Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

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A while ago I pulled out all of my Italian cookbooks to locate a specific pasta recipe, which I never found. But perusing these cookbooks gave me an opportunity to bookmark recipes and remind me of some I’d already bookmarked.

One cookbook was Molto Italiano by Mario Batali.

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Mario Batali is one of those chefs who really marketed himself into TV stardom, with many restaurants, cookbooks, plus Eataly that followed, all thanks to this stardom.

I remember his cooking show on PBS that I really enjoyed. There was no band, no audience clapping, just him cooking in a little kitchen.

At the beginning of every show he would pull down a wall map of Italy and give you some history on the provenance of the dish he was about to prepare – something I really appreciated. I didn’t feel “dumbed down” by Batali, in fact, it was more educational than entertainment.

There were always 2-3 odd people sitting off to the side, not saying anything terribly profound, which always made me wonder how I could get this gig because I’d be so much better at it!!! (Not really because I freeze even when someone pulls out an iPhone.)

In spite of Mario Batali being a household name, and easy to spot with his red hair and orange crocs, I do have a lot of respect for his knowledge and passion for Italian cuisine.

While perusing Molto Italiano I spotted a dish that really spoke to me.

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It’s baked pasta with ricotta and ham. Simple, like most all Italian recipes, but it sounded nice and comforting for this time of year. Plus my husband loves ham and I don’t make enough ham recipes.

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I’d recently mentioned that I don’t make casseroles. I don’t want to insult casserole lovers, it’s just that I wasn’t raised on them. And most of them look like regurgitated food, which is my biggest issue with them. I still remember my first experience with a casserole (tuna?) when my neighbor made one for us after my first baby was born. All I will say is that there were potato chips on top. I’m still traumatized by that.

So although casserole-like, this pasta bake is actually somewhat layered. It Is a delightful meal, served with a green salad, or with anything green for that matter. Here is the recipe:

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note: There is a glitch in the recipe that I will resolve below. I had to study the recipe for 30 minutes to figure out what was wrong!

Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham
Pasticcio di Maccheroni*

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound Italian cooked ham, preferably parmacotto, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 1/2 pounds ziti
1 pound fresh ricotta
8 ounces hard provolone, cut into small dice
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the ham cubes and brown for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the carrot, onion, and celery and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10 minutes. (I used onion, mushrooms and carrot.)

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Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the meat is just about falling apart, about 50 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Keep the sauce warm.

This is the beginning of my misunderstanding of this recipe. One is to actually separate the ham from the sauce and place the ham in a large bowl. I found this impossible to do.

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Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.

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Cook the ziti in the boiling water for 1 minute less than the package directions, until still very al denote. While the pasta is cooking, place the ricotta in a small bowl and stir in a ladle of the pasta cooking water to “melt” it.

Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the meat. Add the ricotta, provolone, and tomato sauce and stir to combine.

It’s the above paragraph that really makes this recipe confusing. The pasta is supposed to be with the ham that has been removed from the red sauce, and the ricotta, provolone and remaining red sauce are supposed to be mixed together in a separate bowl.

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Grease a round and deep 12-inch pie dish or casserole with olive oil. Place a ladle of the cheese and sauce mixture in the bottom of the dish, followed by a layer of the pasta and meat mixture.

Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Parmigiano over, then repeat with another layer of the cheese and sauce mixture, then pasta and meat, and Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used up.
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Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.
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You could always offer more Parmigiano, but I felt this pasta bake was cheesy enough.
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* Pasticcio, similar to its Greek sister pastitsio, also made with ziti, is commonly served at Easter.

Note: Because I couldn’t separate the ham from the sauce, I left it all together. To compensate, I added extra red sauce to the ricotta and cheese mixture. The whole pasta bake benefitted from having probably about 50% more red sauce in it, I think, than what’s listed in the ingredients.

