All Posts Tagged ‘Vegetarian

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sunday dinner: gnocchi pomodoro with fresh mozzarella.

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Guys. Hi! Guess what? I moved to Portland, Oregon. Say whaaaaat?! Yes, Plumber’s Daughter has gone West. Well, returned to the West is more accurate. My roots are here, my family is here, and now, after a nine year stint away, I’m here.

This was a big move, and one that came about rather quickly. To be honest, I wasn’t ready. New York and I were in a committed, long term relationship. He was about to put a ring on it. But, as Hugh Laurie so astutely observes, ‘It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready,’ so here I am, in a new/old city, writing a new chapter. And you know what? So far so good.

Here are the things that have happened since I moved to Portland:

  1. It’s been raining like a motherfucker. Harsh words, yes, but when Oregon is breaking rain records, you know it’s serious. Where oh where have you gone, my beloved sunshine? Can we please do lunch soon? Call me.
  2. I’ve taken up loom weaving. Hey, if you’re going to move to the hipster capital of America, you should probably take up a super obscure craft. Here’s to many a sexy afternoon spent in a yarn store.
  3. So much has changed, and yet, so little has changed. I drove (drove!) past the Thai restaurant I basically lived in in college and it’s still freaking there. Fried bananas and thai iced tea for life, y’all. At the same time, entire new neighborhoods have sprung up that didn’t exist when I lived here before (did you know that Portland also has a neighborhood named Brooklyn? I sure didn’t).
  4. New city, new chapter, new JOB. Three weeks in and I’ve figured out where my office is and where the cafeteria is. That’s success in my book. #onboarding

I’m on the right track here in the PNW, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss New York. The city will forever live in my heart, and will always be a major player in my kitchen. One of the last dinners I had in NYC was at one of my faves, Frank, a tiny hole in the wall East Village red sauce joint. It’s classic New York. Classic Italian. And you don’t go to Frank without ordering the gnocchi. A straight forward dish, Frank’s gnocchi is simply red sauce and pasta with a little basil. And yet, it’s the most comforting thing you’ll ever eat, and it’s one of the things I miss most about the city that never sleeps.

My version of gnocchi and red sauce has a few ingredients not seen in Frank’s version, namely the welcome addition of fresh mozzarella. It captures the spirit of Frank, and the spirit of New York City, and it will be my go to when I miss the city the most.

This dish is a breeze to bring together — if you can boil water and operate an oven, you can master this business. Enjoy it with some good crusty bread to soak up the extra sauce, a big ol’ glass of red wine, and friends/loved ones who won’t judge you for making weird guttural noises at the table and licking the bowl because it’s just that good.

If I can’t be in NYC, this is certainly the second best option.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Gnocchi Pomodoro with Fresh Mozzarella
Serves: 4 appetizer portions or 2 entree portions

You will need:

¼ cup plus one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh basil plus more for garnish
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ yellow onion, diced
1 28-oz can tomatoes, diced or crushed
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup half and half
1 package fresh gnocchi pasta
10 small cherry-sized fresh mozzarella balls, halved
½ cup parmesan cheese, finely grated

Kitchen equipment: large oven safe sauté pan, large pot

Ahhhh, just looking at the ingredients of this dish gets me all kinds of excited. So much YUM up in here.

Start the pomodoro sauce. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add all of the fresh herbs (with the exception of the basil to be used for garnish) and toss quickly to coat the herbs in the oil. Cook for approximately 5 minutes until the herbs are crisp. The goal here is to infuse the herb flavor into the oil which will bring a brightness to the pomodoro sauce. Once the herbs are crisp, remove them from the oil and discard. Add the garlic and onions to the oil and cook until fragrant and translucent, about 5-7 minutes, turning the heat down slightly if necessary so you don’t burn the garlic (burnt garlic = bitter = bad).

Add the tomatoes to the garlic/onion mixture, making sure to include all the juices from the can. Stir to incorporate and season with salt, pepper and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes until the sauce reduces and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in half and half.

Cook the pasta. Heat some generously salted water to boiling in a large pot. Add the gnocchi and cook for approximately 3 minutes, until pasta floats to the top of the water. Remove the cooked gnocchi from the water and immediately transfer to the pan with the pomodoro sauce, spreading evenly.

