Monthly Archives: September 2014

Time for Fall Comfort Food

The season has changed, and I feel a sense of bittersweetness. I tend to feel this emotion around this time of year, and this year it is stronger.  Perhaps this feeling is due in part to our trip to San Francisco last week, mainly to make peace with Monty’s stepfather. He is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and though he’s doing better since we went to visit, we know how this goes. The rest of the bittersweetness is from visiting my home town and making the absolute best of it. The best news is that San Francisco experiences what is known as “Indian Summer,” which makes up for the fact that the real Summer in the City means fog~ lots of fog. It was pretty foggy while we were there, but that was okay with me, too. Fog is iconic in San Francisco~ it’s also really nice for taking photographs and avoiding lots of harsh shadows. What was really nice, was that it was relatively warm, so it wasn’t such a shock coming from Hawai‘i.

Penne pasta

Penne pasta

Now, we are home, and I’m feeling the need for comfort. Since I still have a nice chunk of gruyère cheese in the fridge, I think it’s time to make some baked pasta. For this recipe, penne is the pasta of choice. I think almost all of us who grew up in America, grew up being served  a dish something like this. I know my mom would make something similar, though without the gruyère… this cheese makes it more elegant. Because this is baked, the cheese melts into the meat sauce and pasta, making it almost akin to an Italian mac & cheese, except there’s not so much cheese. And, there’s meat. I guess the main point is that it’s comforting.

 

Simple ingredients

Simple ingredients

You can also make this vegetarian style, simply by omitting the meat and using more mushrooms, instead. Ready for comfort? Here’s what you’ll need:

1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil

½ pound mild Italian sausage

½ pound lean ground beef

salt and pepper to taste

½ cup small diced yellow onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or use a mixture of mushrooms)

2 tablespoons brandy or Amontillado sherry (red wine will work in a pinch)

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil

1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano, or ¼ to 1/3 dried

1 to 1½ tablespoons minced fresh marjoram, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 pound penne pasta

¾ cup grated Parmesan

2 to 3 teaspoons minced flat-leaf parsley (optional)

1½ cups grated gruyère cheese

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Brown sausage and hamburger

Brown sausage and hamburger; add onion

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown sausage and ground beef, season to taste. As the meat browns, break up the large chunks into smaller pieces. Push meat to one side of the skillet then add the onion. Cook until it’s translucent, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium, then add garlic and cook for about a minute or until aromatic.

With meat still to the side, add mushrooms to the onion-garlic mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until most of the moisture has evaporated and mushrooms are tender, about 3-5 minutes.Stir together the meat and mushrooms. Add brandy and cook about 30-45 seconds.

 

Cook the sauce

Cook the sauce

Add tomatoes, oregano and marjoram. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until flavors have blended. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated, if need be, just rewarm before continuing with recipe.

Heat oven to 350º. Spray or coat a 9-by-13-inch casserole or backing dish with cooking spray or oil; set aside.

Cook pasta in well-salted water according to package directions; be careful not to overcook. Mine was a bit overcooked, as you can see… the pasta is splitting. Life goes on…

stir in Parmesan and parsley

Stir in Parmesan and parsley

Drain pasta and mix with sauce, then add the Parmesan and parsley. (I put all of it into a huge bowl and very thoroughly mix it all together). Taste and adjust seasoning again, if necessary.

 

Sprinkle Gruyère on top

Sprinkle gruyère on top

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Spoon the mixture into a casserole dish, top with grated gruyère and bake for 15-20 minutes, until pasta is thoroughly warm and cheese has melted. This makes a very large amount, so you can serve a crowd of about 10, or freeze the rest for another night. You could also easily cut the recipe in half.

 

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Try serving with some sautéed tomatoes and zucchini

Try serving with some sautéed tomatoes and zucchini

I sautéed zucchini with tomatoes to serve with this. Perfect! I love tomatoes, so a few more are good in my book.

 

True, American comfort food

True, American comfort food

Can you say "cheesy goodness?"

