Tag Archives: pasta

Clyde Common: grilled lamb, herbed Israeli couscous, harissa

Picture this: Nine o’clock in the evening. The sun has just set, its glow tracing a silvery edge over the ridge of the West Hills. Even in the dark, the leaves of the street trees stand out, clearly bright green. People are laughing and talking, their voices distant, maybe half way round the block.  The air is so soft and warm, a bit muggy, scented with the herbal pungency of flowering trees. I step out to dinner in a cotton dress and sandals, no sweater, even though it’s late. It’s that kind of night.

Walking around in Northwest Portland at any time of the year in search of something to eat is a pleasure but it’s my idea of perfect when it’s so warm after dark. Given the circumstances, I might be able to chalk up my obsession with the lamb skewers and Israeli couscous we ate at Clyde Common two years ago in early August to that perfect Northwest summer evening. Or it could have been the cocktail: gin, St. Germain, champagne, bitters and a little beaten egg white – I swear I can still taste it. Or the french fries, shatteringly crisp, with harissa and creme fraiche. (See, I still remember every single detail and it’s been two years!)

But the lamb! It was charred on the outside, tender and pink on the inside. I kind of hate the word morsel, but it evokes the tenderness and savory more-ishness of these skewers. Then of course there’s the couscous underneath, bright with preserved lemon and parsley, studded with toasted hazelnuts, and just to the side deep red harissa streaking around, fiery and compelling. Maybe it’s because of my current obsession with Plenty, and the myriad couscous variations I’ve been cooking, I feel that now I’m ready to riff on that excellent Clyde Common meal, no problem.

So I can’t conjure up any summer weather; it’s still freezing here in Seattle. It’s ok. I can make this.

Lamb Skewers with Herbed Israeli Couscous, Grilled Lemons and Harissa

Serves 4.

Lamb Skewers

I tried both a yogurt marinade for the lamb and an olive oil version. I liked how the lamb became very tender after bathing in yogurt for 24 hours. However, I wanted a deeply browned edge, and you don’t get that with a yogurt marinade, so I switched it up and went with olive oil. Much better.

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf or two
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 sliced shallots
  • kosher sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs butterflied leg of lamb – silver skin trimmed away and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 lemons, cut in half
  1. Combine the olive oil, garlic, thyme, bay, rosemary, shallots, 1 tsp salt and several grindings of black pepper. Stir vigorously with a fork.
  2. Pour marinade into a gallon ziplock bag and toss in the lamb. Seal the bag, pushing out all the air, and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for at least 4 and up to 24 hours.
  3. Drain the meat, reserving the marinade and pat the lamb dry with a paper towel. Thread the meat onto short skewers. Don’t crowd. Brush the cut ends of the lemons with the marinade. Grill the lamb over medium high heat for 8-10 minutes turning 2 or 3 times, basting now and then.  During the last 3 minutes, grill the lemons, cut sides down. Arrange all over the couscous and serve immediately.

Herbed Israeli Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Toasted Hazelnuts

  • 1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 preserved lemon, flesh scooped out and discarded, rind slivered
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skins rubbed away in a dishtowel
  1. In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, sauté the couscous in  the olive oil. After 2 0r 3 minutes, when it has browned a little, add the stock and the butter. Turn the heat to high and when the stock begins to simmer, clamp on a lid and turn the heat down to low.
  2. After ten minutes, remove the lid, fluff with a fork and stir in the parsley, scallions, preserved lemon and hazelnuts.
  3. Mound in the center of a large platter and arrange the lamb skewers over the top. Serve with a bowl of harissa and the grilled lemons.

lamb skewers, Israeli couscous, grilled lemon, harissa


Heat: Linguine with clams

“It’s about the sauce, not the little snot of meat in the shell” Mario told me later. “Nobody is interested in the little snot of meat!” Heat, by Bill Buford

I can’t believe I’ve never written about this.

A couple of years ago I read this book Heat by a guy who was a fiction editor at the New Yorker.  He took time off from his life as an editor and took an unpaid position in the kitchen at Babbo, an Italian restaurant in New York. The book details what he learned and how it completely changed the trajectory of his life. Anybody who knows me well could tell you that I really loved this book. As in reading it six times in one year – the kind of love which probably would more accurately be described as obsession. There’s a particular passage where the author describes making linguine with clam sauce, “begin by roasting small pinches of garlic and chili flakes and medium pinches of the onion and pancetta in a hot pan with olive oil” and so on, and I could just about taste it while reading. I imagined the rich smoky scent of the pancetta. The briny, winey, butter swirling around silky noodles. Splayed grey clam shells and bright green parsley strewn over the top. Linguine with clam sauce might seem pedestrian – some version is served at every mediocre Italian restaurant – but Mr. Buford’s prose was so compelling, I had to try it.

