This Kabocha, Date, Nut Bread Kept Me Occupied While Social Distancing

food, recipes

Cut it out. Yes, I’m talking to you, regular person who feels the need to criticize anyone baking during this time. It’s a great time to bake anything – whether you’re using up overripe bananas or making a focaccia and pretending you’re in Italy. Let people enjoy THINGS. Let baking be the escapism folks flock to for comfort during a scary and anxiety-inducing time.

So apologies to anyone who wants to force professional productivity on others. No, I will not be writing my magnum opus or conducting vital research. I will be baking because that will keep my body and soul fed and at peace. Stay mad about it.

NOW – why am I using squash for a springtime recipe? Well, because it’s important to use what you have on hand right now. As we all take stock (and make stock – AYYY) and assess what constitutes a necessary trip to the grocery store, we should see what we can use from our home inventory first, and that means checking the freezer.

For as long as I can remember, we never wasted pumpkins or squash. After Halloween and Thanksgiving my mom would take decorative, but edible gourds and kill them. This means roasting and steaming pumpkins and acorn squash and pureeing the flesh into smooth, orangey-yellow sustenance, roasting the seeds too for a salty savory snack. We would be pumpkin’d out with soups, pies, cookies and cakes before running out of puree, so into the freezer went pints and quarts of creamy orange goo for months. Since the apple doesn’t fall far in my case, that’s exactly the chain of events that lead me to unearthing pureed kabocha from my freezer. I also had pecans I used to make a Basically Baking recipe and dates that I found on sale at my shopping sanctuary, Ocean State Job Lot. It was a perfect storm.

This recipe can be catered to whatever winter squash you have, though I’d steer clear of the heartier butternut squash or stringy spaghetti squash. Acorn squash and pumpkin, sharing similar flavors and consistencies with kabocha, would be welcome replacements. This bread will also work with walnuts instead of pecans. You can also omit the dates or nuts and substitute with a full cup of one filling if that’s your jam. Don’t skip the parchment paper lining if possible; this will make the cake easy to lift from the pan and reduce unwanted crispiness. This kabocha date nut bread should come out moist but not dense and wet – the end product will be delightful enough to eat sliced, and hearty enough to toast and spread with peanut butter.

Baking with a limited kitchen gives you, dear baker, the ability to riff as you please. So riff on people. And take lots of pictures and gloat to your heart’s content online – hell, tag me and I’ll gloat for you.

Kabocha, Date, Nut Bread

1-1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 cup pureed kabocha squash

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup chopped pecans

  1. Place oven rack on the middle to upper racks of your oven (we’re baking the cake up there, but we want space so it doesn’t touch the heating element). Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease the inside of a loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until light yellow and a little bit bubbly. Once combined, add squash puree, vanilla and cinnamon and whisk until incorporated.
  3. Slowly stream the vegetable oil into the batter.
  4. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder into the wet ingredients. If you don’t have a sifter or you just hate sifting, whisk flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a separate bowl and whisk into wet ingredients until combined, without lumps.
  5. Coat dates in a pinch of flour. This will prevent them from clumping together.
  6. Fold in pecans and dates until they feel evenly dispersed throughout the batter.
  7. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  8. Bake for 1 hour, or until golden on the outside, and a cake tester inserted in the thickest part comes out dry.

 

Tangy and Bright Marinated Beans

food, recipes

You may be like me right now: using pent-up anxious energy to haul your Dutch oven to the stove at 8 a.m. to prepare a big pot of beans. I feel like I’m on nonna time – waking up early and letting bread rise or soup simmer until some shoulder tension eases. It’s only a matter of time before I’m in a “house dress” and wearing leather soled shoes while I putter around my house. For now, the meditative stirring and gentle burbling of long cooked beans melts the worry away. And bonus, I get extra creamy, flavorful beans at the end of it all!

I typically make my dried beans the same way each time, not for a lack of creativity, but for the broad application of the flavors. For starters, I soaked my beans overnight and put them in fresh water in the morning to cook. I just like using fresh cooking water to have a clean start – I leave my beans on the countertop overnight. Who knows what the night goblins drop in there, you know?

