Archive | February 2010

Baked Spinach Spaghetti

baked spinach spaghetti

This post is for my brother, who recently started grad school in Boston and is looking for recipes he can make on the weekend that will last him for several days so he doesn’t have to think about cooking during the week. This dish came from a rummage through my pantry and a bit of a hankering for comfort food. There is absolutely nothing in the world as comforting to me as a red sauce and pasta. But add some cheese and breadcrumbs, then bake it until the sauce infuses with the noodles, and you’ve got comfort food in another dimension. In fact, I think all of my ultimate comfort foods involve some combination of tomato sauce, cheese, and carbs.

I bet you’ll find most, if not all, of these ingredients are already in your pantry and fridge. The oven does a lot of the work here. You don’t need to reduce the sauce to perfection over the stove. During baking, the flavors will become concentrated, and the ricotta will bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes.


spaghetti boiling on the stove

Baked Spinach Spaghetti
1/2 lb. spaghetti
olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 c. white wine
1 can whole tomatoes, pureed
1/2 bag of frozen spinach
1/2 c. ricotta
1 c. breadcrumbs
1  c. parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If you have a dutch oven or an oven-ready pot, this is a good time to use it. Otherwise, you can use a large saucepan and transfer everything to a pyrex before you bake.

Warm olive oil over medium and then saute the garlic and onions with salt and pepper, bay leaf, and thyme for about 5 minutes, until translucent and fragrant. Add the white wine until it reduces by half, about 3 minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes to the garlic, onions, and wine, and let it simmer.

At this point, turn the heat on high under a pot of water and bring to a boil. When it boils, add a handful of salt and cook the spaghetti until it is about half cooked-through, 5 minutes or so. It’s going to continue cooking in the oven.

While the pasta is boiling, add the spinach to the tomato sauce pot. Add salt to taste. With a slotted pasta spoon, transfer the spaghetti directly to the pasta sauce and turn the pot off the heat. Stir in ricotta so that the pasta and the sauce are nicely integrated. Cover with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, then drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Pop in the oven, uncovered, for about 25 minutes.

red sauce

Você fala Português?: Guest Blogger Johanna

My friend Johanna has been living the life in Lisbon since last summer, learning Portuguese, working on her dissertation, and hanging with her husband who’s on a Fulbright scholarship. This quarter, she’s found herself with the great good fortune of having to come back to Chicago to teach. During the winter. Did I mention her new husband is still in Portugal?

To help her through, Kristian and I have graciously offered to watch True Blood with her and make dinner at least once a week. You know, for moral support. This week, we decided to make a Portugal-themed dinner to get us in the mood for sexy vampires. It was remarkable. Here are Johanna’s thoughts on Lisbon and the yummy food she is missing. If you happen to be stuck in Chicago, like me, this will transport you for a bit. Plus, these recipes are phenomenal.

Since August, we’ve lived in Lisbon. Lisbon is a city where the streets are mosaic black and white marble cobblestones, set to look like waves or checkerboards or flowers. It’s a city that was supposedly founded by immortal ravens that piloted St. Vincent’s ship there in the fourth century. It’s a city where the Moors are a fairly recent memory, like something your grandparents might talk about, and their 700 year stay is felt in the brilliantly colored tiles that cover the buildings and the way Arabic shows up in the vocabulary — almofada, pillow; alface, lettuce; alfandega, customs; algemar, handcuffs. In Lisbon, Vasco da Gama is everyone’s wealthy uncle, but please don’t mention much about the past 500 years since he found the sea route to India. The earthquake of 1755 is still felt like a scar: the ceiling of the second biggest church collapsed and was never repaired, and going to the Convento do Carmo makes one wonder why all churches aren’t arches framing the sky. The language sounds like Russian spoken by someone with a bad head cold. It’s beautiful.On the edges of buildings, parakeets chirp in cages suspended from windowsills. The coffee is strong and smooth, and every tiny cafe — and there are tons of tiny cafes that don’t even have names lining every street and square — has a few old men wearing caps and reading one of the newspapers devoted to soccer. Most of those cafes also will serve you pasteis de bacalhau (fried dried codfish and potato dumplings), a nice caldo verde (green stock), and a bolinho de laranja (little orange cake). We didn’t make the pasteis de balcalhau, but here’s a recipe if you’re inspired.
We did make a fantastic caldo verde and bolinhos de laranja. Sentia-me ja voltada para Lisboa. I felt like I had returned to Lisbon already.

