Shishito Pepper Pesto Pizza


I’ve been home for two months, and while I’ve been baking, cooking, and sharing food with my family and friends, I haven’t blogged once. Sure, I had a bake sale, made some diabetes-inducing sticky buns for Father’s Day breakfast, and burned through our stashes of olive oil and butter at an unprecedented rate, but nearly everything I made was an old recipe of mine or from a cookbook—tried and true recipes that I had been waiting for months to make in a kitchen equipped with more than a not-quite-level stove, rickety table, and a medicine cabinet mirror. I made pots of black beans, thai curries, and dozens of cookies, but with all of those recipes already tucked away on this site I saw little point in adding to the redundancy that seems to take over the internet, one food blog at a time.

Last night’s pizza was what finally convinced me to log back on to Word Press. Also, my mom asked if I had let the blog go dormant, and you just can’t ignore a comment like that from the people that  raised you and are sending you to college (hi, Mom and Dad), so I figured a post on this pizza was in order.

Homemade pizza is a staple at our house, and while we normally go the carrot-walnut or margherita route I thought it was time to shake things up a bit with a few handfuls of shishito peppers that were taunting me in the crisper drawer. Shishito peppers, or their Spanish equivalent, padrón peppers, have been cropping up in recipes and restaurants more regularly, especially now that Trader Joe’s carries them and nearly every tapas restaurant serves blistered padróns alongside squares of Tortilla Española. They should come with a warning though: most of them are fairly mild, but every so often you come across a real scorcher. (Engineers out there: the probability of a spicy pepper is about 10%, though that statistic is a rough guideline when you factor in growing conditions and other environmental factors. You may just have to dive into this pizza and hedge your bets.)

Once blistered in a hot pan, shishito peppers are smoky with a lingering grassiness, and when paired with golden brown mushrooms and cherry tomatoes that have been sautéed in a hot pan until split open, you’ll wonder you’ve never piled the three onto a pizza with fresh mozzarella and aged parmesan. A final few dollops of homemade basil pesto when the pizza comes out of the oven ties the whole pie together, and before you know it you’ll be wishing you had made extra.


Shishito Pepper Pesto Pizza

Makes 4 10-inch pizzas, serves 4-6

2 lbs pizza dough

1 lb shishito or padrón peppers

4 teaspoons olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

1/2 yellow onion, finely diced

1 lb cherry tomatoes

1lb button mushrooms, sliced

Cornmeal, for the pizza peel

12 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan

1/4 cup freshly made pesto

  1. Once your dough has been made, divide it into 8 oz. portions and roll them into even balls. Place on a lightly floured surface, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour, until nearly doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500F and place your pizza stone on the top rack of your oven.
  3. While the dough rises prepare all of the toppings:
  4. For the blistered peppers: Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over high high for 5 minutes. Add the peppers and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and cook, stirring every minute until the peppers are blistered in spots and tender, 8-10 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a small bowl and let cool slightly, then remove and discard the stems and cut the peppers into 1 inch pieces.
  5. For the tomatoes: Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet. Add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes, until nearly translucent. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes have split and have begun to cook down. Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and set aside.
  6. For the mushrooms: Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the same pan that you used to cook the tomatoes (unless you really like doing dishes, in which case go right ahead and get out a fresh pan), then add the mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Saute until tender and golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
  7. To assemble the pizzas: Roll out the risen dough into a thin, 11-12 inch circle, then transfer to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Top evenly with 1/4 of the tomatoes–this will not be a pizza with a traditional layer of sauce, so don’t worry if the tomatoes haven’t become soft enough to be considered a sauce.
  8. Add 1/4 each of the mushrooms and the peppers in an even layer on the pizza. Spread 3 oz. of the cheese in an even layer on top of the vegetables, then sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of parmesan. Transfer the pizza from the peel to the preheated pizza stone, and bake until golden brown and crisp, 11-14 minutes.
  9. Remove the pizza from the oven, and lightly dollop 1 tablespoon of pesto over the top of the pizza–again this should be more like a Jackson Pollack painting, than a smooth layer of pesto. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of parmesan over the top, then slice into wedges and serve. Repeat with the remaining pizza dough and toppings.

