The Last Supper: Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel

Friday night went exactly as scheduled except we added my husband’s parents into the mix, which is probably a very good thing because this pasta dish is definitely meant for four people, not just two. My husband helmed the stove on this evening and put together a damn good dinner if I do say so myself, courtesy of our good friend Martha:

Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel:

  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced, plus fronds, for serving
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh juice, plus lemon wedges, for serving
  • 2 1/2 ounces Parmesan, grated (about 3/4 cup), plus more for serving
  • Arugula, for serving (we skipped this and just had a side salad)

Steps:

  1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain.

  2. Meanwhile, heat a large straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and sausage; cook, breaking into pieces, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat; reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, fennel, and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Add pasta, pasta water, lemon zest and juice, cheese, and sausage. Simmer, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand to thicken, about 10 minutes. Drizzle with oil. Serve with fennel fronds, lemon wedges, cheese, and arugula, if you’d like.

The Verdict:

(Oops, I’ve realized I’ve skipped this step on all my other posts.) Delish! The lemon made the pasta bright and zesty while the chicken broth flavor balanced it out. The fennel was an interesting taste and the fronds look beautiful on the dish, elevating this from a simple pasta dinner.

This is my last guest post as my lovely sister will be returning home from her honeymoon with plenty of stories (and meals!) to share. Until we meet – and eat – again!

A slight change in plans: Simple Baked Fish with Mushrooms and Onions

Instead of a healthy fish dinner on Wednesday night, I went to happy hour and ate fried shrimp. They were delicious. Je ne regrette rien.

But this meant we had Thursday to redeem ourselves! Bluegrass was postponed until Friday, football was cancelled, and so we had the evening to ourselves to make supper. My mom gave me this recipe to try out – it’s super simple and super delicious. We tried it with Whitefish, which is a Great Lakes fish, but you could use any flaky white fish for this recipe, such as cod, halibut, tilapia or hake. We served this with sauteed kale and pilaf! (Does this make up for pizza night?)

Baked Fish with Mushrooms and Onions

  • 1lb fish
  • 1 large onion – sliced thinly
  • 10 oz sliced mushrooms
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1Tbs butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley and/or lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400 F

2. Sprinkle bottom of pan (my mom recommends an all clad pan with 1.5″ sides) with olive oil.

3. Put sliced onion and mushrooms in pan mix with olive oil sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you’re using a thinner fish like tilapia, prebake the vegetables for 20 minutes or so as they will take longer to cook than the fish.

4. Put the fish on top, use salt and pepper on fish.

5. Dab a couple of little pieces of butter on top and stick that baby in the oven! Depending on the thickness of fish, it takes 30-40 minutes until it’s done. To finish you could use also broil the pan for 5 minutes.

6. Optional additions: using a New England recipe, you could sin and add some breadcrumbs onto the fish before baking or even sprinkle it with some shredded cheese. You can also add some lemon and parsley.

Guten Appetit, as the Germans would say!

Pizza night! (And some salad was involved, too.)

Tuesday night went according to plan – sort of. (And so is life.) We’re fostering a puppy right now and so much of my day-to-day existence has revolved around making sure she isn’t eating our house, peeing everywhere, or otherwise hurting herself. She’s also a bit of a timid little lady, so I took her to a shy and fearful dog class, which was kindly hosted by her rescue organization, Second Hand Hounds. The class started at 6:30pm, so I naively thought that it’d last an hour, I’d be home by 8pm, and I could take charge of dinner then. No such luck. I left the class at 8:30pm and got home at 9pm, thinking that dinner was all over. And then… as I climbed the apartment stairs, delicious smells started wafting through the air. “Could it be,” I wondered in my starved stupor. I steadily mounted the last stairs, opened the apartment door, and gasped in excitement: the pizza had been prepared (by my kind and loving husband). Seriously, there is nothing better than coming home to have a freshly cooked pizza waiting for you. So here is our favorite pizza to make at home. It’s nothing special, but it’s oh so delicious and oh so easy and enjoyable on a night where you don’t really have much gas left in the tank and you want a cheap and simple meal.

Simple Homemade Pizza

  • Prepared pizza dough (when I called this pizza “homemade,” I stretched the truth a little bit). We’ve bought our dough at Whole Foods, our local food coop, and Trader Joes. Your local pizza place may have dough for purchase as well.
  • A jar of pesto.
  • Salami
  • Mozzarella

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (or follow whatever cooking directions your dough provides).

2. Roll out the dough on a baking pan – feel free to spray the pan with non-stick spray first.

3. Spread the pesto on the dough, place the salami on the pizza, and then cut up the mozzarella into slices and arrange on the pie.

4. Stick in the oven and let that baby cook until the crust is where you want it -maybe around 20 minutes.  Totally easy and totally yummy.

