Comfort Food

Fettuccine with Mushrooms and Mascarpone

This pasta looks a lot more sinful than it is. It’s creamy without a heavy cream sauce and it’s comforting without leaving you feeling like you overindulged. And even better: it’s simple.

Start by setting a pasta pot of water on the stove to boil. You’ll want to start cooking the pasta while the mushrooms cook. Try to time it so that the pasta is ready about the same time as the mushrooms so that you can add the pasta directly to the pan of mushrooms. It’s better if the mushrooms are ready before the pasta. Also, be sure to cook the pasta just to al dente. It will continue cooking when you add it to the mushrooms.

pasta

The recipe below is for 1/2 pound of fettuccine. Double everything if you’re doing the entire pound.

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Sauté:

1/2 pound of shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and chopped.

(You can certainly do more mushrooms, if you want, or you can switch up the mushrooms. I used shiitake, because I happened to have those on hand from the farmers’ market.) 

Let the mushrooms cook until they are nicely browned and they have released all of their moisture. Remember: don’t salt the mushrooms until they have started to brown. If you salt too soon, the salt with pull the liquid out of the mushrooms too quickly. Always let them brown first.

Once they are nice and brown, add:

Salt and pepper
A few splashes of white wine

I say a few splashes, because you really need just enough to get all of those brown bits off the bottom of the pan and give the mushrooms some more flavor. Let them cook until most of the wine has been absorbed. Turn the heat down to medium low and then add:

about 3 generous spoon fulls of mascarpone cheese

Reduce or add mascarpone to achieve the level of creaminess you want. You may want to add a ladle of pasta water to help make the mascarpone thinner.

Once the mascarpone had melted down, add the pasta to the saute pan and let if all cook together for a minute. Then poor it into a large pasta bowl and, using tongs, toss it all together. If you wish, add:

1/4 cup of parmesan or Romano cheese.

Give it another toss and then top with:

Fresh basil and parsley, chopped. 

And that’s it. The mushrooms and wine give the sauce such a wonderful flavor that you won’t miss that heavy cream sauce.

 

 

 

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Summer Squash Risotto

Risotto

One of my favorite comfort foods, this time with summer flavors.

Simply follow my Basic Risotto Recipe, but make the following changes:

  • Use vegetable broth instead of chicken.
  • Use two varieties of squash for the vegetable
  • At the end, stir in fresh basil and lemon zest

Some directions:

Sauté the squash first in olive oil. You can use any summer squash. I used one zucchini and a pattypan squash, and I thought the pattypan worked particularly well with this recipe. I also chopped the zucchini but cut the pattypan into thick strips, just for some variety. Both shapes worked well. Sauté until they’re just barely tender, but still have a bite. Remove from the pan.

In the same pan, follow the instructions in the above link to make the risotto.

Towards the end, once the rice is tender and it’s time to stir in the parmesan or Romano cheese, add the squash to the rice, along with a handful of basil leaves, chopped into strips, and the zest of 1/2 a lemon. Now, this time when I made the risotto, I also stirred in a spoonful of Mascarpone cheese, just for the heck of it. The result? It certainly gave it a nice creamy texture, but I don’t think it’s necessary  The risotto is wonderful on its on, without the Mascarpone.

Garnish with Parmesan or Romano cheese and fresh ground pepper.

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Leek and Potato Soup

The key to any soup is simplicity. Just a few ingredients and homemade broth can make an amazing bowl of comfort. This soup is a perfect example.

Potato soup has always been one of my favorite comfort foods. Leeks are more of a winter/fall vegetable, but I found some late spring ones at the market, so why not use them?

**Please note that this particular recipe doesn’t make a lot of soup, just enough for about 2 servings. Double it if you are cooking for more than two people.

leek soup

The recipe:

Start by heating olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Then add:
2-3 leeks, sliced
1 small yellow onion, sliced
A splash of vegetable broth
Salt

Let cook for about 15 minutes, until onions are nice and tender. Then add:
4-5 small gold potatoes or 2 large white potatoes, quartered.
(I love the texture of the gold potatoes. They make the soup silky, but use whatever you have.)

