When my farm share box arrived this week, I eagerly dug into the depths of what was clearly a fall crop. No cucumbers or tomatoes. No zucchini or eggplant. On my nightly walks, I pass children in school uniforms and the evening light is a little cooler though the days are quite warm. There’s no doubt we slip a little more each day into fall and rhythm that comes with a school for those with young families and general recommitment from the rest of us. I know I’ve been playing hooky a little too long and it’s time to pay attention to the to-do list.
You can make a super easy mole sauce at home. You could do it tomorrow. I am not lying.
Five simple ingredients and 20 minutes later you’ll have this gorgeous green sauce to spoon onto all sorts of dishes. Tacos, vegetables, eggs, soup, chicken, fish – they can all be improved with this simple sauce.
Some recipes stick with you. I first saw this recipe over a year ago and I couldn’t shake the romanticism of the idea- rice “jeweled” with spices, dried fruits and nuts. What you see below is a year in the making. A mashing together of things that inspired me. Rice cooked alongside chicken thighs for comfort, greek yogurt for a healthy dose of richness, cranberries for subtle sweetness, in addition to nuts and saffron.
Why do meatballs have such a great reputation but meatloaf gets such a bad rap? Aren’t they really the same, or at least in the same family? They are both excellent ways to turn slightly stale bread into culinary masterpieces, take advantage of cheaper ground meat selections, and sneak veggies where you’d least expect them.
But meatloaf has made a comeback and, if done correctly, can even beat out its competition. It comes together quickly and has enough surface area to support a cheesy, crunchy topping. I used the same method for binding the meatloaf as I do for my meatballs. It keeps everything deliciously moist and pulls it all together without washing out the meatloaf into a bready, flavorless mush.
Bacon can be substituted for the pancetta in this recipe or omitted entirely. If you do use it, it is a major flavor buster and discovering those little nuggets in a slice is delightful. I loaded this recipe with veggies and even thought about renaming it Chicken Cacciatore Meatloaf. In the end the topping was too reminiscent of chicken Parmesan and that was my original inspiration so I stuck with it.
I made this several weeks ago and then things got crazy at work, my sister got married(!) and then I got sick. Right now I’m glad to be back, feeling myself and so excited to talk about food again. This recipe will make you feel super thrifty, because instead of throwing away those carrot tops you’re going to turn them into a delicious romesco.
Otherwise known as Clear-Out-Your-Cabinets Granola or Trader Joe’s Granola*.
You can buy some pretty dang good granola, so why make your own? Is it cheaper?- Yes. Is it better than store bought versions?- For sure. But I admit this was not my motivation.
I make granola to purge my pantry.
*Trader Joe’s is a specialty grocery store that sources unique products from mostly smaller producers. If you have one in your area then you are in luck. All required ingredients can be found at TJs. If not check the bulk food section
The crock pot has resurfaced in the weekly dinner routine around here. During the winter months, I leave for work and get home from work in the dark. Week days can be a challenge. I would have a meal plan, a new recipe to try almost every night.. I’d find myself standing in front of a fridge full of ingredients without the ambition to cook. These days I try to keep it simple. At least twice I week I pick something new but the rest of the time the crock pot, one dish meals, and creations from the pantry, fridge and freezer are where it’s at! I can be creative and usually get a meal put together in under 30 minutes. Most recently, Matt has taken one night a week to pick a meal and cook it without input from me. I love seeing what he chooses to make and I’m freed up to clean, blog, or catch up on other items.
Matt and I work long days, leaving around 6:30 AM, and there is nothing better then coming home to the smell of a sauce that has been simmering all day. When looking for crock pot recipes, I go for those that can go for 8+ hours on low without intermediate steps. After all, one of the joys of the crock pot is that is cooks while you are AWAY. When I make recipes like this on weekdays. I prep everything the night before up to the last step. I place the inner portion of the crock pot in the fridge and it is ready to go in the morning. The beef shanks are rich. The sauce is luxurious, it coats the mouth and would be fantastic over risotto or served with crusty bread.. I believe in all things in moderation, so to balance out the richness of the beef shanks, I served simple steamed greens on the side with nothing but olive oil and salt.
