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I had nothing to do with this meal.
Handsome saw Lidia Bastianich make this on the Create TV channel one morning getting ready for work, and looked the recipe up online, finding it only on a message board. He bought the groceries, he did all the prep work, and he did all the cooking. This is his baby.
I took photos with my new camera. I got in the way, dragged a chair into our tiny apartment kitchen to get a better angle. I irritated him by asking him to turn this way and that. I looked askance at the almonds, as I am not a nut person. I looked warily at the Swiss chard, a leaf I’d never tasted before. I did the dishes when we were finished eating. But I had little to do with the preparation, so I can hardly take credit.
Except that this is my blog. Handsome doesn’t have a blog, so he doesn’t get the credit! I get all the credit. Well, me and Mrs. Bastianich, who shares space on the altar with The Pioneer Woman.
Lidia has a cooking show on public television called Lidia’s Italy that Handsome and I watch every time it’s on and we catch it. She’s a woman who is supremely intimidating; I’m pretty sure she would kick me out of the kitchen for my incompetence. But she does accessible, simple recipes that are fairly easily duplicated in the well-stocked kitchen, so my little family turns to her frequently for dinner inspiration. Her cuisine is Italian, obviously, but there is some German overlap as well, which Handsome, the deutsche-phile, appreciates.
If I were to make this recipe again (or watch Handsome make it, heh), I would use less oil. I’m not used to pestos, so I’m not sure how oily a pasta prepared with pesto is supposed to be, but as written, this recipe was a little oily for my taste. Lidia finishes every pasta she has ever made with a few tablespoons of oil, but I normally omit this final indulgence, with no ill effects to the dish. (Lidia’s food is quite frequently an indulgence and will not be kind to your waistline in the quantities she prepares. Her recipes are so simple and well-constructed, however, that Handsome and I make alterations to portion size, and get ourselves to the workout room as often as possible. It’s a life choice.)
1/2 pound dry pasta, such as linguine
1 lb. Swiss chard
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
2-3 tbsp. loosely packed fresh mint leaves
4 cloves garlic, 2 peeled and crushed, 2 peeled and sliced
5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 t. red pepper flakes, or to taste
Grated parmesan cheese, to taste (1/2 cup)
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. (“Salted” = throw a few pinches of salt in with the water.)
Rinse and drain chard, and cut off stems and the central ribs with a paring knife. (Not the big knife Handsome has. That was overkill.) Slice chard into 1″ strips. Add chard to boiling water, return water to boil, and let boil 10 minutes. Strain chard, but save this water for cooking pasta.
When chard has cooled, squeeze out extra water from the chard and set chard aside.
Return chard-water to boil and add pasta, cooking according to package directions.
Put basil, mint, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 3 tbsp. olive oil, and salt in food processor; process about 10 seconds, until chunky. Add almonds and process until smooth.
Add remaining olive oil to skillet on medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add sliced garlic and cook 1-2 minutes. Add chard red pepper flakes, and pinch salt, and stir. Ladle in 1/4 cup pasta water and cook until reduced by half.
Lower heat to simmer and add pasta, tossing to mix chard with pasta. Add pesto and toss to coat. Add parmesan cheese to taste, tossing to coat. Finish with a few tablespoons olive oil, if desired. Turn out onto a serving dish and serve immediately, passing parmesan for diners (like me!) who add more.
I love Cook’s Illustrated. I love this magazine so much that I bought Handsome a subscription for Christmas, even though I am generally the chef and baker in our house. I also pay about $25 a year to have access to their entire online archive, because their recipes are just that good.
If you’re not familiar with this magazine, the accompanying web site, or the television show, the basic premise is that the kitchen staff tackles a recipe and tries to make it in the best possible way. They consult multiple versions of a recipe, test them, and come up with the most foolproof recipe possible that can be made in pretty much any kitchen. The magazine itself is gorgeous; the back cover of each edition contains a series of painting on a theme, like different mushroom varieties or whole baking spices. They also don’t use photos in the magazine, relying instead on black and white sketches to illustrate techniques and processes.
