I’M here — back in the Dining section with a new column — to insist once again that not only can you cook it at home, but you can likely cook it better.
“It,” in this case, is pizza, and the impetus for today’s installment was a visit to a highly acclaimed pizza joint in Manhattan, where I was served (for $15, or about four times the cost of the ingredients in a supermarket) a perfectly ordinary, overly poofy, drearily sauced pizza. Granted, the mozzarella was first rate. Big deal.
Read the rest of this column, watch the video, and get the recipes here.
By Alaina Sullivan
Asian and Italian cuisines aren’t often combined, but here’s a recipe that brings them together. Take the concept of Italian cannelloni – large, round tubes or squares of noodle, stuffed and baked (typically with cheese and a sauce). Instead of using fresh pasta (which most of us don’t usually have the time to make), swap in an Asian equivalent: the wonton wrapper. Commonly associated with the crispy exterior of dumplings or egg rolls (which are made from a larger version), the paper-thin noodle can just as easily be repurposed for stuffed pasta (think: ravioli, tortellini, cannelloni, etc.) Boiled or baked, wonton wrappers function much the same way as their Italian counterpart.
In this recipe, ricotta – a classic pasta filling – is mixed with fresh sage, Parmesan, salt and pepper. You can easily swap in any herb you like, but sage is particularly nice. Tomato sauce makes a classic accompaniment, but you can also enjoy it as I did – drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a generous amount of fresh black pepper (plus more grated Parm). Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Heat the oven to 400 F. In a bowl, mix together a cup of ricotta cheese, a tablespoon of chopped sage, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. Put about a teaspoonful of this mixture in a wonton wrapper; roll into a tube, and put on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush or spray with olive oil. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the wontons are crisp. If you don’t have tomato sauce to warm up, serve drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with lots of black pepper.
By Alaina Sullivan
Traditional risotto calls for Arborio rice or one of its short-grained cousins; I decided to try it with barley. Risotto-style barley has a more toothsome bite than the rice-based versions, but the process is the same—a ritual of stirring, adding liquid, more stirring, adding more liquid until the consistency turns rich and creamy. The cooking process requires a bit of a watchful eye – a few too many minutes on the stovetop and the grain might get overcooked (you want it to retain a slight crunch). I prepared the barley according to the directions for “Simple Risotto” How to Cook Everything. I folded in a trio of cooked mushrooms (cremini, shitake and portabella), added fresh thyme to complement their earthiness, and finished off the dish with grated manchego to give it that classic creaminess.
By Freya Bellin
As the weather becomes chillier, I love a good casserole. This pasta dish, though maybe not a traditional casserole, evokes the same warm, melty, heartiness. And while the list of ingredients may raise eyebrows, they all come together harmoniously: the bite of the cheese, the juicy sweetness of fresh figs, and the crunch of Brussels sprouts. I don’t always love blue cheese, but it served its purpose well here. 4 ounces of cheese, especially a pungent one like gorgonzola, is just the right amount to add flavor throughout, without overwhelming the dish. It seeps into the tubes of rigatoni, and coats everything in a light, cheesy sauce. The almonds add some crunch, but flavor-wise don’t interfere with the rest of the dish. This pasta is well balanced, unique, and makes excellent leftovers. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
By Alaina Sullivan
There is nothing quite like a fresh fig. It’s delicate and sweet, with dark, chewy skin encasing a pulpy flesh that swims with tiny seeds. Fresh figs are best with simple, bold flavor pairings, and using them as a pizza topping is a genius way to savor the last of the season’s crop. Here, fig crescents are spread across a flatbread crust and baked at high heat until their flesh oozes out, warm and sweet. Dabs of creamy goat cheese melt alongside, the tang a pretty perfect complement to the figs. A splash of balsamic is the final touch. Sometimes only something this simple can be so insanely delicious. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Flatbread Pizza with Figs, Goat Cheese, and Balsamic
Slice a couple of handfuls of figs into quarters. Brush olive oil on lavash or other flatbread and dot generously with goat cheese; spread the figs evenly on top of the cheese. Bake in a 450 degree oven until the cheese melts and the figs soften. Drizzle with a tiny bit of balsamic and serve.
(Watch the video here.)
I’ve been making this pasta for a very long time, probably since the 1980s, since it’s derived from a Marcella Hazan recipe. It’s dead simple — one of the things that I love about it — and you can pre-cook the cauliflower a day ahead or so if you’d like. I usually do the whole thing at once: cook the cauliflower in water, scoop it out and then, later, cook the pasta in the same water. It’s already boiling, and you want the taste of the cauliflower anyway, so why not?
