Risotto with Pork Shanks

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On the last season of Masterchef US, season 10, the 4th runner up went home. His name is Noah Sims and he was a favorite. What sent him home was a risotto topped with venison loin. The venison was overcooked, unfortunately for him, but what sent him home was a profound learning experience to me.

Risotto is a dish. It is a meal. It can be enhanced with an endless number of ingredients, from mushrooms to tomatoes and squash, and seasoned accordingly. It also can be served with protein of just about any kind, for a more involved meal. However, the protein is a separate dish from the risotto.

So, you have risotto, and the added protein, and according to Joe Bastianich, the son of Italian cuisine expert Lidia Bastianich, something has to tie them together. Otherwise it’s like serving a chili dog on a plate of cacio de pepe. (not his quote.) Two completely different dishes.

What Mr. Bastianich suggested was that if Noah had been able to prepare a venison stock to use in the risotto, the overall meal would have worked.

I found this to be quite revelatory. Because although my husband doesn’t mind, I’ve put just about any kind of meat or seafood over his risotto. Now, they have to “go” together. Now I know.

So I created this risotto dish topped with braised pork chops in order to use pork broth in the risotto. Start in the morning, and don’t plan on serving the dish until the next day.

Braised Pork Shanks
4 servings

4 – 1 1/2 pound Berkshire pork shanks
Salt
Pepper
Grapeseed oil, about 1/4 cup total
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
3 cups white wine
3 cups chicken broth
Parsley
Bay leaves
Rosemary branch
Thyme branch
Sprig of sage

Begin by coating the pork with a generous amount of salt and pepper.


Heat the grapeseed oil in a heavy cast-iron pot over high heat. Brown the tops and bottoms of all four shanks, one at a time.

After browning, place the shanks in a large, deep and heavy pot, like a Le Creuset; set aside.

Turn down the heat under the pot to medium. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots for about 5 minutes, stirring up all of that meaty goodness.

Stir in the garlic for a minute, then add the wine and broth.

Add all of the herbs to the pot with the broth. Heat up the liquid in the pot, uncovered, and cook for 30 minutes. Then cover the pot well and cook for 30 more minutes.

Let the liquid cool enough to handle the pot, then strain the liquid through a fine colander into the pot with the shanks. Add more wine or broth if necessary. The meat should just be covered.

At this point you can check the seasoning. The broth should be rich with flavor.

Place the pot over a medium-high heat and simmer the shanks for 2 1/2 hours. Turn the shanks over halfway through cooking.

When you’re ready to collect the pork broth and proceed with the risotto, remove the shanks and place in a baking dish. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Taste the broth. If it’s watery, spend at least 30-45 minutes reducing it. Store it in a pourable pot, then make the risotto (recipe below).

Risotto served with Braised Pork Shanks
4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
12 ounces arborio rice, about 2 cups
Pork broth, about 4-5 cups
Salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, and saute the shallots for a few minutes. Add the rice and stir until all of the grains are lightly coated with the oil.

Gradually begin adding the pork broth to the risotto. This whole process should take about 45 minutes; stir constantly.

Season to your taste. At the end of cooking, I added just a little bit of cream, but this is optional.

For seasoning the risotto, if you want it more “fun,” think about adding some dried thyme, or mushroom powder, or even tomato powder or tomato paste.

The risotto already pairs with the pork shanks because of the lovely rich broth used in it, but you can be a little more creative with the risotto.

To prepare the risotto and pork shank dish, place half of the risotto on a pasta bowl, and top with a warm pork shank. I brushed a little of the broth over the pork so it was nice and moist.

I added some chopped parsley for a little color, and served the meal with a simple green salad.

The pork is so moist, and tender like pulled pork. And flavorful.

And the risotto? Superb. Even with very little fat, the pork broth really created a rich-tasting risotto.

And if you don’t want to deal with the whole shank on your risotto, you can cut it up first, and serve warm over the risotto, like you would short ribs.

But the whole pork shank does make a pretty presentation!

Wild Rice and Pecan Pancakes

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Savory pancakes are something I really enjoy creating, not just because they are so delicious, but more because you can incorporate just about anything and everything into the batter.