Bring it all together. Set your oven to broil, ensuring you have an oven rack in the top position. Add the halved mozzarella balls to the pasta and sauce, distributing evenly among the gnocchi. Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the top of the pasta and mozzarella and drizzle with the extra tablespoon of olive oil. Season with a bit more pepper and red pepper flakes if you like. Place the pan in the oven on the top rack and broil for 5-7 minutes, watching closely, until the cheese is melted and the gnocchi are crisp and golden brown. Remove from oven, top with basil garnish and serve immediately.

Warm and rich and cozy and bright, all with a little kick. New York City in a bowl. The perfect reminder of my favorite city, and something to cherish in the new place I call home.

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thanksgiving week 2015: sour cream apple pie.

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We made it! It’s the big day. Happy Thanksgiving to all. I’ll be spending my day mostly in the kitchen, managing the oven schedule, checking in on progress, and making use of all those vegetables that we chopped and prepped yesterday. We’ll sit down to eat about 4pm and relish in and be thankful for all that we have. It will be a small, cozy feast, but oh, such a good one.

The crown jewel on any proper Thanksgiving feast, in my opinion, is a really great pie. So, with that in mind, I present to you a really great pie. Sour Cream Apple Pie is something I didn’t know existed until about 8 years ago, and when I found the recipe for this, I was immediately intrigued. It has the fresh fruitiness of an apple pie with the rich custard of a pumpkin pie, and when you put those together on a homemade pie crust and add a streusel topping (my favorite), you’ve got a true gem. It’s supremely delicious, and now I’m here to share it with you. I’m thankful for all of you today, dear readers; all of you and this pie.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Sour Cream Apple Pie
Serves: 8

You will need:

For the crust:
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced into small pieces
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3-5 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:
5 medium apples, peeled and sliced thinly (I usually use Granny Smith, but any sweet/tart variety will do)
1¼ cup sour cream
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg

For the topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced into small pieces
½ cup pecans, chopped

Kitchen equipment: pie dish, pastry cutter (optional), two large mixing bowls, one small mixing bowl, tin foil

Make the dough. First things first, make some pie dough. Remember, as I’ve told you before, the key to perfect pie dough is keeping everything as cold as possible. I’ve even started keeping my flour in the freezer. Don’t even think about using room temperature butter or water here; your results will be infinitely better if all ingredients are nice and chilly.

To bring the dough together, mix your flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add in the chilled butter, and using your hands or a pastry cutter, push the butter into the flour mixture. Your goal is a sandy textured mix with a bunch of different sized butter pieces (this is where the magic happens). This should only take a few minutes to accomplish, and the less manhandling of the butter, the better. Once you’ve achieved the correct consistency, mix 3 tablespoons of ice water with the apple cider vinegar and drizzle over the top of the dry ingredients. Begin to incorporate the water/vinegar into the other ingredients by running your hands through the dough and gently beginning to bring things together. If after a few minutes your dough is still looking a little dry and things aren’t coming together, you can add an additional 2 tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, until the dough just starts to come together in a ball. It will still have a shaggy texture, which is what you’re looking for, so don’t overwork or overwater your dough.

Once the dough has come together, take it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and give it a couple of kneads (but not too many). Finally, flatten the dough into a round disc, tightly wrap in plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Prep the filling. While the dough is chilling, let’s turn our attention to the filling. The most labor intensive part of this process is peeling and slicing the apples, so do that first. You want to slice your apples as thin as possible — if you have a mandolin, use it. Once your apples are peeled and sliced, place them in a large bowl and squeeze a little lemon juice over the top to prevent browning.

In your other large mixing bowl, whisk together the rest of the filling ingredients until fully incorporated, smooth and shiny. Add in the apples and toss to coat completely. Set aside.

Make the streusel topping. Mix the flour, oats, sugar and salt together in a small mixing bowl. Add the butter pieces, and in the same way you did with the pie crust, push the butter into the dry ingredients until well incorporated and sandy. Mix in the pecans and set aside.

Bring it all together. OK, let’s put this baby together. First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Remove your pie dough from the refrigerator, and roll it out on a floured board or counter top. Transfer to your pie dish, pushing the dough into the edges of the dish and crimping the edges.

Pour the apple filling into the pie shell carefully, smoothing out any wayward pieces as you go. Pour any leftover filling over the apples and spread evenly. Tear off a few strips of tin foil and cover the edges of the pie crust to prevent them from burning.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

Take the pie out of the oven at this point, and sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the pie. Place the pie back in the oven and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove the foil covers in the last 5 minutes of baking so the edges of the crust can brown properly.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool completely. Serve on its own or with a little bit of vanilla ice cream. YUM.