When I searched the archive for a blueberry muffin recipe, I was a little daunted at first. They offered recipes for Classic Blueberry Muffins, Anytime Blueberry Muffins, Lemon Blueberry Muffins, The Best Blueberry Muffins, muffins that were topped with almond crunch, cinnamon streusel, or orange glaze, or muffins rolled in cinnamon sugar. Decisions, decisions.
Then I spotted a recipe for The Best Blueberry Muffins… made with frozen blueberries. The admirable folks in the America’s Test Kitchen, after my own heart, optimized a basic blueberry muffin to maximize blueberryness using frozen blueberries, which, as we all know, are a different beast than the preferable, fresh variety. All I had on hand were frozen berries, so my decision as to which recipe to tackle was easily made.
In hindsight, this may have been too tall an order for this lazy Sunday morning. I often violate the conditions of Lazy Sunday Morning to make some breakfasty baked good. This particular Sunday, I was exhausted to my bones. I had spent the previous Thursday running around, making final arrangements to graduate. On Friday, I graduated and moved out of my apartment. On Saturday, I entertained my mom, sister, and a friend, going to dinner, lunch, watching two movies, and making a coconut cream pie (also from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe). And I hadn’t slept well Saturday night. Muffins from a mix, or even regular homemade muffins, are relatively simple. This recipe was not.
For this recipe, one has to make lemon sugar (I made lemon-orange sugar). Then one makes blueberry jam. Then melts butter. Then whisks dry ingredients, and then wet ones. Then rinses frozen berries and pats them dry, thus permanently staining a hand towel because someone doesn’t use paper towels. Then one mixes the berries with the dry ingredients, and the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Then one divides the berry batter among the muffin tins. But what about the jam? You put a dollop on top of each section of muffin batter, and swirl it. Top with the sugar, bake for 17 minutes, rotate pan halfway through.
But it’s worth it. The result is a moist muffin with bursts of berry flavor; the citrusy sugar topping is a nice surprise, but I could easily skip it. The process is labor-intensive and I used up what felt like every bowl in the house, but for blueberry muffins? It’s worth it.
Blueberry Muffins with Frozen Blueberries
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated (link may not work, as I believe this is a recipe accessible only to subscribers)
Citrus Sugar Topping
1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated citrus zest (original recipe calls for lemon zest, but I used a mixture of lemon and orange zest)
2 c. frozen blueberries
1 1/8 c. plus 1 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
4 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled (original recipe calls for unsalted butter, but I used salted and did not omit the salt in the recipe, and I found this to be fine)
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk (I used 1 c. whole milk plus 1 tsp. vinegar, mixed a few minutes ahead of time)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray.
Mix 1/3 cup sugar with citrus zest in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat 1 cup blueberries with 1 tbsp. sugar in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat for about 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Mash blueberries frequently and reduce mixture to approximately 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Wash other 1 cup blueberries well and dry. Set aside.
Mix flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk 2 eggs and 1 1/8 cups sugar until fully mixed. Add butter and oil gradually and mix well. Add buttermilk and vanilla and mix well.
Mix reserved blueberries (the washed and dried ones) with the flour mixture.
Add egg mixture to flour/blueberry mixture and fold together, being careful not to overmix. (Batter will be lumpy and have flour spots; that is okay!)
Divide batter evenly among 12 muffin cups.
Place one tsp. of blueberry jam on top of each cup of muffin batter, trying to press it below the surface. Use a skewer or chopstick to swirl the jam into the batter, making a figure 8 motion.
Top each cup of muffin batter with the citrus sugar topping.
Bake 17-19 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. The edges of the muffins will be golden brown when they are done.