Just on this blog I’ve offered potato and halloumi pancakes, butternut squash and bacon pancakes, zucchini pancakes, and squash and corn pancakes. All different, all wonderfully satisfying.

My secret if to use very little flour; it’s all about the main ingredients. Sometimes it’s vegetables with herbs, sometimes vegetables and nuts, sometimes I mix in grains, cooked or not, for texture.

These pancakes are an autumnal offering, using wild rice and toasted pecans. If you are serving a Mexican or Southwestern-inspired meal, include cilantro in the pancakes, plus some ground cumin and dried oregano. If you want a more generic pancake, stick with some parsley for a fresh flavor, like I did here.

Wild rice is actually a seed, not a grain, and it can taste and feel like little sticks, so I prefer a mixture of rice, brown or white, and wild rice.

These can be served with any kind of protein, from a pork chop to salmon. They’re quite versatile.

Wild rice and Pecan Pancakes
Makes 15 pancakes

2 ounces pecans
4 ounces wild rice
1 cup cooked white or brown rice, cooled
2 eggs
4 ounces 1/2 & 1/2, evaporated milk, or other
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Approximately 1/4 finely chopped onions or shallots
Approximately 1/4 chopped parsley
1/2 cup flour plus a little more
Butter or olive oil

Toast the pecans in a cast-iron skillet and let cool.

Meanwhile, cook the wild rice in 2 cups of water just as you would rice, for about 50 minutes. You actually have the option to cook less or more, depending on how you like your wild rice. It softens more with more cooking, obviously, which is how I prefer it. If there’s leftover water in the pot you can drain it.

Place the leftover cooked white rice in a small bowl, then add the cooked wild rice and let cool.

In a larger bowl, combine the eggs and 1/2 & 1/2 and stir well. Add the garlic pepper and salt.

When the rice has cooled, add to the egg and milk mixture. Stir well, then add the onions and parsley.

When you are ready to cook the pancakes, add the pecans and stir in the flour.

When you stir the batter, you shouldn’t see any liquid (the egg and milk mixture). If you do, sprinkle a little more flour over the batter, only about one tablespoon at a time. If you add too much flour, the pancakes will be stiff and dry.

I used a large non-stick skillet to cook the pancakes. Start over medium-high heat. Add some butter to the skillet, and when it melts, add a spoonful of batter carefully, pressing it down to form a pancake.

After a minute, turn down the heat and let the pancakes cook for a few minutes. Turn them over carefully, and continue to cook a few more minutes. If you want more browning on the second side, raise the heat a bit.

Repeat with the remaining batter. Take your time, these are a bit more delicate than potato pancakes. The rices are cooked, but you still have to cook the batter slowly but thoroughly.

I served the pancakes as a side to a filet mignon.

I think a vegetarian would enjoy them as a meal, because they’re pretty hearty.

Speaking of non-vegetarians, these would also be good made with bacon.

If you feel extra decadent, serve sour cream with the pancakes.

 

 

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries

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You’ve all put up with me lamenting about the fact that, living in the middle of the United States, with no nearby coastline, I can’t buy fresh seafood. And it’s pretty much my favorite thing to eat, well over beef and chicken.

I make up for it when on vacation, especially when it comes to squid and octopus. I eat them until tentacles are practically coming out my ears.

Besides being delicious, they’re fascinating creatures.

Instead of whining, I decided it was time to just order some frozen baby octopus. I actually see it frozen occasionally in recipes, so I’m not the only person who can’t always buy it fresh, or wants it out of season.

The company I ordered from is La Tienda, a Spanish website that I’ve used for years. Just about any Spanish product you desire, they sell.

It was a fluke that I found frozen octopus; I didn’t expect La Tienda to have it. I also bought some frozen cuttlefish at the same time – something I’d never tried before – at least not knowingly.

When I received the pound of baby octopus, there were only two, so about 8 ounces each, shown above. I expected baby octopuses to look like ones I’ve had on salads or seen at markets.

But it gave me the opportunity to learn how to break down an octopus. It’s a very straight-forward procedure, and takes minutes.

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries
Cause it’s still summer here….

