Fresh Cod in a Paper Bag with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Mint

RECIPE: Fresh Cod in a Paper Bag with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Mint
Summer Provençal Cod en Papillote

Summer Provençal Cod en Papillote

Even when you’re cooking for two, even when it’s the middle of the week, even when you don’t want a whole fuss for dinner, you can make something that looks really fancy and French that at the same time is about the easiest way to foolproof cooking.

En papillote, also known as, a paper bag.

Papillote

The Paper Bag

When you cook en papillote, you put all your ingredients (your side veggies, your fish or chicken, and your sauce ingredients) into a parchment packet (or use that knew paper-lined foil to make it even easier), and bake it.  The veggies soften.  The fish or chicken steams and is tender and juicy.  And any garlic or wine or butter you put in the packets stews together into its own little sauce.  Then you just serve this elegant packet for dinner, cut into it, eat, and throw it out and you haven’t even dirtied a pot.

It’s genius.

This version is light and fresh and punchy.  I cut up some zucchini and put them at the bottom of my packet.  Then, a nice piece of thick, white cod.  Over that, I put garlic, chilies, mint, basil, and cherry tomatoes, followed by some olive oil, butter, and white wine to make the sauce (make sure to make the most of that white and have a glass while you cook!).  Then I fold it all together, and bake it in the oven for 12 minutes.  You have light, flaky fish, tender-crisp zucchini, roasted tomatoes, and this really bright, slightly spicy sauce.  It’s great.  But you could take this recipe and do whatever you want with it.  No cod?  Use any boneless, skinless fish you like.  If you don’t want to bother with fresh herbs or chilies, you could leave them out.  You could add asparagus or sugar snaps instead of zucchini.  The world is your oyster.

The point is, it looks great, it tastes fantastic, there’s no way to mess it up, and you don’t have to wash a single pot.  I love paper bags.

Uncooked Cod en Papillote

Full assembled, right before the oven

From my weekly column Dinner for Two on Serious Eats.  Check it out every Friday!

Fresh Cod in a Paper Bag with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Mint
serves 2

Summer Provençal Cod en PapilloteINGREDIENTS

  • 2 small to medium zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 2 6-ounce boneless, skinless cod fillets
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 small red chili, thinly sliced, or a pinch of dried chili flakes
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 8 leaves of fresh basil
  • 12 leaves of fresh mint
  • 16 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Assemble the packets.  Using either two large rectangles of parchment or parchment-lined foil (parchment on the inside), divide the zucchini between the two and spread out the zucchini discs on one half of the parchment, leaving a one-inch border.  On top of each bed of zucchini, place the cod, and season everything with salt and pepper.  Then top with half the chili, garlic, basil, mint, and tomatoes.  Over each packet, spoon 1 tablespoon each of olive oil, butter, and wine.  Then, seal the pack by folding up the edges (I find a strategically placed staple really helps the parchment packets stay sealed).  For traditional papillote folding technique, read this: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/03/how-to-cook-food-en-papillote-packages-vegetables-meat-fish.html.  Place the sealed packets on a baking sheet, and cook for 12 minutes.  Then cut into the packets, and eat!

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Dinner for Two, Easy, Eat, Fish, Main Courses, Recipes, Series
 

Boursin and Gruyère Spinach and Artichoke Gratin Dip

RECIPE: Boursin and Gruyère Spinach and Artichoke Gratin Dip
Spinach and Artichoke Hot Boursin Dip

Spinach and Artichoke Hot Boursin Dip

London is a city of dinner parties.  I assure you they can get quite competitive.  And dinner party food in small city apartments is a very specific type of food: gasp-inducing, crowd-pleasing, and, this is a must, very simple to put together.  At the risk of sounding like Emily Post, no one likes a haggard hostess!

I’m a sucker for French-American “fusion”, and this is my dinner party wonder, a French take on the all-American artichoke and spinach dip.  Don’t let its pre-movie fast-food connotations deter you.  It’s excellent, and people love it.

I chop together one pound of frozen spinach and one can of artichoke hearts.  Healthy!  Next comes a slug of white wine, a box of garlic and herbs Boursin cheese, cream cheese, and Gruyère.  Everything bakes together in the oven like a gratin: the wine starts bubbling up, the Gruyère melts into a golden, elastic blanket, the cream cheese makes everything smoothly dippable.  But the secret ingredient is most certainly the Boursin, which in one little box adds creaminess, herbaceousness, and that strong, distinct Boursin garlic flavor.  I toast up little baguette chips to go alongside, although you could use pita chips, or even, like in the all-American chains, get some really good corn chips.  Plunge the chip into the dish of hot, fragrant, green stuff and it will emerge covered in thick creamed spinach, wafting the savory aromas of Boursin.  It is so good!