Right into that heavy Dutch oven go lemon peel, crushed garlic, salt, black pepper, bay leaves, red pepper flakes and a good amount of olive oil. A pot of beans loves a little fat, so feel free to put in bacon, salami, or other fatty, salty meats. I personally just like to keep my beans vegetarian – truly rated E for everyone beans. Over a gentle heat, simmer the beans until they are infused with flavor and creamy inside.

Now after this you will undoubtedly have an overabundance of beans. Even using a fraction of the dried beans will yield just SO MANY beans. Whether it’s cause for concern, or a cause for celebration you will need to find ways to consume said beans without getting sick of them. Maybe on day one you make a plate with crusty bread, a pile of beans and some bean liquid and top it off with a runny egg. Another time you add the beans to some greens and serve that over pasta with a generous sprinkling of cheese…Then what?

You definitely don’t want your beans to go bad – so why not give them an olive oil bath to preserve them for as long as possible? Inspired by Marcella Hazan’s marinated eggplant and marinated pepper recipes from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, I thought marinating beans would yield a product equal parts delicious and sustainable. These marinated beans use lemon juice and olive oil, but any acidic liquid could replace the lemon juice. Red wine vinegar would also be lovely. Additionally, any herbs, spices or funky additions like chilis would yield both flavorful preserved beans with a delicious vinaigrette.

What I love even more than the long shelf life is the ability to just add more beans to the existing liquid. Got a jar of olive oil with a few beans in it? Add more string beans or white beans. As long as the olive oil prevents bean-air contact, your beans are safe to enjoy.

I like to pile these beans onto some crusty bread with sliced radishes and some salty, hard cheese. These are also a welcome addition to salad (using some marinade as dressing, obviously) or a side to fish. You could even make a zesty, cold pasta salad with the beans and marinade for a riff on a picnic staple. Regardless, you’ll have bottled springtime you can crack open even when there’s snow on the ground in March.

Marinated Beans

1/2 cup cooked white or navy beans

1/2 cup blanched string beans, cut into half-inch pieces

Juice from 1 lemon

Extra virgin olive oil

  1. Get yourself a little glass jar to store your beloved beans. I’m using a stout little Ball jar from some leftover jam.
  2. Layer your white beans and string beans in the jar. They don’t have to be stacked one way or another, the jar will get a good shaking later. Just leave some room between the beans and the lid.
  3. Juice the lemon right over the jar, being mindful of seeds. Now is when you can also add any herbs to the mix.
  4. Cover the remainder of the beans with olive oil, making sure all beans are submerged and there’s still room between the top of the jar and the oil.
  5. Place the lid on tightly and shake to combine the beans with the liquid. It will separate during storage, but it’ll at least give all the beans a chance to get to know the flavors.
  6. Keep refrigerated and dive in whenever you want.

The Sourdough Starter Guide I Send My Friends

food

Hey! What’s up? It’s ya girl, The Bread Doula. So…you want to bring a sourdough starter to life? I’m so proud of you! But this shit is like having a real baby, except you can leave it on the counter all day. So it’s not like a baby at all, but it is a high maintenance kitchen project so buckle the fuck up chica.

First things first: The Jar. You want a pretty big boy in terms of jars. I would recommend at least a 3 cup jar or larger. No lid? No problem! You can cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. If using the actual jar lid, only screw it on loosely so that shit doesn’t explode. Before you put anything in the jar, boil it in water to make sure it’s as sterile as possible!

Now you can make that baby ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) When starting this bitch you want equal parts BY WEIGHT of flour and water. So get a kitchen scale for accuracy. They’re like super cheap anywhere. I think they’re like $5 at Target. Water weighs more than flour so you’ll always use what looks like twice the amount of flour compared to water. This is CORRECT!

So how much flour and water do you need? Start by mixing 4 ounces of flour and water together. By this I mean 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water. I’m worried you may have thought I meant 2 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of water. Just clarifying. I have anxiety.

Anyway. Mix it until no streaks remain and scrape off any from the sides with a rubber spatula. Leave this in a warm corner of the kitchen with the lid loosely screwed on (or one of the other options I suggested above).