Caldo Verde


2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
6 ounces chorizo, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 quarts water
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound kale, stems discarded and leaves finely shredded

  1. Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole. Add the garlic, onion and half of the chorizo and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 8 minutes. Add the water, potatoes and a large pinch each of salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. Using an immersion blender, process the soup to a coarse puree. Bring the soup to a boil. Add the kale and simmer until it is wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining half of the chorizo and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve in bowls, drizzled with olive oil.

And we finished with some olive oil cupcakes.

Portuguese Orange-Olive Oil Cake
by David Leite
from The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe’s Western Coast

(Clarkson Potter, 2009)

Nonstick baking spray with flour
4 to 5 large navel oranges
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
5 large eggs
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups mild extra-virgin olive oil
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven, remove any racks above, and crank up the heat to 350°F (175°C). Coat a 12-cup Bundt or tube pan with baking spray and set aside.

2. Finely grate the zest of 3 of the oranges, then squeeze 4 of them. You should have 1 1/2 cups of juice; if not, squeeze the 5th orange. Set aside.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a handheld mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in the granulated sugar and continue beating until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. On low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and oil, starting and ending with the flour, and beat until just a few wisps of flour remain. Pour in the orange juice and zest and whirl for a few seconds to bring the batter together.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 1 1/4 hours. If the top is browning too much as the cake bakes, cover lightly with foil. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes.

6. Turn the cake out onto the rack and cool completely, then place it in a covered cake stand and let it sit overnight. Just before serving, dust with powdered sugar.

Here are some pics of Lisbon from Johanna, just to get you in the mood:

If you want more of Lisbon, check out Johanna’s blog.

Smoked Salmon Salad

I was thinking today as I drove home that each of my dear friends–or nearly everyone, at least–loves food. Not just in a three-square-meal-a-day type of way or even in an obsessive way, but with a real gusto. In the collection of people I have befriended, spread out across the globe, with different interests and minds and lives, they all seem to have this love of food in common. Maybe I gravitate toward it, though it seems completely coincidental. But there really is something warm and open about a food person. Not the snobby thing. I get that, but it’s not what I mean. I mean the feeding people. The cooking with friends. The openness to the various pleasures.

This has been a hard winter for me. Personal changes. Reflection. Crazy work. But there is something about food that focuses the scene each night, whether it’s by myself in my kitchen or with friends. It melts the snow away.

As I mentioned before, I am into poaching eggs right now. And I am getting better at it.  You can note here that I almost have the shape right. It’s a globulous, oblong thing that sort of drapes over the croutons. Not the perfect sphere yet, but getting closer.

I made the croutons from a stale baguette. I drizzled with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, and roasted at 500 degrees for about 8 minutes.

Smoked Salmon Salad
2 cups of arugula (per person)
1/2 grapefruit, peeled and sliced
smoked salmon
1 egg, poached
1 tsp. capers

Grapefruit Vinaigrette
olive oil (ratio should be 3 to 1 oil to acid, so approx. 1/2 c. oil)
juice of 1/2 grapefruit (the other half)
2 tsp. fresh parsley, finely diced
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. honey
2 scallions, finely diced
salt and pepper

Assemble the salad: Arugula, grapefruit, salmon, croutons, poached egg, capers.

In a food processor, if you have one, or in a bowl with a whisk, if you don’t, place the grapefruit juice and vinegar and honey, then slowly add the olive oil until it emulsifies to desired consistency. Add the herbs, scallions, salt, and pepper to taste. Spoon over the salad until it is appropriately dressed.