Boursin Spinach and Artichoke Dip on a Baguette Chip

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Boursin and Gruyère Spinach and Artichoke Gratin Dip
serves 6 to 8

Spinach and Artichoke Hot Boursin DipINGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound frozen chopped spinach, thawed with the liquid pressed out
  • 1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 5 1/2 ounces garlic and herb Boursin, room temperature
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 baguettes, thinly sliced
  • Drizzle of olive oil

PROCEDURE

Arrange the oven rack in the middle position.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a large bowl, stir together the spinach, artichokes, wine, Boursin, cream cheese, and 1 cup of Gruyère.  Season with salt and pepper, and mix until thoroughly combined.  Spread the mixture in a baking or gratin dish large enough to hold everything.  Top with the remaining cup of Gruyère.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Then, turn on the broiler, and broil just until the top is golden brown.

To make the baguette chips (if using), turn the oven down to 350 degrees F.  Arrange the baguette slices in an even layer on a baking sheet (you will need at least two baking sheets).  Drizzle very lightly with olive oil, and toast for 10 to 12 minutes, until crisp and golden around the edges.  Repeat with any remaining baguette slices.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Bread & Butter, Cheap, Dips, Spreads, Preserves, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, French in a Flash, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian
 

French Rev on VMAC & Cheese

VMACI loved, loved, loved this profile on French Rev by the lovely and talented Victoria McGinley of VMAC & Cheese, a super-chic lifestyle blog with a real zest for all the best things in life.  Please check it out, and visit her blog.  She just got back from France, and has some great posts on what she saw there.

The profile: http://vmacandcheese.com/2012/06/27/behind-the-scenes-with-french-revolution/

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Hearty Tortellini Pasta e Fagioli

RECIPE: Hearty Tortellini Pasta e Fagioli
Tortellini Pasta E Fagioli

Tortellini Pasta E Fagioli

When I was growing up, there was an Italian dive half a block away on First Avenue.  The front was a pizza parlor, but to locals, the lesser-known back was Little Italy moved uptown (New York has long been a city of hidden hotspots), and all the families from our building would plunge into bowls of New York Italian staples, all in a sort of Diluvian flood of marinara.  I can’t remember what it was called, and it’s not there anymore, which is a shame because their baked ziti was something else.  But I’ll always remember it because it was the first place I tried one of my great food favorites: Pasta e Fagioli, that thick tomatoey soup studded with ditalini, creamy white beans, and that little hint of pancetta floating through the broth.  It’s so simple and honest.  It fills you up and it tastes good.  And that’s that.

I like making comfort food, especially nostalgic comfort food, for me and Mr. English during the week, just because whatever trauma happened at the office that day is washed down with a spoonful of dinner and a swig of wine.  So here is my fast, easy take on Pasta e Fagioli à la First Avenue in 1989.

I start with a mirepoix, which is just a fancy way of saying some chopped onion, carrot, and celery, which is a great start to any soup.  But if you don’t feel like buying veggies or chopping, you can actually leave this out.  It gives a nice vegetal crunch to the soup, but because we are using bought broth, you don’t need the extra flavor if you want to make this an even quicker dinner.  Then, simply pour in some bought marinara sauce (You know they were doing this back on First Avenue.  The stuff was everywhere!) and some vegetable or chicken broth, and bring to a boil.  Next, add canned cannellini beans for that traditional creamy heartiness, and instead of ditalini, those tiny little pasta rings, I add prosciutto- or pancetta-stuffed baby tortellini.  This does two things.  First, I don’t have to add and render pancetta into the soup.  All the smoky ham flavor comes from the all-purpose, cheesy, meaty stuffing of my baby tortellini.  And second, it gives this soup that really thick, stew-like quality that is its signature.  Then, if I have some around, I stir in some Parm or sliced up prosciutto.  But at its barest bones, this soup is four ingredients and five minutes to backroom New York hearty happiness.  Perfect for the middle of the week, and so good that even though I was out for dinner last night, I came home and had a bowl at eleven o’clock just because I could.  I couldn’t resist!