Carrot Cider Soup

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My husband and I were lucky enough to go to the restaurant Square One in San Francisco many years ago. And we were on expense account. There’s just something about that benefit that makes the dining experience even more wonderful!

The restaurant, owned by chef Joyce Goldstein, opened in 1984. According to an article I found online, Joyce Goldstein was “one of, if not the first, to explore Mediterranean food with her interpretations of specialties from Turkey, Italy, Greece, Morocco and other sun-washed countries.”

All I remember was that the menu was impressive and the food delicious. I unfortunately don’t remember any specifics of that night. I’m guessing our wine was plentiful, however, this dining experience was 30 years ago!

In 1992 Joyce Goldstein published the cookbook Back to Square One – Old-World Food in a New-World Kitchen.
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Recently I decided to peruse some older cookbooks of mine, and I immediately fell in love with Back to Square One again. There are so many recipes I want to try, like Balkan crab salad with walnuts and lemon mayonnaise. As well as recipes I want to make again, like Catalan-style quail stuffed in roasted peppers with olives.

This weekend we’re having our favorite people over to raclette` and I found a soup in the cookbook that will be perfect to begin our feast.

The actual name of Joyce Goldstein’s soup is French Apple Cider and Carrot Soup. It’s a carrot soup with the addition of hard cider. To make it a little more festive, I decided to top off the soup with a little creme fraiche and some julliened apples.

Unfortunately I’m not so good at presentation, but here is the recipe:
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French Apple Cider and Carrot Soup
Back to Square One

Serves 6
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/4 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup hard apple cider
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent and sweet, 10 to 15 minutes.
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Add the carrot chunks and the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are very tender.

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Purée the soup in the blender or food processor, using only as much of the stock as necessary to purée the carrots.

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Transfer the purée to a clean saucepan and then add the apple cider, the cream, and as much of the remaining stock as necessary to think the soup to the desired consistency.

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I actually added the cider and cream while the soup was still in the blender jar.
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Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a pinch of sugar or nutmeg if the soup needs sweetening.
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I added a small dollop of creme fraiche, and a few jullienned apples, plus freshly ground nutmeg, and also pink peppercorns.

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note: After making this soup with the uncooked hard cider, I have a few thoughts.
1. In spite of the low alcohol content, the flavor is too sharp and raw for the soup.
2. Perhaps the hard cider would work better after first a reduction of 50%.
3. Regular apple cider would work, but it should be added along with the chicken broth.
4. A splash of Calvados could add a little flavor, but I recommend adding it along with the chicken broth.
5. Including a cored apple or pear to the carrots would add a natural sweetness to the soup.

Pastitsio

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My introduction to Greek cuisine began with the set of cookbooks that introduced me to many International cuisines – the Time-Life series of cookbooks called “Foods of the World.” Included in the set are beautifully photographed hardback books describing the cuisines and cultures, as well as smaller, spiral-bound recipe books.

The set was gifted to me by mother, because she owned and loved hers. They were also my first cookbooks, so as I learned how to cook, I also learned about various cuisines. Had I known better, I might have been intimidated, but I just jumped in and started cooking.

One week I’d make meals from the Ethiopian cookbook, the next week Japan, the next Italy, and so forth. One of the cookbooks was “Middle Eastern Cooking,” which included foods from Greece as well as Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and other countries from that part of the world.

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Over the years I made moussaka, chicken baked in red sauce with cinnamon, grilled pork kabobs smothered in oregano, and many more lovely recipes. But one that I really loved was Pastitsio. To me it was way more fun than moussaka.