If you do this in the morning and leave it all day, you might come home to a mixture with a few bubbles in it and that shit is EXCITING. But wait, there’s MORE! Feed it again! Another four ounces each, mixy mixy and scrapey scrapey. Cover it and leave it overnight.

By this time it will literally GROW! It’ll look all bubbly and weird. Now before feeding again, it’s smart to discard at least half of what’s in the jar. It’s not REQUIRED but no one wants to find starter all over the counter because it outgrew the jar. That’s like the sourdough equivalent of your baby yaking all over their crib in the middle of the night. The worst, probably. I don’t know.

“But Marcella that’s WASTEFUL!” Ya bish I KNOW! Which is why you can make a bunch of shit with the discard INSTEAD! I’ve made crackers, biscuits, pancakes, pizza dough and popovers. It’s so good but damn so many baked goods.

After about 5 days of this – your starter might be active enough to use in bread! To check if it’s ready, drop a little bit of starter in a glass of water. If the starter floats, you can make some bread!

Now, what if you can’t keep up with feedings? Slap that bad boy in the fridge! You can pull out the starter in the morning, feed it, leave it out all day, and then put it in the fridge overnight. Or just feed it once a week after putting it in the fridge. Whatever you want man, I haven’t fed mine in weeks and it’s probably fine.

So get real in touch with the yeast around you and make everyone you live with INSANE! Have fun, be yourself and also call me if something goes wrong at 1-800-is-ur-bread-fucked

These Anisette Cookies and a Pot of Coffee are a Match Made in Heaven

food, recipes

Everyone is getting engaged and married and truly I feel sorry. Because no one will have a stronger, more solid union than my great grandma’s anisette cookies and an entire pot of black coffee. Honestly, where’s that love comparison? I just want someone to compliment me the way anise biscotti compliments hot coffee. Where’s that romance?

“Ninety nine cents would get you a pound of these cookies.” Thinking about the light-weight of each crispy baked wedge made me realize the sheer volume that equates. “We would bring them home and drink a whole pot of coffee,” says my mom. It’s true, these cookies practically beg for a dunk before each bite, after which the harmonious union of coffee and anisette simply transports you to an old-fashioned Italian-American bakery of yore. So good you almost don’t feel bad about eating a few for breakfast. Oops.

This recipe, another mysterious find from my great grandma’s recipe box, was entirely written in English which could mean one of two things: it is once again not hers, or she had serious help writing it. In a comparison between this and her snippets of attempting English in other recipes, it appears that this is her handwriting. Impressive if so, but also curious. Someone definitely helped her, perhaps speaking the translation and showing her how to spell each word with some corrections on the way.

This recipe is also one of the rare recipes from the box that includes all measurements, oven temperature and a procedure. Truly miraculous when all others are written in at least two languages and have little clues pertaining to how the flour and baking powder eventually become a sponge cake. That being said, this recipe was also easy by most baking standards: add ingredients to the bowl, beating after each addition, then pouring the batter into a greased cake pan, baking until golden brown, slicing and baking again for maximum crispiness. This technically makes them biscotti.

Biscotti, though typically what Italians call a cookie, literally translates to baked twice. Most traditional biscotti have nuts or candied fruit in them and turn out just a touch drier, denser and tougher. Still absolutely delicious, but this recipe is unlike those cookies. These cookies are lighter and more tender. Still crispy, but you won’t have to clamp down on the cookie with your molars in order to take a bite. The coffee isn’t necessary to soften the cookie, it just tastes good.

I prefer espresso in general over coffee, but, as Ina Garten would probably say, if you can’t make espresso then regular coffee is just fine. Just try to resist eating them all.

My Great Grandma’s Anisette Cookies

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

3 tsp anise extract

3/4 cup cooking oil (canola oil)

1-1/2 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add all ingredients in order given beating well after each addition. Pour into greased 9×13 pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from pan and slice into 1 inch strips.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet for another 10 minutes to toast.

