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This post is dedicated to our sister, Rachel, who will one day learn to roast a chicken.

Some people start a blog because they’re bored; others do it to spark change in their life. I have tried to start a blog many times over the past few years. One, I successfully wrote for most of my nine months of pastry school. For others, I have taken the requisite pictures, written drafts, and even dabbled in creating a website.

I am hoping this blog will be different, because today (well next week, actually) marks a new chapter in my life. And possibly not just a new chapter—it has the potential to give me a new chance at life. Today, my health insurance company approved me to take Kalydeco, the first gene therapy drug to target the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis.

This news could not have come at a better time for me. The last four months, my health has taken a sharp turn for the worse. I am on my second IV course and second prednisone burst in the last four months. My lung function went from sitting in the 42-45% range down to the low to mid 30’s. A trip to the grocery store this morning was all I could muster for the day. And then this news. I am hoping Kalydeco works for me. There is good reason to hope that it will change my life, but I am trying to temper my hopes.

Back to my trip to the grocery store. Whenever I am sick, I crave the most basic meal: roast chicken. Not just any roast chicken, though. I crave the roast chicken from Zuni Café, a San Francisco staple. No matter how long I’ve been in NYC, you can’t get the California out of me.

What better way to start this new chapter of my life than with my favorite comfort food.

I didn’t take the time to let the salt soak in. The chicken only had a few hours in the fridge instead of the overnight it deserves, but it should still hold up.

My goal for this blog is to chronicle my life through food. I want a forum with which to relay my health news, but that is not focused on my health. It is also a blog about sisters. Robin will be posting with fresh, seasonal cooking from California while I blog about living and eating in NYC.

Roast Chicken and Big Health News
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type: Entree
author: Judy Rogers
prep time: 30 mins
cook time: 1 hour
total time: 1 hour 30 mins
serves: 2-4
I did not have time to let the chicken season overnight, and it was just as delicious as it is when I let it sit for a day or two. I also added a lemon and a few cloves of garlic to the inside of the bird to give it a brighter flavor.
Ingredients
  • 1small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2-pounds
  • 4 tender sprigs fresh thyme and rosemary
  • Salt
  • 1 lemon, pricked all over with a knife
  • 5 whole cloves garlic
  • About 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Instructions
  1. (One day ahead) Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.
  2. Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Place lemon and garlic cloves inside the cavity. Cover loosely and refrigerate.
  3. Preheat the oven to 475. Depending on the size, efficiency and accuracy of your oven, and the size of your bird, you may need to adjust the heat to as high as 500 or as low as 450 during the course of roasting the chicken to get it to brown properly. If you have an oven thermometer, use it. I know my oven runs 20 degrees hot, but I have the thermometer in there to double check every time.
  4. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. I used my 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. The legs should be raised in the air, opposite of how you usually see a chicken on a platter. It should sizzle.
  5. Place the bird in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. If you are me, and you live in a small NYC apartment with a 20-year-old oven, your smoke alarm will go off. I had to open all the windows and door to my apartment to get it off and had many neighbors peeking in to see what was cooking!
  6. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour.
  7. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat into a heatproof container, leaving the lean drippings behind in the pan. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.
  8. Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings.
  9. Set the chicken in a warm spot and leave to rest while you finish preparing the rest of your meal. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.
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Risotto used to be a magical food to me. Creamy and flavorful, I don’t recall eating much of it growing up, except at restaurants.

When I began cooking in college at a vegetarian co-op, I decided it was also one of those things that must have taken hours of hot work over the stove to produce. Which was probably true when you were cooking for 60 people. But when I left the nest and began cooking for myself, risotto was one of the first one-pot meals I tackled.

Turns out, it doesn’t take much to make delicious risotto, as long as you’re not afraid of a little butter and cheese. Even better, it’s infinitely adaptable: I’ve made risotto with sausage and fennel; mushrooms; squash and sage; and any number of other ingredients that have lost their way in the crevices of my produce drawer. Since I’ve discovered how easy it is to make, risotto has become a staple weeknight dinner option.

This is a somewhat non-traditional version, with goat cheese and meyer lemon to brighten up the winter, and a bit of kale tossed in for color.