Let cook for a minute or two, then add:
4 cups of homemade vegetable broth

Let simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add:
a few sprigs of fresh dill (optional, but you should do it. It’s wonderful!)
a splash or two of cream or half and half (also optional)

Puree the soup and serve with chives, fresh ground pepper and croutons or crusty bread on top.

leek soup2

**Another note: My soup has a slight orange tinge this time because I used a homemade broth that had tomato in it. Depending on the type of broth you use, it may appear white-ish, so don’t panic if your soup doesn’t look like mine!

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How to Make a Basic Risotto

Risotto

Risotto is one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s a cooking method that I think every home cook should know how to do, and once you get the basic method down, you can go crazy and experiment with different ingredients.

The secret to a good risotto is simplicity. I don’t recommend adding more than two or three ingredients (two is really the ideal), and always cook the vegetables/protein first. The only things that should be added into a risotto raw are fresh herbs and perhaps something like lemon zest.

Though there’s an endless combination of vegetables you can use during each season of the year, in this basic recipe I used mushrooms and peas, which I think are a wonderful risotto combination. And any mushrooms will do. I happened to have some shiitake mushrooms on hand from Swainway Urban Farm at the Worthington Farmers’ Market. Shiitake mushrooms certainly aren’t traditional in a risotto, but they tasted wonderful.

And so, the method:

Heat 5-6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock on the stove. The stock must be hot before it can be added to the risotto. Homemade is best, because the stock is the best source of flavor for the rice.

In a heavy bottom pot, heat olive oil or 1 tablespoon of butter. 

Saute your vegetables (in my case, my mushrooms.) Remove from the pot once cooked.

Add more olive oil or another couple tablespoons of butter to the same pot, add 1 small onion, finely chopped. Saute over medium heat until the onions are soft. 

Add 2 cups of Aborio rice.* Let the rice cook for a minute or two.

Add 1 cup of white wine. Cook and stir the rice until all of the wine is absorbed.

Now comes the time for the stock. Add about two small ladles of the hot stock at a time. It should be just enough stock to cover the rice. Cook and stir, constantly, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat this step until all or most of the stock has been used and the rice is cooked. It takes about 30-40 minutes.

Once the rice is done, add 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and any cooked vegetables or herbs that you are using. (In my case, my mushooms and frozen peas, defrosted). Add a little more stock, if needed. Taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary. When serving, I like to add a little more parmesan cheese on top and a few grinds of black pepper.

And that’s it. Once you get the basic method down, you can experiment and create endless meals with each season’s produce.

*Aborio rice is the most traditional rice used. For a more nutritious risotto, try using farro. It makes the dish heartier and gives it a much chewier texture. Just note that if you’re using farro, it will take more stock and a slightly longer cooking time.

 

 

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Banana Oat Pancakes

Pancakes2

Update: It has been over two years since I first posted this recipe, and in that time I have gone from just learning how to run to training for my first marathon. These pancakes remain one of my favorite post-run recovery treats. I no longer add any buttermilk to the recipe, and I only add sugar or honey if I’m not using maple syrup on top. As a hungry runner, I’ve been known to nearly devour the entire batch in one sitting, so I suggest doubling the batch if cooking for multiple people. 

Sunday morning is simply not complete without either pancakes or waffles. Though I grew up eating traditional buttermilk pancakes every Sunday morning (complete with Mickey Mouse ears), these days I like to switch up my pancake batters a bit. This recipe is good for winter when fresh berries aren’t available. It is based off a recipe found in King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking (9780881507195). I use honey instead of sugar and I add buttermilk (I prefer a thinner, less dense pancake). Also, if you’re cooking for multiple people, you’ll want to double it. I’ve been known to eat nearly the entire batch myself.

Begin by smashing:

3 small or 2 large bananas

Mix in:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon sugar or honey (I omit this if I’m using maple syrup on top)

Beat in:

2 eggs

In a separate bowl, mix:

1 cup of oat flour (I make my own by pulsing old fashioned oats in the food processor until fine like flour)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients. Stir just until mixed (lumps are normal). Let sit 10 minutes.