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When I first made it, my husband loved it. But over the 30-plus years that I’ve been cooking, he’s somehow decided that he hates lamb. It’s just not the same with beef, so I’m using a 50-50 mixture. Who knows, in a future post, I might be writing from my own apartment…

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Pastitsio

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 pound ziti
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 1/2 pound lean ground lamb
2 cups chopped, drained, canned tomatoes
1 cup canned tomato purée
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon oregano crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Black pepper
1/2 cup soft, fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Kefalotiri or Parmesan

In a large pot bring 6-8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over high heat and drop in the ziti. Stirring occasionally, cook the pasta for 10-15 minutes, or until soft but still somewhat resistant to the bite. Immediately drain the pasta and set aside.
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Meanwhile, prepare the lamb and the cream sauce. In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent but not brown.

Add the lamb and, mashing it frequently with the back of spoon or fork to break up any lumps, cook until all traces of pink disappear.


Stir in the tomatoes, purée, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the beaten egg, and set aside.


Sauce:
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour

To make the cream sauce, combine 3 cups of milk and the butter in a small pan until bubbles appear around the rim of the pan. Remove from the heat. In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, beat the eggs with a whisk until they are frothy.

Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of salt and, beating constantly, add the flour, a tablespoon at a time.


Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the heated milk and butter mixture in a thin stream and, still stirring, bring to a boil over moderate heat. Continue to boil until the sauce is thick and smooth; set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. With a pastry brush coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 15 x 2 1/2″ baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and spread half of the reserved pasta on top.


Cover with the meat, smoothing it into the corners with a spatula.
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Then pour 2 cups of the cream sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese.
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Make another layer with the remaining ziti, pour over it the rest of the cream sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is a delicate golden brown.

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If you love moussaka, you’ll definitely love pastitsio. It’s the love red meat sauce, slightly sweetened with cinnamon, layered on noodles, and topped with a rich, cheesy cream sauce that makes it the ultimate in comfort food, Greek style!
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Grits with Eggs and Red Sauce

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Many years ago I came across a recipe for grits with eggs and a red sauce. It was similar to shakshuska, a Middle Eastern dish of baked eggs in red sauce, shown below, but with grits!

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I never had grits until my husband and I visited Charleston, South Carolina, for business a long time ago. We ate at a lovely restaurant And I hesitantly ordered shrimp with grits. I think I assumed grits would be too “corny” for me, but they’re not. They’re lovely, and just as much fun to cook as risotto. Below are pumpkin grits I made last fall. So many variations are possible.
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For grits, I prefer the coarse-grained variety, which do take longer to cook, but I prefer the texture. I’ve noticed that the words “polenta” and “grits” are both on the package now!

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There used to be much confusion about the difference, but there is no difference. To make it more complicated, grits and polenta are also cornmeal.

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Grits with Eggs in Red Sauce
Adapted from Baked Eggs in Creamy Polenta and Pepperoni Tomato Sauce

3 cups water
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup grits
Approximately 1/2 cup cream
Red Sauce
4 tablespooons butter
4 eggs
Goat or feta cheese, optional

Place the water and butter in a deep pot over high heat. When the water boils, add the grits.

Stir, and continue to stir, with the heat on medium. I always have about a cup of water handy to add to the grits as they thicken. It seems that more liquid is required than what is stated on the package recipe.

After about 10 minutes or so, when the grits have cooked about halfway, add cream. Continue to cook the grits, and add even more water if necessary.
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When you feel the grits aren’t thickening up anymore, set them aside.

Make the eggs sunny-side up, over-easy, poached, or soft-boiled. It’s your choice. I used 1 tablespoon of butter per egg and cooked them sunny-side up in a skillet. Add a little dab of butter right before they’re fully cooked.

To serve, spoon the grits into a pasta bowl.
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Place some heated red sauce over the grits and, using a spoon, form a hole in the middle.

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Then place the cooked egg in the hole along with any butter from the skillet.

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Crumble some goat cheese and sprinkle on top.
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You can also add chopped chives or parsley.

