Genius Claiborne remix. Ravioli con asparagi and green garlic. Did not suck.
One of the best decisions I’ve made recently is to use some unexpected vacation time to ease our transition from my maternity leave into our new routine. I was able to arrange for my first four weeks back on the job to be short weeks, scheduling a month of Thursdays off to spend at home with the kids. It has helped to break up the week for me as I get back in the swing of things at the office, and it allows Mike a bit more freedom to get the things done for his book and other writing projects that he needs to, as well.
Last week, Julian –out of the blue – asked me for mac and cheese, and since it was Thursday, and I was home, I figured why not? But with naptime approaching, I didn’t want to keep him waiting an hour or more for my regular skillet mac and cheese. Instead, I used that tried-and-true recipe as a jumping-off point, stripping down and changing up the proportions of my cheese sauce, and using a smaller (and quicker-cooking) pasta shape to produce a simple, super-creamy stove-top version for him.
Three servings later, I was pretty sure I had a winner on my hands, and when Julian asked for it again yesterday, I figured I’d better write my recipe down for posterity. I hope Julian and his baby sister always push me to think outside the box, in the kitchen and elsewhere.
Simple Stove-top Mac & Cheese
1/2 lb. small pasta (we like Garofalo’s Lumachine, but any little tube or shell is fine)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoon flour
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. grated extra-sharp cheddar
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1-2 dashes Tabasco or other hot sauce (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook it until tender. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat and whisk in the flour until combined. Whisk in the milk and cream until smooth. Add the cheeses a little at a time, stirring until they are well incorporated, and let cook over medium heat until the sauce is thickened and a bit reduced. Whisk in the Dijon, Worcestershire, and Tabasco (if using), then season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the cheese mixture and stir gently until the pasta is thoroughly enveloped, and the cheese sauce gets into all of its little nooks and crannies. Serve immediately.
It’s hard to believe it was just over a year ago that we returned to Brooklyn. So much has happened over the last 12 months, it often feels like we’ve been back here much longer. We’ve been settling in to our new neighborhood, slowly reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. There have been new professional opportunities to pursue, and on a personal level, we’ve had the joy of watching our little guy learn to walk and run and talk a blue streak. And before we know it, that little guy is going to be a big brother, and we’ll welcome a new little one into our family, into this big, shiny place we call home.
Looking at where we are now, how far we’ve come and what we have to look forward to in the year ahead, kind of takes my breath away.
We’ve been so lucky – we’ve had a whole lot of good come our way in the last year, and more still to come, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve worked more hours in the last 12 months than I probably ever have before in my career, and that hasn’t left me a lot of time to spend with my guys, let alone to keep up with this blog. And we’re still recovering, in a lot of ways, from our big move. We spent everything we had and then some to get back here, and as anyone who has spent time here knows, New York is expensive. We’ve had to really simplify, and one way I’ve done so is by relying more heavily on our favorite pantry staples when planning meals for the week.
I came up with this dish a year ago, when we were still sleeping on air mattresses in our brand new Brooklyn apartment, living out of suitcases and a couple of Rubbermaid bins, trying to stretch the pantry items we were able to move with us from Providence and the few fresh foods we could afford until my first paycheck arrived. We liked it so well I’ve made it numerous times since then, sometimes adding peas or short lengths of asparagus, a little something fresh and green from the farmers’ market. Even at it’s simplest, it has always satisfied.
Pasta with Salmon in Creamy Lemon Sauce
1 lb short, chunky dry pasta (I usually use farfalle, but any shape will do)
3 T unsalted butter
3 T unbleached all-purpose flour
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 6 oz. can salmon, drained, skin and bones removed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
snipped scallions or chives, about ½ cup
(Optional: 1 cup peas or short lengths of blanched asparagus)
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil for your pasta.
