Ramp Pesto

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Few seasonal foods make a locavore’s heart go pitter-patter as quickly as ramps. Ramps — the word is spoken in hushed, reverential tones — are a foraged food that hits the markets in early spring. Their appearance marks the definitive end of winter and the beginning of the growing season.

IMHO, ramps also win the award for World’s CUTEST Vegetable as its soft, tender leaves always remind me of floppy bunny ears. Added bonus? Its stems are often tipped the prettiest shade of oxidized pink.

In terms of flavor, ramps taste garlicky and green onion-y at the same time. They taste young, new, and freshly-sprouted: the essence of spring.

It’s the very end of ramp season here in the Mid-Atlantic, but if you’re lucky enough to still be able to get your hands on a few bunches for pesto, buy as many as you can and freeze the sauce for later! Ramp pesto is lovely tossed with warm pasta or used to dunk hunks of crusty bread. You can also drizzle it on steak, or anything really.

This post also marks the end of a looooooooooong hiatus! For those readers who are still with me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

For anyone new who stumbles on this blog: Welcome!

To both old friends and new acquaintances, it feels good to be back.

Ingredients:

2 bunches of ramps, roots trimmed and cut into 1.5/2-inch pieces

1 knob of butter

1/4 cup of pine nuts

The zest and juice of one lemon

1/3 cup of grated Parmesan

Olive oil

Salt

How to prepare:

1. Heat the butter in a large frying pan set over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the ramps and sauté them until the leaves are just beginning to wilt and turn a shade darker. Season them gently and transfer them to a small bowl.

2. When the ramps have cooled, process them with the pine nuts, the lemon zest, the parmesan, and a pinch of salt. With the machine running, add the lemon juice and slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the consistency is nice and creamy. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice. Adjust the seasoning for a final time and transfer the pesto to another container.

You should plan on using the pesto in about three days, but it will also keep frozen for about a month.

Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown Update: Mac-sagna!

The heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese + lasagna!Most of you who follow this blog know that for the past couple of years I have been a regular competitor in a series of cook-offs here in NYC known as The Takedowns. However, it occurred to me the other day that for all of my blog posts announcing competitions and updating you on what happened at each one, I have never actually written about what it’s like to prepare and compete in one.

In contrast to what one might think, there is no cooking on site; the venue just isn’t set up to accommodate that. Rather, all the cooking happens at home and then the competitors — known collectively as the Takedowners — tote their creations to the venue about an hour early to stake out a table and set up the tastings. The tastings are open to the ticket-buying public — not just the judges — which means that each of us has to prep about 250 1-oz. samples for everyone to taste.

If 250 1-oz. samples sounds like a lot, it is! The majority of Takedowners do multiple test runs before deciding on a final entry, and most try to plan ahead so that they are not scrambling at the last minute to put together something that is both tasty and winsome.

I wish that I was one of those people, but partly due to my schedule and mostly due to my inability to get organized early, I am usually the Takedowner pulling out her hair and freaking out less than 24 hours before the event. I do console myself by thinking that stress and time constraints are the mothers of invention. Sometimes it works in my favor like last summer when I brought home two ice cream makers for my Backwoods Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet.

Sometimes it just results in something damn weird that I am still damn proud of like my Miso Awesome Cookies.

I had a couple of ideas for this year’s Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown (pizza mac and cheese? garlic bread-inspired mac and cheese? chocolate mac and cheese?). Ultimately, I decided that a baked mac and cheese was the way to go.

My entry for this year’s Brooklyn Mac & Cheeze Takedown? Mac-sagna, the heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese and lasagna.

Using a gallon of homemade, three-hour pork and beef Bolognese, a gallon of béchamel, four pounds of macaroni, two pounds of shredded mozzarella, two pounds of grated Parmesan, and half a pound of garlic and parsley-buttered bread crumbs, I made two gigantic 21 x 12 inch trays of mac-sagna for champions.

It was delicious and I had to stop myself from eating it like this:

Om nom nom nom nom!

Sadly, there were so many other excellent mac and cheeses that I did not win. I did, however, get to see and spend time with good friends, taste a lot of amazingly creative and imaginative dishes, and be part of another drunkenly excellent Takedown. That alone is worth every sweaty second in the kitchen.