Happy Thanksgiving all! I wish you and yours the best of days. xx

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thanksgiving week 2015: donna’s cranberry sauce and roasted root vegetables with rosemary & parmesan.

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The next entry in the lead up to the big day? A classic accompaniment and a twist on a traditional side.

First things first, let’s talk about cranberry sauce. Some people love it, some people think it’s wholly unnecessary. I happen to fall into the former camp and think that those in the latter camp must have only experienced cranberry sauce from a can. Which is basically illegal in the Radeke household.

Once you’ve tasted homemade cranberry sauce — one with warm spices and a hint of orange, you’ll seriously examine your life for what’s been missing all these years. It’s a revelation that was bestowed upon us long ago by a dear family friend, and my defacto Aunt growing up, Donna. Donna’s cranberry sauce is rich and a little boozy and it’s sweet/tart flavor pairs perfectly with the buttery flavors found on the rest of the table. It’s a never miss in this house, and it should be in yours too.

As for the next recipe, it’s a different take on a classic Thanksgiving ingredient — sweet potatoes. I’ve never been a fan of the sweet potato marshmallow monstrosity that finds its way to the table; it’s too sweet and it completely masks the beautiful flavor (and natural sweetness) of this glorious root vegetable. In this version, which is a take on a Bon Appétit recipe found long ago, roasted sweet potatoes are paired with roasted red onions and dressed minimally with fresh rosemary and parmesan. It’s so simple but so insanely good; you’ll have a really hard time trying not to sneak bites before it even gets to the serving table.

Two great recipes. Two excellent additions to any Thanksgiving.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Donna’s Cranberry Sauce
Serves: 8

You will need:

3 cups fresh cranberries
1½ cup sugar
¾ cup orange juice
½ cup brandy, port or rum

1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon orange zest

1/3 cup mincemeat (I recently learned that mincemeat does in fact contain meat, so if you want a vegetarian version of this dish, skip this step or sub in a few tablespoons of orange marmalade)
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Kitchen equipment: large saucepan

In a large saucepan, bring the orange juice, booze of your choice, sugar, and all of the spices to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 5 minutes to meld the flavors. Add the cranberries and stir to coat them in the liquid. Let the cranberries cook, stirring occasionally, until their skins start to pop and the sauce begins to reduce. This should take about 15 minutes. After most of the berries have popped, add in the mincemeat (or marmalade) and the nuts. Let cool completely, which will thicken the sauce slightly. You can either serve at this point, or you can refrigerate until about an hour before you need it. Let the sauce come to room temperature before serving.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Red Onions with Rosemary & Parmesan
Serves: 6

You will need:

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
3 red onions, peeled and cut into eighths through the root
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Kitchen equipment: two baking sheets

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, setting one rack in the middle and one on the lowest bar. Lay out your baking sheets, placing the sweet potatoes on one and the onions on the other. Drizzle the vegetables each with a few tablespoons of olive oil, then sprinkle the garlic over the sweet potatoes. Season both trays liberally with salt and pepper, then get in there with your hands and toss to coat the vegetables thoroughly with the oil and spices. Spread the vegetables out into a single layer on each sheet and pop them in the oven.

Check and stir the veggies about every ten minutes; they should be completely done in about 30-35 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when the sweet potatoes are soft and nicely browned and the onions are a deep purple.

Remove from the oven and add both veggies to a large serving bowl. Add most of the parmesan and rosemary (reserving a little of each for garnish) and toss to coat. Garnish with the rest of the cheese and herbs and serve immediately.

If you need to make this ahead of time, roast the vegetables and refrigerate separately. Then reheat just before serving, combine and toss with cheese and herbs.

Enjoy!

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thanksgiving week 2015: caramelized brussels sprouts.

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To kickoff the Plumber’s Daughter Thanksgiving Extravaganza, we begin with the simplest of the simple. Brussels Sprouts, always a favorite vegetable of mine, can be found on any menu in any trendy restaurant in 2015. Which I think is hilarious given their status as a throwaway vegetable up until a few years ago. But throwaway they are not, and if you prepare them in the right way (read: DO NOT BOIL THEM), they can be a simply magical addition to any Thanksgiving table.

For our meal this year, we’ll be serving a caramelized version of this teeny tiny cabbage, a quick and easy side dish that comes together in a matter of minutes. If this version doesn’t suit your fancy, I’ve included several alternatives below. No matter how you cook them, however, brussels sprouts should take up some prime real estate on your Thanksgiving menu.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts
Serves: 6

You will need:

2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half through the root
4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Handful of brown sugar
Dark rum
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat two tablespoons of your butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once melted, add your brussels sprouts cut side down in a single layer (you may need to cook them in more than one batch of your skillet is not big enough to accommodate all of them at once). Season with salt and pepper and let brown without messing with them for approximately 5-7 minutes. If the pan is looking dry, you can add a tablespoon or two more of butter.