Braised Beef Shanks in the Slow Cooker
- canola oil
- 3 lbs beef shanks
- 1/4 cup flour, mixed with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper
- 1 TBSP olive oil or butter
- 2 onions, diced
- 3 carrot, peeled and diced
- 3 celery stalks, peeled and diced
- 4 garlic cloves, diced
- 1 cup dry white/red wine. I used red because I had it around but use whatever you have.
- 1 14 oz can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 sprigs of parsley
Heat canola oil over medium high heat. Pat both sides of the shanks in flour, salt and pepper and add to skillet. Brown on both sides. Place shanks in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Heat butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and cook 6-7 minutes. Add garlic for 1-2 minutes longer. Deglaze plan with 1 cup dry wine scrapping up bits from the bottom. Add stock, tomatoes, and thyme.
Place parsley sprigs and bay leaves on top of shanks . Pour tomato mixture over top.
Cook on low heat for 8 hours. Taste before serving and add salt as needed. I had to add a full tablespoon but it will depend on the tomatoes used.
Day old bread holds such promise in Italian cooking, specifically in Tuscan cooking. Panzanella salads, toasty breadcrumbs on pasta (yes, carbs ON carbs) and bread thickened soups are all trademark foods of the region. This rustic Tuscan soup, known as Pappa al Pomodoro, is one of the lesser known ways to use leftover bread. It’s quick comfort food but still healthy enough to fit the bill for January cooking. But don’t wait until you have stale unused bread on your hands. Actually you should go buy bread and leave the bag open “by mistake” as an excuse to make this soup. There are so many things I love about it. The texture becomes silky and thick from the bread and the contrast of flavor when paired with the arugula pesto adds an additional dimension.
Italians do not purée their soups, something I am quite happy about. I prefer texture or at the very least a grilled cheese on the side for dipping. But this soup leaves no grilled cheese to be desired; juicy tomatoes bursting from their skin, torn bread melting into the sweet basil-y sauce, and the sharpness of the swirled in arugula pesto. Two things are essential: use good canned tomatoes and a day or two old crusty white Italian bread. Don’t even think about using sliced sandwich bread.
Tomato Bread Soup
modified from jamie’s italy
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 lbs of grape tomatoes
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 28 oz can and 1 14 oz can of good quality Italian tomatoes
- 1-2 large handfuls of basil leaves torn and separated from the stems
- 2 slices of good quality stale bread
- Salt and pepper
- Arugula Pesto: 1 cup packed arugula, 1/8 cup grated parmigiana reggiano, 1/4 cup olive oil
Prick cherry tomatoes all over with a fork. Toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, one of the cloves of garlic and 1/4 of the basil leaves. Roast at 350 deg F for approximately 20 minutes on a sheet covered with aluminum foil.
Chop basil stems. Heat approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add remaining garlic and saute until just changing color, about one minutes. Add basil stems to the pot and cook 2-3 minutes longer.. Add canned tomatoes to the pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Tear bread into thumb size pieces and add to the pot with the remaining basil leaves. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper. At this point, the cherry tomatoes should be about ready, Add to the pot with all the delicious oil and juice from the baking sheet. Use a wooden spoon or scissor to break or cut the tomatoes into smaller pieces. Cook for about 10 minutes adding water to the pot as needed to achieve a silky yet thick texture.
For the pesto, puree the three ingredients in a food processor. Alternatively, the arugula could be chopped very finely with a knife and mixed with the cheese and olive oil.
Top bowl of soup with a dollop of pesto and serve.
I’m not alone in my need for greens right now am I? We could all use a few more vegetables and luckily the Italians have the answer. Keep it simple, focus on a couple ingredients and cook them carefully. Serve as a side dish or do it like the Italians and eat as an antipasti all on its own. This recipes seems obvious and hardly warrants being written down. But I’m assuming you, like me, have forgotten just how good vegetables can be after eating all those Christmas cookies and rich meals. This is the time of year to remember. Many different greens and herbs can be substituted, just ensure that tougher greens are cooked longer.
From jamie’s italy by Jamie Oliver
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
- good quality Italian extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 bunch swiss chard (I used rainbow chard) cut into ribbons, stalks removed and chopped
- 1 head radicchio, shredded
- 2 TBSP chopped parsley
- Fresh lemon juice
- Sea salt
- Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add sliced garlic cloves and cook just until they begin to take on color.
- Add chard stems and saute 2-3 minutes. Add remaining chard and cook until leaves begin to wilt and cook down, 5-7 minutes.