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Meyer Lemon, Goat Cheese and Kale Risotto
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type: main dish
author: robin
prep time: 10 mins
cook time: 30 mins
total time: 40 mins
A bright and colorful winter risotto, with extra tang from the goat cheese.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water
  • zest of 2 meyer lemons
  • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2-3 oz shredded lacinto/dino kale (about 1/3 of a bunch–this is what I used, but I’m sure red Russian or normal kale works as well)
  • 1/3 cup parmesean cheese, grated
  • 2 oz goat cheese
Instructions
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, shallots, and garlic, and saute until soft. Add risotto and saute for another minute.
  2. Add wine to the pot and simmer until it’s almost all absorbed.
  3. Begin adding the stock, about half a cup at a time. Wait for the grain to absorb most of the liquid before adding the next half-cup. You’ll know the risotto is done when it’s soft and no longer crunchy.
  4. Turn off the burner, and add the kale, lemon zest, goat cheese, and parmesean. Stir to incorporate all ingredients evenly, until kale wilts and cheese melts.
Notes

Swap out farro or pearled barley for the arborio rice for more of a whole-grain-y meal. You’ll need to up the stock and the cooking time, since they’ll take longer to cook and absorb more liquid in the process.

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We recently returned from a trip to New York visiting friends and family. We also played tourist: taking in the view from the Empire State Building by night, visiting Central Park’s bright fall leaves, and sampling local delicacies. We ate bagels, banh mi, brunches, even a local take on poutine and a delicious meal at Prune.

By the time we returned, I was ready to eat only rice, beans, and vegetables for a week. Often after a holiday, vacation, or work trip, I crave simple, healthy food. I lay off the booze for a few days–no glass of wine with dinner or beer to unwind–and overcompensate for buttery and salty restaurant meals with lighter, greener fare.

avocado salsa

This soup was the result of my post-NYC craving. It’s smoky and spicy and sweet and salty all at once. The chipotle peppers and adobo sauce (I’m still working my way through the can I opened for this) add a kick of spice, and sherry at the beginning of the cooking deepens the flavor. The soup is mostly based on this recipe from Food and Wine, and the chipotle idea I borrowed from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

I’ve been eating chipotle peppers in everything ever since I made this soup. Chipotle eggs for a weekend breakfast. Chipotle peppers in mac and cheese. Chipotle sweet potato tacos. Quesadillas with chipotle sour cream. It’s the first can I’ve ever opened. My cultural association with chipotle is the McDonald’s-owned burrito brand, famous for their mildly crowd-pleasing burritos, which, so far as I can tell, contain no real chipotle peppers. The name has been co-opted, but the real deal, original peppers are a Mexican grocery dream.

black bean soup with avocado salsa

chipotle black bean soup with sweet potatoes and avocado salsa
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type: soup
author: robin, saladfordinner.com
prep time: 15 mins
cook time: 15 mins
total time: 30 mins
serves: 4
Smoky chipotle peppers add a kick to classic black bean soup.
Ingredients
  • 3 15 oz cans black beans
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle peppers from a can
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 cups water or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup sherry
  • 1 medium sweet potato or yam, peeled and diced
  • 1 tsp fresh black pepper
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 avocados
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Blend half the beans with about 1 cup water or stock until pureed. Set aside.
  2. Heat vegetable oil over medium heat, and add onions, garlic, and pinch of salt. Cook without browning until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sherry and turn up the heat. Cook until sherry is reduced by half.
  3. Add the chopped chipotle, remaining stock, pureed beans, and diced sweet potato. Simmer until sweet potato is almost cooked through, but not quite about 8 minutes. Add remaining beans and Worcestershire sauce, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so.
  4. Meanwhile, make the salsa by combining avocado, lime juice, cilantro, and salt to taste.
  5. Serve soup topped with salsa.
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I am a convert to the charms of Rancho Gordo beans. They’re creamy and flavorful, don’t require soaking, and cook to perfection in under an hour. They’re even local. What’s not to love?

The price tag, I suppose. These buggers cost $6 a pound, while normal beans cost maybe $2, but usually more like $0.99. I don’t cook beans often, though, so it’s not a tough cost to justify, especially when a pound stretches over many meals.

flageolet

Beans have a special place in my past. When I first moved to Washington, DC after college to work for the government and non-profits, I didn’t have much money. It was years before I felt comfortable spending more than $20-$30 per week on groceries. I survived for several years eating a diet heavily dependent on beans, rice, cabbage, and sweet potatoes. Beans and tofu were my primary source of protein in those years, crafted in more permutations than I care to recall.