For some crazy reason that had to do with having trouble finding the right page in the book when I wanted to shop for ingredients (I know this is a lame excuse but the book has no index!) and being fearful about major dinner revolt caused by serving clams to my kids who fear all shellfish except crab and shrimp, I never actually did try this recipe. Until today. Somehow after the excesses of Thanksgiving, linguine with clams seems festive and at the same time, a little bit reductive, at least in terms of technique and ingredients. It doesn’t take all day to put it together. It doesn’t require even a single glug of heavy whipping cream. And Mr. Buford’s description captured my imagination. I envisioned excellent baguette for mopping up the juices, a Verdicchio to drink and a lightly dressed fennel and cucumber salad. I thought this might be the perfect post Thanksgiving meal.

Babbo Linguine with clams, Mr. Buford points out, was “no longer linguine exactly; it had changed color and texture and become something else. I tasted it again…in this strand of linguine: an ocean pungency.” It was, deliciously, just that. And a welcome respite from leftover turkey and mashed potatoes as well.

Linguine with clams – serves 4

I had to conflate Mr. Buford’s method with some more practical aspects from Marcella Hazan’s recipe for Linguine with clams in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. For instance, “a big handful of clams”? What’s that? Ms. Hazan writes you’ll need 4 or 5 littleneck clams per person – sounds like a big handful to me.

  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1/4 tsp – 1/2 tsp chili flakes – this will barely be hot. If you’re not serving kids, bump it up a little.
  • 3 tbsp minced red onion
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped pancetta
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 splashes white wine (1/2-3/4 cup?)
  • 1 lb linguine fino
  • 24 littleneck or other small clams
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • splash of green olive oil to finish
  1. Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt the water until it tastes as salty as sea water.
  2. Put a very large heavy bottomed sauté pan (not non-stick!) on a burner and set the heat to medium. Allow the pan to heat up for 2 minutes. Add the olive oil, then garlic, chili flakes, onion and pancetta, all at once. Stir until softened. Do not scorch. About 2 or 3 minutes.
  3. Spoon off any olive oil and add the butter. As it melts, swirl, and then add the wine. Let it bubble for 20 or 30 seconds and turn off the heat.
  4. When the water has hit a rolling boil, add the linguine. Stir until all the strands are separated and submerged and the water has returned to a full boil.
  5. Dump all the clams into the sauté pan, turn up the heat and clamp a lid on the top. The clams will be done in about 6 or 7 minutes. By this time the pasta will be nearly done.
  6. When the pasta is almost done, set the clams on high heat.
  7. Do not drain the pasta in a colander in the sink! The starchy pasta water clinging to the linguine is a key component of the sauce. Make sure the pasta pot is right next to the sauté pan. With big tongs, reach into the boiling water and drag the drippy wet pasta into the pan of clams – taking a few passes so you get most of the pasta out of the pot. Simmer the pasta and clams for 30 seconds.
  8. Dress lightly with the green olive oil and strew parsley over the top.
  9. Serve immediately in warm pasta bowls.

I bet you’ll love Heat, if you haven’t read it yet, although probably not as obsessively as I did. (Even I can see that was a little weird!) If you want to make this using Mr. Buford’s excellent notes, the text describing how starts on page 130 in the hardcover edition, two thirds of the way into chapter 12 for those of you who have the paperback.

Remembering Russian Hill – A very quick pasta for winter

When I first moved to San Francisco I lived in Russian Hill, which in retrospect was like living in a village within the city. Perched high up above North Beach and Van Ness, Russian Hill felt like a remote hill town in Italy. The bustle of San Francisco was all around, but that was at the bottom of the hill. At the top of the hill, embedded in the mass of apartment buildings, elegant townhouses and tiny parks were short strips of restaurants, dry cleaners and little dusty corner stores. Occasionally a tiny dress shop or gallery would appear…and then disappear. I was a regular at a bakery, a little brunch spot, my bus stop and a small, bustling restaurant.