While the water heats, melt the butter in a wide, shallow pan over low-to-medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and whisk it in to combine, letting it cook briefly but being careful not to brown it. Whisk in the lemon juice – it will probably seize up, but don’t panic! Whisk in the milk until the mixture smoothes out, then add the heavy cream. Heat for a minute, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon zest and the salmon, breaking it up as you go. (If you’re adding peas or asparagus, add them at this point.)
Once your pasta water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, with a bit of the cooking liquid still clinging to it. Scatter the scallions or chives over the pasta and sauce in the pan, leaving a few aside for garnish, and stir until the pasta is coated with the sauce and the sauce is slightly reduced. Add more scallions or chives and another grinding of pepper, and serve.
A few days ago, Mike asked if I would make a batch of granola. I did, and decided to try adding an egg white for extra clumpiness, a trick I had seen mentioned in a few different places recently.
That meant, of course, that we had an extra yolk around. And you know I couldn’t let that go to waste.
We’ve gotten a couple of bags of local AP flour from Cayuga Pure Organics in the months that we’ve been back in New York, and I adore how it performs in fresh pasta dough. These Knoll Crest Farm eggs are pretty great, too.
I had also gotten a great deal on some locally-raised ground Angus beef, so I pulled together a rich, slow-cooked meat sauce to go with our pasta, and while the sauce bubbled away and my granola cooled, I whipped up a few other things for our little guy to eat during the week.
A tray of little sweet potato wedges, just slicked with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, went into the oven to roast along with a batch of Judy Rodgers’ Roasted Applesauce.
I make this stuff just about every week – it is the easiest and best applesauce ever, and we all love it. This time I used some heirloom Baldwin apples we picked up at the farmers market earlier in the day.
I also cooked up a pot of Broccoli Cooked Forever, minus the hot peppers, as a side to our baked pasta and to have around for Julian this week – it’s one of his favorites (though very un-photogenic).
I was craving a baked pasta, so I decided to do something a little different, canneloni-inspired, if you will. I cut my fresh pasta sheets into square sections, and blanched them as I do for lasagna. Once shocked and patted dry, I added a swipe of seasoned ricotta to each, rolled them into cigars, and set them on a bed of my sauce, with more sauce spooned over the tops. I baked them for half an hour or so, covered, then removed their tinfoil cap, grated on some cheese, and put them back in the oven to get bubbly.
Julian got a pint-sized portion of his own, and a chance to work on his fork skills.
He’s a natural, don’t you think?
I don’t know what to say.
It’s well into February and I haven’t posted here in what feels like forever. We’ve been cooking up a storm, working on projects in the kitchen, eating some truly wonderful things, but I just haven’t had it in me to post.
There’s so much to tell you. But I can’t talk about it just yet.
I do want to talk about this pasta, though. It seems like every time I talk about this dish, something big happens. I last posted about it here in 2007, to an enthusiastic response.
Almost a year later, with Mike in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail and me at home in Providence, I watched wide-eyed as my site meter shot skyward, topping out at 12,127 hits – twelve thousand, one hundred twenty seven hits – thanks to a post on a Yahoo! Shine blog which linked out to that old Linguine con Sarde post.
As in book one’s scallop competition, I was up against the incredibly talented cook melissav, and today, I learned that my Linguine with Sardines, Fennel and Tomato came out on top in the voting. Sardines with pasta! People are cooking this, and enjoying it, people are eating sardines, and that’s not just big, it’s huge. I couldn’t be happier, or more proud.
To all of you who voted, who commented, who are a constant source of support and inspiration, THANK YOU.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it. We’re not yet done with January and we’ve had more than our yearly average snowfall. My commute has been awful – if the trains aren’t delayed by snow and ice, then switches are breaking, signals malfunctioning, rail cars creeping ever so slowly from station to station. I’ve missed my bus home from the train station every night this week, and tonight looks to be no exception, with more snow expected to begin this afternoon, continuing overnight.