Click here for a printable version of the recipe.


Tasty Tufts: How to Conserve Water in the Kitchen

drought

My latest post on Tasty Tufts has been published, and it includes my top ten tips to reduce water usage in the kitchen. You can find the article by clicking here. Little things like loading the dishwasher correctly and being careful about running the tap can really add up over time when done consistently, and while these habits are especially important for us Californians they’re good ideas for all cooks regardless of your state’s annual rainfall.

In other news, I’m home for the summer! Which means that there are two loaves of bread rising on our kitchen counter and I’ve already seen my brother laugh so much that he accidentally inhaled some mesclun greens at dinner. It’s good to be back.

ABC Kitchen’s Squash Toast


I like to think that college has turned me into somewhat of an opportunist—go explore Boston or Sommerville for a day? Sure, why not. Take a butternut squash from the dining hall’s autumn display and stealthily walk out of breakfast with a suddenly much heavier backpack? Of course. There were plenty of other decorative gourds where it came from, anyways, and I couldn’t bear to see such a seasonally appropriate food languish on top of the salad bar when I knew it could become so much more.

The butternut squash sat on my desk for nearly two weeks, staring me down every time I sat down to finish a problem set or write a paper. Last Saturday I finally decided put it to good use. This dish we made, a recipe for butternut squash toast with ricotta and caramelized onion jam is certainly nothing new, but the recipe from the John-Georges Vongerichten’s famed ABC Kitchen has been a favorite recipe of many home cooks for the past few years, and the combination of good cheese and fully caramelized, seasoned vegetables sounded too good to be true after eating dining hall food for the past few months.

So, with a few friends, a cutting board and a mixing bowl bought from Goodwill for two dollars each, the squash, a few drinking glasses of oil, vinegar, and a bowl of sliced onions taken, again, from the dining hall, we sat down in the dorm kitchen and had our first dinner party of the semester. After having eaten nearly all of our meals in the bustling dining hall—the kind with tall ceilings that noises reverberate off of so that that every meal is punctuated with the clatter of dropped plastic cups and the whir of the soft-serve machine—it was such a treat to sit down in a cozy kitchen and enjoy hearty bread topped with creamy ricotta, spicy roasted squash, and caramelized onion jam. The vegetables were cooked but still had life in them—a delicate balance to attain when cooking 5 gallons of broccoli florets for hundreds of students, but straightforward when roasting a single pan of sliced squash—and the contrast of the mild sweetness of the squash against the tangy onions tied all of the flavors into a perfect autumn tartine. It may have been our first dinner party of the semester, but it certainly won’t be our last.

Special thanks to Tufts University Dining Services for creating such a practical autumn display and for having all kinds of vegetables and vinegars in the salad bar. My friends and I are most grateful.

ABC Kitchen’s Squash Toast

Recipe from ABC kitchen found via Smitten Kitchen and adapted for dorm living

Serves 4 as a light main course

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion thinly sliced—I used 2 cups of sliced red onion, which worked well

1 teaspoon table salt

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar—I used red wine vinegar, which served in a pinch

3 tablespoons maple syrup—I used an equal amount of brown sugar

1 medium butternut squash, 2 ½-3 lbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons table salt

½ teaspoon red chili flakes

8-10 slices of hearty whole grain bread, a nice Pain au Levain or any sort of seeded rustic boule will work well

Extra olive oil, for brushing the bread

4 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature

Optional garnishes: chopped fresh mint, a few pinches of kosher or sea salt

  1. Heat the 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt, and saute for 10-15 minutes, until beginning to turn golden brown. Then add the vinegar and maple syrup or brown sugar, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook until the onions are thoroughly caramelized and jammy, 15-20 more minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel and seed the butternut squash, then cut it into ¼ inch thick slices (see the photos above for a visual). In a large bowl, toss the squash slices with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and chili flakes. Spread into an even layer on the prepared baking sheet, then roast in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the squash is tender and beginning to turn golden brown.
  3. Once the squash is finished, remove the sheet from the oven and transfer the squash to the bowl with the onion jam. Mash the squash into the onions with a fork until combined but not too homogeneous. Set aside and keep warm.
  4. Toast the bread under the broiler element until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Brush each slice of bread with olive oil, then spread with a heaping tablespoon of ricotta. Place a layer of squash on top of the ricotta and top with mint and salt, if desired. Serve immediately.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Fresh Pasta: Malloreddus and Fettuccine