Once the brussels are nicely browned on one side, add in another two tablespoons of butter and stir/toss them in the pan to thoroughly coat in butter on all sides. Add in the handful of brown sugar and toss again to coat.

Now, grab your rum and taking the pan OFF THE FLAME, pour one turn of rum into the pan (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan). Place the pan back on the stove and stir to melt the sugar and butter into the rum. The rum will bubble up but will settle down quickly. Cook a few minutes longer, seasoning again with salt and pepper, until the butter/sugar/rum mixture reduces to a syrupy consistency. Test a sprout to see if they are done to your liking; if not, cook a few minutes longer. You want them to still have a little bite, and they should be bright green, but you don’t want them to be too raw.

When they are done, pour into a serving dish, topping with the pan caramel sauce, and serve immediately. These should be made just before you sit down to eat, as they taste best served piping hot from the stove. Simple, delicious, full of flavor and crunch. A perfect veggie addition to any Thanksgiving meal.

Not into caramelized sprouts? Try any of the recipes below.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta & Balsamic Vinegar (Ina Garten)
Fried Brussels Sprouts with Smoky Honey Aioli (How Sweet It Is)
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Walnuts & Pecorino (Epicurious)

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sunday dinner: fall vegetable noodle casserole.

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Let me talk to you about how dinner used to come together in the Radeke household when I was a child. It was always quite the production, an all hands on deck situation. There were no fewer than three different cookbooks strewn about, and my dad would bounce back and forth between them excitedly, finding inspiration from every page. We were never a ‘follow the recipe to a tee’ kind of family, and often times what ended up on the table started as three (or four…or five…) different recipes. I mean, where’s the fun in playing by the rules, am I right?

Now that I’m all grown up and cooking for myself these days, I still find that I resort to my father’s technique of cobbling together different recipes to create one super recipe, and I’m usually the better for it (listen, I’m not batting 1000 here, there are definitely times this has not worked in my favor, but for the most part it ends well).

Take this fall vegetable noodle casserole for instance. This started as three recipes — one for broccoli noodle casserole, one for butternut squash mac and cheese, and one for a fall vegetable torte. I took bits and pieces from each one and smooshed ‘em together (technical term) to create the recipe below. This does take a little more than basic kitchen knowledge to pull off since you need to know what does and doesn’t go with what, and be able to adjust cooking times to ensure everything fits together nicely, but if you practice a few times, it’s not difficult to master.

It makes for a little fun, creative time in the kitchen and you’re left with a delicious, homey result that perfectly captures the flavors of Fall.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Fall Vegetable Noodle Casserole
Serves: 6

For the vegetables and pasta:
8 ounces curly pasta (fusilli, gemelli or rotini are all great options)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 small head broccoli, chopped into small florets
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small bunch lacinato kale, de-stemmed and chopped

For the béchamel:
¾ cup milk
1 ½ cups reserved pasta cooking water
1 tablespoon flour
¼ teaspoon dried mustard
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest from 1 lemon
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the breadcrumb topping:
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup pecorino, shredded
juice from 1 lemon
drizzle of olive oil

Kitchen equipment: medium pot, baking or pie dish

First things first, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Cook the butternut squash and the pasta. Heat a medium pot of salted water on high until boiling. Add the butternut squash and cook for 7-9 minutes, until squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, but do not toss the water. Let the water come to a boil again and then add the pasta and cook for approximately 10-12 minutes, until pasta is al dente (you want it a little underdone since it will finish cooking in the oven). Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water.

Make the béchamel. In the same pot you used to cook the squash and pasta, heat two teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-4 minutes until the fennel is soft and fragrant. Next, add the flour, spices (mustard, smoked paprika and red pepper flakes) and olive oil. Stirring often, cooking for another 2-4 minutes until the flour is golden brown and the spices are toasted. Add the milk and the reserved pasta cooking water and let the sauce thicken, stirring occasionally another 2-4 minutes. Add the lemon zest and fontina, stirring until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is nice and thick, then season with salt and pepper. Finally, add the broccoli, butternut squash and kale and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta.

Prep the breadcrumb topping. In a small bowl, combine the panko and the pecorino, tossing to incorporate. Add in the lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil and stir to evenly moisten.