A scaled down recipe is forthcoming. In the meanwhile, you can check out my fellow Takedowners here and here, and read more about the lovely winner here.

Sichuanese Pork Wontons in Chili-Soy Sauce

Plump dumplings rule!
I have inherited a lot from my mother. In addition to her dry sense of humor, her sarcasm, and her sly potty mouth, I am also the beneficiary of her glossy hair and poreless, flawless skin — which she reminds me, while comparing the four zits that I have had in my entire life to her NONE EVER, is actually less flawless than her own.

What I did not get from my mother was my taste for fiery, hot spice, gamy meat, and my willingness to put my overly-trusting ethnically Chinese-self in the hands of white people.

“Who is Fuchsia Dunlop?” my mother asked, “Is she Chinese?”

“Um, no. She’s British.”

“Like British-Chinese?”

“No . . . um, just British.”

Silence.

Asian-child fail!

But it’s really not my fault! My mother is an amazing cook, who has basically decided that she will be taking all her secrets to her grave so I will miss her more when she’s gone. In her kitchen, I am not even sous chef. I am relegated to the status of line-cook. Or bus-person.

Basically she lets me wrap things like egg rolls, dumplings, or leftovers with cling film.

These dumplings are not anything my mother would ever cook. First of all, they are spicy as heck! Secondly, the root of their spice comes from a nice, thick, orange slick of delicious grease! Finally, the recipe is from a white person.

But. They. Are. Delicious.

To the unintiated, Fuchsia Dunlop (who never seems to be known as just Fuchsia or just Dunlop) is a Chinese food phenomenon. Author of the best-selling Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, the book outlines her deep love for Chinese cookery which began as a student at Cambridge, culminated in a move to Chengdu and enrollment in a professional chef’s training course at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine — the first Westerner to ever do so.

Friends, both Asian and not, swear by her books and her recipes, both of which translate Sichuanese and Hunanese cuisine into something effortless, accessible, and authentic-feeling.

I adapted this recipe from one that appeared on Epicurious from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. I didn’t change parts of it because I had any kind of personal reference — apart from eating similar dumplings in restaurants, I don’t. Instead, I altered the recipe because I am apparently lazier than your average Chinese home cook 🙂

However, the results are still divine. Heritage schmeritage! These dumplings tick every single box in terms of a deeply soul-satisfying food experience. Did I mention that they are ridiculously easy to make too? 🙂

Ingredients:

For the sauce

3-4 tablespoons of dark Chinese soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

3 scallions, finely chopped

3 tablespoons of sesame chili oil with sediment

For the dumplings

1 knob of fresh ginger

1 pound of ground pork

1 egg, beaten

2 teaspoons of Shaoxing wine (a useful buying guide can be found here)

1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil

3 scallions, finely chopped

Freshly ground white pepper

1 package of wonton wrappers

For garnish

2 tablespoons of roasted peanuts, chopped (Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe does not call for them, but I think they would be an terrific addition. I would have added if I had them on hand!)

How to prepare:

1. First, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and the sugar. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the finely minced garlic, the chili oil with sediment, and the finely chopped scallions.

2. Using a rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy coffee mug, crush the knob of unpeeled ginger. Place it in a small dish and cover it with about 2 tablespoons of water.

3. In a large bowl, combine the pork with one beaten egg, 2 teaspoons of Shaoxing wine, 1 teaspoon of roasted sesame oil, and 3 teaspoons of the ginger water. Mix well with your hands. Add the scallions and season the meat with white pepper to taste.

As the sauce is relatively salty, I opted to not salt the meat, but you can do so if you prefer.

4. Fill a small dish with cold water. Take one wonton wrapper and lay it on a flat surface. Place about a teaspoon of pork filling into the center of the wrapper. Dip a finger in the cold water and run it around the edges. Fold the wrapper in half diagonally and continue until all the pork filling is gone. You should use up about half of the package of wrappers, which you can save and freeze for another time. Lay the wontons out on a large cookie sheet to avoid crowding them onto a plate like I did.