The cauliflower gets cooked more, in a skillet with toasted garlic, so don’t boil it to death; you do want it to be tender, though. And in the original Minimalist recipe, from 2000, I added the bread crumbs to the skillet along with the cauliflower, but since I usually add some pasta water to the skillet to keep the mixture saucy, the bread crumbs become soggy. Better, then, to stir the bread crumbs in at the very end. They should be very coarse, ideally homemade, and if they’re toasted in olive oil in a separate skillet before you toss them in, so much the better.
For a while now I’ve been cooking pasta recipes with less pasta and more sauce. That’s a very personal decision, I know, but you could easily make this dish with half a pound of pasta and two pounds of cauliflower, and it would be excellent.
(Read the recipe here.)
By Alaina Sullivan
Zucchini’s mildness makes it an ideal canvas for more aggressive flavors. Simply sautéing it with minced garlic catapults it from delicate to edgy – the recipe calls loosely for “some minced garlic,” and I added enough to stave off an entire swarm of vampires.
With “fragrant” mentioned twice in the recipe sketch, the smells are reason enough to cook this dish – the twin aromas of sautéing garlic and toasting pistachios wafting up from neighboring pans are incredible. Toasting the nuts is a step worth taking – it releases their natural oils, intensifying both flavor and crunch.
The zucchini is tossed with al dente fusilli, sprinkled with the pistachios, and served with parmesan and lots of black pepper. It’s a pretty perfect pasta to start out the fall. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Zucchini and Garlic Fusilli with Pistachios
Boil salted water for the fusilli and cook it; meanwhile, slice two zucchinis into thin disks. Toast a handful of pistachios in a dry pan until just fragrant and turning golden; set aside. Cook some minced garlic in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until fragrant, add the zucchini slices and two tablespoons water, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft. Drain the pasta, reserving the cooking water. Toss the zucchini and garlic mixture with the pasta, adding more olive oil and water if needed; add the toasted nuts and serve with grated Parmesan cheese and plenty of freshly ground pepper.
By Freya Bellin
As the days of summer near their end, I think most of us wish we had just one more weekend at the beach, or one more week before schools starts. But, almost as a reward for going back to reality, we do get something wonderful this time of year: tomatoes. And they never disappoint. Plump, juicy, multi-colored, and funny-shaped, early-September tomatoes are a sweet way to say goodbye to summer.
The simpler, the better, when it comes to using ultra-fresh tomatoes in cooking. I love this tomato carpaccio because it sounds so basic, but the flavors come together in a bright, zesty way. I went for the mozzarella variation, which takes a classic combination like tomato and mozzarella and adds a surprise element of peppery arugula, rather than the standard basil. The simple salt, pepper, and olive oil seasoning complements this salad perfectly. Just proof that when you have amazing produce, it speaks for itself. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
By Freya Bellin
An old classic like pasta salad could always use a little refreshing. This one channels a traditional Greek salad, and to much success. If you know you like bulgur, I would try doubling it straight off the bat and cutting down on some of the bowties. The texture combination is really great, but it gets lost if you don’t have enough bulgur in the mix. The cooked tomatoes flavor the rest of the dish with a light tomato sauce, and the olives add a nice brininess. You might experiment with smaller tomatoes, halved, in place of the larger wedges. The small ones, like grape or cherry tomatoes, are usually a little sweeter—a nice counterpoint to peppery arugula—and it would cut down the cooking time a bit as well. Be sure to let this sit before serving to allow the arugula to wilt and the flavors to meld. I enjoyed it most at room temperature anyway—perfect for leftovers. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
By Freya Bellin
I had always assumed that risotto was difficult to make—and that by some magical gift only chefs were able to turn measly rice into something rich and creamy. Yet it turns out that risotto, aside from needing a lot of attention, is actually pretty easy to prepare. This one is untraditional in that it uses a short grain brown rather than the standard Arborio, but I hardly noticed the flavor difference at all. It was still starchy and creamy but also delicate, thanks to the grated zucchini that truly just melts into the rice. The flavors are bright and summery: while the lemon is quite strong, it’s very well balanced by the fresh basil. You may try using a bit less than a lemon’s worth of juice and adding more to taste. I say to go for the cheese, butter, and basil. They all complement each other nicely and add a little richness. As for the egg variation? Definitely a success. Most savory dishes can benefit from a runny yolk, and this was no exception. Sprinkle with salt and pepper before serving. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.