From my weekly column Dinner for Two on Serious Eats.  Check it out every Friday!

Hearty Tortellini Pasta e Fagioli
serves 2

Tortellini Pasta E FagioliINGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small carrot, chopped (optional)
  • 2 small celery stalks, chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups tomato basil or marinara sauce
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 14.5-ounce can of cannellini beans
  • 1 pound any ham tortellini, such as pancetta or prosciutto, preferably mini-sized
  • Grated Parmesan to garnish
  • Thinly sliced prosciutto to garnish (optional)

PROCEDURE

Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium heat and add the vegetables.  Season with salt and pepper, and stir often until the onion is translucent.  Add the tomato sauce and broth, and bring to a rolling boil.  Add the beans and ham tortellini, and cover to two minutes until the tortellini are just cooked.  Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan and prosciutto.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Dinner for Two, Easy, Eat, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Soup, Soup & Salad
 

Fall-Apart Lamb Braised with Mustard and Mint

RECIPE: Fall-Apart Lamb Braised with Mustard and Mint
Braised Lamb with Mustard and Mint

Braised Lamb with Mustard and Mint

Every other month I wait by my mailbox for my favorite magazine: Elle à Table.  I pay a small fortune to import it from France, but it’s worth every centime.  It’s full of all the glossy, chic, too-cool-for-school French recipes and hot spots and food trends, and I eat it up.  It’s offered me a few inspirations over the years, and this week I was heartily rewarded for my subscription fee.

I saw a recipe for lamb stewed with mustard and mint.  I shut the magazine right there—I don’t like to see the ingredients for fear that I’ll copycat.  So I set about making my own version.  Lamb shank, on the bone, seared in olive oil, and simmered in a broth flavored with shallots, garlic, beef stock, wine, Worcestershire sauce, whole grain mustard, and an entire bunch of fresh mint.  The meat jitters in the pot for two hours until it just gives up and falls off the bone.  The bone itself and the heat of the oven reduce the sauce until it coats a spoon in that deliciously velvety way that you know only means good things, and the top of the lamb gets crisp like barbecue.  The Worcestershire just makes it all taste like meaty gravy, and the whole grain mustard is surprisingly gentle, imparting a sweet sting to the broth.  But the pièce de résistance is the mint—left of the stem, strewn haphazardly over the meat and then baked for hours, it imparts just a lightness, and surprising savoriness, to the dish.  No surprise that mint goes well with lamb, but this goes so far beyond 1980s neon mint jelly that it’s like coming to the discovery all on one’s own.

I made this for our Sunday evening roast, and Mr. English didn’t even look up from his plate until he peered at mine and asked, “are you gonna finish that?”

Success.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Fall-Apart Lamb Braised with Mustard and Mint
serves 4

Braised Lamb with Mustard and MintINGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 lamb shanks (about 3 pounds)
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, left on the stem

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In a braising pan, heat the olive oil over high heat.  Season the lamb with salt and pepper and sear until brown on all sides.  Add the shallots and garlic, and stir into the oil.  Immediately add the wine, and boil for 1 minute.  Add the beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard.  Stir everything together, and bring to a boil.  Cover the top of the ingredients with the sprigs of fresh mint, and cover the pot.  Cook in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is falling off the bone.  Simmer on the stove to thicken the sauce if desired.

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Five-Spice Fried Calamari with Sesame and Lime

RECIPE: Five-Spice Fried Calamari with Sesame and Lime
Five-Spice Fried Calamari with Sesame and Lime

Five-Spice Fried Calamari with Sesame and Lime

My weeknight repertoire tends toward the healthy. Fish. Beans. Pasta is about as decadent as I usually go. And yet, sometimes, that just isn’t enough.

Calamari is like an upmarket version of fish sticks. It’s both comforting and slightly elevated. A lot of people get nervous about frying, or about seafood in general, but fried seafood is one of the easiest things you can make, and it cooks in less than two minutes.

Just take some calamari rings, toss them in a Ziploc bag with flour, sesame seeds, and Chinese five spice powder, and quickly fry them up. If you don’t own a thermometer to test your oil temperature, don’t worry. If it sizzles when you add the calamari, it’s hot enough. You know they’re done when they look crispy and golden. Then, just squirt with some lime juice and top with fresh herbs, and you’ve got dinner.

I keep calamari in my freezer and toss it in the fridge to defrost the morning I want to make it for dinner. With ingredients like Chinese five spice powder, you have all the flavor in one jar. Just add a cold beer, and the night is perfect.