5. While you are wrapping, set a large pot of water to boil. When the water has reached a rolling boil, salt it as if you would for pasta (wontons are essentially ravioli after all). Carefully drop the wontons in one-at-a-time. I only cooked 8-10 at once to ensure that they wouldn’t stick together. When the water has come back up to a boil, add another cup of cold water to the pot. When the water has come up to a boil again, gently scoop up each wonton with a slotted spoon and drain each well. Divide the wontons among however many bowls you want and generously spoon over the chili-soy sauce.

Sprinkle with crushed peanuts, put on a bib, and dive in.

Jonathan Benno’s Pasta e Fagioli

Don't be a fool, eat yo' pasta fazool!
Nigella does what?!”

Steve from Gourmandistan shook his head incredulously and made a face.

She tells you to put all the fresh herbs in the foot of a nylon stocking and to leave the whole thing in simmering stock for an hour!

“Doesn’t it melt?!”

“Yeah. You would think!”

“That is disgusting.”

Agreed.

A few weeks ago, Steve was in town for the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference and we were talking “food blogger shop” at Roberta’s over craft beer and aioli-coated fried sweetbreads.

Shop that night included pasta e fagioli,

I love pasta e fagioli, affectionately known on these close-to-Jersey shores as pasta fazool. Translated simply as pasta and beans, the name of this humble Italian dish belies its power to soothe and satisfy. Pure alchemy occurs when the nuttiness of the beans Vulcan mind-melds with the pasta in rich rosemary and bay-scented broth. It is warm, wonderful comfort in a bowl and in these waning days of winter, it is the perfect dish.

My current favorite version of pasta e fagioli is from Mario Batali, who starts off his recipe by asking you to mash up a wad of fatback with the back of a spoon until you have a nice and smooth porky paste. Very Italian.

The subject of our mutual alarm was from British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson — not Italian at all. Although I like her writing, her recipes leave me cold . . . and extremely skeptical. Like this one for pasta e fagioli in which she asks you to use a “popsock” — also known as a knee-high nylon stocking — as a herb sachet instead of good, old-fashioned, food-safe, heat-resistant, and dependable cheesecloth.

Now I see the utility of bundling the aromatics used to perfume pasta e fagioli in a sachet; it makes it much easier to remove the spent herbs from the soup if you have them together. It saves you from the futilely fishing around for the gray and bitter spindles of rosemary leaves. However, I draw the line at rooting around in my sock drawer for kitchen essentials. Furthermore, Nigella includes the following sentence in her recipe: “Chuck out the corpsed popsock and its contents [after the beans are tender].”

Not yummy-sounding at all.

I am always on the lookout for a new variation on pasta e fagioli. Recently, New York Magazine published one from Jonathan Benno in which he solves the fresh-herb-removal problem by infusing the stock with Parmesan rinds and aromatics and then straining them all out before use. 

Brilliant!

Benno recommends soaking the dried beans for two days in the refrigerator instead of just one day on the countertop. I’m not sure if the additional day of soaking affects the taste, but I did notice that the beans cooked faster and more evenly. The beans were also creamier.

Heirloom beans are best, but regular old beans work just as well. Traditionally, borlotti beans — also called cranberry beans — are used in pasta e fagioli, but cannellini beans are a good substitute.

To Benno’s recipe, I have added bacon. Because I can never resist adding bacon to everything 🙂 You can omit it and the soup will still be delicious.

Ingredients:

2 cups of dried beans (preferably heirloom beans like borlotti beans or cannellini beans)

2 quarts of chicken stock (about 8 cups)

1 cup of Parmesan rinds

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 sprigs of fresh sage

5 fresh or dried bay leaves

1 pound of bacon ends, chopped (optional)

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups of dried ditalini or another kind of small tubular pasta like macaroni

Extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly grated Parmesan

How to prepare:

This soup is not difficult to prepare. However, it does require some advanced planning. Be sure to read the recipe closely before beginning.

1. In a bowl large enough to fit the beans comfortably, cover them with about two inches of cold water. Soak the beans in the refrigerator for two days.

2. When the beans are done soaking, drain them.

3. Combine the chicken stock, the Parmesan rinds, the fresh herbs, and the bay leaves in a large pot. Simmer everything together for about an hour. Do not the let stock boil. Strain the stock and discard the Parmesan rinds and herbs.

