I’m deeply aware that the way I cook on a weeknight is a skosh more involved than the way most of America cooks. One might even go so far as to call it convoluted. Or even flat-out crazy. Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Exhibit C.
But I figure that, given my job, it’s justified. It’s all just necessary practice, right?
Sure it is. Until I get busy, that is, and I need exactly what the rest of America needs: something resembling food, and fast.
Which is where this recipe comes in. It’s meant to be made in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta. And I think all but the very busiest of people has time for that on a weeknight.
Having said that, this recipe does still live up to my standards of excellence. All proof that fast food ain’t always bad, and great food ain’t always slow.
You can toast the pepitas if you feel like it. Or don't. Either way it'll be fine.
The panko on top is optional, but I love a little crunch on top of my pasta. If you have time, go for it. If not, no one will ever know.
1/2 pound linguine (or pasta of choice)
Half a large bunch of cilantro (about 1 cup packed)
1/2 cup pepitas
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Salt and pepper, as needed
1/3 cup panko (optional)
8 ounces smoked salmon
1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Gather all ingredients before starting to boil the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
2. Meanwhile, roughly chop the cilantro and place in the bowl of a food processor with the pepitas, garlic, and lime juice. Purée, scraping the sides as needed, until well blended. With the motor running, drizzle in about 1/4 cup olive oil. Stop the motor, scrape the sides, and taste. Correct the seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, extra lime juice, and olive oil. Set aside.
3. Optional step: mix the panko with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small pan, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Toss over medium-high heat until well-browned and crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Set aside.
4. Cut the salmon into thin strips. Set aside.
5. When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/4 cup pasta water, and drain. Return to the pot, and toss with the pesto. Thin with some of the reserved pasta water if needed to help coat the pasta. Mix in half the salmon.
6. Serve hot, garnished with the remaining salmon and the breadcrumbs divided evenly among the plates.
There’s a whole lotta green still, but you turn a corner and WHAM, there’s the most brilliant orange lit up in the crisp sunshine.
If you happen to get my personal chef newsletter (ahemshameless plug), you saw that I featured pumpkins this month. Such a novel idea this time of year; I’m so innovative.
And of course, because I got all into pumpkins, I had to cook some. Running errands yesterday, I happened to park literally across the sidewalk from a small farmers market, where I saw the most adorable little Delicata squash. Kismet.
Using the super-simple recipe for Avocado Sauce I recently developed for a client’s dinner party (I can never get enough avocado), the goat cheese still banging around in the fridge, and what I hope isn’t the last of my spicy globe basil, I had a Fall Fantasie on my plate, all orange and green and golden brown.
There happened to be both hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds in the pantry, either of which would have been equally good here. I chose hazelnuts because I am a creature of free will, and for no other reason. Yes, I dropped on a few miserly drops of truffle oil. It didn’t need it, but it did gild the lily.
This dish is so pretty and so flavorful, I can see a long tray of it served at Thanksgiving, but it’s certainly nutritious enough for everyday dining. Don’t forget to serve it with a little salad and some crusty bread.
If you tend to have sensitive skin like I do, you might want to consider donning a pair of rubber or latex gloves while preparing raw winter squash. Delicata might not cause the same reaction, but after cutting a butternut years ago and dealing with "Elmer's glue hands" for a week, I don't take any chances.
For the Squash:
2 Delicata squash (look for ones that have more orange or yellow color to them)
2 tablespoons softened bacon fat, butter, olive oil, or a combination
Salt and black pepper, as needed
5 to 10 bay leaves (optional)
For the Avocado Sauce:
1 small shallot
3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
Water, as needed
2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream (optional)
Salt and pepper
Goat cheese (4 to 6 ounces should do it for 4 servings)
Toasted and chopped hazelnuts (about 1/4 cup)
Extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
Truffle oil (optional)
For the Delicata Squash:
1. Preheat oven to 375º F, and position a rack in the middle.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (optional, but absolutely prevents any sticking).
3. Slice the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds (either roast those separately or discard). Halve the squash with a diagonal cut, and then again, cutting each squash into 8 long triangles. You can, of course, cut it any way you like, as long as the pieces are about the same size.
4. Put the squash on the prepared pan, and rub the pieces with the softened bacon fat (or whatever you're using) until evenly coated. Sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper. Scatter the bay leaves around the squash.
5. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until browned on the edges and the flesh is soft (check by piercing with a sharp knife; it should meet no resistance). Let cool slightly.
6. While the squash roasts, prepare the Avocado Sauce, and toast and chop the hazelnuts.
For the Avocado Sauce:
1. Roughly chop the avocado and shallot. Purée with 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice in a small food processor, scraping the sides as needed.
2. While the processor is still running, drizzle in the melted butter. If the sauce looks very thick, add water by tablespoons as needed to thin.
3. The sauce will taste a little flat and tart at this point. Sample it, and add salt, pepper, and/or additional lemon juice to taste. Add a spoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream if you have it, and the mood strikes you.
4. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps. You may need a spatula to force it through. If making a day or so in advance, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. If you want a warm sauce, or if it becomes too thick in the fridge, gently heat it in a small saucepan over low heat, or in the microwave on short bursts.
1. Put a few pieces of squash on a plate. Spoon some avocado sauce over the top, and crumble the goat cheese over that. Scatter the hazelnuts and basil leaves (torn into small pieces if large) around the plate, and drizzle with olive oil if you like.
2. If using truffle oil, carefully drop on a very few drops (only a VERY FEW please!). The focus isn't truffle here, so please use it judiciously. I'm talking 4 or 5 drops on the whole plate. It's potent stuff.
Don’t tell my clients this, but much of the time, the “recipes” I use are little more than a list of ingredients, and the vaguest notion of a method.
In putting a client’s weekly (or monthly) menu together, I pore over food preferences and sort through endless recipes, trying to find the one dish that will bring their menu together in perfect harmony. Occasionally, that one flippin’ dish eludes me. It can drag on for hours if I let it.
Sometimes in a fit of frustration, I scribble a list of ingredients I want to use. More often than not, I can at least see a theme, if not the barest bones of a recipe. I refine it, I call it good enough, and I call it a day.
This method generally results in something that falls between “pretty good” and “very tasty” (to my chagrin, because I’m always aiming for “holy crap, this is awesome”). When I get very lucky, though, I get something that comes awfully close to my target descriptor. I smile, jump up and down, and all becomes right with the world.
With this recipe, I got very lucky. But this one particularly surprised me, mostly because I’d hardly give this recipe a second glance in a cooking magazine or on another blog. It’s full of things I don’t love and never crave. (But then, I’m not the one I was trying to please here.)
Sun-dried tomatoes, for one. They’re often leathery and too sweet, and I don’t remember the last time I voluntarily brought the stupid things into my house. Beans, for another. Nothing against beans, there are just other foods higher on my list that I’d rather eat.
And let’s not even start a discussion about that adjective: “Tuscan”. Again, nothing at all against Tuscany. It is a stunning place, full of wonderful people and incredible food. But use that word to describe a food of American provenance, and I’d probably drop it faster than a red-hot poker.
But dang, you guys. Dang. This is a killer recipe.
It reads as slightly indulgent, with voluptuous Parmesan cheese and olives, but it’s full of nutritious ingredients, and it’s not so rich that you can’t have a spot of dessert afterwards. And please don’t forget to pour a glass of wine with dinner, either.
As for technique, the idea is to add the ingredients to the pot as you chop them, so it all comes together in a streamlined and simple way. Easy peasy.
Sun-dried tomatoes, beans, and “Tuscan” notwithstanding, I liked it so much, I made it again at home the next day. And clearly, I still liked it enough to share it with you all. That should tell you all you need to know.
Just don’t expect any more sun-dried tomatoes anytime soon, okay?
It's true, I typically don't like sun-dried tomatoes. But here they are. Be sure to get the ones packed in olive oil; they tend to be more flavorful and not so leathery.
Cook the onions as slowly as you have time for. I made this twice, and found the lower-heat/longer-time method resulted in something just a skosh more flavorful. Once the dish sat in the fridge for a day, however, I think it was probably all equal.
It occurred to me while writing this that a splash of white wine, or maybe a few anchovy fillets would work beautifully in this dish, but it was really quite good as is. If it ain't broke, and all that jazz. Enjoy as is, then tweak it if you must. I probably will next time.
8 ounces small pasta of choice, such as ditalini, cavatelli, or orecchiette
Olive oil, as needed
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
1 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or more to taste
1 onion, diced
3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup mixed black and green olives (3 to 4 ounces), chopped
One 3 ounce container sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained and chopped
2 cans white beans, such as Cannellini or Great Northern
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
Fresh minced basil, to finish (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt heavily, and cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain, toss with a little olive oil, cover, and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat in a Dutch oven or any other big, heavy pan. Add the bay leaf, fennel seed, herbes de Provence, and crushed red pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
3. While the spices and herbs cook, chop the onion. Add it to the pot, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and stir to coat with the oil.
4. As the onion softens, chop the next three ingredients in the order listed (garlic, then olives, then tomatoes), and stir each into the pot as it is prepared.
5. Stirring occasionally, cook until the onion is well softened, but not browned, 10 minutes or so. Depending on your stove and your pot, this may take longer or shorter than indicated.
6. Add the beans with their liquid, and stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a rapid simmer. Lower the heat as needed to maintain the simmer and prevent scorching.
7. Simmer uncovered until the liquid has reduced and the beans are no longer soupy, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, and mix in the Parmesan, lemon zest, lemon juice, and several grinds of black pepper. Taste, and correct seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, and a splash or two of olive oil (a good time to use the oil left over from the sun-dried tomatoes).