Put it all together. Grab your baking dish and pour the pasta mixture into the dish, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and cook for approximately 12 minutes on the center rack of your oven. When the breadcrumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling, remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Serve warm with a nice crisp glass of sauvignon blanc (or whatever wine suits your fancy) and relish in the cozy, warm flavors. It may have started as three different recipes, but it comes together as one perfect meal.

Enjoy! xx

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meatless monday: spiced veggie tostadas with lime crema & salsa fresca.

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Can we talk about the phrase ‘meat substitute’ for a minute? A strange topic for a holiday Monday, I know, but I’d like to discuss. And what I’d like to discuss is how much I don’t like this phrase or the concept it describes. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you.

First of all, I personally don’t think that a proper ‘substitute’ for meat exists. And that’s not to say that meat is better than any other protein option out there, or that you should only eat meat, but I don’t think you can sub in a vegetable protein with the same result. Meat — whether you’re talking about beef or pork or any variety of poultry — has a specific flavor and texture that I don’t think is easily replicated. Never in my life have I been ‘tricked’ by a meat substitute to think that it’s actually meat. ‘Oh my! Is this a vegetable patty or a juicy steak? I just can’t tell!’ No. That’s never happened.

Second, and here’s the real kicker for me — vegetables are AWESOME. Like, I really really love them. So why do we need to relegate them to second class status? Why do they need to be a substitute for anything? I think they’re pretty amazing all on their own, so let’s celebrate that by cooking them in the way they should be cooked (which is to say, simply, and with little fanfare) instead of wasting our time inventing things like tofurkey (blech). OK, off my soapbox.

This recipe does exactly that — it celebrates vegetables the way they should be, with flavors that are layered and rich and full of umami. It’s a veggie party on a corn tortilla platter.

No meat necessary.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Spiced Veggie Tostadas with Lime Crema & Salsa Fresca (adapted from Blue Apron)
Serves 2

You will need:

Tostadas
1 medium eggplant
1 sweet bell pepper or 4-5 small sweet peppers
2 ears sweet corn
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1 can refried beans (either pinto or black beans will do)
1 can diced jalapeños
4 corn tortillas
Mexican or cajun seasoning (or make your own with 1/2 teaspoon each of oregano, chile powder, cumin and garlic powder)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Lime Crema
1/4 cup sour cream (or Mexican crema if you can find it)
Juice of 1/4 lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salsa Fresca
1 medium tomato
1 avocado
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 lime
Handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

Kitchen equipment: baking sheet, large saute pan, various sizes of mixing bowls

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees for your tortillas.

Prep your vegetables: While the oven is coming up to temperature, prep your veggies. First wash and slice your eggplant into 1/4 inch slices, discarding the ends. Cut off the stem ends of your peppers and remove the seeds and ribs. Slice the peppers into thin strips. Shuck the corn, removing any stray silk, then cut the corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Pit the avocado and chop roughly; place it in a bowl with the juice of 1 lime wedge. Core and rough chop the tomato and add it to the avocado. Thinly slice one half of the onion and finely chop the other and place the chopped half in a small bowl with the juice of 1/2 lime. Set aside. Wash and pat dry the cilantro, then rough chop until you have about a handful.

Whew! Anyone need a break?

I know, lots of prep work, but it will all be worth it in the end, I promise.

Bake the tortillas: Next, take your tortillas and place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle a little more oil on each tortilla, then flip them back and forth until both sides are thoroughly coated in oil. Bake for 6-8 minutes, then flip and back another 2 minutes, until tortillas are golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and immediately season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the lime crema: mix the sour cream with the lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the salsa fresca: Add the onion-lime mixture to the tomato-avocado mixture and toss to incorporate. Add the chopped cilantro, a little drizzle of olive oil, and another shake of salt and pepper. Mix it up and set aside.

Make the beans: Mix together the refried beans and the jalapeños in a small, microwave-safe bowl, then microwave on high for two minutes. Stir and set aside.

Cook the veggies: Combine the eggplant slices with a drizzle of olive oil, the mexican/cajun seasoning and a grind of salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Heat two teaspoons olive oil in your saute pan over medium-high heat, then add the seasoned eggplant in a single layer. Allow the eggplant to brown without touching them much, flipping after about 4 minutes. Brown the other side for another 3ish minutes, then remove from the pan and place on a plate with a paper towel.

