Now that I’ve got that admonition out of the way, here’s the rest of the post…
It’s the holiday season, and we’re really excited to be able to throw a holiday party for friends this year– had to skip 2020, of course. Traditionally we go all out when it comes to food, and this time I was looking for a vegetarian dish– something warm and filling, with a flavor profile that went along with the rest of our (admittedly meat-heavy) spread. I focused my search on caramelized onions (a favorite) and came across a recipe for jumbo pasta shells stuffed with a cheese and onion mixture that sounded right up my alley. The original recipe called for chicken or beef stock, but I replaced it with vegetable stock with no ill effects.
I’ll admit that this is a bit time-consuming– slicing the onions, even with a mandoline, took long enough that my eyes were tearing up a decent bit, and caramelizing them took a full 30 minutes. Once the onions were done, however, the rest of the recipe was pretty simple– just stir up a filling, stuff the cooked pasta shells (boiled while the onions cooked), and whisk together a sauce before putting it all in the oven. I will say that the finished dish– while delicious– is just a tiny bit lacking when it comes to being a main dish. I think it needs a touch more heft to really hold its own, but since I can’t think of anything I’d add, I’ll just plan on using this as a side dish for future dinner parties.
Okay, now that I’ve got that out in the open, here’s the backstory: I picked this recipe from Food52.com because I needed something to use up some extra anchovy fillets I had leftover from something else (and I can never just throw stuff like that away). I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but by the time the sauce was simmering on the stove I could tell from the aroma that I had a winner. The anchovies and sun-dried tomatoes combine to make a complex sauce that doesn’t taste particularly fishy or tomato-y, but still tastes incredible– it’s all that natural monosodium glutamate, which makes for some amazing umami flavor. A generous pinch of chili flakes and a squeeze of lemon brighten things up for a nicely balanced sauce. In case you can’t tell, I highly recommend it.
So apparently a year or two ago, this recipe (or a variation thereof) swept the internet with its simplicity and deliciousness, and I just missed it. But I discovered it recently and have promptly added it to my slate of weeknight dinners, because it’s just that easy and just that good. Basically, you chuck a block of feta and some cherry tomatoes into a baking pan, roast them for a bit, then toss in some cooked pasta and basil and you’re basically done.
With a sprinkle of crushed red pepper and some garlic, the finished dish is pretty fantastic, even if it’s not the most attractive thing in the world. The feta is creamy and salty, the tomatoes are bright, and you get an extra kick from the pepper to go along with the slightly sharp garlic (it’s barely cooked so it retains that sharpness). I will totally be making this over and over again!
I used farfalle, but any pasta shape would work pretty well here, I think. Just make sure there’s enough space in your roasting pan to add and toss your pasta, or you lose some of the convenience!
My eight-year-old is proud of the fact that she gets to “make dinner” (with help, of course) every Sunday; one of her favorite things to make is pizza. Sometimes we use storebought crust, sometimes ciabatta bread, and sometimes homemade dough– this new one, from Food52.com, is my new favorite!
The dough is extremely easy to put together– it takes mere minutes to stir up the ingredients, and a little attention for the first hour to gently fold it (rather than knead) a few times, during which it miraculously transforms from a shaggy dough to a smooth, stretchy one. After that it sits in the fridge for 1-3 days before a 2-hour rise in the pizza pan, and it results in the lightest, fluffiest (yet still chewy) pizza crust ever, with great flavor and a nice crispy outside.
One good thing about working from home due to COVID-19 is that I suddenly have time to try out recipes that have a long cook-time– now that I’m home all day it’s no problem to babysit something on the stove for a few hours before dinner! I flipped through my bookmarked recipes for something to try on a drizzly day, and came up with pork carnitas!
Carnitas are chunks of pork butt or shoulder, simmered for hours and then crisped up a bit over high heat. These couldn’t have been easier and were amazingly delicious, particularly when spooned onto warmed corn tortillas and heaped with a bunch of taco fixings. Once again, I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, so I knew it would be good!
I can’t wait until this whole social distancing thing is over and I can make a huge batch of these for a party.
