over with a clean slate, and it isn’t the only day of the year where you’re allowed to resolve to better yourself, I do think that it’s a good date to start thinking about new goals. For one thing, there is something to having a fresh new year to focus on. For another, it’s the official end of the holiday season, during which it can be difficult to focus on new goals because of travel and parties and other things that disrupt normal routines.

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This isn’t to say that I’ve always been a hard-core New Year’s resolver. I don’t usually bother, and last year I kept it very simple with the intention to start flossing regularly. This year, however, I have a categorized list of goals. 2008 wasn’t my best year, and I’m eager to make up for it in 2009.

One of my resolutions is actually to cook less, or at least to be more reasonable about cooking, by focusing on quick weeknight meals and making enough for leftovers. This pasta fits in perfectly with that mindset, because it can be made in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta and uses only a few ingredients.

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There’s nothing complicated about this recipe. Brown some sausage, stir in garlic and roasted red pepper, and then add broccoli with some water to help it cook. Mix all that with pasta, add some cheese, and there’s dinner – you have starch, protein, and vegetables, all in one very easy recipe. And there’s the added bonus that both broccoli and garlic are even more nutritious than your average vegetable.

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The recipe recommends orechiette (an ear-shaped pasta), but I don’t generally get hung up on pasta shapes. My favorite brand of pasta doesn’t come in orechiette, so I tend to use whatever short tubularish pasta I happen to have. Also, this time I used Cento jarred roasted red peppers, and I hated them. They were so soft and slimy. Cooks Illustrated recommends them, so I don’t know if I got a bag batch or I’m a bad judge of roasted red peppers or what. Since roasting my own peppers complicates this simple meal, I might just sauté some fresh red peppers with the sausage in the future.

I find that I often like recipes with quite a bit less pasta than the original version calls for, and this recipe is no exception. I reduced the pasta to 12 ounces, plus I wouldn’t have minded more sausage and red peppers. Either way you prefer it, this meal is quick, tasty, and healthy.

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One year ago: Pad Thai – one of my favorite meals

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

CI note: In this recipe, begin cooking the broccoli immediately after putting the pasta into boiling water. When cut into small pieces, the broccoli takes only a few minutes to cook through.

Bridget note: I reduce the pasta to 12 ounces (¾ pound), and I’ll probably add more peppers in the future. More sausage couldn’t hurt either.

table salt
1 pound orecchiette
4 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
9 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (3 tablespoons)
1 cup roasted red peppers (8 ounces), cut into ½-inch squares
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds broccoli, florets cut into bite-sized 1-inch pieces, stalks peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into ¼-inch thick pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (2 ounces)

1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil, covered, in stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain and return to stockpot.

2. While pasta is cooking, cook sausage in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it into small pieces with spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, roasted peppers, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add broccoli and ½ cup water, then cover and cook until broccoli begins to turn bright green, 1 to 2 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, until water has evaporated and broccoli is tender, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add broccoli mixture, oil, and cheese to pasta in stockpot; toss to combine. Serve immediately.

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sausage apple hash

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I’m not the most creative cook ever. You may have noticed that most recipes on my blog are from some other source – very few are my own creations, and even those are pretty much just heavily adapted versions of ideas I got somewhere else. So when I am actually creative, I’m very proud of myself.

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I saw this sausage apple hash on Mark’s blog last summer, and put off making it until apple season. I decided to add potatoes to Mark’s recipe – that would make this a complete meal, and potatoes just seemed to make good sense here. I was pleased with my mild creativity.

Oh, except when I read the recipe closer, I saw that it originally included potatoes, and Mark just left them out for convenience. Phooey. So much for it being my own idea.

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Oh well, at least I was right that potatoes were a good fit for this. The sausage and onion are sautéed together until browned (or until the onions are black if you’re me and Mark), then the potatoes and apples are sautéed until browned and cooked through. Then everything is mixed and a simple sauce of ketchup, mustard, and thyme is stirred in. I raised my eyebrows at the ketchup and mustard, but they gave the hash nice tang and spice.

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The whole thing was very good, and pretty easy. I think there’s a lot of room for adaptations too, if you do happen to be the creative type. I was thinking that squash would be a nice addition, or maybe a poached egg served on top.  Or bacon instead of sausage.  Things to think about for next time.

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One year ago: Lemon Squares

Sausage and Apple Hash (from Mark’s No Special Effects)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound Italian sausage (bulk, or links with casings removed)
1½ pounds russet potatoes, cubed
1 large apple, such as Rome or Braeburn, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat half the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage and onion and cook, breaking up the sausage, until the sausage is golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Park the sausage and onions into a separate dish.

Add the remaining oil in the skillet, then add the apples and potatoes. Cook until the apples are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. (I covered the pan for a bit in the beginning because I was worried about the potatoes cooking through.) Meanwhile, mix the ketchup, mustard, thyme, parsley, and water in a small bowl. Return the sausage and onions to the skillet and stir in the ketchup mixture. Cook until the hash has browned nicely, about another 5 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper before serving.

chanterelle salad with speck and poached eggs

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I don’t know if there could be a less appetizing name for a more delicious food than there is for Speck. When I hear Speck, I think of Star Trek or maybe dust particles – I do not think of spicy smoked ham.