1 pound frozen baby octopus, thawed
Olive oil
Greens of choice
Chopped basil, parsley, and cilantro, about 1/2 cup total
Fresh blueberries, about 1/2 cup
Lemon juice (I used 1 lemon for 1 pound of octopus)
Olive juice, to taste
Salt
Aleppo pepper, optional

Rinse the octopus well and lay on a cutting board. Admire it, because it’s a beautiful sea creature!

Slice just below the eyes, and just above the eyes and discard this middle piece.


Then get rid of the beak in the middle of the tentacles.


Turn the head, or hood, inside out. Pull out everything from inside, and discard.

Turn the hood back to outside-in. There is a thin skin covering the hood that can be removed by pulling firmly.

Cut the tentacles off at the very top.

Trim the base of the hood, then slice the remaining hood into 1/4″ thick slices.

With the remaining center “upper thighs”, if you will, cut them each into 8 pie pieces.

From the left, the legs, the hood, and the upper thighs.

The below photo shows the legs at the top, the hood rings in the middle, and the thighs at the bottom.

Rinse the octopus parts, if necessary, then dry them well.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Over high heat and with your vent on, and perhaps a few open doors and windows, sear some of the octopus, without crowding it in the skillet, until browned. I cooked the legs, rings, and thighs separately, just because of the various thicknesses.

Remove to a plate and continue in batches; set aside.

Meanwhile, place the greens on a platter or plate.


In a small bowl, toss together the herbs and top the salad with the herbs.


Add the octopus parts, still warm, and the blueberries to the salad.


Drizzle on some fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle on a little salt.

If desired, add some Aleppo pepper for some zing!

And that’s it! The octopus was superb. All it takes is a little searing.

A simple combination of lemon juice and olive was wonderful. And the blueberries added fruitiness. The salad would also be good with warmed lentils.

I was very happy about the quality of the frozen octopus. It wasn’t old or water-logged.

At least I know now that I don’t need to turn up my nose at frozen octopus in the future. I will indeed be ordering it again.

I just have to find someone else to share it with…

And anyone who assumes that octopus is tough and rubbery, hasn’t tried it. (husband)

Sauce Vierge

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I’ve mentioned how I plan my personal meals around condiments, and I’m not exaggerating! In fact, a condiment will inspire a whole meal for me. I guess it’s no different than a BBQ lover who sees BBQ sauce and immediately wants brisket, beans, and cole slaw.

Basic condiments like home-made aioli, mustards and ketchups are wonderful, but so are romesco, chimichurri, charmoula, persillade, harissa, chutney, and confit. So many condiments, so little time!

Recently I came across another sauce – Sauce Vierge – that is almost like a marriage of a fresh tomato salsa and persillade, loosely speaking.

I discovered the sauce on Food 52. Sauce Vierge translates to virgin sauce, and was created in 1976 by Michel Guérard, “one of the forces behind the lighter, fresher nouvelle cuisine that sprang up in reaction to cuisine classique, dripping with all its hefty mother sauces.”

I got excited when I read about the sauce, which includes tomato, lemon juice, and fresh herbs, because it’s a perfect sauce to make in the summer. And it’s summer!

Sauce Vierge

4 ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 whole, peeled garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 freshly squeezed lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pinch of ground coriander
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs

Peel and seed the tomatoes, then roughly chop and place in a medium bowl.


Add the oil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, and coriander.

Then add the fresh herbs. I used chives, basil, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover the bowl, and leave to sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning, remove the cloves of garlic, and serve warm or room temperature.

To use the sauce, I grilled tilapia, and served the sauce at room temperature.

I wanted the sauce ingredients to really stand out.


I served the tilapia with boiled potatoes, on which I drizzled some of the herby oil. You can tell I’m not scared of a plate of olive oil!

In reality, is Sauce Vierge a condiment or a sauce? Where does a condiment start and end, and a sauce or paste begin?

My answer is “who cares?!!”

verdict: I will continue to make this sauce/condiment during summer months when I can get my hands on ripe tomatoes. It is exquisite. Over fish it was a great pairing, but I can see this on scallops, chicken, lamb, bread…

Note: Instead of using the ingredients at room temperature, you can alternatively mix the ingredients in a saucepan, and simmer the sauce slowly over low heat for 30 minutes.

Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes

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Recently I was browsing through a little cookbook I’d been gifted, Risotto, published by Williams-Sonoma.

It’s a sweet, unassuming cookbook, only 119 pages, published in 2002. The first chapter covers classic risottos, and following chapters discuss vegetable, meat, seafood, and even dessert risottos. It’s a great cookbook, especially if you’re a risotto virgin.

For me, risotto has never been a big deal. The main reason is that I’ve never been fearful of cooking. It’s not because I’m fearless, it’s because I was naïve!

When I began cooking regularly 40 years ago, I had no idea that certain recipes might be complicated or challenging. I just dove in head first and started learning and cooking.

Not to say that risotto is hard to make, because it isn’t. But yes, you have to give it some attention. And it involves standing at the stove for about an hour.

I know “quick and easy” meals will always be popular, but anyone can make an outstanding and satisfying dish like this mushroom risotto.

In this W-S cookbook I saw a recipe for baked risotto-stuffed tomatoes, and with my ripe garden tomatoes and herbs, I knew that this would be a really nice side dish for some grilled chicken, white fish, or even steak.

And, you can even use leftover risotto for this dish, instead of making risotto first.

Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes
Slightly Adapted

6 ripe but firm tomatoes, about 8 ounces each
Salt
Risotto, freshly prepared or leftover
1/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
Chopped fresh parsley
Chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8″ baking dish.

Cut the top off each tomato. With a small spoon, carefully scoop out the insides, leaving walls thick enough for the tomato to hold its shape.

Reserve the pulp.

Salt the inside of each tomato and turn them upside down on paper towels to drain for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, purée the tomato pulp until smooth. I used the processed pulp as part of my risotto liquid, and seasoned the risotto with dried sweet basil, salt, and white pepper.

The tomato purée added a lovely peachy hue to the risotto.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and garlic; set aside.

Put the tomatoes in the prepared dish and fill the tomatoes with the risotto, patting it down.

Cover the dish with foil and bake until the tomatoes are softened, about 25-30 minutes.

Remove the foil, and top the tomatoes with the bread crumb mixture.

Turn on the broiler and place the tomatoes 4″ from the heat source. Broil until the tops are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

Serve at once.

I sprinkled chopped parsley and a chiffonade of basil over the top of these stuffed tomatoes.

Cutting open a tomato was a delight, with the risotto’s fragrance emanating from inside.

Just a little salt and some cayenne pepper… or not.

This was perfection. And just to make sure the risotto-stuffed tomato was really good, I had a second one. But they would make a lovely side dish!

Avocado on Grilled Bread

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In 2012, my husband and I were visiting my daughter in London and we went out for breakfast. This is what my daughter ordered.

I took a photo of it because that’s always what I’ve done, even before blogging. It was just so pretty: mashed avocado spread on grilled bread, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and feta cheese. My introduction to avocado toast.

So although slow to embrace food trends, like zoodles and cauliflower rice, I decided to (FINALLY) make avocado toast. It’s not like I knew it wouldn’t be wonderful! Avocados are one of my favorite foods.

Too bad I’m not super artistic, or I could jump on another trend and create art from avocados…

Here’s how I made mine.

Avocado on Grilled Bread

4 tablespoons oil, I used walnut oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Few sprigs of thyme
6 slices good bread, like Ciabatta
2 ripe but not over-ripe avocados
Fresh tomato slices
Salt
Pepper
Goat cheese
Fresh thyme leaves, optional

Warm the olive oil in a butter warmer with the garlic and thyme. Do not let the garlic brown or burn.

Heat a large, flat skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly brush the slices of bread with the garlic oil, and grill the bread face-down until browned. Place them on a serving plate and set aside.

Peel and de-pit the avocados. Scoop out the flesh and place in a medium bowl. Mash with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Only prepare the avocado right before serving.

To prepare the “toasts,” spread some of the mashed avocado on the grilled breads and smooth the tops.

Add sliced tomatoes, followed by a generous amount of crumbled goat cheese.

Drizzle the remaining garlic and thyme oil over the avocado toasts and serve immediately.