From my weekly column Dinner for Two on Serious Eats.  Check it out every Friday!

Five-Spice Fried Calamari with Sesame and Lime
serves 2

Five-Spice Fried Calamari with Sesame and LimeIngredients

  • 1 pound calamari tubes and tentacles
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese five spice powder
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds, black or white
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Sea salt
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (optional)
  • Lime wedges

PROCEDURE

Prepare the calamari by slicing the tubes into 1/2-inch strips and cutting the tentacles in half down the center.  Rinse and drain.

In a large plastic food storage bag, toss together the flour, Chinese five spice powder, and sesame seeds.  Add the calamari, and season with salt.  Seal and shake the bag until the calamari is coated in the flour mixture.

Fill a cast iron pan about halfway with vegetable oil, and heat until the oil reaches 365 to 370 degrees F.  Shake the excess flour off the calamari and fry, in batches if necessary, for about 2 minutes until golden brown and crisp.  Drain on a paper towel.  Top with sea salt, green onion, cilantro, extra sesame seeds, and lime zest (or any combination of the preceding), and serve with lime wedges.  Done!

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Cheap, Dinner for Two, Eat, Fish, For a Crowd, Main Courses, Recipes, Series
 

One-Pot Sausages and Lentils with Sweet Roasted Shallots

RECIPE: One-Pot Sausages and Lentils with Sweet Roasted Shallots
So-Easy, One Pot Blistered Sausages with Lentils and Sweet Roasted Shallots

So-Easy, One Pot Blistered Sausages with Lentils and Sweet Roasted Shallots

One of my favorite pastimes is reading French menus. Tantalizing. Always full of combinations that seem so obvious in retrospect, but that would never have occurred to me. Strawberries and thyme. Salmon and lentils. Pears and ham. They are where I get most of my cooking inspiration, even when I never try the dish I spy somewhere after Entrées and before Désserts.

One night last summer when I was in Nice with my family and Mr. English, I skittered between two restaurants half a block apart, reading their menus. “This one, this one!” I begged. I had spied something, a local specialty, that I just had to try: sausages and lentils. So humble, and yet I knew it would be elegant in its simplicity. Really good, firm French lentils that never lose their figure. Sausages full of smoky bacon, wine, and garlic that snapped under the point of a knife. Both the sausages and the lentils were listed next to their provenance. These were special sausages, special lentils, with a pedigree and a history. Who could resist?

Apparently, my entire family and Mr. English. They all wanted to go to the pasta place down the street. So I consoled myself, as I twirled my tagliatelle with pistou around the tines of my fork, that I would try sausages and lentils at home. And I have, in about ten different ways. This recipe is how to make sausages and lentils—one of those genius French combinations I stole from a French menu—in a jiffy.

I toss slivered shallots and Toulouse sausages—full of bacon, red wine, and garlic—with olive oil, and roast them until the sausages blister and the shallots caramelize. Then, I hit them with a splash of white wine and easy, organic canned du Puy lentils. After adding some torn herbs and giving it a few minutes under the broiler, the one-pot peasant dinner is done. I serve it with a greens and walnut salad tossed in a whole grain honey mustard dressing. It has all that French country charm with a distinctly American practicality that I love. Really French in a Flash.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

One-Pot Sausages and Lentils with Sweet Roasted Shallots
serves 2

So-Easy, One Pot Blistered Sausages with Lentils and Sweet Roasted ShallotsINGREDIENTS

  • 6 shallots
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 14 ounces Toulouse sausages (about 6 links)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans du Puy lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup water
  • A pinch of dried Herbes de Provence
  • Torn fresh parsley or thyme to garnish

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. To prepare the shallots, top them, and then cut them in half.  Peel the halves, and shave off the little beard at the bottom.  The slice, not too thinly, pole to pole.

Heat the oil in a sautépan over medium heat until it shimmers.  Add the shallots and sausages, and season with salt and pepper.  Shake to coat everything in the oil, and bake in the oven until the shallots are soft and caramelized and the sausages blistered, about half an hour, stirring once or twice.

Take the pot from the oven and place on the stove over high heat.  Add the wine, and bring to a boil.  Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, then add the lentils, water, and herbes de Provence, and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer until the liquid is mostly evaporated.  Stir in the fresh herbs, and serve with green salad and torn fresh bread.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Series