Garlic and Ginger Hot Sauce to Spice Up Your Life

food

I used to go to a Zumba class and we would dance to a song with lyrics “you got da sauce, you got da sauce,” and I’d be like yeah I DO got the sauce. Anyway, the hot sauce making continues and this time I added a few twists.

As always, I followed Joshua Weissman’s lacto-fermented hot sauce recipe and added my own spin on it. Previously I’ve used this recipe to make a green version and I’ve encouraged other people to add their own flare, including my mom who made a version with roasted tomatillos. For my sauce I knew I wanted to incorporate another toasted flavor in addition to the garlic. Enter ginger. Instead of the original recipe’s eight cloves of garlic, I used six cloves and about an inch of ginger root cut into thin disks. Like the recipe says, I toasted the garlic in a neutral oil with the ginger to create this aromatic, infused oil. Since this gets drizzled into the sauce at the end, the flavors become amplified.

For the peppers I also wanted to try something new. In addition to fresno chilis I found some long hot peppers. Initially I was only going to use the long hot chilis but I tasted a teeny tiny piece and thought it would be a bit much. I fermented these peppers in the same jar for six days. Water got cloudy. Some bubbles developed. All that good stuff.

But what will this be for? When it comes to hot sauce some may say I have it all. Although, chances are, no one is talking about my hot sauce collection. While the standard hot sauces tend to pair well with anything (I’m talking from lamb barbacoa to boxed mac and cheese) I wanted something a little more niche. You can find gourmet hot sauces with all sorts of additives like peach, blueberry and smoked peppers. I wanted in on that with something almost exclusively for noodles and rice. I’ve been on an Instant Pot rice kick and the leftover rice is ideal for fried rice. A little kick from this would knock leftover stir fry out of the park. Not to mention, the spicy, ginger flavors would kill any cold immediately and be a welcome addition to winter soups.

So stoked to once again have da sauce.

 

The Mysterious Meat Sauce

food, recipes

Bestowed unto me, a box of hand-written recipes from my great grandma’s house. Among them are time-stained index cards with recipes written in a combination of English, Italian and dialect with ambiguous instructions, cook times, measurements and temperatures. Except for one. One is written out with clear instructions and ingredients. Clearly not written by my great grandma, the recipe uses full sentences and proper Italian. My great grandma notoriously spoke broken English and wrote in that confounding amalgamation of languages that only which another immigrant could fully empathize.

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The whole sheet of loose leaf paper, speckled with pin holes as if it was passed around and pinned to bulletin boards by a number of people, contains a recipe for a luscious lasagna, including a bolognese sauce with optional mushrooms, cream and prosciutto and a buttery bechamel sauce in lieu of layers of melted cheese. Without a proper baking dish, I couldn’t make a full on lasagna, but I knew I needed to understand why this recipe of mysterious origin earned a coveted spot in the recipe box. I decided to attempt the bolognese sauce.

There’s something truly magical about cooking from a hand written recipe. Nostalgia kicks in, even if the recipe or recipe writer is unfamiliar. I felt like the essence of the author was right there with me, instructing me on how to properly brown and season the ground beef. Maybe it’s intuition, but despite never making this recipe or tasting the end result before, I knew exactly when the sauce was at it’s peak and ready to serve.

Now this recipe is by no means revolutionary. It was incredibly simple. The key, however, was in the fats. A little bit of oil and about 4 tablespoons of fat get things going. The carrots, celery and onion then cook in that rich liquid along with the beef and a good amount of salt. Then it’s a waiting game. Once the vegetables have sweat out enough liquid and the beef has cooked, tomatoes are added and the pot simmers for a hour, allowing the meat and vegetables to become soft and homogeneous and the sauce to thicken.

Good lord this rich, thick boy sticks to your bones on a winter night. The tomato sauce gains a silky texture from the rendered fat and butter and the vegetables make the whole dish sweet and complex. Rigatoni is the ideal pasta shape for bolognese, holding beefy treats within each tube. No exceptions.

Whoever wrote this recipe: thank you. This was a real treat (a beefy treat) and I can’t wait to layer this inside a lasagna.

