Meatballs are so romantic. I’ve been in love with them ever since I saw Tramp nudge one over to Lady across the spaghetti supper. I think I’ve been dreaming of re-enacting that scene, sans whiskers and wet noses (or with, who am I kidding?), since I was five (note to Mr. English).
Yes, meatballs are awesome, but they are also complicated to make and a process to perfect. The best have three types of meat, separately cooked flavorings, and bread soaked in milk. Italian grandmothers make meatballs on Sundays–even they don’t have time the rest of the week! I’m guessing you don’t either.
So, Mr. English and I kind of look exactly like them. Is that wrong?
I have a secret to making instantaneous meatballs: sausage. I just buy it, and my meatballs are pretty much done. Roll the sausage meat into balls between your hands, put them in the oven, and that’s it. They already taste like garlic and fennel and herbs and spices, and you didn’t have to do anything. Buy turkey (because it’s healthy) or pork (because it’s delicious), and toss them with multigrain penne, tongue-burning spicy sauce, and sweet peppers and onions. I’ll take care of the recipe. But finding a checked tablecloth, candlelight, accordionist, and Tramp (man or dog) are all up to you.
Spicy Penne with Instantaneous Meatballs
1 pound Italian sausage (pork or turkey, not spicy)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 orange, red, or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced in strips
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced in half-moons
1 jar arrabiata sauce (recommended: Mario Batali)
1 box multigrain penne pasta (recommended: Barilla Plus)
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional!)
Freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional!)
Salt & Pepper
Bring a large pot of water to boil, covered, over high heat. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Make the meatballs from the sausage. Pull little chunks of meat out of the casing from one end of a link of sausage. Roll it into a ball, and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Where I buy my sausage, I get 4 ¼-pound links, and each link yields 5 meatballs. Repeat until all the sausage meat is used. Discard the casings. If using turkey sausage, spray the tops of the meatballs with cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in sauté pan over medium-low heat until the oil loosens up in the pan, spreads out, and starts to shimmer. Add the peppers and onions to the pot. It should sizzle. Season the veggies with salt and pepper, and stir often for 15 minutes. The veggies will the soft, and a little golden around the edges. Add the jar of arrabiata sauce to the vegetables, and cover.
At this point, the water should be boiling, and the sausage meatballs should have been in the oven for 20 minutes. Salt the boiling water, and add the pasta. Stir once, and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Immediately add the sausage meatballs carefully into the simmering sauce and veggie mixture, make sure the meatballs are submerged, and cover. Cook on low until the pasta is done.
Drain the pasta well, and add it back to its big pot. Pour the sauce, veggies, and meatballs over the pasta and stir gently until everything is tossed together. Top with Parmesan, and maybe some parsley, and you’re in business!
If you don’t want this dish to be really spicy, use a jar of marinara sauce instead of arrabiata sauce, and add a pinch of crushed red pepper.
If you don't want to cut up anything, just leave the veggies out!
My mom always made the best pesto sauce. Growing up in New York, we would spend these long, leafy summers in Woodstock, in a house on a big mountain. Everything about the place, the whole town, was just summer. Buzzing bees. Big swimming pools with decks that gave you splinters in your feet. Black raspberry ice cream cones. And the best farmstand ever. I would buy warm, seedy watermelon juices there every day, and my mom would buy bunches of basil. What is better than basil in the summer? She would make homemade pesto sauce, full of nuts and cheese, and toss it with pillows of ricotta-stuffed ravioli. We would eat on the deck of the wood-sided house as the hot sun sank down. With memories like that, I’m not surprised pesto is still one of my favorite foods.
Reader and friend Jenn asked for a video on how to make pesto. Great request. It’s one of those things that’s so easy; after someone has shown you how to make it once, you’ll make it a million times. Here’s my easy pesto rule-of-three: 3 cups of basil, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons pine nuts, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, and 1 clove of garlic. Blend it in a food processor, and you have perfect pesto.
If you want a good pesto pasta, boil up some fusilli. Toss it with the pesto, and add some of the pasta cooking water to loosen up the pesto around the pasta. But don’t stop there. Toss some gnocchi with pesto and a pat of butter and extra Parm. Use this pesto in last week’s Working Girl Dinner, and roast fish or shrimp or scallops in pesto sauce. Toss pesto into a pot of steaming mussels. That’s good. Or spoon a dollop over grilled steak. Or, one of my college favorites, mix the pesto with a touch of mayo, spoon onto whole wheat toast, and sandwich sliced tomato.
Watch to learn how easy it is to make homemade pesto!
Need a food processor to make your pesto? Click here to buy the one I like.