As I’ve grown my grown-up income and therefore my food budget, my shopping habits have diversified. I’ve relegated beans to “that protein in kale soup”, “a nice extra to throw on quick quesadillas”, or “the once a year bean dip batch”. This dish helps beans level up to sophistication, with the sweet tomato accent and spicy arugula playing off each other and the creamy beans. It’s a perfect fall dinner, at least here, where you can still find straggling tomatoes in the farmer’s markets even in early November.

roasted cherry tomatoes
ragout

flageolet bean ragout with roasted tomatoes, arugula, and sausage
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type: entree
author: saladfordinner.com
prep time: 30 mins
cook time: 30 mins
total time: 1 hour
serves: 4
Tender white beans simmered in olive oil with garlic and spring onion, then tossed with sweet roasted tomatoes, savory sausage, and spicy arugula.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup dried flageolet, navy, or cannelini beans (any white bean will do) or 2 15 oz. cans
  • 1/4 of a white onion, peeled
  • 1 carrot, chopped coarsely
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • salt
  • 2 spring onions or leeks
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, roasted (instructions below)
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage, optional
  • 1/4 lb arugula
Instructions
  1. Prepare the beans (if using dried beans): Cover beans with water, about an inch above where the beans stop in the pot. Add the onion, carrot, and thyme, and bring to a boil. Turn down heat, and simmer until beans are tender, anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your beans.
  2. Roast the tomatoes: Preheat oven to 375. Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and toss with 2-3 T olive oil, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt and ground black pepper. Arrange seed-side up on baking sheet, and put them in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until they are sweetly roasted.
  3. Cook the sausage: Remove the sausage from its casing and add to a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat with 1 T olive oil. Brown the sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it cooks.
  4. Once sausage is mostly browned, turn the heat down to medium low, and add the sliced spring onions or leeks and remaining olive oil. After 3-4 minutes, add the garlic, and cook until onions or leeks are translucent.
  5. Add the beans and tomatoes, and stir to coat with olive oil. Simmer for several minutes longer.
  6. Remove pot from heat. Mix in the arugula.
  7. Serve warm with crusty bread.
Notes

If using normal dried beans, I like to soak them overnight before cooking. I used Rancho Gordo beans, which they say don’t require soaking (and they’re right!). They cook much faster, have a creamier texture, and are more delicious than most dried beans, but also have the price tag to prove it. Canned beans also work just fine if you don’t have the time to cook your own.

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We came home several weeks ago to our landlord removing the blistered skin from 28 pounds of New Mexico hatch chiles at the picnic table behind the building. She used to live in New Mexico, and told us that green chile season was short and prized there. She, like many other New Mexico expatriates and chile fanatics, troll the internet and pester the Raley’s groceries where they are known to appear, for weeks ahead of the late August/early September arrival. The stores sell the chiles fresh, or after they have roasted them in enormous drums. In New Mexico, friends gather to roast and peel dozens and hundreds of pounds of chiles during harvest season, to freeze, preserve, and use all year. Our landlord did 28 pounds, by herself, in our backyard, no problem.

autumn sutro

IMG_8679

And then, she gave us about a pound of her bounty, which I dutifully froze within 24 hours, as she instructed, for future use when I was really ready.

It took me weeks to decide how to make chile verde with my chiles. There are hundreds of recipes for chile verde floating around, yet few seem definitive. Many use tomatillos for the green color, while others use peppers. None of the pepper-based ones I found struck my fancy, so I made one up. I used a combination of this Chowhound commenter’s methods with Emeril’s Food Network recipe ratios (approximately 1 part pork to 1 part chiles). The result may not have been exactly what you would get at Green Chile Kitchen, but it was fabulous enough to write down.

