I just want to say for the record that I was a little — okay VERY — nervous about making this roasted vegetable tart for one reason and one reason only: It involved making dough and as anyone who follows this blog regularly knows, dough is not my forte. My attempts to make pie dough are, um, basically pathetic.
But because I am older and wiser, I decided to face my fears head on, and I am happy to report I succeeded. So there. Consider this a tale about overcoming your fears…or whatever….the result is an incredible veggie tart and really who cares beyond that? Make this and the people you make it for will sing your praises/be amazed/say you are a wonder in the kitchen. I’m not kidding.
At various points in my life, dear friends have shown up at our house carrying a casserole, the universal dish of choice in Times of Trouble or Duress. The reasons casseroles always work at this time are many — they are generally hearty fare, the epitome of comfort food at a time when comfort is desperately sought but always just a titch too far on the horizon to be attainable. They’re also ridiculously easy to bring to the table: Just heat and serve, ideally right out of the disposable aluminum foil container they arrive in. No dish to wash or return.
My friend Susan dropped off a crab casserole with salad fixin’s a week after I was officially due with our third child and had just been told they would not induce for another week. I was hardly able to talk without crying I was so sure this child would never come out — ever. When my mother died, another meal miraculously appeared, proof that Susan is absolutely going to heaven because she had already earned her status as True Friend Forever in helping me care for my complicated mother.
My friend, Ariane, dropped off soup and homemade bread (!) when I had walking pneumonia and could hardly raise my head off the couch. And on it goes.
I, too, have come carrying casseroles for friends in need, and so on Saturday night, I knew a casserole would be exactly the right thing to serve a small gathering of our family after the death of my dear father-in-law. It had been a grueling day and we needed comfort — in food, in recollections, in each other. This casserole from Not Your Mother’s Casseroles didn’t disappoint, and I expect I’ll make it again in happier times as well.
After years of living hither and yon, Mike (the Gay Beer Guy) is back in CT and we were finally going to cook together in person. The reason for this cooking was an outdoor concert of the orchestra we’ve both played in (Mike for four years while he was in high school, me since its founding 30-plus years ago). As we do with orchestra alums, Mike was welcomed back with open arms to play. The concert, the last of the season, was an outdoor one where people bring picnics and eat and drink under the sky while we play. It’s generally a festive event. Children run around unhindered by shushing parents and good friends chat, all while we provide some nice music.(At least this is what happens when the weather cooperates. This year, it rained so everyone picnicked in the gym while we played. Not ideal but so it goes.)
Anyway Mike and I decided to make a couple of salads as our contribution to the group. I had never made tabbouleh before (pathetic I know) but have been obsessed with it recently, regularly buying large containers to in theory share with my husband, only to scarf it all down myself. He’s lucky if he gets a tablespoonful, no joke.
And this is where the full pathetic nature of where I shop comes to the fore: I could not find bulghur anywhere. That’s right, no bulghur, despite the fact that it really is not some esoteric oddity. I couldn’t believe it.
But I didn’t want to give up on my tabbouleh, so I decided to substitute pearl couscous for the bulghur and while the consistency was obviously different, the taste was just lovely. Someday I will live in a place where bulghur is not considered in the same vein as, say, pig’s feet. In the meantime, this rendition will do just nicely, thank you.
I thought about that headline for a few minutes. Hyperbole can bite you in the butt. But I really do think this recipe, which came from the May issue of Real Simple, is the best asparagus I’ve ever made. I grew up in a family where asparagus was an extension of a general mindset. We didn’t waste anything — in and of itself not a bad behavior — but in the world of asparagus that meant the entire stalk was served up. And that meant I spent a fair amount of my asparagus-eating time trying to figure out how to hide the woody end piece that you could seriously chew for 20 minutes and be no closer to being able to swallow than if you’d been chewing shoe leather.
I’m not sure what convinced me to to give asparagus another chance, but somewhere in my adult life, I realized I could cook asparagus and I didn’t have to serve the woody stalk. I could just break it off and guess what? The resulting vegetable was actually tasty and I could swallow it!
So there it is. If you’re not sure about asparagus, maybe because you, too, have some shady asparagus in your past, make this and then decide for yourself. While I don’t know if it will be the best asparagus you’ve ever eaten — after all I don’t actually know what you’ve eaten in the asparagus category — I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Plus this is super easy.
Let us know what you think.