It was at the intersection of Hyde and Union, and there were 3 or 4 little restaurants clustered at the corner. Intimate in size, not places to cross the city for (parking would just about kill you if you were driving ) but warm, welcoming and familiar. The restaurant corner was two blocks from my apartment. My favorite was the Italian one that was not called I Fratelli. I honestly can’t recall the name – I’m drawing a complete blank. This was not a restaurant that anyone (except me!) would ever write about. It was a very good place to meet another friend or two who also lived on Russian Hill. Which is one of the things I liked about it. In fact, one reason I loved that Russian Hill restaurant was because it was small and unpretentious and so completely removed from the chic, bourgeois, dressy Union Street and the funky, too touristy North Beach.

When I walked home in the dark after work (in my memory it is always wintertime – you would never go to this restaurant on a bright sunny day), I anticipated passing that little restaurant. The windows would be steamed up and there always seemed to be a seductive aroma ambling out the doors and down the street, drawing me in. The scent was of browning lamb chops and pepper, of arugula, shaved parmesan and spicy red wine – at least that’s what I always imagined. Even though the food wasn’t fancy, it was very good.  Through the window I could see the patrons, either tête à tête or in happy more boisterous groups. Everyone looked at home and relaxed. It was that kind of restaurant.

It was around that time that my friend Mark gave me River Cafe Cookbook (published in the U.S. as Italian Country). Rustic Italian cooking was a really big deal at the time and it seemed like everyone was talking, thinking, dreaming about it—including me. As I cooked my way through Ribollita, Cannellini Bean Soup, Pappardelle alle Lepre and the Polenta Almond Lemon Cake, I came upon Cloe’s Quick Sausage Sauce. I know, after all those pretty Italian names “Cloe’s Quick Sausage Sauce” sounds pedestrian and un-lovely. It’s not. The creamy fennel scented pork has a little hit of heat from the chilies, summery warmth from the tomatoes, richness from the cream and the complex tang you can only get from a good aged parmesan cheese. I’d had a similar dish at that little Russian Hill trattoria. On a wintery night, you could light the candles, pour a glass of wine and eat this; tête à tête or in a happy boisterous group. It will be wonderful I promise.

Cloe’s Quick Sausage Sauce, River Cafe Cook Book, Italian Country

Serves 6

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion chopped fine
  • 5 Italian sausages, spiced with fennel seed, removed from casings
  • 1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 28 ounce can Italian tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan, divided
  • 1 pound pasta – I like cavatappi
  1. Heat the 2 tbsp olive oil in a 10 inch heavy sauté pan. sauté onions over medium high heat until browned.
  2. Add sausages, rosemary, red pepper flakes and the bay leaves. Mash the sausages over high heat until finely crumbled and continue to mash and push around for 20 minutes. They are done when they seem to have started to disintegrate. Don’t be lax here, and just break them up and leave them. Take the time to thoroughly break them up and keep going – it is key to the texture of the finished dish.
  3. While sausages are browning, start a large pot of water for the pasta. Once it is boiling, salt generously
  4. When 20 minutes is up, add the tomatoes to the sauce and return to a simmer. Remove from heat.
  5. When the pasta is cooked and drained, toss into the sauté pan with the sauce and add the cream. Heat until steaming, remove from heat and add half the parmesan.
  6. Serve immediately and pass the remaining parmesan at the table.

Peas Pasta Ham and Cream

Peas, Pasta, Ham and Cream. Sigh. I have made this so many times I have been dreading to write about it. I have to write about it though, because I can make it with my eyes closed. Also I always have all these ingredients on hand. Even the cream (or rather especially the cream). And my kids, dare I say all kids, like Peas Pasta Ham and Cream.

Once, there was an actual recipe that I followed in Marcella Hazan’s Marcella Cucina. In fact the first time I made this, we made the handmade garganelli (a homemade hand formed macaroni) as she recommended, used gorgeous leftover Christmas ham and ate it the day after Christmas with a really good Pinot.

Times have changed and the method has morphed accordingly. What we have now is a down and dirty last minute preparation that you can get on the table in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. I don’t think my fast version has lost too much credibility. Ok, it doesn’t have the carefully crafted (seemingly!) simple luxury of that post-Christmas meal of 12 years ago, but everybody likes this dish. At least at our house. And my sister’s house. In fact, I believe it was after I showed my sister how to make this that she said “You need to start a blog. I need more recipes like this and so do all my friends.”

Oh – and another thing: in my version you’ll only need one pot. So nice.

Peas Pasta Ham and Cream

This is a great dish to offer the sort of kids who only want to eat pasta with butter – it’s a kind of gateway dish to something more exotic.