Life as a recent college grad is quite different than life as a student. I wake up, make some coffee, and start my laptop. I spend some time catching up on my favorite blogs, updating Facebook, and making plans with Donald. I head to work around noon, and don’t get home until late evening. When I was a student, I felt guilty about whatever time I took to myself, time I “wasted.” As an employed person, however, I am free to clock out, come home, and not worry about work until the next time I clock in. This lifestyle change sure is nice, but cooking is no longer a procrastination tool for me, and has instead become something I don’t have time to do. Rather, it’s something I’ve chosen not to make the time to do, as I am exhausted and it’s just easier to pick up a frozen pizza or get take-out than to whip up something homemade. Homemade sounds so exhausting after spending all day on my feet.
I love recipes that I have memorized so I can complete them without opening a book or consulting the internet and know that they will come out absolutely perfect. I enjoy the rhythm, the expectation that things will turn out well, the predictability of a familiar recipe. Maybe that’s why I like to bake; if one measures properly and follows directions, the dish will come out well. It’s supposed to. I like “supposed to.”
Homemade pizza crust, I recently realized, is now one of those recipes that I can throw together without thinking. It has the added bonus of being something I can do when Handsome isn’t home, and that’s ready when he and I get home. I can whisk flour and salt in a bowl, sprinkle yeast onto warm water, and then mix the yeast water with the flour and some olive oil, cover it for a few hours, and know that I will have a thin, flavorful but subtle pizza crust. Actually, I will have two, which makes dinner decisions easier in a few days. This recipe only gets better with a few days in the fridge.
My pizza sauce recipe is not there yet. I don’t have a go-to pizza sauce recipe yet, and the one posted below is not “the one.” It was tasty, and a little spicy, but I’m not feeling it long-term. Still, that gives me another project: find The Pizza Sauce Recipe. Make it a zillion times. Make it in my sleep. I’m a goal person, a project person. This is a good, attainable goal.
Homemade pizza sounds like a time-consuming project for a weeknight, but trust me. It isn’t. If you have ten minutes the night before, make the dough, cover it, and put it in the fridge. The next night, all you have to do is take it out, make some sauce (or use some out of a jar), grate some cheese (or use some out of a bag, even though it isn’t as good), and top with whatever you have on hand. Or have cheese pizza, and maybe a salad. (I never have a salad. I should.) The crust recipe makes enough for two 13 x 9″ pizzas, but go ahead and make the full recipe; either plan to use the other half in a few days, or freeze it until you’re ready. This is so much better than the refrigerated stuff, trust me.
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 tsp. active dry yeast
4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/3 c. olive oil, plus 1-2 tbsp. for drizzling
Pour water into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top of water; there is no need to mix. Let stand at least 5 minutes.
Whisk flour and salt in a large bowl.
When 5 minutes has passed, drizzle olive oil into flour mixture and use a whisk to mix well, until all oil is absorbed. While mixing, drizzle in the water and yeast mixture. Mix well, until flour and water are homogeneous.
Place ball of dough into a clean bowl and drizzle with 1-2 tbsp. olive oil. Turn dough so it is coated in olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm, dry place at least 1 hour if using the same day, or in the fridge at least 24 hours if using the next day. Dough gets better with age.
Adapted from Nick Stellino via RecipeZaar
Makes enough sauce for 1 pizza, with a little extra. Enough for two pizzas if you apply with a light hand.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl; use a whisk if the tomato paste is not mixing easily. Set aside.
1/2 recipe Pizza Dough
1 recipe Pizza Sauce (you may have some left over)
2 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded or sliced
2 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
1 ounce Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 ounce parmesan cheese, grated
20 small slices pepperoni
Other toppings as desired
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Grease a 13 x 9 cookie sheet with cooking spray or with olive oil. Spread pizza dough with fingers until it reaches all sides.
Spread sauce, leaving a 1/2″ gap for crust. Top with grated cheeses, except parmesan. Top with pepperoni and other toppings. Finish with grated parmesan.
Bake 7-10 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let rest 3-5 minutes before slicing.