About once or twice a year I get the urge to make fresh pasta. I don’t make it all that often because it’s a pretty involved process and our (very active) family of four can put away a significant amount of pasta, so you really have to be ready to spend a chunk of the day pretending you’re Lidia Bastianich behind your kitchen counter. When I want to take the extra time to roll out fresh pasta, I seize the opportunity, because there is nothing quite like a hot plate of pasta that just minutes ago was rolled out on the countertop. The pasta strands are unbelievably light and tender without being mushy, and the clean wheat flavor really shines through a simple sauce.

There are two main types of pasta dough that Italians make: pasta all’uovo, or fresh pasta dough made with eggs, and pasta fresca di semola di grano duro, or fresh pasta made with semolina flour. A few nights ago for dinner, I made fettuccine from pasta all’uovo and malloreddus from semolina dough. Although the ingredients for the two pasta doughs vary slightly, the mixing and kneading process is quite similar. The steps below are shown using the pasta all’uovo.

The dough can be made either in the food processor or on the countertop with just a fork—the food processor will save you some time and effort, but I almost always use the countertop method because I would rather spend a few extra minutes kneading pasta dough rather than use up precious dishwasher space to clean the food processor.

Start with a mound of flour, then create a deep cavity in the center of the mound with your fist.

Pour the eggs into the cavity, then pierce the yolks with the tines of a fork, and begin gently beating the eggs while slowly incorporating more flour into the beaten eggs.

After a few minutes, you’ll end up with a shaggy mass of dough that you can begin kneading with your hands. After 15-25 minutes (or one episode of The Mindy Project), the dough will be smooth, supple, and feel like a dry earlobe. Then it’s time for the dough to rest; it takes at least 30 minutes for the gluten molecules to relax and allow for the dough to hydrate fully, so wrap the dough in plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and wait for a bit before you start rolling the pasta into the sfoglia, or pasta sheets.

As a comparison, the photos above show what the semolina dough looks like before and after kneading.

Once the dough has rested, it’s time to roll out the pasta dough. The dough can be rolled with either a rolling pin or a pasta roller, but the pasta roller is so much easier and faster to use than doing it by hand. The dough is cut into portions, then rolled starting on the widest setting to the thinnest setting, with about 3 passes though each numbered setting. The pasta dough is properly rolled when it’s smooth and thin enough that light can pass though it and your hand is clearly visible when placed beneath the pasta sheet.

Once you’ve rolled out the sfoglia, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes so that it will cut more cleanly into fettuccine. While it’s resting, you can roll out the remaining portions of dough.

Cutting the dough into the fettuccine is the easy part. Either roll the pasta sheets like you would a yoga mat and cut crosswise into strips, or cut it on a fettuccine-sized attachment on a pasta machine. Liberally dust the cut pasta with all-purpose flour, then pile the noodles loosely on a dishcloth dusted with flour while you cut the rest of the pasta.

Thin, fresh pasta like this cooks almost instantly, so it needs just one to two minutes in boiling, salted water before it’s perfectly al dente. Toss it in a simple light sauce like pesto, butter, or a light tomato sauce (pictured above is a sautéed garlic and olive oil sauce), and serve the hot pasta immediately with a little parmesan.

Now for the semolina dough:

Semolina dough is much sturdier than pasta all’uovo, so I use it to create pastas like cavatelli, or small dumpling shapes like these malloreddus. Malloreddus are originally from Sardinia, and occasionally include saffron in the dough for color and flavor. You can sometimes find them sold as dried pasta, but they can also be made fresh. They’re much less time consuming to shape than any sort of noodle or filled pasta, but they do take a little bit longer to cook. The dough gets rolled into long ropes about half an inch in diameter, then cut into half-inch pieces, a little smaller than a piece of gnocchi.