4a. If using, brown the chopped bacon ends in a large skillet until most of the fat has rendered. Drain the bacon bits on paper towels.

4b. Add the soaked and drained beans, the bacon if desired, the dried oregano, and the crushed red pepper flakes to the strained stock. Gently simmer the beans for between 1-2 hours. When the beans are done, they will be creamy in the center. Do not let the liquid come to a boil or the skins can burst. Skim the surface of the soup if and when necessary. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the beans are tender, add the dried pasta to them. You may need to add more stock or water if the level of the liquid in the pot is too low. When the pasta is al dente, turn off the heat.

To serve, heap a generous spoonful of freshly grated Parmesan on top and finish the soup with a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil.

Orecchiette Carbonara with Freshly-Shelled Peas


On a hot and sticky mid-August night several years ago, I boarded an overnight train from Paris to Milan. The cabin was filled with two sets of bunk-beds that were meant to accommodate four people. Instead, we were five because the couple sharing the cabin with us had a toddler.

The family asked if they could have the bottom bunks, which was fine by me because I wanted to bunk closest to the itty bitty window that cracked open at a woefully insufficient angle.

Insufficient because the father had removed his shoes and the smell was horrific.

It was so bad that I couldn’t sleep. I was finally forced to look in my Italian phrasebook and scan the pages by moonlight for something appropriate to say that would make the man put his darn shoes back on!

Unfortunately, my phrase book had nothing related to shoes, or putting on shoes or telling people that the smell of their feet was intolerable. However, I did manage this:

“Per fevore, signore. I vostri piedi, è violazione dei miei diritti umani!”

Which worked out roughly to mean, “Excuse me, sir. Your feet, this is a violation of my human rights!”

No response. So I tried these other phrases:

I vostri piedi, sto svenendo . . . Non riesco a respirare . . . !”

Which means: “Your feet, I’m passing out . . . I cannot breathe . . . !”

Then I repeated, “I vostri piedi,” pointed to his feet, crossed my eyes and pretended to die.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

He must have understood me because he refused to acknowledge my existence. I tried not to take it personally, even though I hated him more and more as we crawled south to Italy. Maybe, I thought, he was trying to incapacitate his over-active son. Or maybe he was angry at his wife and was trying to suffocate her with the smell of his feet.

Seriously. If that smell could be weaponized, the war on terror would be over.

So what does this have to do with carbonara, that amazing Italian dish that uses the residual heat of freshly boiled pasta to transform bacon, beaten eggs and Parmesan into a creamy sauce?

In that very same Italian phrase book was a recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara, a recipe that I still rely on to this day.

The idea to use orecchiette and peas actually comes from Suzanne Goin‘s Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Her description of how orecchiette are perfectly shaped to cup small bits of bacon and peas was irresistible to me, but I prefer to stick with my old phrasebook’s way of making carbonara because it only uses one pan — and who doesn’t prefer that?

These proportions will make enough for two, but can easily be adjusted for more. For something richer, you could add about a 1/3 of a cup of caramelized chopped onions to the mix. This recipe was also a great way to start using the wonderful shell peas that are at the market right now, as well as the bacon and pullet eggs from my CSA.

Pullet eggs are small eggs from young hens that have just started laying. They say that two pullet eggs are the equivalent of one regular chicken egg, but I find that it’s really more like 3 pullet eggs = 2 regular chicken eggs. Pullet eggs are wonderfully rich in both flavor and mouthfeel, just perfect for carbonara if you can get a hold of some.

I also used up the last of my CSA bacon ends to make my bacon bits, but you can use crumbled cooked bacon strips in this if bacon ends are not handy.

Ingredients:

1/3 pound of dried orecchiette

1/3 cup of bacon bits or crumbled cooked bacon

1/3 cup of freshly shucked green peas or frozen peas

5 pullet eggs or three regular eggs

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Freshly grated black pepper

Olive oil

How to prepare:

1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, set up the other ingredients. This recipe moves quickly near the end, so it is a good idea to have everything ready to go.

