Pastalicious

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Browned Butter Sage Sauce

October 13, 2021

This autumnal treat is one of my favorite pasta dishes. Tender ravioli pillows filled with butternut squash, shallots, and savory parmesan are finished with browned butter and fresh sage from the garden. Friends in Northern Italy tell me this dish is served there throughout the Fall and Winter, even starring as the first course in Christmas Eve feasts. For the very best homemade pasta results, I’ve used semolina flour, made from first quality durum wheat. The high gluten content of this flour is what helps the pasta hold shape and texture. But it also requires strong hands to work the dough. I believe the effort is worth it. So, pour yourself a glass of wine, roll up your sleeves, and give it a go! Continue Reading…

Elegant Desserts

Panna Cotta with Wine Poached Pears

September 21, 2021

As far back as the 15th century, English cooks discovered that wine-poaching hard pears made them tender and tasty. One abbey had cooks: “Pare wardens (hard cooking pears) clean, seethe them in red wine till they be tender, then take them up and put them in a pot; put thereto wine of Crete or Vernage (Verona)…powder of sugar and powder of ginger and let them boil awhile and then serve forth.”

Paired with delicate vanilla panna cotta puddings, and a delicious syrup made by cooking down the spiced wine poaching liquid, poached pears make a delicious dessert. I love to make them for festive dinners, because you prepare the fruit, syrup and panna cottas ahead of time. Assembly at service is simply drizzling the syrup over the panna cottas and adding a pretty slice (or slices) of the pear on top. You’ll make the panna cottas in individual ramekins with some of the sliced pear. I like to serve a few of the beautiful whole poached pears on their own plate. For another recipe using the poached pears, try my wine-poached pear, goat cheese and rosemary tart.

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Spicy Good

Chili Con Carne with Homemade Chili Paste

September 13, 2021

One of my readers wrote in search of a recipe for bean-less chili that harkened back to her family’s Sunday dinners 25 years ago. Chili without beans is a-okay with me, so I worked up this richly flavored version made with beef skirt steak (you can also add a bit of bison steak if you have some) and loads of handmade chili paste. I use a combination of ancho, New Mexico, cayenne and arbol chilies for the paste, but you can vary the heat and flavor by experimenting with other varieties of dried chiles, such as pasilla or guajillo.

You’ll soak the dried peppers first. Then, brown the meat and simmer it to tenderness in the chili-soaking broth. Finally, blend the soaked peppers, garlic and spices to make the paste which you’ll add to the chili pot for a ½ hour more of simmering. That’s when the flavor really blooms! Not burn-your-mouth spicy, this beautiful chili has a deep, dark warmth.  It’s good plain or served over rice with chopped white onion and shredded cheddar.

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Homey Comforts

Sauerkraut Supper

September 6, 2021

Ask my 95-year-old dad Bob about food memories and he is sure to tell you about sauerkraut. His mom (my Grandma Lydia) had a big barrel on the back porch of the family’s flat on Chicago’s south side. About this time of year, she would fill that barrel with fresh cabbage to make sauerkraut. Sometimes, the cabbages came from dad’s childhood business, selling vegetables from a wagon he pulled up and down the alleyways with his brother Emil. Other times, Grandpa Albert bought them from a truck farmer. Either way, making sauerkraut was a family affair: Grandpa sliced the cabbage with a metal-bladed contraption fitted over a washtub. Grandma gathered up the shreds, put them in the barrel and sprinkled handfuls of salt over all at practiced intervals.  Between each addition, dad and Emil would get to work with a huge wooden pestle, (they called it a “stomper”) pounding down the cabbage to release its juices. Once the barrel was nearly full, a piece of wood, sized to nestle inside the barrel top, was weighted down with a heavy stone, the barrel was rolled onto the porch, and the cabbage left to naturally ferment in the cool air. It transformed over a few weeks into proper sauerkraut.

“We ate it almost every day during the Fall and Winter—all the way through to the Spring,” says Dad. “Mom would scoop out portions of the sauerkraut and cook it with pork neck bones or other inexpensive cuts of meat, which added good flavor. We usually had it with some boiled potatoes and always rye bread.”