To give the malloreddus a curved shape and ridged exterior, they’re traditionally rolled on the back of a wicker basket, but a cheese grater is commonly used as well with similar results.

Malloreddus take about eight to nine minutes to cook in the pasta water before they get tossed with sauce (pictured below is a brown-butter and shallot sauce) and served.

Pasta all’uovo for fettuccine

Serves 4

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

  1. Mound the flour on a countertop or large cutting board, then create a deep cavity in the center of the mound with your fist.
  2. Pour the eggs into the cavity, then pierce the yolks with the tines of a fork, and begin gently beating the eggs while slowly incorporating more flour into the beaten eggs.
  3. After a few minutes, you’ll end up with a shaggy mass of dough that you can begin kneading with your hands. After 15-25 minutes (or one episode of The Mindy Project), the dough will be smooth, supple, and feel like a dry earlobe. Then it’s time for the dough to rest; it takes at least 30 minutes for the gluten molecules to relax and allow for the dough to hydrate fully, so wrap the dough in plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and wait for a bit before you start rolling the pasta into the sfoglia, or pasta sheets.
  4. Cutting the dough into the fettuccine is the easy part. Either roll the pasta sheets like you would a yoga mat and cut crosswise into strips, or cut it on a fettuccine-sized attachment on a pasta machine. Liberally dust the cut pasta with all-purpose flour, then pile the noodles loosely on a dishcloth dusted with flour while you cut the rest of the pasta.
  5. Thin, fresh pasta like this cooks almost instantly, so it needs just one to two minutes in boiling, salted water before it’s perfectly al dente. Toss it in a simple light sauce like pesto, butter, or a light tomato sauce, and serve the hot pasta immediately with a little parmesan.

Pasta di semola di grano duro for malloreddus

Serves 4

1 lb. semolina flour

200 ml (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) filtered water

  1. Mound the flour on a countertop or large cutting board, then create a deep cavity in the center of the mound with your fist.
  2. Pour the water into the cavity, then use the tines of a fork to slowly beat the water into the semolina flour.
  3. After a few minutes, you’ll end up with a shaggy mass of dough that you can begin kneading with your hands. After 15-25 minutes (or one episode of The Mindy Project), the dough will be smooth, supple, and feel like a dry earlobe. Then it’s time for the dough to rest; it takes at least 30 minutes for the gluten molecules to relax and allow for the dough to hydrate fully, so wrap the dough in plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and wait for a bit before you start forming the mallorredus.
  4. Cut the dough into six pieces, then roll each piece into a long, even rope about ½ inch in diameter. Cut the rope into ½ inch pieces, a little smaller than a piece of gnocchi. Roll each piece off the ridged side of a cheese grater (see pictures in the post for more details), then place the malloreddus on a dishcloth dusted with flour.
  5. Cook the malloreddus in boiling salted water for 8-9 minutes, until al dente. Drain and toss with sauce, then serve immediately.

Click here for printable versions of these recipes!

Baked Penne with Spinach and Mushrooms

Everyone has a few quirks about the food they eat, and our family is no exception. Three out of the four people in our family (myself included) avoid mayonnaise, sour cream, aioli, and any sort of white, creamy condiment meant for savory food like it’s our job. No mayonnaise on our sandwiches, ranch on our salads, and certainly no sour cream in our burritos. As a result, I’ve never really cared for pasta dishes with creamy sauces. A big pour of cream mutes all the lively flavors the recipe worked so hard to achieve, and rather than tasting the al dente noodles, you’re left with an overwhelming slick of dairy in every bite. Because of this, I generally avoid baked pasta dishes, which more often than not laced with creamy béchamel sauce. Or at least I avoided them until I discovered this dish for baked penne.

It starts off with a generous pan of mushrooms and onions seasoned with oregano—which I used to think was an overused herb reserved for mediocre pizza parlors, but now know adds a serious punch of flavor when called into actions—that creates just enough sauce to keep the pasta from drying out. A little blanched spinach provides some greenery, and small cubes of a flavorful cheese provide richness without a creamy sauce. Along with a pot of penne (undercooked by just a hair on the stove to prevent mushiness after baking), you have a one dish meal that can be prepared well in advance. Just throw it in the oven with a sprinkle of good parmesan on top until golden brown, and dinner is served.