Cook on a griddle or skillet. I prefer large pancakes, but I suppose you could do small ones. Flip once bubbles appear around the edges.

This pancakes are actually quite good on their own, but who doesn’t love maple syrup?

Pancakes

 

 

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Roasted Red Pepper and Olive Lasagna

I come from an Italian family. When I was growing up, lasagna was made with a large 32 oz (or more) container of ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese and sometimes even provolone. Each layer was then covered with a hearty sauce made with ground beef and, more often than not, there was Italian sausage on top. It was rich, heavy, hearty, and delicious.

When I gave up beef, though, I had to find a new lasagna recipe, for giving up lasagna was not an option. Over the past few years I’ve experimented with adding different vegetables to lasagna and have discovered that I love veggie lasagna so much more than the meaty one I grew up with. The beauty of a veggie lasagna is that there are so many possibilities. When you pull beef out of the picture and use whatever vegetables you have on hand instead, lasagna is never boring.

The recipe I show below is, by far, my favorite combination of ingredients. Plus it’s light and full of so much more flavor than the more traditional lasagna. This is more complicated than most of my recipes, simply because there are so many steps. It’s a good day-off recipe, and it’s wonderful to do with kids. I loved helping my mom build lasagna when I was growing up.

Here’s what you need to prepare before you build the lasagna:

A ricotta mixture which is: 

  • A small container of ricotta cheese (about 15 oz). 
  • A couple cups of fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
  • One clove of fresh garlic
  • One egg (this helps bind the mixture, but I sometimes forget to add it and it comes out fine)
  • Fresh basil, if available, or any fresh or dried Italian herbs
  • Salt and Pepper

Roasted bell peppers or any other seasonal vegetable roasted

  • 2 large or 3 small bell peppers roasted in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

My favorite olive mixture

  • I use about 8 oz of kalamata olives (pitted) and about 6 or 7 pepperdews from an antipasto bar. Pulse in a food processor until finely chopped. Make extra. It’s wonderful leftover on bread, pastas and salads. 

Cremini or Baby Bello Mushrooms or a mixture of both

  • I use a couple small containers. I sauté them first with olive oil until they are nice and brown (mushroom tip: don’t add salt and pepper until they start to brown. Also cook them in a large pan and in small batches if you don’t want them to be soggy.) 

A marina sauce of your choice

  • I use my family’s favorite, simple recipe, which I will post at another date. 

You favorite hard Italian cheese

  • For this recipe, I used a combination of Parmesan and Asiago, simply because those were what I had on hand.  

I also use no boil whole wheat lasagna noodles. I know. My Italian great grandmother would have a heart attack if she knew such a thing existed. I didn’t believe they would bake properly at first, either, but it actually works.  I also use a pan that’s around 12×9, but any pan around that size would work.

To build the lasagna:  First, I pour just enough marina sauce along the bottom of the pan to slightly coat it.  Then I add my first single layer of noodles. Now it’s time for the first layer. I do:

  • one layer of the ricotta mixture
  • all of the roasted peppers
  • a few large ladles of sauce, to slightly coat

I don’t have a photo of this layer. Granted, I took a photo, but only after I started the next layer did I realize that I didn’t have a memory card in my camera. Did Ansel Adams ever forget to put film in his camera? I do hope so.

Next layer:

  • top the previous layer with a single layer of noodles 
  • one layer of the ricotta cheese mixture
  • spread the olive mixture on top of the cheese
  • add a few ladles of sauce, to slightly coat

olive layer-5

 

Next layer:

  • Another layer of noodles
  • ricotta cheese (if any left)
  • marina sauce
  • all of the mushrooms
  • sprinkle your choice of cheese on top

mushroom-5

Now top it with the rest of the noodles (one layer), pour lots of marina sauce on top and sprinkle with cheese.

 

finished-5

Cover it and bake in a 350 degree over for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

Finished product:

finished-1

 

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