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It’s a wonderful and hearty breakfast, but I’d certainly eat this for dinner as well!
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If you wanted to bake the eggs in the grits, like in the original recipe, you must use an oven-proof serving dish or prepare all four servings in a skillet.
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But I would make sure that the grits are first on the runny side. They will thicken – especially in the oven.
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Pistachio Spazele

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When my family was in Park City, Utah, on vacation recently to visit my mother, we had a very special dinner. What made it special was because it was just my mother, my daughter, and myself. That rarely happens because we live in different states.

On our girls’ night out without the guys and the baby, we dined at The Farm, which we’ve been to a few times before, located at The Canyons just outside of Park City. And again it did not fail to please – from the service, to the atmosphere, to the food and wine.

What really got my attention on the menu was a roasted chicken served with a pistachio spazele, sometimes spelled spaetzle. And it was out of this world! (And I usually don’t order chicken at restaurants.)

I wish I had studied the spazele more, photographed it, something. I don’t even remember if there were pistachios in the pasta dough. I just remember that it was delicious, and that there was a crunch of added pistachios.
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We ate our meals ferociously, as if we had not eaten for days! Our appetites were fueled by the hike earlier in the day, and a few cocktails outside with a gorgeous view of the mountains. But I do regret not inspecting the spazele more.

So now I’m back home and I must try out my own creation for pistachio spazele. I googled, but came up only with pistachio pestos.

I decided it was also time to try out spazele using a spazele maker, instead of the larger, quenelle-shaped variety I typically make using a teaspoon.
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I say they’re quenelle shaped, but really they’re more like rustic blobs.

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So here’s what I did.
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Pistachio Spazele
Serves 4, generously

1/2 stick/2 ounces unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 ounces ground pistachios
Pinch of salt
1 cup white flour
Chopped pistachios, approximately 1/3 cup, or to taste

To begin, make the garlic butter for the spazele by gently melting the butter in a skillet large enough to hold all of the spazele. Add the garlic, stir, and then remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

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To make the pistachio batter, combine the cream, eggs, pistachios and salt in a large bowl. Whisk well.

Before completing the batter, begin heating a large pot of water on the stove. I added a little salt to the water.

Add the flour to the batter until just combined. It should be drippy, but not thin.

Place the spazele gadget over the pot of boiling water, and have the batter next to the pot with a large spoon for scooping. Also have a spider sieve on hand, and a clean dish towel to help remove some of the water. Also have the skillet with the garlic butter nearby.

Begin by scooping a good amount of the batter into the top part of the spazele gadget that moves over the part that looks like a cheese grater. Then slowly move it back and forth. I did this two times and then stopped, so that all of the spazele could cook the same amount of time.


Fortunately the sliding part doesn’t get hot, but the cheese grater part does. It’s a little awkward to use because a hot pad is required. I recommend that you remove the spazele maker from on top of the pot because the boiling water cooks the batter on it.

Once the spazele have cooked about one minute, remove them from the water and place the sieve on the towel to drain a bit.

Then gently toss the spazele into the garlic butter and continue with the remaining batter. Stir the spazele gently and add the chopped pistachios.

Today I served the spazele with peppered pork tenderloin, and it was fabulous.
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I also added a little pistachio “dust” for some color.
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I honestly don’t think the pistachios in the batter did much for the flavor but overall these were probably the best spazele I’ve ever eaten!
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I also thought the spazele themselves would be greener, but that’s okay!


I will definitely make these again!!!
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Black Bean Salad

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Last week on the blog I cooked a pound of dried beans to show how easy and inexpensive it is to prepare beans. But I also wanted to show what you can do with a pot of beans, such as use the beans in other dishes.

It’s easy to use the beans in soups and stews and even pastas. I love the idea of stretching dishes, especially those heavy with protein, in order to make them healthier. But there are also so many other ways to use cooked beans.

Today I’m going to make a bean salad. This is not an exceptional or “gourmet” recipe; in fact, you can really change it up to make it your own. But it’s a hearty, healthy, satisfying salad. I must say that whenever I’ve taken a bean salad to parties, people go nuts over them. And they’re so simple!

