Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer Squash Pasta & Grilled Garlic Bread

When things get crazy busy in the summer and I barely have time to cook anything, let alone find good recipes that are actually worth taking pictures of and sharing with you (since I doubt you'd be interested to hear about how I made burgers...again...or any other comparable summer meal), I can thank my dad for finding good things and sending them my way.  Ahh, retirement must be great!  Anyway, over the 4th of July weekend my dad found an article about Mario Batali in the Wall Street Journal and saved it for me.  I already threw out the article, and my short term memory is failing me, so I can't remember what it was about, but the recipe featured alongside the article was for pasta with summer squash.  Seasonal, no?  Batali's trick on this pasta is to undercook the pasta and the squash just slightly, then steam them together at the end, which apparently infuses the pasta with the squash flavor.  Batali's version calls for penne, although Erik got excited over fresh spinach pasta at the store, so we ended up using that instead.  Although I used Batali's technique, I think the spinach pasta was so flavorful on its own that it didn't pick up too much additional squash flavor, though the two did work well together.  We also used basil instead of the recommended mint, although I intend to try it again with mint, because I'm sure it would be equally delicious.  Whatever kind of pasta and herb you choose, this dish is fast, easy, and perfect for summer.  This meal rounds out nicely with grilled herb and garlic bread.

Pasta with Summer Squash and Ricotta (From Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking by Mario Batali)

* Kosher Salt
* 1 cup fresh ricotta (go whole or low-fat, definitely not fat free)
* 6 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
* 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmiganio-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
* 2-3 tablespoons warm water
* 1 pound summer squash or zucchini, or a combo, cut lengthwise in half and sliced into 1/3-inch-thick half-moons
* Fancy sea salt (like Maldon), or kosher if that's all you have
* 1 pound of pasta
* 6 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint or basil
* Freshly ground fresh pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 3 tablespoons of kosher salt.

2. While the pasta water heats, whisk together the ricotta, Parmigano-Reggiano, and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small bowl.  Whisk in 2 tablespoons of warm water to loosen the consistency; add the 3rd tablespoon if it's still too thick.

3. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep-ish skillet (that has a lid) over medium heat.  Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until it's just tender and golden, 4-5 minutes.  Season with your fancy salt, and remove from the heat.

4. Cook your pasta until it's barely al-dente.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1/3 of a cup of the pasta water.

5. Add the pasta and the reserved water to the squash, stirring and tossing over medium heat to mix well.  Pop a lid on and reduce the heat to low, and allow the pasta and squash to steam together for 2 minutes.

6. Stir in the mint (or basil), and season with additional salt, if necessary.  Dish up the pasta and top with a dollop of the ricotta mixture.  Garnish with additional chopped mint (or basil), and serve with extra grated Parm.


Champagne makes anything fancy.  Even this easy dinner.

Erik's Garlic Thyme Bread.

Slice a baguette or a ciabatta loaf some other good bread.  Melt a few tablespoons of butter.  Stir in a tablespoon or so of chopped thyme.  Brush both sides of the bread slices with the butter/ thyme mixture and then grill them for a 1-2 minutes per side, or until golden brown.  Watch the bread carefully, because it can burn quickly.  Remove from the grill.  Peel a large clove of garlic and rub the garlic onto both sides of the bread.  Serve immediately.  (PS, if you don't have a grill, you can do this on a cookie sheet under the broiler, just watch the bread closely!)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Perfect Antidote to Summer Heat

I've been on a bit of a lemonade kick recently.  I gave up soda (for the most part) a couple of years ago, so lemonade is becoming my go-to drink when I want something more exciting than water--plus, it's the quintessential summertime drink.

I keep everything I need for it on hand, so it's a cinch to whip up whenever I'm in the mood.  Like now. 

Here's what you need: lemon juice (confession, I use bottled.  It's just easier), simple syrup (recipe follows), and water.  I like sparkling water--the little tingle it leaves on my tongue makes it just that much more refreshing. 

Here's what you do:  Mix equal parts simple syrup (recipe follows) and lemon juice in a glass--for a decently sized glass, (think something in the neighborhood of a pint glass), 2-3 tablespoons of each.  Add ice and top of with sparkling water (or tap, if that's all you have).  Stir, taste, and adjust lemon juice & simple syrup if necessary. 

Enjoy the taste of summer...

If you're making lemonade for a crowd, use these proportions instead:

1 cup of lemon juice,
1 cup of simple syrup (made with 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water),
Top off with 3-4 cups of sparkling or tap water, depending on desired strength. 