Ragu Alla Bolognese

Olive oil

4 tbsp. butter

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 pound ground beef

1 – 28 oz can or jar of tomatoes (I like to use passata or pureed tomatoes)

1 pound dry rigatoni

Salt & pepper

  1. Melt the olive oil and butter in a 4 qt Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot.
  2. Once the butter is melted, add the carrot, celery and onion and salt. Cook the vegetables until soft, then add the beef. Cook everything, breaking up the ground beef and stirring until the beef is cooked, and everything is combined.
  3. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for about an hour until the crumbled beef and diced vegetables are thoroughly mixed and the sauce is at your desired consistency.
  4. Cook the rigatoni in generously salted water to the box’s instructions. Reserve some pasta water.
  5. Combine pasta and sauce in the Dutch oven, adding pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Serve immediately with cheese.

 

Vegan Ricotta with Cherry Preserves

Challenges and Joys of Vegan Cheese

food, lifestyle

I’m not vegan, but I understand and participate in the shift towards a more plant-based diet. Enter the meat substitutes and dairy facsimiles that start trends, line health aisles at the grocery store and ignite meaningful conversations about our food system. Again, I eat pant-based as often as I can. I’d consider myself closer to being vegetarian than vegan, but I try to stick to vegetables and grains instead of the substitute products available, especially if those products have unfamiliar ingredients or are no better for me than good old-fashioned vegetables. I guess my biggest concern is: what are in these substitutes, and how are they made?

Now, I don’t consider tofu a meat substitute. I eat it when I’m in the mood for it and in my eyes it’s a protein on its own, with recipes geared towards its unique texture and flavor abilities. I know meat substitutes are often made from tofu. You’ve heard of tofurkey, right? Therefore, I’m not considering tofu as I talk about vegan substitutes because it is not a substitute.

I had the opportunity to fully understand these substitutes when a friend recommended a vegan cheese making kit. I’ve made fresh ricotta, which is easy enough to do if you have a big pot, whole milk, lemon juice and some free time, but I have never even tasted vegan cheese. My first step in understanding the vegan cheese making process was breaking down the traditional cheese making process.

Cheese is just curdled milk. Sorry to burst your bubble. It’s basically strategically spoiled milk that tastes delicious and gives me relentless acne. As I see it, most cheeses require milk, an acid like citric acid or vinegar, and rennet. Specific flavors can be added and the curds can be aged, but at its core cheese contains those basic ingredients.

  • Acid: would you drink a glass of milk followed by a shot of vinegar? Probably not. When you add acid to milk it begins to curdle, forming solid pieces. Doing this over medium heat while skimming those curds away from the whey forms ricotta in it’s most basic form. This is how most cheese making processes start.
  • Rennet: rennet comes from enzymes found in cow stomachs, so not exactly vegan but plant-based substitutes have existed for years. Vegetarian rennet, derived from artichokes, cardoons or nettles, does the job just as well and has been used in traditional Spanish and Portuguese cheeses. The rennet helps the soured milk curds solidify into cheese by working with proteins to coagulate. In order for rennet to work, milk must already be high in calcium and phosphate (which is why rennet might not work well with older milk or goat’s milk).
  • Aging: I love fermentation. Allowing the flavors in cheese to develop over time with bacterial growth gives certain cheese that funky allure. Earthy rinds on brie and savory umami from Parmesan turn the curdled milk into culinary delicacies.

So then how does rennet coagulate almond milk despite a lack of calcium?

In my short experience making vegan cheese, the process involves no coagulation at all. In fact, vegan ricotta involves no cooking at all. The ‘curds’ are not formed by intentionally spoiling the milk, but by incorporating macadamia nuts. The nuts add fat content as well as texture (just make sure to both soak and blend them enough so you aren’t left with any grit in the finished product). While the vegan cheese did not behave like ricotta and did not melt, I’d say that what it lacked in textural satisfaction it made up for in flavor. And yes, I love a good cheese pull and much as the next person, but I believe cheese should act as a flavor enhancer to the dish and not simply a textural layer (unless we’re talking grilled cheese or pizza, then the pull is crucial to the dish, and flavor and texture are equally important). The citric acid provided that curdled tang and the bits of ground macadamia nuts added that grainy texture that ricotta takes on after some time draining.