So hopefully this is a dish that you’ve never thought of making before, and are willing to try it out! It’s definitely wonderful to take to a pot luck, and it can be made ahead of time.
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Plus, you can use many different kinds of vinaigrettes or citrus-based dressing with bean salads. I even posted a bean salad on the blog a while back using a home-made green goddess dressing. So the options are endless!

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Black Bean Salad

Black beans, no liquid included
Raw zucchini, chopped
Fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
Onion, finely chopped
Chile peppers, finely chopped
Fresh cilantro leaves
Dressing (see below)

Begin by placing cooked beans in a medium-sized bowl. Then begin adding what you want to the beans. I’ve listed what I used, but the fun thing about these bean salads, is that you can use what you like.
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Continue to add the ingredients, then pour in the dressing and give everything a toss.


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I served my salad with some pickled jalapenos on the side, but you can offer anything you’d like.
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And that’s it! Think about how you can make this salad your own with your favorite ingredients, like including avocado, corn, and bell peppers, for example. It all works, and it’s all wonderful!

Lemon Garlic Dressing

Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil, about 1/3 cup
1 clove fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
Salt, to taste

Place everything in a blender jar and puree until smooth. If you don’t want a Southwestern-flavored dressing, omit the cumin and oregano.

A Simple Winter Meal

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To this day, my favorite thing to do in the kitchen when deciding what to cook for dinner, on the rare occasion that I have nothing planned, is to go to my refrigerator and create a meal. Now, it actually helps to have food in the refrigerator when doing this. Even an Iron Chef can’t create a meal with no ingredients.

Today I wanted something hearty and comforting. I happened to have chicken breasts and bacon, so those two items were the inspiration for this dish.

I’ve watched my fair share of cooking shows and competitions, and if a competitor ever chooses chicken with which to participate in a challenge, it’s like an automatic loss. Chicken just doesn’t have the magic that other meats do. Chicken breasts can be moist and lovely, but they must be cooked properly. Actually I can, and I have said that about all meats. But some meat can be slightly forgiving; chicken breasts are not.

Chicken is widely available in the U.S., and it’s fairly inexpensive, so it’s quite commonly used. Even better, if you’re watching your pennies, whole chickens are extremely inexpensive and can be easily broken down into breasts, thighs, and so forth.

I’ll show you what I do sometimes with chicken breasts to ensure a perfect cook, and present them in a way that’s perfect for a comforting winter meal. This dish isn’t fancy in any way, but if you’ve been dining on frozen pizza lately, you’ll think you’re dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant. I guarantee it!

Chicken Breasts with a Bacon Cream Sauce and Sautéed Apples
to serve 2

4 thick slices bacon
Splash of olive oil, if necessary
2 chicken breasts, close to room temperature
Salt
Pepper
3 shallots, diced
1/2 teaspoon chicken demi-glace
Reduced apple cider*, or apple juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Cream, about 1/3 cup
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Sautéed Apples

To begin, dry off the bacon with paper towels, if necessary. Then dice it.

Place the bacon in a hot skillet. Add a splash of olive oil if necessary. It depends how fatty your bacon is.

Cook the bacon until browned, then using a slotted spoon, place the bacon on paper towels to drain.

If there’s too much bacon grease in the skillet, remove some and save it for other purposes.

To prepare the chicken breasts, take a sharp knife and cut along each breast horizontally, to make two breast pieces that are more uniformly thick; one will be smaller and slightly thinner than the other. Pound any part of the chicken breast slices that are slightly thicker. Season with salt and pepper.

Place two of the chicken breasts in the skillet with the hot bacon grease. If you’re concerned about uneven cooking, cook the two same-sized breast pieces together. You can always use a thermometer to make sure that the internal temperature doesn’t go over 150 degrees.

Brown on both sides, and lower the heat slightly to cook the breasts completely, although properly. Place them on a plate and cover them loosely with foil.