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I almost dismissed the Speck in this recipe entirely. I figured that proscuitto or pancetta, both of which I can get at my regular grocery store, would make a convenient substitute. But then I was right near an Italian butcher, and it was no big thing to go in and grab some Speck. I’m glad I did, because I love the stuff. I wish I’d had some proscuitto to taste alongside it, because I feel like I liked the Speck more than I normally do proscuitto, but I haven’t eaten enough proscuitto to really remember.

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After my first uncertain egg on salad experience, I seem to have become somewhat enamored with the idea. In this salad, I really enjoyed the warm savory egg on the tart dressed greens. The Speck, sautéed until crispy, was of course delicious. I wasn’t crazy about the cooked chanterelles in the salad – they seemed a little too chewy to fit in with the other ingredients. Dave really liked them though.

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I didn’t follow the recipe exactly – I had just made fresh bread, so I skipped the toasting step. I also made a different dressing. As if one hard-to-find ingredient in the recipe wasn’t enough, you’re also supposed to reduce Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine, for the vinaigrette, and mix it with walnut oil. I made a simple balsamic vinaigrette and was happy with it.

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Notwithstanding the chewy mushrooms, this salad was very good. This was a nice, light meal that left me plenty of room to eat some of the chocolate chip cookies that I have coming out the wazoo.

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Warm Chanterelle Salad with Speck and Poached Eggs (from Bon Apetit December 2008 )

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 fresh thyme sprigs
3 garlic cloves, divided
1 pound fresh chanterelles, cleaned, cut into ⅓-inch thick slices
nonstick cooking spray
4 ounces ⅛-inch-thick slices Speck, rind trimmed
6 ¾-inch-thick slices ciabatta or pain rustique
½ teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
2 small heads butter lettuce, coarsely torn (about 11 cups)
6 cups mâche or arugula (3½ ounces)
Vinaigrette

Preheat oven to 500F. Combine 4 tablespoons oil and thyme in large bowl. Press 2 garlic cloves into oil with garlic press; whisk to blend. Add chanterelles and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Spread mushroom mixture on sheet. Roast mushrooms until tender, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes.

Cut Speck crosswise into ¼-inch-thick strips. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add Speck; sauté until crisp, 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Toast ciabatta slices until golden; rub with remaining garlic clove. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Halve each slice lengthwise.

Fill large skillet with water and bring to boil. Add ½ teaspoon salt. Crack eggs, 1 at a time, into custard cup, then slide egg from cup into water; reduce heat to low. Poach eggs until whites are set and yolks are softly set, 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss lettuce and mâche with enough vinaigrette to coat. Mound salad on 6 plates. Using slotted spoon, remove eggs from water, dab with paper towels to absorb excess liquid, and place atop salads. Garnish with mushrooms and Speck. Place ciabatta fingers around salad and serve immediately.

Balsamic Vinaigrette (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar , or wine vinegar
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
⅔ cup olive oil

Whisk first 2 ingredients with salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil, so the vinaigrette emulsifies. Serve.

chickpea and butternut squash salad

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Do you like squash? It seems like as soon as we were past Labor Day, everyone went squash crazy. I have reservations about squash that I think can be traced back to childhood.

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I remember one Halloween, my mom roasted acorn squash for me and my brother, with brown sugar in the middle. We were less than pleased. I can’t remember any other squash experiences until I was cooking on my own, and I’m not the only one in my family who is inexperienced in squash. A year or two ago, my older sister called me to ask what she was supposed to do with the butternut squash she had bought.

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I do like squash these days, but every time I eat it, I’m surprised I like it. “Wow! This is actually good!” That’s exactly how I felt about this recipe, which I heard about from Deb, but is actually from Molly. Both tend to recommend recipes that are right up my alley, so that made this recipe worth trying even with the less than familiar squash.  (This is only the third recipe I’ve ever used winter squash in.)

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My doubts did go beyond just the squash issue. I wasn’t so sure about combining sweet squash with hummus ingredients – chickpeas and tahini, lemon juice and cilantro. And then I was worried that the sauce wouldn’t come together and be smooth (somehow it did) and that there would be too much sauce (I ended up adding it all).

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The recipe was easy, aside from my snail-like squash peeling and cutting pace. And I was, yes, surprised by how much I liked it. The sweet squash was balanced so well by the bitter tahini and sour citrus. What a great combination.

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Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini (reworded slightly from Orangette, who adapted it from Casa Moro)

Thoughts: I’m anti raw garlic lately, so I threw the garlic in the oven with the squash for a few minutes, just to tame its sharpness a little before adding it to the sauce.

For salad:
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2½ pounds, seeded, and cut into 1½-inch pieces)
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ medium red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

For tahini sauce:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt (or shredded on a Microplane)
3½ tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 425F.

In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a good pinch or two of salt. Using a large spoon or your hands, toss until the squash pieces are evenly coated. Turn them out onto a baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon.

To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Add tahini sauce to taste, and toss carefully. (Alternatively, you can also serve the salad undressed, with the tahini sauce on the side. That way, each person can use as much or as little as they want, and the individual ingredients taste a little brighter, too.) Serve, with additional salt for sprinkling.

Note: This salad, lightly dressed, keeps beautifully in the fridge. (Hold a little of the tahini sauce on the side, for dressing at the table.) Before serving, warm slightly with quick jolt in the microwave.

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