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 clove garlic
3 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and spun dry
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Scatter the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast 5 to 10 minutes, until you can smell the nuts in the oven, and they have turned golden brown. Let them come to room temperature before you use them!
Put the nuts, garlic, and basil in the food processor. Whiz them up until they are finely chopped. Add the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Whiz until smooth. Add in the cheese, and run the machine one final time to combine everything.
To save money, use chopped walnuts instead of pine nuts, and substitute spinach for half the basil.
In my slightly undietetic mind, creamy salad dressing makes lettuce worth eating. I once knew a woman who ate naked salad, and claimed it was because “she didn’t like dressing.” She was lying! To me, to herself, and to her itty-bitty waist. That’s mind over matter. Her mind could run a marathon around mine.
Normally, I always go for chunky blue cheese. But lately I’ve been having really wonderful creative cheesy dressings–most recently with cheddar and avocado. I love salad with goat cheese–the traditional crispy or warm goat cheese Parisian bistro salad. Who doesn’t love that? So I made a blue cheese dressing with fresh chèvre instead of blue cheese. It is tangy and creamy and just ever-so-slightly tart and acidic. And instead of a blog of creamy cheese, it enrobes every leaf of lettuce in the salad.
With the chèvre poured over torn greenleaf lettuce, topped with garden tomatoes, snipped chives, and toasted walnuts, the salad has a definite bistro feel, but it’s easier to make, light but decadent, and a bit off the beaten track–like the avocado cheddar dressing I saw last week.
Green Salad with Creamy Goat Cheese Dressing
1.5 ounces fresh goat cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons half and half
1 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Freshly cracked black pepper
10 cups roughly chopped greenleaf lettuce (about 2 small heads)
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges
4 teaspoons finely snipped chives
6 tablespoons roughly chopped toasted walnuts
In a medium bowl, whisk together the goat cheese mayonnaise, half and half, and vinegar until mostly smooth. Season to taste with salt and a lot of black pepper.
Toss the lettuce lightly with the dressing. Save whatever is leftover in a closed container in the refrigerator. Top the salad with tomato wedges, chives, and walnuts. Serve immediately.
Down in Florida, we think coconuts are dangerous. Flying through those gusty summer hurricane winds, they’re like cannonballs or exploded fuselage, flying through the air with the greatest of speeds. You don’t want to be in a coconut’s way, oh no. Or standing underneath one when it gets ripe enough to plummet down from its palm and clock you on the head. That’s for sure.
Yes, coconuts are dangerous. They are also dangerously delicious. And what better to do with a menace to society than to eat it—take it off the streets for good! This month I had no idea what secret ingredient to do. I thought I had no secrets left. That I had spilled them all. But then it hit me, like a coconut on the head, and I want to do two months of it. We’ll see. It’s one of those few ingredients that really is sweet and savory, and that can taste so all-American, and also so ends-of-the-earth exotic.
Coconut comes in many forms. This rice pudding uses coconut milk, and dried coconut, plus a few extras like rice and sugar and cream to make this creamy coconut concoction inspired by Thai coconut rice and coconut ice cream. It’s luscious, not too sweet, decadent, exotic, and comforting. How’s that for a dessert!
Double Coconut Rice Pudding
1 cup Valencia rice
1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened dried flaked coconut, plus 6 tablespoons
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup heavy cream
Put the rice and 3 cups of water in a medium saucepot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer the rice until tender, about 18 minutes. Drain in a fine mesh colander.
Put the rice back in the pot with the coconut milk, sugar, salt, and dried coconut. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the pod to the rice. Cook on the lowest heat, uncovered, until thick: 40 minutes. Turn off the heat, and stir in the cream. Remove the vanilla pod, and discard.
Spoon the pudding into 6 serving dish, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Place a wide sauté pan over medium heat, and add the remaining 6 tablespoons dried coconut. Toast the coconut, stirring often, until just golden, but not brown—less than 90 seconds. Take out of the pan immediately so it doesn’t burn, and sprinkle over the cups of rice pudding.
This week my newly engaged best friend Jamie, medical student and very-beginner-chef extraordinaire, joins me in a make-up free, unscripted session in the Working Girl’s kitchen. Just to prove to you that you don’t even need to know how to shut off the oven to make the perfect dinner (check out the last minute of the video and you’ll see what I mean). Just make sure you find someone to shut it off after you’ve eaten.
I love this idea: spoon store-bought (read: good) fresh pesto sauce onto fish before you roast it. The garlic and basil and nuts have all the flavor already mixed in, and the olive oil roasts the fish so it gets crispy around the edges, and stays so moist. Plus, the olive oil already tastes like garlic and basil. It’s no-brainer simple. To go with it, I show Jamie how to do the world’s easiest vegetable: sautéed spinach with garlic. When the camera was off, she turned to me in astonishment and said, “That’s so easy. I could really do it!” Yes!