Lentil-Spinach Pie

Tonight’s dinner-making was a good one for smells. As the olive oil slowly warmed in the pot, I stood over it, breathing it in. I added the garlic and onions, the carrots and herbs, and the kitchen was filled with it. I layered flavors in the stew pot–sherry, stock, sundried tomato paste–transfered to a pie tin, and then placed the crust on top of it. The smell of it while in the oven was garlicky, buttery, and completely enticing. I did the dishes to distract myself.

One of the real pleasures of cooking is the enchantment of all your senses. Your fingertips roll in flour and liquid to make dough and can tell when it’s firm enough or too sticky. You hear the garlic and onions sizzle as they hit the pan and you know the oil has reached the right temperature. You see that the crust has browned and you know it’s ready to come out of the oven. You smell the butter. You taste the butter. You melt.

Lentil-Spinach Pie
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1/2 c. fresh parsley, diced
salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
3 whole thyme springs
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2 discs
3/4 c. sherry
2 tbsp. sundried tomato paste
2 c. stock
1/2 bag frozen spinach
1 pie crust (pate brise or store bought)
1 egg white
1 tsp. water

Warm olive oil over medium heat in a good-sized pot. Saute garlic, onions, parsley, and salt and pepper for about 2 minutes, until they release their aromas and begin to become translucent. Add the carrots, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs and saute for another 5 minutes, watching carefully so that nothing burns. If that looks to be a danger, turn the heat down a bit.

Add the lentils and cover them with the oil and veggies. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and let it reduce by half. Add stock and sundried tomato paste and bring to a boil, then lower to medium. Cook for about 15 minutes, then add the spinach.

At this point, you should preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Continue cooking the lentils and spinach for another 5 minutes, then season with salt and pepper to taste. If you used canned stock, you will probably not need much salt. Transfer to a pie tin.

Roll out pie crust and place on top of the pie tin, folding the edges so that you create a nice latticed edge around the dish. Cut steam vents in the crust. Mix egg white and water together then brush the mixture over the crust. Bake for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden and the whole house smells like butter.

Poached Egg + Braised Kale

Sometimes the simplest two things make the most delicious one thing. I am into poaching eggs lately, partly because of the lore around them (the scene in Julie and Julia, for instance, in which she tries again and again to get it perfect), and partly because of the amazing results. I don’t know of any cooking method that makes an egg more luscious. The whites become silky and firm, and the yoke becomes something ethereal–just runny enough to release a river of golden goo when your fork hits it. And, really, they’re simple to make. Mine may not be perfectly shaped, but they taste good.

And, what’s better about winter than big, leafy greens? Everything that thrives in this season is hardy and chock-full of vitamins. Kale is no exception–in fact, it’s the epitome. According to wikipedia, “the hardiness of kale is unmatched by any other vegetable. Kale will also tolerate nearly all soils provided that drainage is satisfactory.” It’s also full of beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, and antioxidants. And it seems good to ingest such things during the Midwestern winter–hardiness, tolerance, the promise of health.

I served this with beans and hot sauce (Tapatio, my favorite). It’s almost too simple to blog about. But, it was surprisingly delicious and sustaining. And worth a go.

Braised Kale
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 head of kale, cut into thick swatches
salt and pepper
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
6 oz. stock of your choice

In a medium pot with a lid, over medium heat, warm the olive oil and saute the garlic cloves until they release their fragrance, about 2 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Then add the kale. Using tongs, toss it in the oil over heat until it changes its color, becomes shinier. Add the stock, reduce heat to low-medium, and cover. Let it cook for about 5 minutes, or until the leaves are wilted, but not completely defeated. You want a bit of bite left in them.

Poached Egg
1 pot of water
1 tsp. vinegar
1 egg (Julia Child suggests you use very fresh ones)

Bring the pot of water to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt and the vinegar. Now is the tricky part. You need to break the egg gently and let the whole of it slide into the pot. You also, here, discover your relationship between process and presentation–how integral you’d like your egg to look. Julia suggests breaking it into a bowl and then sliding it in from there. Once it’s in the pot, you can use a wooden spoon to help shape it. Let it cook for about 4 minutes, and then gently remove from water with a slotted spatula.