Can you say “cheesy goodness?”

This makes wonderful leftovers, too

This makes wonderful leftovers, too

Pomegranate Pears

Here’s to another visually beautiful fruit~ the pomegranate. There is something wonderfully messy about them, and  they evoke lovely memories of childhood. There was a great joy to cracking one open, and picking it apart to enjoy every luscious, juicy, ruby-colored seed, staining fingers and lips to the same delicious, ruby color.

Beautiful, ruby-red pomegranate seeds

Beautiful, ruby-red pomegranate seeds

 

Now it turns out, that all that beautiful red fruit is really good for you~ that beautiful red color is full of heart healthy benefits, so you should enjoy them, while they are in season, which is right now.

 

Lovely bosc pears

But rather than get my fingers all stained red like when I was a kid, what I now like to do is pair them with another fall favorite~ Bosc pears. Poaching pears in pomegranate juice creates a wonderful, healthy dessert, that’s not too sweet and heavy.

 

Pear flavored wine works very well for this

Pear flavored wine works very well for this

Wine is added to the juice, so you get a nice, elegant, “adult” flavor. You can also dress them up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you’d like something more substantial, but they really hold up quite well on their own.

 

seeding

If straining the juice from the pomegranates is too much work, (which it sure can seem like) you can always “cheat” and use bottled. If you decide to juice your own, the above method makes that easier. Buying bottled means you can enjoy the childhood memory of stained lips and fingers~ just save some seeds for garnish!

To make them you’ll need:

4 Bosc pears, stems intact

1½ cups pomegranate juice (about 2 large pomegranates, if you are juicing them yourself)

1 cup sweet, dessert wine, such as a Riesling or a Moscato

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ teaspoon cornstarch

pomegranate seeds for garnish

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Peel the pears, keeping the stem intact

Peel the pears, keeping the stem intact

Peel pears, leaving stems intact. Slice off a portion from the base of the pear, so it will stand up right. You can also core the pear from the bottom, if desired.

Poach pears in wine and pomegranate juice

Poach pears in wine and pomegranate juice

Lay the pears on their sides in a sauce pan, then pour the pomegranate juice and wine over them. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and poach for about an hour, carefully turning a few times to attain even color.

Remove pears from juice with a slotted spoon and place into a bowl. Add sugar to the remaining liquid and boil over high heat, until it is reduced to about ½ cup.

 

Mix cornstarch with a little bit of the liquid

Mix cornstarch with a little bit of the liquid

Put a few tablespoons of the liquid into a small dish and mix in the cornstarch. Add the cornstarch liquid to the boiling juice and stir until slightly thickened.

 

Drizzle sauce and pomegranate seeds over pears

Drizzle sauce and pomegranate seeds over pears

Remove from heat. Transfer pears to dessert plates and divide sauce over each. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

Serves 4.

 

Pears Poached in Pomegranate Juice

Pears Poached in Pomegranate Juice

 

Delicious with ice cream

Delicious with ice cream

 

Also, the redder the wine, the deeper the color. For these, I chose étoile de fruit Blanc Poire, which has a lovely pear flavor. The choices are many, so have fun experimenting!

More Zucchini? Here’s Another Way to Fix It

I must admit that every time I see a zucchini, I can’t help but think of my grandmother. She would grow it in her backyard, and she always seemed to have tons of it. We had it nearly every time we went to her house for dinner, and she would send some home with us.

I still love zucchini. It is an easy weeknight vegetable to prepare, simply because it can be quickly sliced and steamed, though it can also be stuffed, grilled, put into pasta, soups and bread. It’s good for you, too!

One of my favorite ways to fix it is into a gratin with potatoes and sausage. It takes a bit of prep work, since the veggies need to be sliced very thin and then blanched beforehand, but it is a treat that you and your family will enjoy. It also has wonderful Gruyère cheese in it, which makes it good enough for company.

Mmmm… Gruyère!

Mmmm… Gruyère!