Vegan products, until very recently with the injection of ‘bleeding’ plant-based burgers into the main stream, have been engineered to behave like their non-vegan counterparts and not necessarily taste as such. Vegan cheeses offered textural similarities to dairy cheeses, but struggled to emulate flavors unique to cultured dairy. Slices of vegan cheese could melt like American cheese but could not offer any flavorful addition to a dish (I mean, American cheese offers very little but STILL).

Recently, vegan cheese makers have employed culturing and aging methods to better assimilate vegan cheese into the world of artisanal cheese plates, moving away from coconut oil-based emulsions and leaning towards something based on fats naturally found in cashews and macadamia nuts. Flavors from nutritional yeast add the missing umami lacking from other attempts.

Now to the more philosophical stuff: is vegan cheese even cheese?

When it comes to finding a food substitute, I understand the inherent identity crisis. Artificial meat is still not meat. Almond milk is technically not milk, but calling it creamy almond juice does not necessarily have the same ring to it. Therefore, vegan cheese by definition is not actually cheese. Cheese by definition is formed by curdling milk, and as I mentioned earlier, alt milk cannot curdle. However, who cares when environmental, ethical or dietary needs are on the line? I think progress in the vegan cheese world proves that artisanship and flavor do not need to fall to the wayside to craft a substitute. Relying on crutches like soy often minimize the clientele as more folks see soy farming as problematic to the environment, and can’t shake soy’s bad reputation despite contradictory research. With advancements in vegan cheese making, there could soon be environmentally sustainable, health conscious and flavor-comparable substitutes hitting the mainstream as hard as imitation meat burgers.

Bowl of Pasta with Red Sauce

My Non-Recipe Recipe for Tomato Sauce

food

Every Italian person can make a red sauce based on pure instinct. Period. It doesn’t mean it’s the perfect sauce for everyone but damn it’s a sauce that makes you proud. Maybe it’s inconsistent, but Italian cooking has always been about availability and making something work. It’s about utilizing what you have to make something greater than the sum of its parts. Folks get very caught up in validating or invalidating Italian food when in reality, Italian food isn’t one cuisine but a holistic way of cooking. In reality, nothing about tomato sauce is Italian. Tomatoes are from Mexico, and Italy didn’t even exist when tomatoes traversed the Atlantic.

So cook with what you like and what you have. If you don’t know where to start, here’s what I always and never do to make my sauce distinctly mine.

Always:

  • I always start my sauce with onion and garlic. I slice the onion nice and thin and let it sweat out in olive oil and salt until it becomes translucent. Garlic goes in after the onions have released some liquid (garlic can burn easily so don’t add it at the same time as onion). Sometimes it’s 3 cloves, sometimes it’s more.
  • Salt throughout! Don’t wait until the end to add salt. Build the flavor starting with salting the onion and taste as you go. The sauce should reduce so constantly check your seasoning.
  • Use three herbs: basil, oregano and bay leaf. I find that these three (any variation in any amount) imbue the most iconic flavors to the sauce. If I have fresh basil, I’ll definitely take advantage of it, but dried basil and oregano do the job just fine. The bay leaf seemingly doesn’t add anything, but I was always told to add a bay leaf to take some of the acidity out, reducing the chance of heartburn and indigestion. I thought it was some Old Nonna Tale, but apparently bay leaves reduce inflammation and can aid digestion.
  • Let the sauce cook down! I don’t always add tomato paste (because I don’t always have it on hand) but cooking down your sauce and scraping the concentrated tomato that builds up along the interior sides of the pot add more flavor, basically mimicking tomato paste!
  • Whole, crushed or pureed tomatoes are my favorite. It depends on what else is going into the sauce (i.e. meat) or what’s available. I don’t typically use diced tomatoes. I don’t know why. Yes, the can is fine unless you’re living the dream and making fresh passata all summer.

