Sunday Supper: Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe


Rumor has it that this summer has been one of the coolest on record in the San Francisco Bay area with even more fog than usual. Luckily, we missed most of it, but I am not gloating. Instead, we witnessed record breaking heat and torrential rains in Europe, 100 percent humidity on the East coast and the excuse to wear fleece in Iceland. This has, indeed, been a season of extreme weather (although, for Iceland, I think extreme is more the norm).

Now we are home and experiencing some of that chilly San Francisco weather, but I can’t say that I mind. After all, summer is winding down, school is starting, and my New England DNA has me programmed to look forward to a brisk autumn season. Not only does the fresh air beget fires and woolies, it also invites cozy, rustic cooking. And what better way to start the season than with a casual, comforting Sunday supper?

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

The heat of sausage mingles with earthy broccoli rabe and sweet red bell pepper. I like to serve this dish straight from the skillet, accompanied by a salad of mixed greens, fresh country-style bread and a glass of Côtes du Rhône. Serves 4.

1 pound orecchiette pasta

1/2 pound broccoli rabe, washed, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound hot Italian sausage, crumbled
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for serving:

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water until al dente; drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, bring another large pot of salted water to boil. Add broccoli rabe and blanch 30 seconds; drain. Plunge broccoli rabe into a bowl of ice water. Cool and drain again. Lay in one layer on a kitchen towel to thoroughly dry. Cut in 1″ pieces.
Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add crumbled sausage to the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel.
Pour off all but one tablespoon of accumulated oil in the skillet. Add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds.  Add red bell pepper, broccolil rabe, pepper and salt. Sauté one minute. Add sausage and cook until heated through.
Remove skillet from heat.
Add cooked pasta and cheese to the skillet; toss to combine. Serve with additional grated cheese on the side.

Orrechietti with Prosciutto, Asparagus, Peas and Mint

Pasta Peas Prosciutto

It was a good day at the farmer’s market today. Spring is in full force in Northern California.  Baskets of arugula, mesclun, mustard greens and kale flowers vied for attention between tables teetering with asparagus, artichokes, fava beans and sugar peas.  I discovered elephant garlic scapes, nibbled on Venezuelan artisan chocolate, sampled extra-virgin olive oil and a sublime balsamic vinegar.  The sun was strong in the sky after a week of rain.  It was only 8:30 in the morning.

In usual fashion, my money ran out before my eyes and tastebuds tired.  Each time I go to the market I promise myself I will walk through the stalls first – just to look, taste samples, take pictures, and restrain myself from heavy purchases.  Once through I will double back to stock up, saving the heaviest items for last: citrus, potatoes and tubers, bottles of oil, kilos of meat.

In a perfect world.

This time, I made it through two thirds of the market before I had to turn back, my shopping bags bulging, my arms aching from dangling plastic sacks, handbag and camera, everything dusted in a coat of flour from ficelles balancing in the crook of my elbow.  A woman passed me pulling a smart trolley layered with wicker baskets filled with her market harvest, gracefully maneuvering through the crowds, stopping and chatting, tasting, selecting.  I made a mental note to find one of those for myself.

This recipe is inspired by today’s acquisitions and the TasteFood recipe archives:

Orrechietti with Prosciutto, Asparagus, Peas and Mint
Serves 4

6 ounces (170 g.) prosciutto
1 pound (500 g.) asparagus, ends trimmed, cut on the diagonal in 1″ pieces

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup (125 ml.) chicken stock
1 1/2 cups (375 ml.) heavy cream
1 cup shelled English peas
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground black pepper

Additional grated Pecorino Romano for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 F./170 C.  Arrange prosciutto slices on baking sheet.  Bake in oven 15 minutes.  Turn off oven and leave prosciutto in for additional 15 minutes.  Remove.  Break prosciutto into 1/2″ pieces.  Set aside.

Steam asparagus pieces until tender but still firm.  Remove from heat and rinse under cold water; set aside.

In a large saucepan cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain and return to pot.
While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in skillet.  Add garlic and cook until aromatic but not brown, about 1 minute.  Add stock and cream.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer and cook until reduced by a third.  Add peas and cook one minute.  Add asparagus, half the prosciutto, and freshly ground black pepper, stirring to combine.  Add cream sauce to the orrechietti. Stir in 1 cup Pecorino Romano and 1/4 cup mint. Serve immediately. Garnish with additional grated Pecorino Romano cheese, mint leaves and remaining prosciutto.

Easy Late Summer Dinner: Tomato Tart

Easy Late Summer Dinner: Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart

Early September brings beautiful tomatoes, their sunny colors cheerily keeping autumn at bay, reminding us that summer is not yet finished.  Sweet, juicy, sunkissed heirlooms, early girls, and cherries promise to bring a little sunshine to our dinner plates while the days grow shorter, cooler and crisper.