I don’t have a picture of the pasta once it was baked because I was at work until late in the evening and didn’t get to see the finished dish before it was dug into, but that one missing picture of a steaming hot pan of pasta with pockets of melted cheese shouldn’t prevent you from making this pasta. It has everything you would want in a pasta dish, from al dente pasta to caramelized onions, without any sort of (dreaded) creamy sauce.

Baked Penne with Spinach and Mushrooms

Serves 4 generously

Adapted from Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to grease the pan

½ yellow onion, thinly slices

2 lbs. crimini mushrooms, quartered

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons dried oregano

10 oz. baby spinach

1 lb penne

Kosher or sea salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 oz. semi-soft cheese with a good flavor, cut into ¼ inch cubes (I used Toscano, and other good choices are Fontina, Asiago, and Comte.)

½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

  1. Brush a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with olive oil and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Heat the two tablespoons of olive oil in a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat until hot. Add the onion and mushrooms and sauté for 8-10 minutes, until the mushrooms have begun to release their water and have slightly shrunk in size. Add the garlic and the sea salt and sauté for another 10-15 minutes, until the mushrooms are golden brown but are not yet completely dry. Add the red pepper flakes and oregano, then sauté for 30-60 seconds until fragrant, then set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot, then add the spinach and blanch until wilted, about 30 seconds. Remove the spinach from the water with tongs or a kitchen spider, and set in a colander to drain. Squeeze out the excess water from the spinach either with your hands or a pair of tongs. Add the penne and 1 tablespoon of kosher or sea salt to the boiling water, and cook until just 1 minute shy of al dente. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot. Add the spinach, mushroom mixture, and the cubed cheese to the pasta along with the pepper, and toss to combine. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking pan, and sprinkle the parmesan cheese in an even layer on top.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown on top. (If you would like to prepare this dish ahead of time, prepare it up through step 3 and store it covered in the refrigerator up to 2 days ahead of time, then increase the baking time to 40-45 minutes to ensure that the center of the pasta is hot before serving.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Pasta with Fennel Braised in White Wine


This dish is for anyone who has declared an aversion to black licorice or fennel seeds. Despite what you may think, fennel bulbs—unlike fennel seeds or black licorice—are a much milder flavor than the name indicates. I don’t care if you won’t touch black twizzlers (because everyone knows that red is the best flavor), but have you ever tried fennel bulbs braised with onions in white wine, olive oil, and lemon juice until the fennel bulbs are so tender that they yield under the slight pressure of a fork and marry perfectly with al dente pasta? It’s nothing to be afraid of.


You see, once the fennel has the chance to cook down for a little bit, the flavors mellow out and become sweet, but not overly so. By the time the pasta water has come to a boil and the pasta is cooked, the scent of the fennel braising in the pan will become irresistible.


When the pasta and vegetables are both ready, the dish gets finished with a sort of faux-Gremolata. Gremolata is an Italian condiment used to finish a dish consisting of garlic, lemon zest, parsley, and olive oil. To preserve the delicate flavors of this pasta dish, I omitted the garlic and used a mixture of fresh basil (to mimic the anise flavors in the fennel) and parsley for the herbs. A shower of parmesan cheese completes this pasta dish, making for an elegant meal that can still be made on a weeknight—even if you don’t like black licorice.


Pasta with Fennel Braised in White Wine

Serves 4-6

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 bulbs fennel, cut lengthwise then cut crosswise into ½ inch slices

1 onion, cut in half and sliced with the grain into ¼ inch slices

Sea Salt

Pinch of red pepper flakes

½ cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons lemon juice

¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, chives, or a combination thereof)