In the same pan you used to cook your eggplant (don’t wipe it out, that leftover spice will be great on your veggies), add a touch more oil, then add the peppers and corn. Saute until the veggies are slightly soft and charred, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the plate with the eggplant.

Bring it all together: The finish line is in sight, folks! Hang in there for the delicious.

Take your baked tortillas, placing two on each plate. Spread a thin layer of beans on each tortilla, then top with a few slices of eggplant. Add a spoonful or two of the pepper-corn mixture, then drizzle with a little lime crema. Finish with a large spoonful of salsa fresca and a few extra leaves of cilantro. Serve with extra beans and veggies on the side.

I highly recommend a Mexican beer as the perfect pairing to this meal; the crisp bubbles of the beer bring out the rich spices of the veggies. These babies are far from a ‘meat substitute’, they are first class delicious.

Carnivores and herbivores unite! This one’s a keeper.

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sunday dinner: cacio e pepe (with a summer flair).

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The Romans, man. They are a good people. They know how to live. And eat. And drink. They’ve brought us game changing inventions like aqueducts, concrete and newspapers. And, you know, numerals.

But my favorite Roman invention? Cacio e Pepe. Say it with me, CA-CHEE-O EH PEH-PEH. Hands up emoji. The simplest of the simple, ‘cacio e pepe’ literally translates to ‘cheese and pepper’. And that’s really all it is. Pasta blended with butter and cheese and pepper that results in a rich, flavorful, incredibly simple dish that I dare you not to love instantly.

Add a little summertime flair (it’s TOMATO SEASON, y’all) and you’ve got yourself a game changer of a meal. Thanks, Romans. Grazie mille.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Summertime Cacio e Pepe
Serves: 2

6 ounces pasta (I used bucatini, but you could use spaghetti or linguini and achieve the same result)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan Reggiano
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
1 small container cherry tomatoes
3-4 leaves basil, chopped in a chiffonade

Kitchen Equipment: large heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, large pot, microplane or zester (for grating cheese), TONGS (I heart tongs)

I love this recipe. It’s so goddamn simple and the end product will just blow you away with incredible flavor. Like, how did so few ingredients pack such a wallop of awesome? Who knows? The Romans know, that’s who.

First things first, get your kitchen prepped so you have everything at your disposal when timing matters later. Using your microplane or zester, grate your cheese and set aside. By using this tool instead of a standard cheese grater, you are making it much easier for your cheese to become melty and saucy later, rather than the undesirable clumpy and oily, because you’re basically grating it in the smallest possible way. You’re making whispy cheese fluff, if you will. And I will. You can use a standard cheese grater if you don’t have a microplane (though I highly suggest you pick one up, it’s one of my favorite and most used kitchen tools), but make sure you use the smallest holes possible.

Wash and chop your tomatoes (if they’re small enough you can just cut them in half) and chiffonade the basil.

Next, take your big pot and fill it with about 3 quarts water and a good few shakes of sea salt (the best chefs will always tell you that pasta should be cooked in water that ‘tastes of the sea’…so salt it up, don’t be shy!). Heat on high until you achieve a rolling boil.

Add the pasta and cook about two minutes shy of the suggested cooking time (I would say about two to three minutes total cooking time for fresh pasta, about six minutes for dried). Don’t you fret, the pasta will finish cooking when we add it to the pan sauce later. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside.

Meanwhile, in your large skillet or sauté pan, melt two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the pepper and swirl the pan around for about a minute to toast the pepper. Your butter should brown slightly but not burn.

Next, add the reserved pasta water and swirl the pan again to pick up all the nicely toasted pepper particles. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is bubbling nicely. Add the pasta and the rest of the butter.

Now. Here’s where the magic happens. Turn the heat down to low and using your tongs, toss your pasta in the pan sauce until evenly coated. Add the grated Grana Padano and toss quickly with the pasta using your tongs until the cheese melts into the pan sauce and starts to coat the pasta. This should take no more than 10-15 seconds.

Remove the pan from heat and add the grated Pecorino, tossing in a similar fashion as the Grana Padano. Really swirl the pasta around the pan to pick up all of the pepper and cheese sauce. If you’ve done it right, you should be left with a gorgeous, shiny cheese sauce that smoothly coats the pasta and is punctuated by lovely bits of toasted pepper.

Serve immediately in large bowls and top with the chopped tomatoes and basil.

The only accompaniment you need to this is a good glass of wine and a friend or loved one. And maybe a nice view and a summer breeze. But shouldn’t those accompany all of your summertime meals?

I think so. And the Romans do too.