It’s a good idea to keep frozen Petit Peas in the freezer at all times.

For an older baby, you can make this with orzo.

Asparagus makes a good variation – use the pencil thin variety and cut them into small pieces – add to the pasta water just as you would add the peas.

  • 3/4 lb pasta – any type will do but I like pipe rigate because the little pipes catch peas like crazy so kids are less likely to leave all the peas on the plate
  • 1 c. frozen petite peas – the regular kind are too mealy
  • 3/4 – 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1/4 lb thinly sliced ham (I like a Breton style ham. I might avoid a heavily smoked one. If you can get it, prosciutto cotto would be perfect)
  • Reggiano Parmesan (you could also use grana padano but do NOT use anything called cheese that comes out of a green tube –  that would be weird and wrong)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground (I prefer coarsely) black pepper
  1. Start a large saucepan of water, full to almost an inch away from the rim, over hight heat
  2. When the water is boiling add 2 tsp of salt and then the pasta. Stir thoroughly  – this isn’t really quite enough water to ensure that the pasta wont stick to itself. So stir it a couple of times as it cooks. Set the timer for 3 minutes less than it takes to cook the pasta.
  3. If you haven’t already, slice the ham cut into 1/4 inch ribbons and grate 3/4 cup of cheese plus more for serving. (I think the beauty of this dish is that the pasta cooking time is just the right amount of time to do slicing and grating)
  4. When the timer goes off, add the peas and set the timer for 3 minutes.
  5. Drain the peas and pasta in the colander and give them a good shake to get the excess water off.  Return them to the saucepan.
  6. Add the cream and turn up the heat, getting it to simmer and stirring all the time. Stir for 2 minutes or so until the cream coats the pasta and has thickened slightly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and toss in the 3/4 c. grated Parmesan and the ham.
  7. Grind some black pepper and sprinkle some sea salt over the top. Stir and taste, adjusting the seasoning as necessary – you may want more cheese, more pepper, who knows?
  8. Serve with a bowl of grated Parmesan on the side.

Finally. A soup for my sister.

Lisa – this soup is for you.

Our family has had many memorable meals from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Her Bolognese, her pesto, La Grande Insalata Mista, cannelloni, fresh pasta, focaccia, the Roast Chicken with Lemons. All memorable, all standbys. Although it has been a couple of years since Chick Pea Soup has been in rotation, I bet I have made this soup over 100 times. How should I describe it? For a grown-up, this soup can be rustic Italian; for a kid, it’s an easy going pasta and beans; for a baby this soup could be food, could be a toy, and it’s definitely great for practicing small motor skills.

I made Chick Pea Soup today but what I initially wanted to make was Alice Water’s Pasta e Fagioli –  the one I wrote about in my very first blog post. I love that soup but you have to soak the beans in advance. I can never bring myself to use canned cannellini. Canned cannellini are too mushy and they don’t deserve to go in Alice Waters’ soup. Canned garbanzo beans are another story. Although I usually like to soak and cook my own, today was a very busy day and I had to take short cuts. When I realized at 2 pm that I’d forgotten about soaking cannellini or cranberry beans and that I hadn’t any more time to go to the market, I knew it was time. Time to make the soup that was probably the initial inspiration for this blog. This soup is the reason that I always keep cans of chick peas, boxes of Pacific brand organic chicken stock and canned tomatoes in the house. I have slightly adjusted the quantities of the soup so that there will be no leftovers from the cans. Two cans of chick peas, one quart box of chicken stock, a large can of tomatoes, half a pound of pasta. Done.

We had a whatever-is-left-in-the-crisper salad and Boursin and crackers on the side. I was going to write that this meal was not my proudest moment but I think I’m going to have to take that thought back. Making a meal that satisfies every person in the family, without a special trip to the grocery store, using just what’s on hand, is something to be very proud of.

Last Minute Menu

  • Chick Pea Soup
  • Whatever Salad (ours was romaine, tomatoes, carrots…and feta?! Weird but fine.)
  • Boursin and water crackers

Chick Pea Soup – pasta variation

Serves 6

Chick Pea Soup is unlike most soups in that it is not particularly soupy. Most Americans would beg that this is not soup at all as there is hardly any broth. What I say is that if Marcella says this is soup then I do too. It is a lovely soup. As Marcella states:

Soup is one of the tastiest things one can do with chick peas.

I have to say I agree.