Zest of 1 lemon

1 lb. of a short pasta shape, like shells, penne, rigatoni, or fusilli

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the fennel and onion and sear for 2-3 minutes until the fennel and onions are beginning to turn golden brown. Add ½ teaspoon sea salt, the red pepper flakes, and the white wine, then turn the heat to medium-low, cover, and let cook for 20-25 minutes until the fennel is golden brown, very tender, and the wine has reduced. Add the lemon juice and cook for 1 minute, until slightly reduced.
  2. Meanwhile, mix together the chopped herbs, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon sea salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot, then add 1 tablespoon of sea salt. Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain and place in a large bowl. Add the fennel, and bowl of herbs, then toss until thoroughly combined. Adjust seasonings to taste, then serve immediately topped, with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

What We Eat When We Eat Alone

A little over a year ago I read the book by Deborah Madison of Greens Restaurant, What We Eat When We Eat Alone. The title says it all, but essentially the book explores what different types of people from all walks of life eat when the only person they have to feed is him or herself. Everyone from the single woman buying a boneless, skinless chicken breast and a bottle of chardonnay to a restaurant cook meticulously searing a pork chop on his night off. Even the classic cereal-for-dinner meal has its variations, as a few paragraphs are allotted to describe how different people decide how much milk to pour on their frosted flakes—some people stop once they can just see the milk around the edges, while others wait until the cereal is fully submerged. There are a few recipes—a tofu curry for one, a grilled cheese, among others—but on the whole it is an interesting narrative that is a fun and fast read.

Seeing what people will decide to eat when they have no other palates to please other than their own is pretty fascinating. Cooking for one has its limitations for sure; you must scale portion sizes appropriately and are sometimes left with a large amount of an obscure ingredient, but I think seeing the result of a meal prepared to precise preferences is one of the best ways to learn about someone’s personality. Some people see solo nights as an opportunity to ramp up the spice on a dish or use an especially pungent cheese. Sometimes it is an opportunity to prepare a favorite meal from childhood that has its roots in a past generation’s home country. Others still will prepare an expensive ingredient—they may not be able to afford black truffles for a family of four, but a few slivers on a single plate of fettuccine is more budget-friendly.

For example, when the rest of my family is off at various evening activities, I often go for one of three choices:

Tofu noodle or brown rice bowls with peanut sauce, because tofu is simple to prepare and rice noodles just have to soak under boiling water for a few minutes. If I don’t have rice noodles, I tap into my stash of cooked brown rice that’s already in the freezer.

Pasta with cauliflower because pasta is simple yet delicious, and I happen to love cauliflower. I rarely bother with the breadcrumbs if it’s just me that’s eating, but with the last few ounces of a box of pasta, some cauliflower, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan I can have a really great meal in just 20 minutes.

Sometimes I warm some pita bread or Afghan bolani to serve with hummus and feta cheese. As a self-proclaimed hummus lover, it’s rare that I go a few days without having some with pita, crackers, or carrot sticks, but the rest of my family is not quite as hummus-crazy as I am, so I save it for nights on my own.

My brother often goes the route of a large quantity of pasta (gnocchi in this instance) with tomato sauce or two grilled cheese sandwiches, sometimes with an Izze in a frosted Batman glass. My mom, on the other hand tends to go the route of eggs and toast. One of my friends will eat oatmeal topped with lots of cinnamon, while another will prepare a steaming hot bowl of udon noodles with broth. Some meals fall squarely in the simple, comfort food camp, but I’ve found they can run the gamut from obscure (fried spam with cottage cheese, or a spaghetti frittata) to elegant (seared rib-eye steaks).

I love hearing what other people eat for their single-serving meals, so you tell me in the comments, what do you eat when you eat alone? I’d love to hear!

Eggplant Tartines with Goat Cheese, Honey, and Olives


Recently, I’ve started listening to the Spilled Milk Podcast, which is (no surprise here) a food related podcast hosted by two Seattle-based food writers, Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette and Delancey) and Matthew Amster-Burton. Other than America’s Test Kitchen and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, it’s the only podcast I listen to. Each episode is about 20 minutes long and revolves around one ingredient. It’s so nice to know that there are other people out there who could talk at length about something so simple yet complex as onions, dried beans or even jam, and I think my friends are relieved that know they no longer have to listen to me discuss the pros and cons of various pasta shapes.