When I was growing up, my dad would make a delicious dish that he called “Filipino Chicken,” which was basically a bunch of dark meat chicken pieces cooked up with potatoes in a savory/sour sauce with bay leaves and whole peppercorns. I never did get the recipe from him (I don’t think he ever writes his recipes down, they’re all in his head), but as an adult I came across recipes for “Filipino Chicken Adobo,” which seemed to have a fairly similar flavor profile, and I really enjoyed them.
This particular recipe is an adaptation of one I found somewhere but can no longer locate the source for (my apologies, unknown recipe creator!), and it’s a wonderful, warming dish to serve when the weather turns chilly. Juicy chicken thighs are bathed in a rich, creamy coconut-milk sauce that’s seasoned with soy, garlic, and bay leaves, sharpened with a healthy dose of vinegar, and spiced with plenty of black pepper. It’s a one-pan recipe so it’s easy to make, and while you’ll have a ton of leftover sauce you won’t regret it! Served over steamed rice with some snowpeas or broccoli on the side, it’s a perfect weeknight dinner.
Anyway, I also know that I write about way too many of Smitten Kitchen’s recipes, but they always look and sound so amazing on Deb’s blog that I can’t help myself. So you’ll have to forgive me if I post about another one now– a recipe that’s going to become a weeknight staple at my house for sure. I could’ve put off posting about it until I’d had the chance to make a more photogenic version, but it’s so good I knew you’d want to try it ASAP.
Deb calls it a Taco Torte and she adapted it from the Mom 100 Cookbook, but “torte” just sounds too fancy for what is actually a very homely, comforting dish. And it doesn’t just have a bunch of vegetables in it (enabling me to call it “healthy” despite the cheese all over it)– it’s actually vegetarian and full of flavor, making it a great dish to serve to any audience!
A while back I bought some parsnips to use in a recipe and inadvertently bought twice as many as I actually needed. The parsnip puree I’d intended to make was delicious– light and creamy and earthily sweet, as parsnips are– but what was I supposed to do with the rest of them?
The answer came in the form of a line from my daughter’s copy of Tangled (okay, I admit it, it’s not her copy, we bought it before she was born because we liked it so much). In it, Mother Gothel returns to the tower, gleefully proclaiming that she’s got a surprise– parsnips! To make Rapunzel’s favorite hazelnut soup for dinner! Well, parsnip and hazelnut soup sounded delicious, and I had some leftover hazelnuts in the freezer just begging to be used, so it was time to get started!
When I was a kid my dad would occasionally make eggplant for dinner– he’d slice it lengthwise, put some kind of seasoning on the cut side, and roast it in the oven until the insides went all brown and mushy. I thought it looked disgusting. This was not aided by the fact that Dad would tell us that the brown part in the middle was actually a giant worm that lived inside every eggplant and was extra tasty when cooked. Ugh!
That story put me off eggplant for a while, honestly, and while I eventually recovered enough to enjoy eggplant parmesan and Chinese-style eggplant with spicy bean sauce and pork, I never really felt the urge to make eggplant myself.
That being said, when my local farmer’s market had a $1/lb. deal on eggplant, I decided it would be worth a shot to get myself a bagful. After a little digging online, I found this recipe, originally from Giada de Laurentiis but re-blogged by Smitten Kitchen. I tried making it with a few substitutions (canned tomatoes instead of the more expensive freshly roasted cherry tomatoes, omitting the pine nuts because I didn’t have any in my pantry), and it was pretty darned good! I decided to tweak it a little more to make it amazing, and the resulting recipe is something I’m definitely going to put into the rotation.
So despite the lack of a photo of the finished product (the above picture is pre-baking) this is a really good lasagna recipe. Hot sausage, gooey cheese, just enough spinach to make you feel virtuous… what more could you ask for? Seriously, it’s great, which is why it’s my go-to recipe to bring to new moms and dads who have just come back from the hospital and are too worn out to cook. In fact, I made this one for two friends (and baby makes three!) who are just now emerging from their haze of sleep deprivation and late-night feedings, so I hope they enjoy it! This is also why I don’t have a picture of the cooked dish.
Even if you don’t have a new baby, of course, this is a hearty, delicious dish for autumn and winter dinners. I took a few shortcuts with regard to some steps (jarred sauce is just fine for something like this!), so you could conceivably make this on a weeknight if you started early. I prefer to make it on weekends, though, and take the (ample) leftovers to work for lunch to combat the Monday blues!