Decades later, my mom made sauerkraut dinners, too. But we didn’t have that big barrel, and mild, naturally fermented cabbage wasn’t sold at the store to use as the base of the dish. So, mom used whatever bottled kraut she could find– often, with a taste more sour than she and dad liked. To mellow the flavor of bottled kraut, mom would rinse it, and then add fresh cabbage sauteed with onion, and a little caraway seed, cooking it all in a big pot as grandma had, with pork neckbones. Served with fresh rye bread, buttered potatoes, and some sausage on the side, it was a delicious, homey meal.

Today, fresh, naturally fermented sauerkraut can be found in the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store. I mix that with a pound of mild German bottled sauerkraut, plus a head of shredded cabbage, onion, and pork neckbones for this recipe. If you can’t find fresh naturally fermented kraut, either use two bottles of the mild German variety, or choose whatever bottled brand you can find that has only cabbage and salt listed as the ingredients.  If the brand you source is very sour, rinse it well with cool water before cooking. And for a yummy way to use any extra sauerkraut from this recipe, try my Pork Chops with Sauerkraut and Apple Stuffing! Continue Reading…

Appetizers & Snacks

Spanakopita Triangles (Spinach Sorrel + Cheese Pies)

August 21, 2021

Spanakopita—the buttery Greek comfort dish of flaky phyllo dough filled with cheese and greens, can be made as one large savory pie, or, folded up and baked into crispy little triangle hand pies as we’ve done. Although usually prepared with spinach, onion and feta cheese, in the Greek countryside lemony sorrel is sometimes a flavorful addition.  With a garden full of sorrel, I decided this recipe should include it. If you prefer, you can omit the sorrel and double up on the spinach. Either way, the result is delicious. Continue Reading…

Pancakes

Swedish Pancakes (Plätter or Tunnpannkakor)

August 19, 2021

Swedish pancakes are tender, lacy, lovely creations. Finished, the delicate rounds are traditionally folded in thirds and served with lingonberry sauce as a beautiful breakfast or brunch dish. At our house, we’ve updated the presentation, folding the pancakes into little bundles we top with a dollop of sour cream, drizzle of honey, and a sprinkling of fresh red currant berries (tart, bright, dear and easier to find than fresh lingonberries!) Continue Reading…

Crackers

Nigella + Sesame Cracker Crisps

August 3, 2021

I was delighted to get a letter from my sister-in-law Tonia that included a special gift: Nigella flower seeds to grow in my garden. Nigella sativa flowers bloom a gorgeous pale blue, followed by pretty pods full of crunchy little edible seeds. These have a unique “somewhere-between fennel and nutmeg” flavor used world-round in cooking. In fact, Tonia’s letter included memories of the nigella-sprinkled bread sticks her Armenian aunt used to make. Sometimes called black cumin, black caraway or simply “black seeds” and labeled “kalonji” in the Assyrian market near my home, nigella pairs nicely with sesame seed. I prefer crunchy thin crisps over doughy bread sticks with my salads, so I’ve made these crackers very thin. The tiny bit of yeast in the dough makes them bubble up nicely in spots as you bake them, for an even crisper crunch. Brushed with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, these are very good as a snack, or, with salad. Continue Reading…

Pie Revival

Peaches + Cream Pie

August 2, 2021

If you’ve had the pleasure of plucking a sun-warmed, fully ripe peach from a tree and eating it right there and then, you know why peaches show up in my dreams. Velvety soft, juicy and with the most fragrant nectar, peaches are one of my favorite fruits. This old-fashioned pie is full of them. To make it, you’ll spiral peach slices over a butter crust and bake them in cream with just a hint of sugar and spice. A good dream in the making. Continue Reading…

American Classics

Apple Pie

August 2, 2021

Good recipes are like friends, they come and they go. Some, you may not see for a long while, so when reconnected, it’s with a flood of happiness. Some you may take for granted. Others, you wish you could see much more of.  Thinking of this, I realized that in all the years I’ve written about vintage recipes, I’ve never done a post about apple pie. Iconic. American. Just apple. Pie.  It seemed about time. 

I do have a favorite. I’ve tweaked it over the years to make my own. It’s originally credited to a community cookbook writer’s grandmother I don’t know to name, but sure would like to thank. This pie is pure, homely and perfect.  Continue Reading…

Sandwich Classics

Best Tarragon Chicken Salad

July 9, 2021

Herbs are the best thing about my garden. Lilac and sage, lemon thyme and basil, tarragon and dill greet me every morning with their fragrance.  French tarragon, with its curly roots, narrow green leaves and anise-like scent is a favorite—especially good in this classic chicken salad. Continue Reading…