This tomato tart is an easy, light dinner for a busy weekday night that takes advantage of the kaleidescope of cherry tomatoes falling in our gardens and showcased in the market. The tart’s ease of preparation is, in part, due to the usage of store-bought frozen puff pastry dough.  I confess that as much as I try to homemake everything, homemade pastry (unless made well ahead of time and frozen) doesn’t conveniently figure into a spontaneous week night meal.  Fortunately, high quality frozen pastry dough is available in many stores.  I buy mine at Whole Foods, and while the price is not cheap, I see it as a break-even when considering the cost of the ingredients and time I would need to make it myself.

Tomato Tart
Serves 4 as a light meal or 6-8 as a side dish

1 sheet (11 oz./300 g.) frozen puff-pastry dough, thawed
1 1/2 lbs. (750 g.) cherry tomatoes, multi-colored if possible, halved lengthwise
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram

Prepare tart:
Preheat oven to 400 F. (200 C.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4″ thickness.  Pierce dough all over with a fork, leaving a 1″ border in tact.  Transfer dough to a parchment-lined baking tray and refrigerate 15 minutes.
Bake in oven until lightly golden, 12-15 minutes.  Remove from oven, but do not turn off heat.

Arrange tomato halves, cut-side up, on crust, leaving the 1″ border clear. Drizzle tart with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Return to oven and bake 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.  Remove tart from oven, and transfer to serving platter.  Garnish with fresh marjoram (or basil) and serve immediately.

For a complete rustic meal serve with a wedge of soft, runny Camembert or Saint Nectaire cheese, thick slices of pain paysan and a salad of mixed seasonal greens.



My Big Fat Greek Dinner

When it’s hot outside, the food I crave is Greek. These Greek-inspired lamb kebabs are packed with herbs, spices and the heat of cayenne. They are positively addictive and perfect for a party and easy entertaining. Nearly everything can be prepared in advance, and a barbeque is required.  What more could you ask for?  Oh, yes: Good friends, great wine and perhaps a little Ouzo.

To complete the menu, serve these spicy, more-ish kebabs with smoky, Middle-Eastern harissa and creamy, garlicky tsatsiki.  Accompany with a greek salad brimming with garden fresh vegetables, feta cheese and kalamata olives and roasted potatoes. By the end of the meal your tastebuds will be singing, and your guests will be begging for more.

Greek Plate

Grilled Spiced Lamb Kebabs
Makes 16

16 small bamboo skewers, pre-soaked in water for at least 30 minutes

Lamb kebabs:
2 pounds ground lamb
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped, about 1 cup
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing

Garnishes and accompaniments:
Fresh mint leaves
Pita bread
Harissa sauce

Combine all the kebab ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Gather a small handful of the meat in your hand and form it lengthwise around a skewer so that the meat is covering 3/4 of the skewer. Place on plate or tray.
Repeat with remaining meat and skewers. Lightly brush the kebabs with olive oil. (The skewers can be assembled up to 6 hours in advance. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling.)

Grill the skewers over medium-high heat or broil in the oven turning to brown all sides and cooked through the centers, about 10 minutes. Arrange on a serving platter and garnish with fresh mint leaves. Serve with pita bread, tsatsiki, and harissa sauce.

Spaghetti alla Norma: Sicilian-Style Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Basil and Ricotta

Alla norma

This divine Sicilian pasta dish often elicits the question: Who is Norma?  Theories abound, and one of them is that the dish was named in honor of Bellini, a native of Catania, Sicily.  Bellini’s opera “Norma” was so popular with his compatriots, that it inspired the creation of a new superlative – una vera Norma – to sing praise of any good deed or object.  Years later, the author Nino Martaglio tasted this traditional dish from Sicily and was so delighted by it that he called in Spaghetti alla Norma.  You will agree that this dish is una vera Norma.

Sicilian-Style Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Basil and Ricotta  Spaghetti alla Norma
Serves 4

1 large firm eggplant (aubergine)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
I small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz./800 g. can Italian plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Pinch of sugar

1 lb./500 g. dried spaghetti

1/2 cup shaved Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
Handful fresh basil leaves
Fresh buffalo mozzarella, cut in slivers

Prepare the eggplant:
Trim ends.  Cut horizontally in 1/4″ slices. Arrange in one layer on baking tray.  Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill in oven, turning once, until browned and softened.  Remove.  Cut the slices in thirds.  Set aside.

Prepare tomato sauce:
Heat two tablespoons olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and sauté until it begins to give off juices, about 2 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté one minute.  Add tomatoes with juices and oregano.  Simmer 10 minutes, stirring to break up tomatoes.  Add sugar.  Stir in eggplant slices and simmer additional 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add spaghetti and cook until al dente.  Drain.  Return spaghetti to pot and add eggplant mixture.  Add 1/2 cup ricotta salata.  Toss to combine.  Serve garnished with fresh basil leaves, slivers of buffalo mozzarella cheese and extra ricotta salata.