I added a few tomatillos for their sour flavor and acidity. You could also make this using all poblanos, or some combination of those with other chiles, like California or pasilla peppers, that you may be able to find at your local Mexican grocery. Of course, you could always email Raley’s next September to find out when they’re roasting their chiles again, or mail order some straight from the source.
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Chile Verde with New Mexico hatch chiles, pork, and potatoes

I mostly made this up, based on recommended techniques and ingredients from around the Internet. A classically trained French chef would probably do something more elegant with the flour + cornstarch thickening combination, based on one of the mother sauces, but the way I’ve described it here worked for me.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound roasted, skinned New Mexico hatch chiles or other New Mexico green chiles
  • 1 pound poblano peppers, charred and skinned
  • 2-3 tomatillos (about 1 pound), husks removed, roasted and skinned
  • 2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, or other fatty cut of pork
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds potatoes (about 6 small red potatoes), cubed
  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 3 cups water or chicken broth (add an extra tsp. or two of salt if you use water)
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped

Instructions

1. Trim fat from pork, and cut into cubes (3/4 in. will do). Season with salt and pepper.

2. Brown the pork: Heat oil in dutch oven, or other heavy-bottomed pot. When it shimmers, add the pork cubes and brown on at least two sides, 5-7 minutes per side. It helps to do this in batches, so that you’re only browning as much pork as can line the bottom of the pot. You don’t want to be stacking the pork in multiple layers, or it could end up gray, not brown (ick). Remove pork from the pot.

3. Turn down heat and add onions and garlic to oil (you may want or need to drain off some of the pork fat here, depending on how into extra fat you are). Saute until onions are translucent, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add herbs and 1/2 tsp. salt, and cook for two more minutes, stirring. Add flour and stir again. Finally, add the peppers and tomatillos and saute for 2 minutes more.

4. Add the water and browned pork and cover pot with lid. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn down the heat to a low simmer, and cook for 45 minutes.

5. Add the cubed potatoes, and continue simmering for another 30-45 minutes, depending on your patience and level of hunger. Add cornstarch if needed for extra thickening.

6. Turn off the heat and add the cilantro. Taste, and add more salt if needed. By this time, the pork should be tender and pull apart easily, and the potatoes almost falling apart.

7. Serve garnished with cilantro, sour cream, lime wedges, and warm corn tortillas.

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The sun is setting before 7pm now, casting golden glows of Indian Summer over the fogless Twin Peaks. The past few weeks at the market and in the kitchen I’ve been desperately hanging on to the last fruits of summer: sweet corn, juicy heirloom tomatoes, and the final peaches and nectarines, no longer quite as sweet, and quickly molding in the warm, early autumn air that stuffs our kitchen. All of this adds up to more vegetable matter than we can reasonably eat in fresh form.

heirloom tomatoes

corn cob, pulped

It also means that in addition to fried and cheesed zucchini, we’ve eaten a lot of corn soup this summer. Or corn chowder, I suppose. See, it’s unclear what really distinguishes a chowder from a soup, especially when it comes to corn. I put cream or milk in other soups, but don’t call them chowders, and many corn chowder recipes seem not to call for the thickener that Wikipedia tells me is the mark of a chowder. What’s more confusing, Epicurious defines a chowder as “any thick, rich soup containing chunks of food,” but no one seems to have a recipe for any chowder other than corn or seafood.

corn chowder, variation 2

Corn chowder

I discovered this version of corn chowder last summer, when I picked up my cousin’s CSA box in the waning August light and found bounty of fingerling potatoes, fresh sweet corn, ripe heirloom tomatoes, and a bunch of basil.  What to do with all of this? Google, of course. Which led me to this New York Times recipe for corn chowder.

corn chowder with tomato, basil and lime

The original Times recipe called for much more corn than I had, and cherry tomatoes, not heirlooms. I’m sure it’s delicious their way as well. I’ve adapted it to fit a smaller amount of corn, different tomatoes, and to be a bit less fussy in ingredients. I’ve also made variations on this with a half-cup of cream and blending the soup base before adding half the corn, while leaving out the lime juice and basil, or adding an extra cup of zucchini to the mix, from all that surplus zucchini we had earlier in the summer. Corn soup is endlessly adaptable, but this is always my go-to flavor combination.

ingredients

  • 4 ears corn, shucked
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 3 cups water or broth (I use water with some extra salt to taste, but you can use broth if you prefer)
  • 1 pound waxy potatoes (red or Yukon Gold or fingerling are good), cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 2 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Crème fraîche or sour cream, for serving (optional).

instructions

1. Cut the corn off the cobs (Simply Recipes details a clever way to do this using a bundt pan). Squeeze the pulp out of the remaining cobs by running  the back of your knife along the cob.

2. Heat the butter (or olive oil for vegans) in a heavy saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, and saute until translucent. Add garlic after several minutes, being careful not to burn it. Add the potatoes, and saute for 2-3 minutes.