  • 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled (no need to chop!)
  • 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
  • a small sprig of fresh rosemary (you really should have a plant in the back yard!) or 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
  • (1) 28 oz can tomatoes, drained of their juice
  • (2) 14 oz cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 lb elbow pasta (I like the ribbed Barilla elbows)
  • Grated parmesan to serve
  1. Put the olive oil and garlic cloves into a 5-6 quart heavy bottomed soup pot and turn on the heat to medium. Sauté the garlic until it becomes light brown all over and then remove them from the pot (you can toss the garlic out).
  2. Add the rosemary sprig (or dried rosemary if that’s all you’ve got) and immediately add the tomatoes. They will sizzle wildly for a few minutes. I stand as far back as I can with an apron on and my kitchen scissors in hand and quickly snip all the whole tomatoes into 3/4″ pieces. A normal person would just get out the cutting board and chop them up beforehand. If you value your shirts and your hands, I recommend that you do this.
  3. Cook for 20-30 minutes over medium low heat. You’ll be ready to continue when the oil floats free of the tomatoes.
  4. Add the drained chickpeas and stir thoroughly. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the broth, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Add the pasta, and stir every few minutes, following the cooking time stated on the box. Stirring frequently will keep the pasta from sticking to the pot.  Cooking pasta this way is very different from cooking it in copious amounts of salted water.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Faux pho

Faux pho (which I guess is pronounced “foh – fuh”) is a lot easier to make than true phở. True phở has a bunch of exotic ingredients which, in this house anyway, make it a tall order – especially on a day like crazy Thursday. Saigon cinnamon, star anise, roasted ginger, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed and clove.  Out of those I know I have the coriander, the fennel and the clove. And the star anise. Most people don’t have star anise and I have to admit, mine has been sitting around for awhile. Also the broth has beef bones and chicken parts and a lot of other things that make true phở not for the faint of heart and really not for last minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants types. A bummer if you ever crave phở in the middle of the week and it’s not practical to go out.

Faux pho is a different story. I made faux pho last Thursday and although it was a little insane to make it for the first time mid-week, I know that I’ll make it again and that next time it will be MUCH easier.

You might look at the picture and the list of ingredients for this soup and then see that I categorized it as Fast and Easy and come to the conclusion that I’ve either lost my mind or that my chopping hand is bionic (it’s not). I’m not crazy either. The prep for this soup isn’t bad at all. Do all of the knife work up front. If you chop everything before you start a recipe, the process goes a lot faster and there’s a lot less fumbling around as you cook. Also here is a Rule of Thumb (I can’t emphasize this enough):

The first time you make any recipe with a long-ish list of unfamiliar ingredients, don’t make it mid-week. Make it on Sunday afternoon so you can read the directions carefully and leisurely play around with it.

With this recipe it’s especially important because it’s not that hard or time consuming. Trying a recipe with more prep than you are used to mid-week might be so stressful that you’ll never try to make that really great recipe again. In this one there are no difficult techniques. There is some chopping, not too much.  Just the shallots, ginger, the green onion and the chili.  Think about it. How long could it possibly take to chop the ingredients in those small quantities?!

If you’ve never prepared lemongrass before, you’ll want to read the directions about trimming and removing the outer layer a couple of times before you start (since the line of directions has only 17 words – it won’t take that long). And you’ll see very quickly that lemongrass is not a big deal, no more difficult than prepping a scallion.

A couple more things: First, I rewrote the recipe and tried to break it down into essential parts.  It looks longer this way but the scope of work should be crystal clear. Also I adjusted the role of the chilies. In the original recipe they are added with the basil, the lime juice and the soy sauce. Since I had green thai chilies they were nearly indistinguishable from the scallions. It was as if those innocuous little green rings were crazy spicy naval mines in the soup – ambushing unsuspecting children and less seasoned adults. Those bird’s eye chilies are hot! So I specify using the red variety (so you don’t confuse them with the scallions) and using them as a garnish.

Chicken Noodle Soup with Lemongrass

Serves 4

The Soup:

  • 2 1/2 tbsp canola oil
  • 3/4 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 shallots (4 oz total), peeled and sliced into thin rings
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, ends trimmed, outer layers peeled off and discarded, halved lengthwise, whacked once hard with a mallet
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 tsp packed light brown sugar
  • 5 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 3 1/2 oz shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
  • 12 ounces fresh udon noodles
  • 8 large fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1 medium lime, half juiced and half cut into 4 wedges
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

To Garnish:

  • 2 medium scallions, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks (or coarsely grated)
  • 1/2 c. fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed and dried
  • 1 red thai bird chili, sliced into thin rings

Preparing the chicken:

  1. Heat 1 1/2 tbsp canola oil in a 6 quart heavy bottomed soup pot until shimmering.
  2. As oil is heating, season chicken breasts with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper.
  3. Cook chicken breasts without disturbing for 2 minutes, or until the chicken easily releases from the pan. Flip and cook until the second side is browned, 1-2 minutes more.
  4. Place chicken on a cutting board to cool.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil for the udon as you are preparing the broth.