Thanks to the honey episode (not the eggplant episode, as you might think) of Spilled Milk, I came up with this idea for Eggplant Tartines with goat cheese, honey, olives, and fresh mint. They were talking about savory dishes with honey and Molly mentioned pairing eggplant with honey, goat cheese, and green olives. Obviously I had to try out that combination, and thought on and off about it for a few days when this tartine idea came to me during a long swim practice.


It all started with a batch of crusty bread (much like my No-Knead Walnut Bread, sans walnuts) and a pan of roasted eggplant.



Once the eggplant was nicely browned and tender, I layered it on some thick slices of the bread, then added fresh chevre and a drizzle of honey. (I used lemon flower honey because I like to collect those sorts of things much like other people like to collect state quarters, but any regular clover honey will work.)


After a quick stint under the broiler, the tartines were topped with Sicilian green olives, fresh mint, and a little black pepper. Even after just one bite, I knew that I had come up with something good. The goat cheese melted into the tender eggplant and the honey offset the pungency of the olives just enough to keep the flavors in balance. The mint tied everything together and enhanced all of the Mediterranean aspects of the dish. Two of these tartines is the perfect springtime lunch dish that’s filling and nutritious but not heavy. For those of you that think eggplant is bland or spongy, give this recipe a try—this is eggplant at its best.


Eggplant Tartines with Goat Cheese, Honey, and Olives

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as an appetizer

Inspired by the “Honey” episode of the Spilled Milk Podcast

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 Italian eggplants, trimmed and sliced lengthwise into 3/8 inch slices (Italian eggplants are on the small side, about 6 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Use 1 globe eggplant if you can’t find any.)

½ teaspoon sea salt

4 slices artisan bread

2 oz. fresh goat cheese

2 teaspoons honey

¼ cup green olives, sliced (I used pitted Sicilian green olives)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 500F. Spread a rimmed baking sheet with the olive oil, then lay the eggplant slices out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with the salt, then roast on the top rack of the oven for 15 minutes. Using a metal spatula, flip the eggplant slices over and then return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes until both sides are golden brown. Remove the eggplant pan from the oven, then turn the oven to the broil setting.
  2. Place the slices of bread on a baking sheet, then place the eggplant slices on top of the bread slices. Put ½ oz. of the goat cheese on each slice of the bread, then drizzle each tartine with ½ teaspoon honey. Place on the top rack of the oven under the broiler element, then broil for 2-4 minutes until the edges of the bread are toasted and the goat cheese is golden brown. Remove the tartines from the oven, and place 1 tablespoon of the olives on each tartine. Scatter the fresh mint over the tartines, then top with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Mujadara


There’s and ongoing joke between me and one of my friends about how often I eat lentils. (“Kinsey, what are you eating for lunch? Lentils? I thought so.”) On any given week I’ve probably had lentils for at least five meals. If that sounds boring, I can promise you it’s not. The many varieties of lentils show up in dishes from all around the world that makes for many permutations of this basic legume. Red and yellow lentils form the base for Indian Dal, Castellucio lentils are excellent with Arborio rice and parmesan from Italy, green lentils with Berbere spices are perfect with injera bread from Ethiopia, French lentils du Puy are fabulous with a lemon-dijon vinaigrette and fines herbes, and nearly every variety of lentil can produce a quality soup with some aromatics and vegetable stock. The list goes on and on.

The latest meal that I’ve made with lentils is called Mujadara—a Persian rice and lentil dish with caramelized onions and few spices. A pan of onions are caramelized while the rice cooks so that by the time the dish is finished, the lentils and rice are combined with what becomes almost a thick onion jam or confit, punctuated by subtle notes of cumin and cinnamon.


A few finishing touches of parsley, lemon, and butter finish off this nutritious dish. Cinnamon in savory dishes is a fairly uncommon thing to see in the states, but I really love how it adds a slight sweetness that prevents the cumin from overpowering the dish. I often serve this with a fresh green salad for a simple lunch or dinner, but for a bigger meal Mujadara can be served alongside labneh (yogurt cheese) and warm pita bread.