Add the shallots and sauté them until soft and golden.
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Meanwhile, add the demi glace to a small measuring cup or bowl and all a little water to cover. Microwave until the water is hot and whisk in the demi-glace until fully incorporated. Have this, the reduced cider (see below), the mustard, and the cream on hand.

When the shallots are golden, pour in the demi-glace mixture, add the mustard, and then pour in the cider reduction.

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Stir well and cook for a minute. Then add cream. The amount of cream you use depends on how creamy you want your sauce. I kept mine slightly thick, but you could easily add twice as much as make a cream sauce.
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Sprinkle in a little dried thyme, if using, and taste sauce for seasoning. Then add the bacon and stir in well. This just softens the bacon. If you prefer, save it to sprinkle on the top of each serving.

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For each serving, I placed the larger and smaller chicken breasts on two plates.

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I divided the bacon cream sauce between the two plates, and used steamed green beans as the side.
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Just for fun, I sautéed a few apple slices, just to enhance the apple flavor in the sauce resulting from the reduced cider. Of course, this step is not necessary, it was just a fun addition.

If you do this, just a few apple slices is all you need.

So as you can see, a very delicious and hearty meal was created with the simplest of ingredients, namely chicken, bacon, shallots, apple cider, demi-glace, and cream. Onions could be substituted for the shallots, and broth could be substituted for the demi-glace. In the case of the apple cider, which in my case my hard cider, I have never come across a family that didn’t have some kind of apple juice in their refrigerator!

* A reduction, no matter what kind of liquid it is, is just that – a reduction of volume. Through a light simmer, you gently evaporate the liquid, which thickens it, and also creates a more concentrated flavor. Then it can be incorporated in a sauce, a vinaigrette, or a soup. It’s a simple technique, and one you should know.

I used a cider from Normandie which was a present from my mother; we happened to have about 2 cups leftover that would have gone flat. The Normandie region in France is famous for their apple-based booze, like Calvados.

From the 2 cups of cider, I ended up with about 1/4 cup of reduced cider, perfect to add to the above cream sauce.

Rösti

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Because one cannot have enough potatoes during these dreary winter months, I bring you Rösti – a potato masterpiece from Switzerland.

Similar to a tartiflette, sort of its French counterpart and equally unphotogenic, this potato dish is extremely hearty and satisfying. It would be a perfect meal for avant skiing, as well for après skiing. Not that I ski, but I can imagine how good it would be for carb loading, as well as for replacing precious calories burnt after such an exuberant day on the slopes.

I first enjoyed Rösti in a teeny village somewhere in the Berner Oberland of Switzerland. I have vivid memories of everything about the dish, just not, unfortunately, the name of the village. I remember that we stayed at the only hotel in town, which was quite lovely. Actually, there was no real town. Just a little country road, and the hotel.

For lunch one day, my family sat outside the hotel and enjoyed Rösti and beer. I wasn’t trying to carb-load, although we went hiking after lunch. I just wanted to try the local specialty.

Occasionally cows were led by; they all had cow bells around their necks, which I’d never witnessed before. It turns out, there’s quite a bit of history and cultural importance in Switzerland with their prized local cows and the cow bells as well.

Every year after the snow melts, the cows are taken to high pastures to graze on meadow grass, which is supposedly why the local cheese made from their milk is so tasty. At the end of the grazing season, the cows come home. There is a celebration called the Alpaufzug, which is the procession when the cows return to their villages. It takes place, understandably, in the fall. We were visiting Switzerland in May. Some day I hope to go back for Alpaufzug, because I just have a love affair with beautiful cows.

I got to see the local cows and hear their bells ringing from around their necks, just from them walking around, but the cows don’t always wear their fancy cow bells. These are saved for the Alpaufzug as well as other celebrations. You know the Europeans – there are celebrations for everything and anything throughout the year. But these fancy cow bells can weigh a hundred or so pounds, if I remember correctly. We saw some displayed in various restaurants and hotels throughout the Berner Oberland – giant bells hanging from tooled, leather harnesses. Some of these cow bells go back multiple generations in history; they are very prized and proud possessions for these Swiss people.