2. Combine the Parmesan and eggs in a small bowl with freshly ground black pepper.

3. When the pasta is not quite al dente, add the peas to the boiling water. Let the pasta and peas finish cooking together. Drain and pour the pasta and peas back into the saucepan. Add the bacon along with a quick drizzle of olive oil. Pour the beaten egg mixture over the pasta and begin stirring everything together quickly. When you add the eggs, the pasta should be warm enough to barely cook them. You want the sauce to be just thick enough to coat the pasta with a glossy sheen. If the sauce seems soupy instead of creamy, put the pan over a very low flame and continue to stir and toss the pasta quickly until the sauce turns smooth and creamy.

Don’t worry if you accidentally overcook the eggs and they scramble a little bit. It will still be delicious.

Kale Pesto with Whole Wheat Fusilli


What’s a girl to do when faced with too much kale and too little time? Make pesto!

When it comes to something like pesto, it’s hard to say that anyone has proprietary claims to any one recipe. I did look at this recipe on Tastespotting and this recipe on Food 52 for nut-cheese-oil ratios. In all honesty, I have so much kale on hand that I threw those proportions right out of the window. I just kept tinkering and measuring until I had a sauce that was so good, I wanted to eat more and more of it.

Kale has a clean, bitter flavor that I think pairs better with walnuts than pine nuts. When using walnuts, I like to also use walnut oil. Some Meyer lemon zest keeps the sauce nice and fresh. You can also zest a regular lemon if Meyer lemons are not available to you. If you don’t want to emphasize kale’s refreshing bitterness, you can use just olive oil. It will still taste great.

Kale pesto has an earthier flavor than basil-based pestos, and that flavor demands a heartier pasta like whole wheat. Fusilli is always a good choice for pesto because the spirals catch and capture the sauce beautifully.

It’s always a good idea to toss pasta and pesto together in a separate bowl. You don’t want the Parmesan in the sauce to burn and stick to the bottom of a hot pot or pan. The warm pasta — plus a little of the hot pasta cooking water if needed— will loosen the sauce up without the need for any external heat.

I am looking forward to eating my kale pesto in other ways this week, like on pizza or in lasagna. I hope it freezes well too because I made a lot of it!

Ingredients:

1 pound of whole wheat fusilli

2/3 of a cup of walnuts

2 cloves of garlic

2/3 of a cup of freshly grated Parmesan

The zest of 1 lemon

5 cups of washed and torn kale leaves, no stems and no ribs

1/2 cup of olive oil

1/2 cup of walnut oil

Salt

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Spread the walnuts out in an even layer on a baking tray. Bake the walnuts until they are nicely toasted. This can take between 6-8 minutes. Be very careful to not let the walnuts burn. Let them cool before making the pesto.

3. While the walnuts are cooling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until it is al dente, about 12 minutes.

4. While the pasta is cooking, combine the garlic and walnuts together in a food processor with some salt. Add the Parmesan and the lemon zest. Pack all the kale into the food processor bowl and with the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive and walnut oils. Continue to process everything until you have a smooth and creamy sauce. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and pour it into a large bowl. Add the pesto, a dollop at a time, until the pasta is nicely and evenly coated. Serve immediately.

Green Garlic Shrimp Scampi with Linguine


I am finally getting to the end of the massive amount of green garlic that I bought at the Greenmarket. Whew! It has been a very delicious process, but it still feels good to polish it off.

With the last three bulbs, I decided to go hog-wild with . . . not hog, shrimp!

Big, fat, sugary sweet Florida Gulf shrimp. Deepwater Horizon be damned. Yeah, there are some scary reports out there, but it’s not like I have Gulf shrimp every day. And I just had four. They were supposedly wild, which is supposed to be okay.

I live in New York City so I figure that the air I breathe is probably deadlier.

They were so tasty. And the green garlic was a great spring twist on shrimp scampi, that Italian-American classic. No green garlic? The original calls for regular garlic and is still delicious. Don’t want to chance it with Gulf shrimp? Go for any shrimp that make your motor run. Or no shrimp at all — the sauce for the linguine is incredible on its own.

On another note, has anyone been having a problem with the WordPress Reader? Generally, you should be able to see an updated feed of all the blogs you follow when you open it, right? Lately, it hasn’t been updating the some of the blogs that I follow. It’s really random, though. Sometimes it will just skip posts, or sometimes it just stops updating a single blog altogether.