We’ve been on a steady diet of comfort food – a hearty pot roast Sunday night, an almost-meatless soup on Monday, loaded with creamy beans, pasta, and bits of pancetta (not yet our own, but we’re oh-so-close). Last night, I threw together this simple pasta dish, a combination of grated beets cooked down in butter with a healthy splash of white balsamic, the pasta par-cooked then added to the beets with some pasta water to finish, becoming infused with beet flavor and that lovely rich hue. There are similar pastas out there that include poppy seeds and mint, but Mike and I both wanted goat cheese, so I crumbled a bit of Vermont Butter & Cheese chevre on our plates, along with some chopped pistachios for a visual and textural pop. The vibrant colors and bright flavors chased my winter blues away, at least for a little while.
If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere, you’ve probably already seen me proudly cheering on my cool friends Cathy and Kim, who are featured in the Washington Post today. If you haven’t, check it out. I’m there, too, on page two, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
December already. I can’t believe we’re closing out another year, though for many reasons, I’ll be happy to put this one behind us. I’ve been struggling with the weather already, crawling stiff-limbed out of bed, heading out to the bus stop each morning swaddled in layers, returning home in darkness, cheeks red and fingers numb, guided by twinkling holiday lights to the warmth of our kitchen.
I’ve been cooking a lot, not that you’d know it by coming here, mostly big pots of brothy things, soups and stews to force the chill from my bones, but very little of it has been noteworthy. Most dishes have been comprised of odds and ends foraged from the freezer and pantry, from leftovers repurposed, from trying to stretch a protein over a series of meals. We’ve been tightening our belts even more than before, in anticipation of the holidays but also of necessity. We’ll scrimp more now so we can splurge a bit at Christmas.
And with the exception of one glorious night out with dear friends recently, we’ve been staying in. I don’t mind it so much – I’m a homebody at heart – but I do find that I have really been missing the spark of inspiration I get from a good meal out, the way a chef will work with an ingredient, pair it with something unexpected, or prepare it in a new (to me) way. I feel like I’m in a rut, my taste buds in hibernation, my creativity lacking.
I did, however, have a minor breakthrough last night with a pasta dish that I’ve been trying to recreate forever (or at least since February of 2008), a simple mix of spaghetti with savoy cabbage, pancetta, and pecorino cheese that I first tasted at A Voce in NYC. I’ve played with this preparation over the years with varying levels of success, and while I’ve come close in the past, I think I finally nailed it. The key, I think, was to really hammer the cabbage, to wilt it down to silky strands, almost caramelizing it, rendering it soft and sweet and utterly delicious. I added a tiny knob of butter too, which rounded out all of the flavors, allowing the salty pecorino and flecks of freshly cracked pepper to really dance on your tongue. This may not have been the prettiest dish, but the flavors really sang, and it was so good we had seconds.
Part of getting back to the business of living, getting through the grief we’ve been feeling in this last week, has been to make plans, to reinstitute some structure in our lives. I sketched out a meal plan last weekend for this week’s dinners, with Monday’s ratatouille, and Tuesday’s comforting tortellini en brodo, with leafy greens swimming in the rich chicken stock Mike made earlier that day. Wednesday’s dinner plans got derailed early on, the result of some unexpected schedule changes, but I felt confident that I could put something together when I got home from work.
I had picked up some beautiful broccoli at last Saturday’s farmers’ market with the hopes of turning it into a batch of my friend Maria‘s Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli and serving it over farro, but when I pulled it out of the crisper it was long gone. My fall-back-and-punt had turned into a failure before I even got started, but I didn’t want to cave and order takeout – I wanted to cook a good, wholesome dinner at home. So I pulled out the chard I was saving to use in soup later in the week, carved it up in my usual manner, and sauteed it with olive oil, good, meaty anchovies, plenty of garlic and slivers of fresh red chile peppers.
I tossed it all with just-cooked farro linguine, added a shower of parm, and dinner was served. And it was only today that I realized that I made nearly the same simple, comforting dish about 2 1/2 years before.