These are not only for breakfast or a snack or lunch. I can see these served as an hors d’oeuvres with some champagne or rosé!

Alternatively, oven roast small tomatoes in a gratin pan.

Or, use sun-dried tomatoes. It’s all wonderful!

If more protein is desired, one can always add an egg, or some smoked salmon. But I like the simplicity of this preparation.

Do not use inferior bread for these toasts. Use a ciabatta, sourdough, or a hearty multigrain.

These avocado toasts were honestly outstanding. If you love avocado, tomatoes, and feta, then you’ll love these too. Of course, you’ve probably made them already because you’re not stubborn! But I have to say that the garlic and thyme-infused walnut oil was a fantastic addition.

An Ottolenghi Rice Salad

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It goes without saying that I’m a stubborn gal, especially when it comes to trends. Fashion, food, music, you name it.

Sometimes I wonder, though, what I might have missed out on. I don’t think it was kale chips, overnight oats, grilled lemons, or salads in jars. I might have missed out of zoodles if I hadn’t received a spiralizer as a gift.

In the 80’s basil pesto and sun-dried tomatoes were sooo trendy that I refused to try them. I lost quite a few tasty years as a result of my stubbornness. I’ve since made up for lost time!

In any case, I remember when everybody was making food from Ottolenghi’s cookbook, entitled “Plenty.” I gave the cookbook as gifts, but refused to purchase one for myself.

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Then “Jerusalem” came along.

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Then, “Ottolenghi.”

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Then, as if Plenty wasn’t enough, there came “Plenty More.”

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There might be more cookbooks written by Yotam Ottolonghi and Sami Tamimi, his business partner and chef, but Plenty was the first one of which I became aware. The recipes in Plenty and Plenty More are vegetarian, but not the other two. Mr. Ottolenghi himself is not a vegetarian; I love that he embraces lovely, vibrant food in general, meaty or meatless.

Also because of my stubborness, it was a while before I went to an Ottolenghi restaurant in London during the years my daughter lived there. In July of 2014, our last visit to London before she moved back to the states, we went to Nopi for lunch, located in Soho. And what a fabulous experience it was.

I wrote a post about it entitled, “How I Met Yotam Ottolenghi,” because the manager looked so much like him I thought I really had. In reality, they look nothing alike except that they both both wear glasses.

So I now own three books by Ottolenghi, although not Plenty, and one night I read through them marking recipes and choosing one to make that exemplifies his food, which was not easy. I stayed away from his classic “this and that with tahini and pomegranates.” (Stubbornness, again!)

This is what I chose.

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Rice Salad with Nuts and Sour Cherries
from Plenty More

Scant 1 cup wild rice
Scant 1 1/4 cups basmati rice (I used brown)
5 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup quinoa (I used millet)
6 1/2 tablespoons almonds, skins on, coarsely chopped
7 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup sunflower oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cups arugula
2/3 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt, pepper

Place the wild rice in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 35 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still firm.
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Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside to dry.

Mix the basmati rice with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place in a saucepan with 1 1/3 cups of boiling water, cover, and cook over the lowest possible heat for 15 minutes.

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Remove from the heat, place a tea towel over the pan, replace the lid, and set aside for 10 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool down completely.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and add the quinoa. Cook for 9 minutes, then drain into a fine sieve, refresh under cold water, and set aside.

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Place the almonds and pine nuts in a small pan with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a small plate as soon as the pine nuts begin to color and set aside.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large saute pan and add the onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Cook over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often, so that parts of the onion get crisp and others just soft. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Place all of the grains in a large bowl along with the chopped herbs, arugula, fried onion, nuts, and sour cherries. Add the lemon juice and zest, the remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper.

Mix well and set aside for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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note: As with most all of Ottolenghi’s recipes, they are specific, and require many steps. In the write-up about this recipe, he actually apologizes for the need for so many pots! I read about how he came to the point when he realized that to test recipes, one must be exact; no handfuls of this and that. So exact they are! I seriously doubt that this salad would taste any differently with 7 tablespoons of almonds instead of 6 1/2! In fact, in my mind, it should really read “6 1/2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped almonds.” Oh well. His food is fabulous and this is a great recipe.

