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.
Ever since I first made this sauce I’ve been a huge, HUGE fan. The recipe is seemingly everywhere and it’s so simple, so perfect, so delicious you just want to eat more and more of it… it’s Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce With Butter and Onion. Three ingredients (not including salt, but that hardly counts), but they come together in a way that defies explanation. The butter adds so much richness to the tomatoes, and the onion in the background just adds to the overall roundness and balance of the sauce. It’s my very favorite tomato sauce, and it comes together with pantry ingredients in under an hour.
Seriously, I beg you to try it the next time you want a weeknight treat. How to make it?
With cooler weather finally approaching, I thought I’d post about one of my favorite stick-to-your-ribs fall dishes: vareniki.
What are vareniki, you ask? They’re Russian potato dumplings, kind of like pierogi, and in this context they’re adorable!
I was introduced to the world of tiny Russian dumplings when I was throwing a Russian-themed 35th birthday party for a friend, and was immediately hooked. I’m all for carbohydrate-laden goodies, so potato dumplings served with butter and sour cream sounded amazing. Add in a neat gadget for making dozens of itty-bitty dumplings at once, and it was a given that I’d be making them ASAP!
To be fair, the plastic dumpling thingie is actually used to make pelmeni, meat-filled Russian dumplings that I don’t like as much because they’re not different enough from the meat-filled Chinese dumplings I get all the time, but the tool is still a ton of fun to use here!
I found a dough recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen (a very useful blog for anyone trying to get into Russian cooking), and basically threw together a filling based on my own personal tastes. Potatoes, of course, with cheese (whatever I had in the fridge) and browned onions because they’re more flavorful than raw onions. Plus bacon, because potatoes and onions just cry out for bacon, am I right? The finished dumplings are tender and delicious whether boiled or pan-fried, and when served with a little sour cream and dill they’re fantastic comfort food.
I fried up a bunch of bacon last week to make a savory bread pudding (for the record, it was kale/bacon/onion bread pudding and it was amazing), and found myself with almost half a cup of leftover bacon fat. I poured it into a ramekin to chill in the fridge, and set about trying to figure out what I could use it in.
With the advent of chillier weather, biscuits seemed to fit the bill nicely. I decided to substitute chilled bacon fat for butter, and to punch up the flavor with some wilting green onions and some cheddar cheese I found in the fridge. Basically these biscuits were a delicious way to use my leftovers, and they turned out wonderfully!
So I mentioned the post-Christmas brunch we hosted earlier– along with sweets we also had several savory items, including a trio of delicious savory tarts. I was originally only going to make two– cauliflower and onion, and apple and fennel– but ended up having extra cauliflower, onions, and pie crust, and didn’t want to let it go to waste. The tarts didn’t turn out perfectly (cracks in the crusts allowed egg to leak through, making the bottoms soggy), but they were pretty tasty and provided inspiration for future recipes!
Okay, so “Butternut Squash with Gouda” isn’t exactly the most exciting name for this dish, but I couldn’t think of anything better so there it is. Besides, while the name may be boring, the recipe is anything but– it takes a few simple ingredients and combines them into a rich, flavorful, autumn-centric (new word!) dish. You get tender chunks of butternut squash, mixed with sweet and savory caramelized onions, a hint of sage, a creamy strata of gouda cheese, and it’s all topped with a crunchy layer of toasted panko. It would make a fabulous side dish for this year’s Thanksgiving.
If you enjoy garlic, you MUST try this soup. If you don’t enjoy garlic you should try this soup anyway, because it’ll make a convert out of you. Seriously, this is an amazing soup, and once I’d taken my first sip I immediately decided that this was one to add to my recipe rotation. Yes, it uses a lot (a whole lot) of garlic, but the flavor isn’t overpowering– it’s sweet, slightly smoky, creamy, velvety, and really just perfect. Did I mention you needed to try this soup? You need to try this soup.
It starts off with a ton of roasted garlic, then you add a bunch of onions and raw garlic, and simmer it all together to let the flavors meld. Fresh thyme adds another dimension of flavor, cream gives it a bit more body, and the last-minute squeeze of lemon keeps it from being cloying. I served mine with some cheese toast, but a thick slice of plain sourdough bread would also be a great accompaniment. Or salad, I guess you could have salad if you insist on something green…
As fall finally gets into full swing, my dinner preferences are slowly switching over from refreshing, crunchy foods and sharp flavors to more mellow, filling dishes like casseroles and risottos. This one is rich, creamy, flavorful– and full of vegetables, so you don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying it. And with ingredients like bacon, onions, Parmesan cheese, Brussels sprouts, and white wine, what’s not to enjoy?
The best part (well, other than the bacon) is that the recipe skips the tedious “add a ladleful of stock, stir until absorbed, add a ladleful of stock…” steps that you usually get with risotto, and instead utilizes the oven to make the whole process a snap. This is a great weeknight meal or side dish, and I definitely foresee myself making it (or variations of it) again and again.
Sticking with the classics, my next trip down memory lane is Almanzo Wilder’s fried apples n’ onions from Farmer Boy. This book is seriously FULL of good eating– I came across a website that quoted every meal he ate in the book, and was drooling by the end of it. It all sounded amazing, but it’s too hot this summer to be roasting spare-ribs and cooking baked beans with salt pork, so I decided to go with something simpler: fried apples n’ onions.
This dish is just what it’s named– apples and onions, fried together. I don’t understand why most recipes online make it so sweet, adding tons of brown sugar and cooking until the apples and onions turn into mush. This is not apple pie we’re talking about here, this is a side dish, and Almanzo states in the book that he ate four helpings in one meal! If it were sweet I’m not sure that even I (with my notorious sweet tooth) would’ve been able to eat that much…
So I had a lot of extra bacon, and with its expiration date fast approaching I didn’t want to let all that salty, smoky, fatty goodness go to waste. What to make? Bacon jam. And it’s AMAZING. Seriously, I’ve tried other bacon jam recipes before, but this one was a standout– I tasted it and immediately declared it one of the best things I’d ever made. It’s incredibly delicious, and while it may seem like a lot of work for a condiment, this is no ordinary jam! This sweet-savory spread (with a hint of spice at the end) goes on anything, from grilled cheese sandwiches (my favorite) to crackers and peanut butter.* Try it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!