Garden Focaccia

Okay, I admit it, I got suckered in to the trend of vegetable-decorated focaccia– it’s just so pretty that I had to try it! I dipped my toe into the technique with my parsley-topped cheese biscuits, and they were adorable, so since I was already planning on making focaccia for a barbecue, it was the perfect time to give it a shot.

This particular attempt at the focaccia from Smitten Kitchen (which she got from Alexandra Stafford) is actually my second attempt– the first one failed miserably, refusing to rise at all and forcing me to make a last-minute trip to the grocery store for ciabatta to make the sandwiches I’d planned– so I had my fingers crossed that it would work this time. Happily, it rose beautifully and tasted fantastic– this will definitely be my standard focaccia recipe from now on.

I will note that the vegetables definitely look prettier before baking than after– especially the shallots, which lost pretty much all their color in the oven. Perhaps next time I’ll slice them thicker or use a really small red onion to see if the color shows up better that way. Halved cherry tomatoes still look great, though, as do the bell peppers. Next time I’ll really pile on the herbs– they shrank down a lot in the oven, so I could definitely use more. But overall I’m very pleased with the effect– so pretty and really delicious!

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Cacio e Pepe Panzanella

Lately in all this hot weather, I’ve been craving salads for dinner– anything else feels too heavy– but even salads have to have some heft to them in order to feel satisfying. Enter the panzanella: a salad that’s a good 30-40% homemade crouton, which (let’s face it) is often the very best part.

This salad from Food52 has it all– freshly-toasted croutons tossed in a cheesy, peppery dressing (hence the “cacio e pepe” moniker), sweet corn, tangy tomatoes, and a nice big ball of burrata to bring it all together and make it feel indulgent. I’ve made it twice already and foresee eating this a lot this summer, even if it does involve turning on my oven in this weather!

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Pasta with Baked Feta and Tomatoes

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!

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Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

tomato-sauce

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?

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Mexican Street Corn Nachos

These are amazing. Best nachos ever. Really, truly incredible. If you like Mexican Street Corn (also known as elotes), you need to make these as soon as possible. I made them one night for a last-minute dinner gathering and by the next morning I was already plotting when to make them again, calories be damned.

These nachos combine charred corn with a creamy cheese sauce, poured over toasty tortilla chips to form a rich, satisfying base, which is then perked up with tangy tomatoes, pickled onions, lime juice, and basically all of the fixings of your favorite tacos. There’s just something about the luxuriousness of the gooey cheese being poured over the tray of chips, layered with topping after topping… I think if I could sit out on my deck with friends, a 6-pack of Coronas, and these nachos, I would have my ideal late summer evening. (or you could, you know, stay indoors in the fall and just devour them anyway)

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Veggie Taco Stack

taco-stack-2.jpg

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!

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Cheesy Eggplant Pasta Bake

eggplant-bake

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.

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New Baby (Spinach and Sausage) Lasagna

lasagna-stack

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!

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Vodka Sauce

vodka-sauce-done

I know it’s traditional to serve vodka sauce with penne, but all I had in the house was farfalle, so I went with that. But the sauce is really the star here, and always will be– spicy, creamy, rich but with bright tomato flavor, it’s a perfect comfort food. Plus, it’s made with pantry staples (the original recipe called for shallots and fresh tomatoes, but I think the modified one is just as tasty) and is quick and easy enough for a weeknight dinner!

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