- Remove from heat and combine with radicchio and parsley while still warm. Add salt, olive oil and lemon juice to dress the greens. I used the juice from 1/2 a lemon and approximately twice as much olive oil as lemon juice.
The first post in my “Exploring Italian Cooking” year long study. I am so excited to be on this journey to learn about authentic cooking and give recipes my unique twist. First up, inspired by the traditional meal served ed on New Years day in the Emilia-Romagna region. In my study of the regions of Italy, I am quickly realizing I have a special place in my heart for this one. Rich Bolognese sauces, fresh egg pastas, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parma prosciutto all come from this area. This meal is believed to bring luck for the whole next year: a sausage called Cotechino served with lentils . . How funny that we have a similar tradition centering around a legume, black eyed peas, in the southern US. So many people eat black eyed peas purely out of tradition. Mix it up this year and try it the Italian way!
Cotechino is a very rich sausage produced from the addition of pork rind to the sausage. The sausage is extremely flavorful and hearty but also very difficult to find outside of Italy. I’ve never had it but this is my attempt to recreate the flavors but with ingredients readily available: proscuitto, italian sausage and ground pork. Also for those uncomfortable eating strange pig parts this will be more approachable. For a less indulgent meal, ground turkey or chicken and sausage could be substituted. I can’t be sure if it mimics the original but these meatballs were so good it doesn’t matter.Lentils with Sausage Meatballs Lentils modified from The Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan Serves 6
- Extra Virgin Olive oil
- I piece of good quality white bread, crust removed
- 2 oz pancetta
- 1 onion diced, divided
- 2 TBSP garlic diced, divided
- 1/2 lb loose mild Italian sausage or Italian sausage removed from casing
- 3/4 lb ground pork
- 1 TBSP chopped parsley
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1-2 TBSP grated Parmesan
- Salt and pepper
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 sticks of celery, diced
- 1 28 oz can good quality Italian tomatoes
- 1 1/2 cups lentils, Puy green lentils will work well**
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups short tubular pasta or small shells, I used conchigliette
- chopped parsley and cheese for garnish
**If you look closely at my pictures you will notice that the lentils look much more like chickpeas. I used something packaged as Coliforito lentils, which were supposed to be lentils from the Umbria region. I changed the recipe to reflect what I originally anticipated (lentils) and adjusted the cooking time appropriately
- Soak bread in 1/4 cup olive oil. This will soften the bread so it can be mashed creating the binder for the meatball. Many traditional preparation of meatballs use bread soaked in milk which is a good alternative, just make sure to add 1-2 TBSP of olive oil to the meatballs before placing in the oven. We had no milk in the house so I used this method and the meatball stayed moist. Once the bread has soaked for 10-15 minutes, tear apart by hand or use scissors or a knife until the bread is a very fine consistency. Squeeze out any excess oil with your hands.
- Heat 2 TBSP olive oil over medium heat. Add pancetta until crisp 3-4 minutes. Add 1/2 the onion and garlic, reserving half of each for the lentils, and cook until the onion begins to sweat and the garlic is fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the bread mash/crumbs for 1 minute then remove from heat.
- Combine with the sausage, ground pork, parsley and egg off heat. Stir in nutmeg, Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste, approximately 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.
- Roll meatball into 1″ balls and place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. I made 18 meatballs.. The dough may feel fairly wet but as long as they stay together do not worry. If you struggle keeping the meatballs together try chilling the mixture for 10-20 minutes or add dry breadcrumbs but only enough to keep the meatball together. The recipe can be made up to 6 hours in advance to this point and the meatballs chilled in the fridge.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Bake meatballs at 350 degrees 20-30 minutes.
- Heat 1-2 TBSP of olive oil over medium heat. Add the reserved onion and garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add celery and onion and saute, 4-6 minutes. Stir tomatoes into the pan and cook until the oil separates from the tomatoes, approximately 5 minutes.
- Add lentils and add enough broth to cover lentils by ~2 inches. Bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook approximately 30 minutes until lentils are tender, adding additional broth as needed to keep lentils covered.
- Add 1 1/2 cups pasta to the lentils and and cook according to directions until pasta is cooked but still firm to the bite. The pasta will absorb most of the additional liquid creating a thick stew like consistency.
- Serve meatball on top of lentils and garnish with parley and grated cheese.