To make ourselves feel better about having pizza, we also pulled together a quick salad. The story behind this salad: for the longest time, I’ve been going to restaurants and ordering an arugula salad – it’s always super simple and I feel clean and wholesome and pretty while I eat it (before diving into whatever pasta deliciousness I’ve also willed to appear on the table). But then I go home and forget about arugula until the next time I go to a restaurant and run through the same cycle and spend another eight bucks on something I could have easily made myself. Recently, I realized that I was being stupendously silly and set out to rectify the situation. And here it is: the best (and easiest ) salad ever.

  • 1 packet of baby arugula
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • Thin slices of parmesan
  • A gentle swirl of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Mix it all together until you find the balance that makes your taste buds sing, and enjoy! (I told you it was easy.)

Ina’s Lamb Shanks with Orzo

I’ve tried many a cookbook and many a chef, but Ina Garten is just my number one, all of the time. Every recipe I’ve tried is just delicious and is never impossibly difficult (ie. use every single spice that you’ve never heard of, chiffonade your vegetables, flambe your meat – is that even possible? – leaven your flour, etc., etc.). You know the kind of insane recipe I’m talking about. So this Sunday, with a bit of time on my hands and the first weekend of November reminding me that winter is, indeed, coming, I attempted a recipe that I had been eyeing: lamb shanks with orzo (taken from Ina’s Foolproof). And it did NOT disappoint.

Lamb Shakes with Orzo

  • Flour (for dredging)
  • 4 lamb shanks
  • Grapeseed oil (I think you can probably go without)
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 yellow chopped onions
  • 4-5 diced carrots
  • 3-4 stalks of diced celery
  • 1 handful of chopped rosemary
  • 3-4 minced cloves of garlic
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups of white wine (and extra for serving)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2 cups of orzo

Step 1 – Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Step 2 – Combine the flour, a handful of salt, a handful of pepper on a plate or in a bowl and dredge each of the lamb shanks, wiping off the excess.

Step 3 – Heat the grapeseed oil (or olive oil) in a large dutch oven and cook the lamb shanks on medium-high heat for 10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until browned.

Step 4 – If using grapeseed oil, wipe out the Dutch oven. If just using olive oil, proceed and cook the onions, carrots, celery and rosemary for 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender, then add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.

Step 5 – Add the tomatoes (including the liquid from the cans), beef broth, wine, a few handfuls of salt and pepper for seasoning, and then the lamb shanks. Place the lamb shanks so that they’re basically submerged in the liquid. Place the bay leaves in the pot and bring to a simmer. Once the pot is simmering, place the cover on it and stick it in the oven for 2 hours (turn the lamb shanks once while it’s cooking).

Step 6 – After two hours, stir in the orzo and then return the pot to the oven for 20-30 minutes or so. Once the orzo is cooked, put in a splash of white wine, throw in some more salt and pepper, don’t eat the bay leaves, and begin enjoying the delicious feast you just made!

(And that’s what we did, folks. Which is why we have no pictures. Along with the fact that a stew is almost horrifyingly non-photogenic.) But we promise: A+. And I’ll say it one more time: Ina, I (we) love you.

And it’s planning time!

I’ve looked up to Varina as a cook for a long time now. I remember when she got her first cooking book – maybe in 4th grade – and I was just absolutely astonished when she actually completed the recipe and made me a meal (bagel pizzas – deeeeeelish!). But the first time we really cooked together as a team was for my mom’s birthday, maybe 5 years ago. I had graduated from college and was finally coming to terms with the fact that although the food I was making was never going to be as good as my mom’s (and that I couldn’t necessarily afford to buy anything fresh or edible – true story: I accidentally bought ketchup from my grocery store that had expired an uncomfortable 4 years prior), there was no other way to learn than to do. And so, for our mom’s birthday, Varina and I pulled together the fanciest meal that we could imagine, courtesy of Ina Garten, Barefoot in Paris. We bought morels, we bought fennel; we bought all these crazy ingredients that blew my mind, and then Varina took the lead and I was happy to sous chef in her shadow. And we made the best damn birthday dinner for my mom, which has turned into one of my favorite family traditions. But I never would have attempted that meal if it hadn’t been for Varina and her confidence, so I do feel honored that she’s asked me to contribute to this lovely and yummy blog. So here we go!

Sunday – My girl Ina does it again. Lamb shanks with orzo. BOOM.

Monday – Leftovers of Sunday night’s dinner.

Tuesday – Homemade pizza with arugula salad.

Wednesday – Baked fish with onions courtesy of my mother, the fabulous Christine (guest post within a guest post – so meta).

Thursday – fend for myself! My husband is off to watch football before we go to a bluegrass concert, so I’ll probably be munching on something easy and delicious, like avocado toast.

Friday – Rigatoni with sausage and fennel!

And then le weekend. Le free for all. Le fin.