Here’s an example of the Alpaufzug from this photo I found online. People actually put flowers on the cows.

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Don’t you wonder what the cows are thinking? But I do love that the Swiss truly love and worship their cows.

Myself, I only found one gal in a field, who didn’t have on a cow bell. But they’re beautiful cows, aren’t they?

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This photo was taken near Interlaken. If you’ve never been to this part of Switzerland, well it’s everything you’ve ever heard or read about it. The mountains, rivers, and valleys are stunning. And if you take the train all the way to the top from Lauterbrunnen, you get to Yungfraujoch, with stunningly icy views, like these:

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I’m actually surprised my camera didn’t freeze, but I wasn’t outside long.

So I’ve gotten a little off track discussing Rösti, but the cows are an important factor because cheese can be part of a Rösti, as well as ham or bacon.

What I ate in Switzerland was classic Rösti – crispy grated potatoes – similar to what the Americans refer to as hashed browns. As much as I try not to google about food, I was really fascinated by what is considered traditional Rösti. And, not surprisingly, I came up with so many versions, depending on the village in Switzerland, and if the village was Swiss speaking, or German speaking.

I came across this interesting tidbit: In Swiss popular consciousness, rösti is eaten only in the German-speaking part of the country. It is portrayed as a stereotypical identifier of Germanic culture, as opposed to the Latin one. The line separating the French and German speaking sides is jokingly called the Röstigraben, literally the “rösti ditch”.

I love how food can be a political divider in countries. I mean, it’s just potatoes! But oh, such good potatoes.

So I decided just to wing Rösti on my own, following no recipe. I might have actually made something very much equaling a traditional dish somewhere in Switzerland – you never know! But I did decide to included Gruyère along with the potatoes. Gruyère is an aged version of what we know in the states to be Swiss cheese, and it’s a product of the milk of those lovely cows chomping away at the alpine grasses during the summer months in Switzerland.

So here’s my version of a perfect, cold weather dish – I bring you Rösti! (pronounced roosh-tee, sort of)

Rösti

7 medium-sized potatoes, peeled ( I chose floury, baking potatoes)
Olive oil or duck fat, not butter
Salt
Pepper
Approximately 8 ounces Gruyère, grated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
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Grate the potatoes, and then cover them with paper towels to absorb any excess liquid. This will only take about 5 minutes.
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Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. You will need a generous amount to avoid any sticking.

Place about half of the potatoes on to the bottom of the skillet. Season them generously with salt and pepper. Using the back of a wooden spoon, pat down the potatoes.
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Cover the potatoes with the cheese.

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Then cover with the remaining potatoes. Pat down as before. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the potatoes.

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Cook the potatoes, uncovered, over the same heat, until you can tell there’s some browning. This should take about 15 minutes. Make sure that the heat isn’t too high to cause excessive browning or burning.

Now, if you could trust yourself to not spill, you could manage to flip the Rösti over and return it to the pan, cooked side up, but I decided to use my oven to cook and brown the top side instead. But either way will work.

Place the skillet in the oven and bake the potatoes for about 15-20 minutes, or until there’s some equally good browning on the top.
My Rösti ended up being about 1″ thick. If yours is thinner, less time in the oven will be required.

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Remove the skillet from the oven and set it aside to cool slightly. Don’t use a lid, because Rösti should be crispy, not mushy.

Slide the Rösti out onto a serving dish, and slice in wedges to serve.

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Serve hot or at least warm.

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You could serve a fried egg on top of the potatoes, or serve them with some fried sausages. I chose to serve the potatoes with some smoked salmon.

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This made a fabulous meal – I highly recommend it!

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