Mujadara

Serves 4

1 cup long grain brown rice (basmati or jasmine)

1 ¾ cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 medium onions, diced

½ teaspoon sea salt, plus additional to taste if needed

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch red pepper flakes

4 tablespoons water

2 cups cooked and salted green lentils

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon butter

  1. Cook the rice: If you have a rice cooker, place the brown rice and the 1 ¾ cups water in the rice cooker, then close and press start. If you don’t have a rice cooker, combine the rice and water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 40-45 minutes, then take off heat and let sit, covered for 10 minutes.
  2. While the rice cooks, prepare the lentils and onions: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until hot, then add the diced onions. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until softened and reduced in volume, 5-7 minutes. Add the sea salt and reduce the heat to low, and cook slowly for 35-30 minutes, until the onions are a deep golden brown and well caramelized. Increase the heat to medium, Add the cumin, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes and sauté until the spices toast and are fragrant, about 45-60 seconds. Add the 4 tablespoons water and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the caramelized bits of onion stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  3. Reduce the heat to low, add the cooked lentils and stir to combine so that all the ingredients are evenly incorporated. Add the cooked rice and stir thoroughly, but gently to avoid breaking up the lentils.
  4. To finish, add the minced parsley, lemon juice, and butter and stir until the ingredients are well combined and the butter has melted. Adjust salt to taste, then serve.

Note: If you do not have access to pre-cooked, seasoned lentils. Place 1 cup of rinsed, dried green lentils in an oven safe saucepan with 3 cups of water and ½ teaspoon sea salt, then bring to a boil. Cover the pan, then bake at 350F in the oven for 40 minutes, until tender.

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Cannellini Bean Pot Pie

I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed about how thoroughly I have watched The Office. Our family has watched every episode at least once (the good ones upwards of 2-3 times) and all it takes is one four beat measure of the theme song to be heard before Aidan and I run into the living room because our unspoken rule is “leave no episode unwatched.” One of my favorite episodes is the one where Michael microwaves and eats an entire family sized frozen chicken pot pie at the office and them promptly falls into a deep food coma-induced nap. The rest of the office workers—namely Jim and Pam—then run around changing all the clocks to read five in the evening before Michael wakes up and announces the work day is over.

Every time I see a reference to a pot pie, I think of that episode. Pot pie has never really been a huge draw for me because it’s almost never vegetarian, and the filling is often deadened by a creamy sauce that does nothing to marry the flavors of the various vegetables and herbs. Then I developed a recipe for perfectly creamy cannellini beans with just the right amount of garlic and rosemary and knew that they were just begging to be combined with a quick sauté of shallots and mushrooms that would support a tender whole-wheat and chive biscuit topping. It’s nothing like the sodium-laden monstrosity that sent Michael Scott into a stupor, but I can guarantee that though it’s tastier and lighter, this pot pie is still a hearty and comforting meal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few episodes of The Office to watch.

Cannellini Bean Pot Pie

Serves 4

Filling:

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 shallot, minced

2 carrots, diced

8 oz. button mushrooms, slices

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups rosemary cannellini beans

1/2 cup water

Biscuits:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons thinly sliced fresh chives

3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

1. Prepare the filling: Heat the olive oil in a 10 inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. If you do not have a 10-inch cast iron skillet see the note below for a substitution. Once the oil is hot, sauté the shallot for 2 minutes, until translucent. Add the carrots, mushrooms, and salt, and sauté until the mushrooms are golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the biscuits.

2. Prepare the biscuits: Preheat the oven to 450F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and chives. Add the butter and work the butter into the flour with your hands until the butter is the size of small peas. Pour in the buttermilk and fold gently with a rubber spatula until a cohesive dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into an 8-inch round, then cut the round into 8 even triangles by cutting into quarters, then eighths. Place the biscuits on top of the filling in the skillet, leaving a little room between the biscuits to allow for rising. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the beaten egg, then place in the preheat oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven, portion into individual serving bowls, and serve.

Note: If you do not have a 10-inch cast iron, prepare the filling in a skillet, then transfer it to either a 9 inch pie plate or an 8 x 8 inch baking pan, then top with the biscuit dough as directed in step 2, then bake.

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