 

The flavors in this dish will depend on the type of sausage you use. I used sweet Italian, because that’s usually what we have in the freezer. But, experimentation is a good thing! You can also assemble and partially bake this dish ahead. If refrigerated, bring the gratin to room temperature before baking it or allow additional time. Leftovers can be frozen, but I usually end up polishing those off for lunch!

To make it:

1 teaspoon kosher salt + more as needed

¾ teaspoon black pepper

1½ teaspoon chopped fresh or generous 1/3 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

1 pound potatoes, about 2-3 potatoes, depending on how large or small they are

3 ounces Gruyere, grated, about 1 cup

½ pound lean sausage, in bulk or removed from the casing

Large pinch smoked paprika, to taste

Large pinch cayenne pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon olive oil + more as needed

1 small yellow onion, very thinly sliced, about ½ cup

1 to 1½ teaspoons minced garlic, about 2 cloves

1 to 1¼ pounds summer squash, such as patty pan

1 teaspoon chopped parsley (optional)

½ cup whole milk

1 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped  (about 2 large tomatoes)

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Preheat the oven to 400°. Prepare an 8-inch square pan (I used a with a light coat of oil or pan spray; set aside.

Mix thyme, salt and pepper

Mix thyme, salt and pepper

Combine 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, pepper and thyme in a small dish; set aside.

 

Slice potatoes very thin

Slice potatoes very thin

Peel potatoes and cut into 1/8 -inch-thick slices, using a mandolin if available, keeping them in water until ready to cook to prevent oxidation. Par-cook the potatoes in batches, either by blanching, steaming or microwaving, until they are translucent and fairly soft (but you should still be able to pick them up without breaking). Drain.

 

Layer potatoes and sprinkle with salt mixture

Layer potatoes and sprinkle with salt mixture

Layer the potatoes in the pan, slightly overlapping the slices; season each layer with some of the salt-thyme mixture.

 

Sprinkle cheese over potatoes

Sprinkle about 1/3 of the cheese over the final potato layer.

 

Combine sausage, paprika, cayenne and salt to taste in a skillet over medium heat (you may need to add a little oil if the sausage is extremely lean). Brown the sausage, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. When done, transfer to a bowl.

Slice onions very thin

Slice onions very thin

Add onions to the same skillet, along with a little more olive oil, if needed. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions soften and begin to caramelize, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 to 45 seconds. Add this to the sausage in the bowl, mix to combine, then spread over the potatoes. Top with another 1/3 of the cheese.

 

Slice zucchini very thin

Slice zucchini very thin

Cut the squash crosswise into 1/8 -inch-thick slices, then par-cook similarly to the potatoes.

 

Layer zucchini over cheese

Layer zucchini over cheese

Layer the squash over the onion-sausage mixture, sprinkling each layer with some of the salt-thyme mixture and parsley. Pour the milk over all.

 

Layer chopped tomatoes on top

Layer chopped tomatoes on top

Chop the tomatoes into ½ -inch pieces, reserving any juices. Cover the squash with the tomatoes and juices and a final sprinkle of salt-thyme mixture. I actually used fresh thyme leaves for this last layer, just because I had them.

Place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the dish; cover loosely with foil. If desired, place a baking sheet (optionally lined with parchment) under the pan to catch any drips. Bake until the vegetables are tender and easily pierced with a skewer, about 1 hour, depending how much the vegetables were par cooked.

Remove dish from oven, remove foil and parchment; if needed, bake a bit longer to evaporate excess liquid then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the tomatoes. Bake, uncovered, until cheese melts.

Straight out of the oven, it may seem that there is a lot of liquid in the pan, but much of it will be absorbed as the dish rests. Cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Light and satisfying

Light and satisfying

Serve. So beautiful! This is really nice with a green salad.

 

Delicious!

Delicious!

Look at those lovely layers of the harvest!

 

Zucchini, Potato & Tomato Gratin

Zucchini, Potato & Tomato Gratin

Serves about 6.

Enjoy!