Simple Syrup:

It's really simple.  You can buy it in the baking aisle sometimes, but honestly, why bother?  Just heat equal parts white sugar and water in a sauce pan until the sugar is dissolved.  Cool to room temperature, and store in a glass jar in the fridge.  I keep mine in a cleaned out peanut butter jar--it holds about 1 1/2 cups of simple syrup.  It's useful to have on hand for lemonade (or limeade), or making iced coffee and iced tea, all those good summer things...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The BEST Blueberry Muffins

I apologize.  Over a year has gone by, and I have never posted about my favorite blueberry muffins.  Probably, although they are my favorites, I don't think I've made them since 2006.  2006?!?  That was a while ago, even though I keep pretending it was last summer.  

What happened in 2006 is that I graduated from college and moved to Nantucket.  That summer I lived with three lovely Wellesley graduates.  Now, I don't want to generalize about Wellesley women, because I've only lived with a handful, but the ones I know (and lived with), are very domestic.  My first day on Nantucket I bought milk and Cheerios, which I proceeded to eat for dinner.  Then my roommate Christiana served me some delicious risotto and explained that they cooked and ate together every night.  They were very gracious about easing me into the cooking rotation, but I was still intimidated: I had to cook not only for myself, but my three very domesticated housemates?  Cheerios for dinner doesn't count?  Needless to say, my cooking has come a long way since then, but summer of 2006 was my first real foray into cooking and eating like a real adult.  

Along with cooking for my housemates and occasional dinner guests (namely Erik, whose housemates, not being Wellesley women, were not nearly as domesticated as mine), I did lots of baking, and one of my favorite sources for recipes, since I didn't own any cookbooks at the time (a mind boggling thought, now!), was the Cape Cod Table by Lora Brody, which my lovely housemate Erin owned.  By instituting Sunday Morning Brunch and Mimosas we managed to cook and bake our way through nearly everything in the cookbook's Breakfast section, but my favorite recipe remains the one for blueberry muffins.  So much so that when Erin left for law school I bought my own copy of the book on eBay.  While I have handed out the recipe to friends,  for some reason I never made them again myself, but today, that has been remedied.

These muffins are incredibly moist and tender--not like those crumbly muffins that you bite into and all of a sudden you're wearing half of it on your shirt.  Because I've had muffins like those, and they're no good. They are absolutely jam packed with berries--you smash some and mix more in whole, so the blueberry flavor absolutely permeates the muffins.  Citrus zest (officially orange, but lemon works just as well), adds another dimension of flavor.  And, just as a practical matter, the recipe is for 12 regular sized muffins, which is perfect, because 12 fit in one muffin tin.  So grab a couple of pints of blueberries before the season is over whip these up.  Best blueberry muffins, I promise.

The BEST Blueberry Muffins Ever (From The Cape Cod Table by Lora Brody)
6 jumbo muffins or 12-14 regular muffins


For the muffins:
* 2 cups of all-purpose flour
* 1 cup of granulated sugar
* 2 teaspoons of baking powder
* ½ teaspoon of salt
* 2 ½ cups of fresh blueberries, rinsed and shaken dry, or 2 ½ cups of slightly thawed frozen blueberries
* 2 extra large eggs
* ½ cup of milk
* ½ cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
* 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
* Finely grated zest of a medium orange (or lemon)

For the topping:
* 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
* ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
* ½ cup of finely chopped walnuts

1.  Preheat the oven to 400°F, with the rack in the center position.  Line the muffin tins of your choice with paper muffin cups or coat the cups and flat part of the tins generously with butter or cooking spray.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a medium-sized mixing bowl.

 3. Place 1 cup of the blueberries in a small bowl and use a fork to mash them roughly.

4. In another medium mixing bowl, melt the butter.  (If you're using the microwave, beware of butter explosions!  Stop the microwave several times while you're melting the butter, or you will end up with a well buttered microwave!)   When the butter is cooled slightly (about 5 minutes), whisk in the eggs, milk, vanilla, and citrus zest.  Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to fold in the mashed berries.

5. Fold the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing just to combine.  There should be some dry lumps showing.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to combine all the dry ingredients.  Gently, fold in the whole berries.  

6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pans without smoothing the tops, filling them slightly more than half way. 
 Obviously I'm not good at following directions.  These
should be less full, and covered with topping.  Oops.
7. Make the topping by mixing the sugar, cinnamon, and nut together in a small bowl.  Sprinkle generously over the batter.  Bake the regular-sized muffins for 18 to 20 minutes and the jumbo muffins for 22 to 24 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes or so before devouring.