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verdict: This is, not surprisingly, a delicious salad. Everything in it sings, from the lemon and garlic flavors to the pungent arugula and herbs. I love the sour cherries, but just about any dried fruit would work.

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Spatchcocking

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I haven’t spatchcocked a chicken in almost 3 years. I know this because I discovered an old post on one from early in my blogging career. It was deleted because, like so many others, the photography was dreadful in those “early” days. But there’s also another reason.

Before, when I made a spatchcock chicken, I used a wonderful pan called a mattone. It was a flat-bottomed shallow clay pan with a glazed interio and a heavy flat lid. It was perfect for a small spatchcock chicken or poussin.

Sadly, though, the bottom cracked, and I can’t find a mattone anywhere online.

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But I found a really heavy press with a handle that I thought would solve the problem.

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Even after removing the chicken’s backbone, which is the whole point of a spatchcocked chicken, it can pop up instead of staying flat. This defeats the whole concept of cooking a uniformly thick chicken. It needs to lay flat – on its own or with weight on top.

So I set out to try out my new gadget. To spatchcock a chicken, get a good, whole chicken. Then to remove the backbone, use really good poultry shears. You first have to figure out what side of the chicken is the back, because I made that mistake once. The best hint is the little tail sticking out!

Cut up one side of the tail along the backbone, then do the other side.

Turn the chicken over and flatten it with your hands. You’ll hear a little crunch.

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There are many different ways to cook a spatchcock chicken, like outside on the grill, on the stove, or in the oven. Outside was out for me, with a heat index of 105 degrees. So I decided to do the browning on the stove, and finish the cooking in the oven at 350 degrees. 325 degrees would also work.

I first seasoned the chicken well, after patting the top and bottom dry with paper towels. I decided on duck fat, and melted some in my large flat griddle, and added some freshly cut thyme and rosemary.

I turned the heat to the highest setting and when the duck fat was hot I added the spatchcock chicken. Then I used my lid. Ingenious!
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After about 4-5 minutes, I turned the chicken over, replaced the lid, and browned the other side.

Then I put the griddle in the oven, and used a probe. I removed the chicken from the griddle after 155 degrees was reached, according to the probe and placed it to cool on a cutting board. See? Nice and flat!
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Using a large knife or cleaver, cut the chicken into pieces and serve.

You can see that the chicken is juicy, but also nicely browned.

I served it with a rosé, and it was a perfect combination. Although, I’ll probably not purchase this rosé again. It was a bit too sweet.
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note: I really love my oval Le Creuset skillet, found here on the Williams-Sonoma website. Sometimes you just need oval, and not round!

Almond Herb Pesto

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We love a good pesto in our family. Of course there’s the popular Genovese pesto made with baby basil leaves, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan, which is divine. You can find this traditional recipe in any Italian cookbook. But it’s also fun to create different pesto varieties. If you want to stick with the authentic version, I understand, but you’re missing out on many wonderful flavor sensations!

My pestos always contain olive oil, Parmesan and garlic, but I love to play with the nuts and the greens. You can substitute any nut or seed in pestos, and for the basil, you can substitute anything green, from cilantro to spinach.
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Today’s Almond Herb Pesto was inspired by our love of almonds. We order all of our almonds from Nuts.com*, and they’re always fresh. Many varieties are available but I typically purchase plain whole almonds with the skins intact.
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For the green part of today’s pesto, I’m using a combination of half basil and half parsley. Basil provides a unique flavor, and parsley provides a distinct freshness. Fortunately, my basil and parsley are still surviving in the garden in spite of our rainy spring.

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The wonderful thing about home-made pesto is how versatile it is. Pesto on pasta? Of course! That’s what I’m doing today. But what about pesto slathered on chicken breasts or salmon steaks? Or topping grilled asparagus or roasted tomatoes? Yes!



Almond Herb Pesto
Makes 12 ounces of pesto

4 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, or less
2 ounces Parmesan, coarsely chopped
Herbs, in this case parsley and basil
4 ounces plain, whole almonds

I’m taking different steps to make this pesto because I want the almond to be in chunky bits, not completely puréed. Therefore, I’m starting with olive oil in the blender and adding the garlic and Parmesan.