I read somewhere that the solution is to edit the list and refollow everyone. I started doing that, but it was so annoying that I stopped.

Has anyone else had this problem? There must be another fix . . .

Ingredients:

1/3 pound of dried linguine

1 tablespoon of olive oil

3 green garlic bulbs, the white parts and the tender green stems finely chopped

1 tablespoon of parsley, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of butter

Red chili pepper flakes to taste

1/3 cup of dry white wine

1/2 pound of shrimp, shelled and deveined

The juice of one lemon

How to prepare:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the linguine until it is al dente.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a heavy saucepan or a Dutch oven until it begins to shimmer. Add the green garlic and sauté it until it begins to soften and turn translucent. Stir in the butter, the parsley, and red chili pepper flakes to taste. When the butter has completely melted, carefully add the white wine and the shrimp to the pan. Cook the shrimp until they are pink on the outside and their flesh has turned white or opaque all the way through, about 3-5 minutes.

3. Add the cooked linguine to the pan and toss everything together. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice to the pasta. Toss again before dividing it up the and serving.

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage (Orecchiette con cime di rapa e salsiccia)


Have you ever had one of those weeks where you were amazed at how busy your schedule was, yet surprised at how little you seemed to get done?

That was last week for me and the blitz of activity left me little time to cook, let alone eat something good for me. Lunch was reduced to a handful of jalapeño-flavored potato chips and half a curried tofu sandwich. Dinner was an even more embarrassing affair consisting of leftover boiled potatoes drizzled with olive oil and followed by gelato straight out of its paper container.

I was starting to feel like a human garbage disposal, and was yearning for a real meal, meaning something satisfying that was also quick and easy to put together.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe fit the bill perfectly as simple, rustic Italian seems to be my go-to cuisine when my belly is rumbling and my eyes are blinkered from low blood sugar.

One of the emblematic pastas of Puglia, orecchiette are thus named because they are supposed to resemble little ears. I don’t know about that, since they only look like ears to me if we’re talking (nerd alert!!!!) Ferengi ears. I do know that they are delicious and are perfectly shaped to cup little bits and pieces of chopped vegetables. The bitterness of broccoli rabe always goes well with savory sausage, garlic and red chili pepper flakes. To make this dish vegetarian, simply omit the sausage. It is very tasty that way as well.

As this is a very simple dish, I have given you proportions for two, even though I ate the two for one.

Yep, that’s how I roll in Hungry Town 😉

Ingredients:

1/3 of a pound of orrechiette

1/2 pound of pork Italian sausage, casings removed

Olive oil

1/3 of a bunch of broccoli rabe, roughly chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

Red chili pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

How to prepare:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until it is al dente.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat a little bit of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, pinch off one-inch pieces of sausage and brown them in a single layer in the pan. When the sausage pieces are browned on all sides and cooked through, remove them to a paper towel-lined plate or bowl.

3. Drain the pasta, reserving about a 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of the pasta water. Wipe out the skillet and add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Set the pan over medium heat and sauté the garlic slices until they are fragrant, about a minute or two. Add as many chili pepper flakes as you like and continue to sauté for about 30 more seconds. Be careful that the chili pepper flakes don’t burn. Add the chopped broccoli rabe and a little bit of the pasta water (you can always add more water later if the dish starts to look a little dry) to the pan. Cook the rabe until it begins to wilt. Add the sausage and the pasta, along with another splash or two of pasta water if needed. Toss and let everything cook together for another minute or two. The pasta should begin to absorb some of the sauce. Adjust the seasoning if needed.

Serve in large warmed bowls with an additional drizzle of olive oil.

Horseradish Cheddar and Irish Bacon Mac & Cheese


Already I can see that the beginning of the new year is going to be a tug-of-war between the wanting-to-detox me, and the part of me that thinks that butter and cheese are inalienable rights to be defended Minutemen-style with muskets and bayonets.

I know that I swore to lighten things up after the holidays, but after about a day of that, I was starving. And when you’re starving, you need carbs. You need fat. You ideally need carbs and fat baked together with bacon.

I suppose that if you wanted to make this slightly healthier, you could substitute whole wheat pasta for the regular pasta, but I have never been the biggest fan of whole wheat pasta. Maybe it’s a texture thing.