As you read this, I will be spending my last moments in Spain, having had, I certainly anticipate as I write this, a wonderful time trying new foods and discovering a new culture. (Photos to come in a post when I’m back.) But before we headed to Spain for a visit with G, who is working there this year, we had a great visit with Rachel, Miss M and John, which was a perfect excuse to make a dish that I only make when I’m hosting a crowd but that I love love love: spanikopita.
I discovered phyllo dough about 35 (!) years ago when I took a cooking class with a friend. Emboldened by what we had learned, we decided to give this buttery wonderfulness a try and I am so glad I did. Yes, it’s a little dicey to work with but like most things, it’s not as hard as you imagine. The key is to completely thaw it and then to work quickly once you open the package.
My friend Casey makes a sweet potato salad that is to die for. Every time she makes it, people go crazy and ask for the recipe. And she says sure and then does what I did for years with my Swedish gingerbread/mjuk pepparkakor recipe until I gave it up to the internet world two years ago: she cleverly forgets to give you the recipe.
…Until a few weeks ago, when I reminded her that I had indeed handed over the mjuk pepparkakor recipe and that she had promised to hand over the salad recipe in exchange but still hadn’t. It was time to cough. it. up. And Casey, wonderful woman that she is, did.
First and foremost, I am coming off a week-long visit with Miss M and her caretakers and I am officially in mourning. Despite the fact that they all had colds, it was wonderful on every level possible and I am counting the days until we are all together again. (Anything longer than a month is too long in case anyone is wondering.)
But on to the food. Best part: Rachel and I got to cook together AND the Divine Miss M joined us. Best. Thing. Ever.
Janet here: After admitting my little magazine recipe-ripping, um, problem, I started 2012 with a new plan. I would start actually cooking some of these recipes and then, if I like them, put them in a neat little notebook. Last week I dutifully bought my notebook, complete with plastic sleeves to stick the pages in and dividers so I can organize them by categories. I was so pleased with myself.
But then it was time to attack the pile, a daunting task for sure because it is a mini-mountain by now. Happily we were having another couple for dinner so I found a new way of doing pesto, using almonds rather than pine nuts…..Result? Brilliant and a total keeper. Into its nice plastic sleeve it goes.
Almond Pesto with Beans Linguine
from Food Network Magazine
1/2 cup unsalted roasted almonds
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cups fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups fresh basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
12 ounces linguine
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of salted water for the linguine to a boil.
Make the pesto by pulsing the almonds and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the parsley, basil and Parmesan; pulse some more until the herbs are chopped. With the motor running drizzle in the olive oil until blended.
Transfer to a large bowl and add the ricotta and olives.
Cook the linguine, adding the beans for the last two minutes. Reserve one cup of the cooking water; then drain the pasta and beans. Add to the bowl with the pesto and toss to coat. Add the chopped tomatoes and as much of the reserved cooking water as you like to have the perfect combination. Salt and pepper to taste.
Janet here: No this isn’t a homonym lesson. I’m just noting an interesting concurrence: the week in which I make a fantastic leek dish was also the week the light fixture in the bathroom at Casa de Roomie (I live in two places if you’re not a regular reader) decided to become an unofficial shower as water streamed out of it one day just as I was about to head out the door to work. It was, obviously, an awesome moment.
We had friends visiting Saturday night who we hadn’t seen in a number of years. In other words, the premium was on catching up, not cooking. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t want to serve something tasty. (In fact, I think the bar gets even higher when you’re cooking for someone you haven’t seen in a while don’t you? Kind of a culinary version of dress to impress…)
Anyway, this casserole features orzo, which is a pasta I only discovered a few years ago but fell in love with. I’m not sure if it’s the shape or size but orzo just tastes better than a lot of other pastas. And I think it also allows other flavors to come out more fully. It doesn’t overwhelm.
The casserole also features pesto, which is one of my favorite sauces ever. Again, not overwhelming but totally flavorful. You can make it yourself, using Rachel’s recipe) or buy some (which, I’m not gonna lie, is what I did this time).
You’re going to have to trust me on how marvelous this casserole looks. By the time it came out of the oven, just a little alcohol had been consumed….and taking a photo was no longer on my to-do list.
serves 6, more if a side dish
1 pound orzo
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange bell pepper, cored and diced
1 onion, minced
2/3 cup pesto
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9X13 baking pan.
Boil some water and cook the orzo until al dente. Drain. Put back in the large pot.
While the orzo is cooking, saute the onion, garlic and pepper in some olive oil until the vegetables start to get soft. Add to the orzo in the pot.
Stir in the pesto and mozzarella into the pot. Salt and pepper to taste. Spread into the baking pan, sprinkle the Parmesan on top and baked for 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the orzo is done. Serve it up.