Next I added a handful of basil leaves and a handful of parsley leaves. I used both curly leaf and Italian flat leaf parsley. Blend until smooth.
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Lastly, add the almonds to the mixture and blend only until you have chunky almond bits.

For my pasta today, I chose bucatini, but any spaghetti-type pasta will work well. Toss the cooked and well-drained pasta with the pesto until it’s evenly distributed. Don’t cook your pasta al dente because there’s not enough moisture in the pesto for the pasta to absorb and cook more.

Serve the pasta hot.
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You can always add more grated Parmesan if you wish.
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If the pasta dries up a little, add a little olive oil or cream and toss gently.
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* If you need a good resource for nuts, seeds, dried fruits and more, check out Nuts.com! We’ve used them forever and they have great customer service, which is important to me. I store all of these pantry staples in the refrigerator.
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note: If you plan on slathering the pesto onto something that will be baked, like salmon, for example, I would omit the Parmesan completely in the pesto. Or just use the pesto as is after the baking is complete.

Pesto-Roasted Squash

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There are two varieties of winter squash I can depend on being available where I live. These are acorn squash and butternut squash. I discovered too late last fall that my local store quits selling pumpkin soon after Halloween. Lesson learned for this year.

I would love to be able to try all of the fabulous squashes I see in food bloggers’ photos from farmer’s markets, but because of my living in a more rural area of the United States, I must be satisfied with what I can get my hands on.

If I plan on roasting peeled chunks of squash, I always reach for the butternut. I mean, would you ever even consider peeling an acorn squash with all of those ridges?
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Alternatively, If I want to roast squash for a dip, a puree, or as vessels for stuffing, I reach for acorns.

Today, I’m roasting chunks of butternut squash, but using pesto instead of tossing the chunks simply in olive oil. It just adds so much flavor, and pesto is especially handy flavoring ingredient during the months when fresh herbs aren’t growing outside.

When I make large batches of pesto to freeze every summer, I always omit the cheese. First of all, it reduces the volume of pesto, and thus, the number of jars, and secondly, I prefer to add my own amount of freshly grated cheese when preparing a dish – such as, for example, pasta with pesto.
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So the pesto I’m using on this squash contains basil, parsley, garlic, pumpkin seeds, and olive oil. The flavor is condensed, without the dilution of cheese. I actually think the inclusion of cheese in the pesto might cause some burning and sticking during the roasting process. If you really want cheese on the squash, wait till the roasting is over, and sprinkle some on right before serving. I did not add cheese.

Pesto-Roasted Butternut Squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.

Place 1/3 – 1/2 cup of pesto (without cheese) in a large bowl. Add a little olive oil, if necessary, to make a nice slurry. Set aside.
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Meanwhile, trim and peel a large butternut squash. Remove the seeds, then chop up the squash into uniform-sized pieces. Obviously, the smaller the pieces, the less the cooking time, so it’s really up to you and how well you know your oven. Just try to get the pieces similar in size.

Toss the squash pieces in the pesto mixture. Add a little more pesto if you think it’s necessary.

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Add a little salt only if you don’t include salt when you make pesto, which I don’t. Toss, and gently pour the squash into a large roasting pan. Just so you know, I happen to love my 15-year old Mauviel roasting pan, and highly recommend the brand. It’s non-stick and heavy duty.

Place the pan in the preheated oven. The squash should be tender within about 30 minutes, but it depends on your oven, and how small you cut up the squash. Test the squash at some point to make sure you don’t overcook it, or else you’ll end up with pesto-flavored squash mash!
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Today I served the butternut squash with some grilled filet mignon.

You can really mix and match the pestos to the proteins included in a meal. For example, a cilantro pesto would lend itself well to an adobo-rubbed filet. Alternatively, a lemongrass pesto would pair beautifully with an Asian-marinated filet.

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note: If you don’t have any leftover pesto to use simply blend up a slurry of any herbs you can find at the grocery store, such as basil, parsley, and cilantro. Add garlic and olive oil and make a thick marinade of sorts; nuts are not necessary.