Guest Blogger: Sara’s Shrimp Creole

Sara Billings is back! She had a fun Mardi Gras party last weekend and made this shrimp creole for everyone, which was really tasty. Even though Mardi Gras is technically over, I’m sure you can still find a reason to eat some spicy, tomato-y shrimp, even if just to relive the good times of Mardi Gras past.

Mardi Gras is my second-favorite holiday after Thanksgiving. I’ve visited New Orleans numerous times for Jazz Fest and Halloween, and I always enjoy eating my heart out while I’m there. I love the rich culture, laid-back atmosphere, exciting sounds, and most of all, the delicious flavors of the Big Easy. I decided to share my love of New Orleans with my friends by cooking Emeril’s Shrimp Creole (found on This is one of my favorite dishes to cook and eat. The flavors are bold, with the sweetness from the shrimp and the tomatoes and the subtle spice from the seasoning. I’ve cooked this for intimate dinners with past boyfriends, for holiday parties with my somewhat picky family, and now for a Mardi Gras party with my friends, and it has always been a crowd pleaser. For my Mardi Gras party, Dirk at Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop in Chicago recommended small wild Floridian shrimp, and these were some of the most delicious little buggers I have ever cooked—so sweet and scrumptious.

Shrimp Creole
Serves 6-8 healthy eaters

4 oz (1 stick butter)
2 c chopped onions
1 c chopped celery
Salt and cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
2 lbs peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes (I use the canned tomatoes)
1 Tbl chopped garlic
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce (optional)
2 Tbl all-purpose flour
1 c water
2 lb shrimp (peeled and deveined with the tail off)
Bayou Blast (recipe below)
½ c chopped green onions
2 Tbl chopped parsley
4 c long-grain rice

In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, pepper, and celery. Season with salt and cayenne and sauté until the veggies are wilted, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the bay leaves, tomatoes and garlic. Season with salt and cayenne again. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, adding a little water if it gets too dry. Season with Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce (I usually leave out the hot sauce and just put some on the table). Whisk flour and water together and add to the pot. Cook for 4-6 minutes. Season the shrimp with Bayou Blast. Add the shrimp and cook for 4-6 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink and curl up. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp, because they will become tough. Stir in the green onions and parsley. Serve with rice.

Bayou Blast (Bam!)
2 ½ Tbl paprika
2 Tbl salt
2 Tbl garlic powder
1 Tbl black pepper
1 Tbl onion powder
1 Tbl cayenne pepper
1 Tbl dried oregano
1 Tbl dried thyme

Salmon en papillote

Erica and Grady are in town this week (Erica from New York, Grady from Kathmandu), so we got to catch up on Monday over dinner. It’s the new year (still, sorta), and I’m actively courting healthier food and omega-3s, so I chose to make salmon en papillote. This means in a little parchment-paper package. As you can see below, my packaging skills need some work.

But the salmon was delicious and the preparation couldn’t have been easier. The parchment package steams the salmon, so you can use very little oil and it will come out flaky and delicate. I chose to keep the flavors simple, but this method of cooking really allows for a lot of interpretation. In the summer, when tender vegetables are abundant, you could throw in green beans or tomatoes, for example.

Be sure to note different thicknesses in the fillets when you are considering cooking times. One was thicker than the others and came out a bit underdone. The others were cooked perfectly.

Salmon en papillote
Parchment paper
4 salmon fillets, about 6 oz each
4 tsp. olive oil
4 tsp. capers
salt and pepper
1 lemon, with 4 strips of lemon zest

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spread out a sheet of parchment paper, about a foot long. Place one salmon fillet in the middle. Drizzle olive oil and a squeeze of lemon over the fish. Add 1 tsp. capers and 1 strip of lemon zest. Add salt and pepper.

Fold the parchment paper into an envelope of some sort. Do a better job than I did! Here’s a step-by-step tutorial for one method, though they vary widely.

Repeat with each of the fillets. Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake for about 12-14 minutes.

I served it with lentils and a salad. And to finish, we had chocolate cake, brought by Erica and Grady! You know, to stick with the healthy theme. I’m pretty sure chocolate has a lot of omega-3s. Right?