Never:

  • Use anything but olive oil. Unless it’s Marcella Hazan’s butter and onion sauce. I just like the flavor of olive oil and the higher smoke point gives you some wiggle room when sweating those onions.
  • Rosemary. I don’t know why people put rosemary in sauce. To each their own, I guess, but it’s a little too hearty for something as rich as a tomato sauce. Bright herbs only for this girl.
  • Use pre-seasoned tomatoes. Maybe it’s a quick way to get dinner on the table on occasion, but if you’re going to simmer a sauce use the unseasoned tomatoes.

So my order of operations is:

  • Sweat the onion in olive oil. Season with salt.
  • Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
  • Add tomato sauce, basil, oregano, bayleaf, salt and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer for at least 30 minutes.
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust.
  • Remove bay leaf and basil (if fresh and whole) before serving.

The simplicity is what makes this work. Add your extras like red pepper flakes, anchovy fillets or tomato paste, but consider those the icing on your weird, savory, already-delicious cake.

Roasted Squash and Feta Salad

Roasted Delicata Squash Grain Salad

food, recipes

Once upon a time there was a sophomore in college who finally had a kitchen and wanted to do nothing but cook all day. She spent the last summer working on an organic farm and just got an internship with a food magazine. Unfortunately, she also had to do things like go to class and overcome the insanity of living in a house with nine other manic 19 year old college students. Exciting. But how was she going to make this all work? She was going to bring squash from the farmer’s market to chamber choir rehearsal. That’s how.

If you couldn’t guess, that girl was me. A lot has changed. But deep down I’m still that weird girl. Catch me at work returning from lunch with a canvas bag full of produce sitting at my desk until my commute home. My affinity for squash has not changed and it’s only magnified in autumn when produce bins are overflowing with easily the most beautiful fruit. Stripes, patterns, rich colors and unique shapes coax creativity in the kitchen, too.

I was particularly inspired by delicata squash’s stripes and the way it looks like flowers when it is cut crosswise into rings. It’s so cute and the skin is edible?!? A double whammy.

For this recipe I adapted Epicurious’ Sheet-Pan Roasted Squash and Feta Salad. I’m obsessed with the idea of warm salads, especially during this time of year when mindful eating becomes difficult because the outdoor chill makes you crave cheesy pasta, and avoid cold, uncooked greens at all costs. I also watched Epicurious’ Instagram story series “At Home with Anna,” where Anna Stockwell, senior food editor, invites viewers into her kitchen and cooks dinner. Surprise, surprise, she made her version and it looked delicious, giving out those fall vibes we’re all looking for these days.

Anyway, this recipe calls for cubed bread and radicchio, but I figured the roasty squash and salty feta would pair well with farro. Plus, instead of storing and getting soggy greens, all parts maintain integrity through refrigeration and reheating. It makes a great autumnal desk lunch that can be eaten warm or cold.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cook the farro as instructed on the package. I buy Bob’s Red Mill farro from Ocean State Job Lot and I swear by it. (If Bob’s Red Mill or Job Lot want a spokesperson or brand rep PLEASE contact me.)

While the farro is simmering away, cut your delicata squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and pulp and cut into half rings. On a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil, toss squash with enough olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, flip squash and roast for an additional 8 to 10 minutes until squash takes on color and becomes soft.

While farro bubbles and squash sizzles, let’s make some dressing! Combine 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. honey, 1 tsp. thyme and salt to taste. Honestly, you can use any oil and vinegar based dressing with some herbs mixed in. I know I don’t always have thyme but I have other dried herbs that could also substitute.

Hey, cube up some feta too!

Drain any excess liquid from the farro and combine with squash in a large bowl. Add feta and mix so feta gets warm through. Toss grains, squash and feta with the dressing. Eat warm immediately, or chill for another day.

This recipe is very easily adaptable to accommodate other squash or grains depending on what’s available: swap out quinoa if you can’t find farro for a high-protein alternative; remember to remove the skin from other squash varieties, like butternut or acorn.