Making the broth:

  1. Add the remaining 1 tbsp canola oil and shallots to the pan.  Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes or until shallots begin to soften.
  2. Add lemongrass, ginger and brown sugar, cook until ginger and lemongrass become fragrant and the pan starts to sizzle – about 1 minute.
  3. Add the chicken broth, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Raise the heat to medium high.  Bring the broth to a boil, then lower heat and simmer.
  4. Add the mushrooms and continue to simmer for 5 minutes.

Preparing the udon:

  1. In the pot of boiling salted water, cook the noodles, stirring once or twice to ensure they aren’t sticking together.
  2. Simmer for 3 minutes or until just tender.
  3. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.  Drain well.

Assembling the soup:

  1. Shred the chicken with your fingers or the tines of a fork and add it and the noodles to the broth.
  2. Simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and the noodles are tender, about 2 minutes.
  3. Remove and discard the lemongrass.
  4. Add the basil, lime juice and soy sauce, seasoning with more soy to taste.
  5. Divide the noodles and chicken between 4 large bowls, ladle the broth over the top.
  6. Serve with bowls of the garnishes at the table.

*What makes this pho really faux is that the recipe developers at Fine Cooking decided to make it with udon, not rice noodles. Initially I was suspicious. Why substitute udon for rice? They are equally easy to find and prepare. After trying the soup with udon though, it tasted more substantial than with rice noodles.  I might not use the japanese noodles every time, but it was fun to eat the bouncy chewy udon here.

Macaroni and Cheese

I was going to make Welsh Rarebit today. This morning, during a remarkably peaceful breakfast with the three monkeys, I decided to hash out the dinner menus with them so they would know what was coming over the next two days until Martin gets back. I got huge push back on the Welsh Rarebit. Since it’s fencing practice tonight, and we’ll get back late, I decided that this “weird” version of toasted cheese (Welsh Rarebit has beer in it – it’s still the most innocuous dish) might push the carefully orchestrated balance of the household into bedlam. So I am scrapping the Welsh Rarebit idea.

Mac and Cheese. Doesn’t everyone already know how to make this?  Or at least where to look if they want to try?  I’m not sure.  So many people rely on the bunny version. The real thing is what we have around here. When I first started cooking for my kids, this was a once a week habit. Now it’s been a long time since Mac and Cheese was my back pocket dish. With Martin out of town though, familiar dishes are another way of keeping the volume down.

I also make Mac and Cheese when my brother and his family come to visit. My feeling is that visiting children who have taken long plane rides need and appreciate familiar foods. So when my brother rolls his eyes and says”  Mac and Cheese?! Isn’t there like a pound of cheese in that and a 1/4 pound of butter?!”  I just shrug and know that he’s happy that his boys are happily scarfing down plates of gooey pasta and will toddle off to bed without much of a peep. Matt, the mac and cheese is my gift to you!

I serve mac and cheese with hot buttered peas. I will not make excuses for all this butter.

Mac and Cheese

20 minutes of efficient work, 30 minutes in the oven

People get all nervous about white sauce, or bechamel. They are afraid it will be pasty and gloppy or that it will scorch badly and that the pan will be impossible to clean. It’s all about regulating the heat. A heavy bottomed pot does make a huge difference. That being said, before I got married, I made this for years in a old Revere-ware pot with a wobbly handle (that I inherited from my great-aunt) with great success. You just have to watch the heat and keep on stirring so it doesn’t scorch on you.

I love to make bechamel actually. The way the sauce goes from soupy-milky  to velvety-spoon coating in a matter of minutes makes me feel like a scientist. If you’ve never made it before, watching the transformation is very satisfying.