Pesto-Roasted Chilean Sea Bass with Super-Garlicky Spinach
2 6-ounce pieces of Chilean sea bass (ask for center cut, skin removed)
¼ cup store-bought fresh pesto sauce (in the refrigerated section of the supermarket)
1½ tablespoons olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 ounces baby spinach, preferably organic
Salt & Pepper
Preheat the oven to 475°F. Take the fish out of the fridge 15 minutes before you want to use it. When the oven is hot, place the pieces of fish slightly apart on a small parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, and rub all over with the pesto sauce. Bake until the fish is opaque and flaky, about 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the spinach. In a wide skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook about 30 seconds. You don’t want it to brown. Add the spinach; it will look like too much for the pan, but it will wilt down. Season with salt and pepper, and stir with tongs until the spinach has just wilted, about 2 minutes.
Make a bed of the garlicky spinach on a serving dish, and use a spatula to place the fish on top. Sometimes, I pour a little of the basil oil that bakes off the fish to the spinach. Yum.
There’s nothing like Costco on a Saturday. The free samples could keep you going like a wind-up robot until at least dinnertime. But I don’t stop there.
My friend’s father recently asked me if I’d ever had a Costco hot dog–not one I bought there to make at home, but a concession stand hot dog. I told him I always see grandparents eating lunch there, but it had never occurred to me to actually stop and sit and eat in Costco. Who does that?
I do. I went to the concession stand, and it turns out that for $1.50 you get a more-than-quarter pound hotdog on a potato bun with a 20 ounces refillable soda. Legend has it that the price has been the same from sometime between 1965 and 1985. I tell my mom I’m taking her out, and I only have to put down less than $3.50 with tax. Not too shabby. The roll is steamed and warm, the hot dog is juicy but snappy and thick. It’s seriously all the things a hot dog should be. And you can refill your soda for that price! The dogs come with sauerkraut (don’t ask for extra; it’s rationed!) or onions, but I don’t like to adulterate perfection. Some deli mustard, and that big cup of seltzer. Who knew thrifty could be so delicious?
This is the kind of food that makes me what to shout, “Look, Ma, I’m eating healthy!”
I’ve been traveling a lot lately, which I love, and it’s great, but it’s also inevitably gluttonous. My days in Paris are not usually filled with thoughts of vitamins and minerals. Maybe that’s why French food has such a reputation for being fatting–even though French women don’t get fat. It’s because when we Americans get there, we can’t keep our hands off the croissants and macarons and gratins! Not that I think we should. Far from it.
But French food’s unhealthy reputation stateside is a huge misnomer. The French people I know are some of the healthiest eaters. They respect portion control, and listen to their hunger. They eat balanced meals. And they eat seasonably, with a ton of fresh vegetables and fruits and grains. And lentils, the French legume, makes a frequent appearance.
This week, I wanted to show that being back from France didn’t mean I had to miss out on French food, or on recalibrating to a healthy equilibrium. This salad is made from French Puy lentils and barley, dressed with fresh thyme, lemon, and tapenade, and tossed with parsley and scallions. It can be served warm, or at room temperature. And it goes perfectly with roast salmon, my virtuous food. I try to always keep in mind, and in mouth, that virtuous can also be delicious.
Olivey French Lentil and Barley Salad
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed and dry
1 cup du Puy lentils, rinsed
4 cups vegetable broth, divided
2 cups water
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf, in half
1 tablespoon tapenade
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 scallions, finely chopped
Put the barley in a medium saucepot over medium-high heat, and toast, stirring often, until the barley smells toasty and little golden spots appear on the grains. Add 2 cups vegetable broth, and 2 cups water, 1 garlic clove, half the bay leaf, and salt. Cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Then, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, until the barley is tender, about 40 minutes. Drain excess liquid, and discard bay leaf and garlic.
Put the lentils in a separate saucepot with a lid, and cover with 2 cups vegetable broth, 1 garlic clove, half the bay leaf, and salt. Cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Then, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, but have not lost their shape, about 30 minutes. Drain excess liquid, and discard bay leaf and garlic.
While the barley and lentils are cooking, whisk together the tapenade, lemon juice, half the lemon zest, olive oil, thyme, and salt and pepper, to form a vinaigrette.
Toss the barley and lentils gently with a silicone spatula in a large bowl with the vinaigrette, parsley, scallions, and remaining lemon zest. Serve warm, or at room temperature (it's best at room temperature), especially next to a big piece of roasted salmon.