I used the horseradish cheddar cheese (what was left of it after New Year’s), and the Irish bacon from my farmer to pull this together. Two, count ’em, two CSA products in one dish! Whoo hoo!

Ingredients:

1 pound of pasta (I used casarecce)

1/2 pound of Irish or Canadian bacon, cut into 1/2-inch strips

6.5 ounces of horseradish cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

4 tablespoons of butter, plus one tablespoon

1/4 cup of flour

1 quart of whole milk

Salt and pepper

About 1/2 cup of panko, or breadcrumbs

Fresh chives

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook it until it is slightly under al dente. Drain it, and set it aside as you prepare the rest of the dish.

2. While the pasta is cooking, brown the Irish bacon in a large skillet. As Irish bacon is leaner than regular bacon, it will not be as crispy when cooked. Once the strips are browned and most the fat has rendered, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

3. In a medium-sized sauce pan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the flour. Cook the flour for about a minute or two (you want to get rid of that raw, floury taste). Once the flour has toasted a little, add the milk all at once and whisk everything together. Raise the heat to medium, and continue to whisk the sauce occasionally as it thickens.

4. Once the sauce has thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Continue stirring until all the cheese has melted. Adjust the seasoning.

5. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, the bacon, and the cheese sauce. Spoon the mixture into a large buttered baking dish.

6. In a small sauce pan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over low heat. Toss the panko or breadcrumbs in the butter, and then spread them evenly over the top of the pasta. Bake the mac & cheese for about 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown, and the cheese sauce should be bubbly. If the cheese sauce is bubbling, but the top has yet to brown, you can pop the dish under the broiler for a minute or two to toast the breadcrumbs.

Let the dish rest for about 10 to 15 minutes before topping it with freshly snipped chives and serving.

Ricotta-Topped Rigatoni with Tomato, Sausage, and Kale Sauce


I have a new love: Jersey Farms Crushed Tomatoes.

I can eat them straight out of the can. Seriously. They just taste so rich and, well, tomatoey.

All of the tomatoes come from just 6 cooperative farms in New Jersey. Once picked, they are canned within 24 hours with no added water or preservatives, only a little salt. The crushed tomatoes are thick, but not too thick. They are perfect. Just perfect. You almost don’t need any seasoning at all. You practically don’t even need to cook them.

But if you do cook with them, whoa golly, are you in for a treat. These tomatoes make the best pizza sauce. The best anything, really.

Using some mild beef sausage from my CSA, I made a quick sauce with just garlic, olive oil, and some extra kale I had in the fridge. After rolling some al dente rigatoni in it for a couple of minutes, I topped everything with a sloppy spoonful of creamy, locally-made ricotta. A little drizzle of olive oil to add an extra bit of luster.

And I tell you, it was delicious.

Ingredients:

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 pound mild Italian beef sausage, casings removed

Red pepper flakes to taste

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes (preferably Jersey Farms Crushed Tomatoes)

2 cups of kale, chopped with the ribs removed

Salt and pepper

1 pound of rigatoni

Whole milk ricotta cheese

More olive oil for drizzling

How to prepare:

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large casserole, or Dutch oven. When the oil begins to shimmer, sauté the garlic in it until it is fragrant. The garlic should just begin to have a little bit of color, but not too much. Crumble the sausage into the oil, and cook it until it is evenly browned (be sure to break up larger pieces of sausage with the edge of your spoon as you cook). Add as many red pepper flakes as you like. Toss the red pepper flakes with the browned sausage for about a minute before adding the tomatoes.

2. Carefully pour in the crushed tomatoes. If the sauce seems too thick to you, you can add some water to thin it out a little bit. Stir everything together. Lower the heat, and let the sauce simmer for about 15-20 minutes before adding the kale.

3. In the meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. When the water begins boiling, add the pasta and cook it until it is al dente.

4. Let the kale wilt in the sauce while the pasta cooks. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the pasta is done, drain it well. You will add about a ladleful of sauce per 1/4 pound of pasta. Toss everything together, and then divide the pasta into warmed bowls.

6. Top each serving of pasta with a nice, fat dollop of ricotta cheese. Drizzle some olive oil on top of everything. Before eating, be sure to mix the ricotta into the pasta with your fork!