8. Stir in the cooked pasta. Serve at once sprinkled with minced basil and a gratuitous drizzle of olive oil, with a lovely little green salad on the side and a nice Italian wine.
On the first Saturday of May each year, I throw a Kentucky Derby party. It might just be my second favorite holiday, a close second to Christmas, which has significant charms (the tree! eggnog! sparkly lights!). Derby does have its significant charms as well (hats! Bourbon! ponies!).
Every Derby, I make a ridiculous hat, I have more Bourbon on hand than is humanly possible to consume (one assumes, anyway), I make sure the television is showing the race, and I like to serve deviled eggs. It just seems fitting.
Once in a great while, though, one makes too many deviled eggs. Hard to believe, but it does happen.
In such a case, one eats leftover deviled eggs for a day or two until there are no more hard-boiled egg whites left. (You do keep the prepared yolks and whites separate, and pipe your deviled eggs as needed throughout the party, yes? Which means that you don’t have to refrigerate precariously toothpicked and plastic-wrapped platters of eggs, and your set-out platters of eggs never get all dried out and nasty-looking, yes? Good. We’re all on the same page here.)
So let’s say that you’ve got about half a cup of deviled egg yolk action sitting in your fridge. And you’re all out of hard-boiled whites. What now?
Oh, honey child.
You make this, is what now. It’s so good you won’t even know what to do with yourself.
This was one of those dishes that gave me a moment of terror while making it. You know the moment: despite your most educated judgement, it’s the moment when you are deeply uncertain whether things are going to turn out completely awesome or completely horrible.
It’s a smashed-up avocado, mixed with spicy egg yolk, and briefly sautéed garlic and sardines (for umami and your sustainable Omega-3s). Thin the whole deal with pasta water and lemon juice, and toss it with your long, skinny pasta of choice. To seal the deal, top everything with a brave handful of smoked paprika bread crumbs. Because deviled egg requires paprika on top.
Can you tell that it was completely awesome? Do I even have to say it?
This is best served with a bowl of arugula drizzled with olive oil, and a glass of white wine made solely of grapes from Southeast-facing vineyards in the Beneventano appellation. Or, you know, whatever you’ve got on hand.
It's helpful to have everything ready to go before you start cooking (get yer mise en place!). Once that's done, it's basically: bang bang bang, dinner.
Okay, yes, I acknowledge that not everyone is going to have some leftover deviled egg yolk business sitting around. Or anyone, really. Since you probably don't, and you still want to make this recipe, you could just mix together two raw egg yolks, plus a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise, a spoonful of coarse mustard, and a heavy dose of sriracha (it needs more than you'd think). Smush or whisk in the avocado and sautéed garlic and sardines. When mixed with the hot pasta, it will thicken and cook slightly, carbonara-style.
If raw yolks aren't an option for you, just hard-boil a couple of eggs and eat the whites separately. It's all the work of deviled eggs, and none of the deviled eggs. But there is some incredible pasta instead.
8 ounces spaghetti, linguine, angel hair, or other long pasta
1 can sardines packed in olive oil (bones removed if you're squeamish about that), about 4 1/4 oz
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup deviled egg yolks (see headnote)
Juice of half a lemon, plus extra as needed
2-3 teaspoons olive oil (from the sardine can, if you like)
1 heavy pinch smoked paprika
1 heavy pinch dried thyme
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 large handful panko (or other coarse breadcrumbs)
1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta until just al dente, according to package directions. When done, drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Keep warm.
2. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sardines with some of the oil they were packed in, and the garlic. Cook briefly, breaking up the sardine fillets a bit, until garlic is fragrant and not too brown. Remove from heat.
3. While sardines and garlic cook, halve, pit, and scoop out the avocado into a large bowl. Smash together with the deviled egg yolks. Add the cooked sardines and garlic, and stir in the juice of half a lemon. Taste, and season to your liking with salt and pepper. The sauce will be very thick; whisk in some of the reserved pasta water as needed to thin (you will not need all of it).
4. In the same pan the sardines were cooked in, heat 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the smoked paprika, thyme, and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant, to bloom the spices. Toss in the breadcrumbs, and stir to coat with the oil. Cook until crunchy and well-browned, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
5. Toss the warm cooked pasta with the avocado-egg sauce, drizzling in additional reserved pasta water as needed to thin the sauce. Serve immediately, topped with a liberal handful of the spiced breadcrumbs.
Did you catch that deviled egg recipe in the headnotes, more or less? Here it is, and it rocks: smash up your hard-boiled egg yolks with some mayonnaise (use a light hand at first, you can always add more later). Add half as much coarse, spicy mustard. Add about the same amount of sriracha (it will look like you're adding way too much, but you really aren't). Mix together, and add salt and black pepper to taste. If it's too thick to pipe, add more mayonnaise (or sriracha) by the spoonful until it's just right. If it's too spicy for you, get over it. They're called "deviled" for a reason.