  • 4 tbsp butter + 1 tbsp butter, separated
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 2 1/2 c milk, can even be 1% lowfat
  • 1/4 tsp dry English mustard
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper – gives the dish a just perceptible heat
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 4 ounces grated sharp cheddar – aged no more than 2 years
  • 4 ounces grated Monterey jack
  • 1 end of a loaf of sandwich bread, made into bread crumbs in a clean coffee grinder – or 3/4-1  cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 lb pasta, elbows are traditional but we like shells, farfalle, and penne
  1. Start a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  3. Add salt to the water and cook the pasta according to the time on the box. Drain.
  4. Mix the flour, dry mustard and cayenne in a small bowl.
  5. Over medium heat, melt the 4 tbsp butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Don’t brown the butter, just melt it.  When the butter is melted, add the flour, mustard, cayenne mixture and whisk for about a minute. Timing and temperature are key. If the heat is too low or if you don’t cook it long enough, that’s when you get a pasty, institutional tasting sauce. If the heat is too high, the sauce will scorch. If either of those things happen, you’ll wish you’d left dinner to the bunny mac people. The first few times, just pay attention. This really is the easiest thing. On my stove, and all stoves are different, the heat needs to be just slightly warmer than medium.
  6. Add the milk slowly, whisking all the while. I am right handed and I pour the milk with my left hand, while whisking confidently with my right. Initially this was like patting my head and rubbing my stomach – I’ve come a long way since then. Probably you are more coordinated than I am. Anyway, the milk and flour mixture will seize up at first and look uncompromisingly lumpy. Just keep on whisking – confidently. Get all the lumps.  Lumpy white sauce is another thing people fear – with good reason. You follow the directions and you won’t have to worry about lumps.
  7. Once all the milk has been added and all of the lumps whisked away, you might think that the sauce looks unpromisingly thin. You may wish that you had used whole milk or even cream. Fear not. This is the fun part! (I really do not get out enough – oh well)  Turn up the heat to medium high and continue to whisk. When the sauce begins to simmer around the edges, it will magically thicken – not suddenly, just consistently. You will see that the bechamel has the consistency of melted milkshake or very heavy cream. Some might say to whisk for 10 more minutes, but I say that would be overkill for this dish.
  8. Take the pan off the heat and go check your email. This will allow the sauce to cool slightly and then the cheese won’t become grainy. It’s not the end of the world if this happens, it’s just nicer if it doesn’t.
  9. Add the cheese, salt and pepper and whisk. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if necessary.
  10. Mix in the cooked pasta and pour everything into a gratin dish. Mine is ceramic, about 1 1/2″ deep. The dimensions are 7″ x 10″
  11. Melt the last tbsp butter and stir in the fresh bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the mac and cheese.
  12. At this point you could cool it then wrap the whole thing up and put it in the refrigerator until you bake it. Up to 24 hours later.
  13. Or put it in the oven for 30 minutes, until bubbling

The last time I made this I made the mistake of adding some blue cheese, the remnant of a wonderful creamy French one. It was only fun for the grown-ups though and so I will probably never do that again. The look of sheer dismay, betrayal and utter shock on my oldest child’s face cured me of messing with familiar perfection.

The Big Bolognese

Sometimes I have an urge to spend a few hours in the kitchen with something big simmering gently on the stove. When I do, I often turn to the Bolognese Meat Sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  As you can see in my copy, p.204-5 is where the book has split into 2 pieces, from overuse.

Although it’s not overuse. Because anyone who tastes this incredible (and time intensive) sauce will kiss the ground you walk on.  So it’s worth it.

What is it about this sauce?  Is it because I spent a semester in Rome as a student? Or the memory of my mom’s big spaghetti night? My grandfather’s garlic bread? I think its a little of all those things.  I really like that this is an “authentic” recipe. The meat is gently simmered in milk before the wine is added and then it all has to evaporate before adding the tomatoes.  Only then can the three hour marathon of true simmering begin.  Gauging the heat carefully so that there are several seconds between the bubbles breaking through the surface of the sauce allows the sauce to reduce slowly and maintains the utter tenderness of the meat. The result is nothing like the typical American recipe, those chewy bits of ground beef and soupy-sauce tomatoes drowning long strands of spaghetti. This Marcella Bolognese is the essence of something. I am not sure exactly what.

As Marcella writes “There is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragu with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle.”  Wow.  It’s hard to mess with that.  But I do – mess with that. Despite the fact that I love the long involved traditional process, I serve this sauce American style. The accompaniments are always the same: a big mixed salad and garlic bread made by slathering a split French batard with melted butter and minced garlic and tossing it, wrapped in foil into the oven.  I wouldn’t serve it with spaghetti though, the way my parents (and everybody else) did in the 70’s.  I like a short tube or trumpet shaped pasta that cradles the sauce. And I don’t use parmesan from a green cylindrical shaker.  A real reggiano parmesan is the only way to go.