Vintage Amaro

Wipe Off the Dust and Drink the Old Amaro

drink, Vintage

Infatuated with the bittersweet, syrupy allure of the Aperol spritz, Americans have rediscovered a taste for aperitivo and digestivo bitters. Enter amaro. While Campari is the ruby red king of bitter aperitivi, other darker, herbaceous digestivi have resurrected in it’s wake, ready to tackle cocktail menus and bar carts across the country.

But the history of amaro goes back. Waaaay back. And in cleaning my great grandma’s house my grandma found a cardboard box of amaro from yesteryear. You see, my great grandma didn’t drink. Her amaro stash grew from generous house guests who graciously brought a bottle upon each visit. Stubborn enough to not indulge in a drop but kind enough to hold on to each bottle, my great grandma unknowingly bestowed a treasure trove of flavors unto me. Thanks Grandma Maria.

Now normally I would not condone eating old food. Don’t eat the candy you found in your closet from a Halloween of yore. But properly stored vintage alcohol? Dive in. A barrel aged bourbon develops its unique flavor because of age. A vintage red wine has subtleties that a younger wine has not yet developed. Not to say all old alcohol remains drinkable, proceed with sensible caution.

What’s in amaro?

I realize I’ve been drinking this stuff for a while and have no idea what’s in it. Oops. Each one is different, ranging from sweet like caramel to bitter like licorice, with unique secret recipes like mystical potions. Some even taste medicinal.

I’m lucky to have two vintage amari in my house: Amaro dell’Etna and Cynar. Amaro dell’Etna‘s ingredient list contains orange peel, licorice and vanilla. The recipe dates back to 1901, but is still available new in sores today. Cynar, a name derived from the latin botanical name for artichoke, is surprise surprise made of artichoke along with 13 other herbs and plants. Younger than Amaro dell’Etna, Cynar debuted in Italy in 1952.

The bitterness makes them adequate swaps for bitters in classic cocktails. Each unique blend also can suffice as the base for a contact and/or enjoyed on it’s own or with seltzer. The versatility alone makes a no-brainer case for keeping amaro in your home bar. Don’t worry, there’s one for everyone.

Is old amaro safe to drink?

Short answer, yes. Finding a bottle of Campari from 1950 is an incredible feat for negroni aficionados. But proper storage can make or break a vintage. Like Campari and Cynar, liqueurs don’t need to be refrigerated due to the sugar content. Approach vintage vermouth, lillet and any other fortified wines with caution. Opened or unopened, when exposed to light and heat, fortified wines can lose umf.

Where to store vintage amaro?

To reiterate, amaro’s sugar content keeps it shelf stable. So room temperature storage should not be a problem. However, take caution when drinking an old amaro that’s already been open. While oxidation won’t harm you, it will impact the thickness as the sugars turn into glycerin. It’s just a recipe for meh amaro experience. Best to keep vintage amaro unopened and out of direct sunlight until ready to drink.

What happens to the flavor?

The resulting flavor of aged amari varies greatly between styles. Additionally, due to changes in machinery and ownership, while ingredients might be the same every time, amari can vary between decades as well. Flavor can become sweeter and more syrupy or mellow as the bitter herbs meld together further. It’s an adventurous way to taste beyond switching between styles of amaro. Trying today’s version of Cynar, for example, alongside my beloved found bottle can showcase how the flavors evolved over time.

Let’s talk labels

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve had an infatuation with vintage alcohol labels for a very long time: the art nouveau styles of absinthe ads to the futurism era Campari posters shaped my appreciation for the liqueurs. The text and colors of these labels tell so much about when they were conceived. The Amaro dell’Etna, with an older formula, uses embellished text and a painted landscape paying homage to a classic style, while the Cynar label uses block text and a modern design ringing in the 1950’s idea of the future. While both labels now reflect the past, each exists in its own era forever, reflecting the art and sentiment of each era.

Cocktail connoisseurs and vintage collectors can appreciate the impact these liqueurs have had on the culinary and advertising worlds. If you aren’t lucky enough to inherit a dusty cardboard box of amaro, you can taste older bottles at specialty wine shops and cocktail bars. If you’re curious to try an amaro at all, the next time you’re interested in an Aperol spritz at the bar, ask for one with a different bitter liqueur instead.