And so what if the sauce takes 4 hours. While the sauce bubbled away on the stove, I put the little guy to bed, folded a load of laundry, started a book that I’d gotten for Christmas and fell asleep on the couch with Max, my cat. When I woke up, there was the scent of dinner: very homey and purely delicious. January is way too gloomy in Seattle. Making bolognese all afternoon is the perfect antidote. Initially there is some minor chopping. MINOR. A carrot, some celery, a little yellow onion. Everything else is pour, mash, stir.  No big deal.  And the simmering part is easy. You don’t have to stand there. If your kids don’t think you walk on water for making this incredible meal, that’s ok. You just open a nice Montepulciano,  pour yourself a glass and revel in a job well done.

Saturday Menu

(I won’t lie to you, this menu takes minimum of 4 hours start to finish.  However – there are 3 hours of downtime!)

  • Cavatappi with Bolognese Meat Sauce
  • Green Salad Vinaigrette
  • Garlic Bread
  • Mint Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce.

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Meat Sauce and a few pointers

  • I always double the recipe so I can freeze half, but I am reproducing it here in the proportion for 1 – 1 1/4 pounds of pasta.  This makes very slightly more than the original recipe.  Still, you might find that this makes less sauce than you are used to eating with pasta.  In Italy they think of sauce as something more akin to a condiment.  When you serve, put a tablespoon of butter on the hot pasta before adding the sauce.  Dust each plate with freshly grated Parmesan.  It makes all the difference – you won’t miss the pasta taking a overly deep bath in sauce.
  • Use an enamel pot, such as Le Creuset or Lodge for even heat and slow, slow simmer.   I use a wide, fairly shallow one.
  • Add salt as soon as you add the meat to extract the most flavor.
  • This is NOT the time for a lean cut of meat.  Ground chuck is what you want.
  • Cook, uncovered, at a bare simmer for at least three hours.  I mean one bubble, wait several seconds, another bubble, and so on.
  • For speed I would do all chopping in the food processor – pulsing  – so as not to overdo it

This makes 2 heaping cups of sauce.  Marcella says for 1 1/2 pounds of pasta.  I usually make a generous pound.

  • 1 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 3 tbsp butter plus 1 for tossing with the pasta
  • 1/2 cup onion (I use 1/2 of one 3″ in diameter)
  • 2/3 cup celery (I use 2-3 stalks)
  • 2/3 cup carrots ( I use 1 large)
  • 1 pound of ground chuck (if you like, use 1/3 pork; I do.)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 28 ounce can whole Italian plum tomatoes, drained of juice then chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds dry pasta (or if you are ambitious – homemade fresh tagliatelle)
  • Freshly grated parmesan at the table.
  1. Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and turn on the heat to medium.  Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent – I do 8-10 minutes.  Then add chopped carrot and celery.  Cook for two more minutes, stirring to coat them with the oil and butter.
  2. Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.  Crumble the meat with a wooden spoon, stir well and cook until no longer red.
  3. Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring until it has bubbled away completely.  There will be clear liquid left.  Add about an 1/8th teaspoon grated nutmeg.
  4. Add the wine, and simmer again until evaporated.
  5. Add the tomatoes and stir until thoroughly coated.  When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn down the heat to a very slow simmer – barely bubbling.  Cook this way for at least three hours.  You might have to add a little water to prevent sticking.  At the end there will be no liquid left, the fat will separate from the sauce.  Add salt to taste.
  6. Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding a tbsp of butter and serve with Parmesan.

Garlic Bread

Start 1/2 hour before you eat.

Preheat oven to 200F

  • 1 baguette or batard, cut into three pieces and split lengthwise
  • 2-3 fat cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 pound butter

Melt the butter and add the garlic and stir.  Paint onto the inside of the bread with a pastry brush. Wrap tightly in foil and pop in the oven until dinner time.

Green Salad Method

Start this just after you put the bread in the oven.

I am not going to give a recipe for this – but this is what I do:

I like 3 tbsp of spicy green olive oil and 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp of red wine vinegar, a generous pinch of salt and pepper tossing each ingredient separately and in that order on to freshly washed and torn lettuce, seeded and sliced cucumber, sliced red pepper, halved cherry tomatoes and grated carrots.  Some people might think this sounds like an institutional salad but if everything is very fresh and crunchy it is a good counterpoint to the melting richness of the sauce and pasta.