3. Add water and reserved corn cobs to pot, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and leave for 15 minutes or so.

4. Add tomatoes and corn, and at this point, check to see if you’ll need more salt, and adjust accordingly. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Remove and discard cobs, and test for salt again. Turn off the heat, and add the basil and lime juice. Let soup cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve with creme fraiche or sour cream.

variation

Add 1 cup shredded zucchini when you add the potatoes in the saute phase. Reserve half the corn kernels when adding corn to mixture. After removing the cobs and turning off the heat, and before adding basil and lime juice, puree the  mixture. I use a stick blender for this step, but if you don’t have one, carefully transfer the hot soup to a normal blender and do it there, then transfer back to the pot. Turn heat back on to low, and add 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half and the remaining corn kernels, and basil and lime juice. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve garnished with basil (leave out the sour cream on this one).

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I’ve been saving up this recipe for a month now, as I prepared to launch this blog. It’s taken me numerous false starts over many months to get here, but I was officially inspired to do something about it when my friend Julie started her own food blog, which I’ve adored. There may not be any favas left in the market this season, but they do exist right now in my mother’s garden in the San Francisco suburbs.

I helped her plant the garden in April. We worried first that the seeds had been washed away by harsh late spring rains. Then the youngsters suffered almost a week of warm weather with no water at all. We were convinced that they wouldn’t survive. But survive they did, and thrive even. Perhaps it’s the new soil. Or maybe the

The past few months have brought erratic weather to San Francisco. A week of 80-degree days in January, a rainy Memorial Day weekend, and many a fog-soaked spring morning. Yet spring vegetables were right on schedule, with fava beans, shelling peas, green garlic, and asparagus flooding the farmer’s markets in May. My sister first riffed on using favas as a base for pesto last spring, and I was inspired again when they appeared for $1/lb. at the Alemany farmer’s market in May.

fava beans before and after shelling

Favas are a slippery legume that take some work to prepare. Honestly, they’re probably best made when you have an army of small children to help you shell. See, first you must shell the beans, then quickly boil them, then shell again to get to the creamy bean on the inside. But oh, is the time ever worth the reward. Especially when there’s a reward like this pesto waiting.

They’re best on a lazy Sunday afternoon, while evenings lengthen from spring to summer. We don’t have many wraparound porches and warm early summer evenings in San Francisco, but if we did, I’d spend my porch-sitting time shelling favas.

Fava bean, roasted garlic, and toasted walnut pesto

I’ve played with this recipe several times, and it turns out a little differently every time. I use the itty-bitty Cuisinart attachment for my stick blender to bring all the pieces together since I lack a real food processor. This gives my pesto a more rustic texture. Blending it more in your larger food processor of choice will produce a smoother, creamier sauce. I’ve used goat cheese here, but you could also use creme fraiche, mascarpone, or even ricotta if that’s what you happen to have in the fridge.

For the fava pesto:

  • 2 lbs fava beans
  • 2 oz. goat cheese
  • 1 head of garlic, roasted
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. roasted walnut oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Prep the favas

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Remove favas from outer shell while water is coming to a boil. Dunk fava beans into the boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain, and immediately dump them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. You don’t want to overcook them here. Slip the favas from their inner skins. This can be done either with the aid of fingernails or a paring knife. Ideally they will emerge from the water and their inner skins with a brilliant green hue. Reserve 1/2 cup of favas for garnish, and add the rest to the pesto.

Meanwhile, bring another pot of salted water to a boil for the spaghetti. Cook pasta until it’s al dente.

Make the pesto

Combine shelled and peeled favas in food processor with goat cheese, roasted garlic (I chop the top off the garlic, wrap it in foil, add a spot of olive oil, and pop it in the toaster oven for 40 minutes or so at 400 degrees), oils, 1/3 cup of the walnuts, and salt. Process until mostly smooth.

Toast remaining walnuts, either in a pan on the stovetop, or a tray in the toaster oven.

Put it all together

Combine cooked pasta, 1 tbsp butter, pesto, toasted walnuts, and reserved favas, and combine.

Or, use your fava pesto as a delicious spread for sandwiches, toast, or crackers. It’ll keep for up to a week or so in the fridge.

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Every gardener knows that a surplus inevitably results from even one zucchini plant. Heat and humidity saturate the July air in much of the country. Not here in California. Fog slurps up any daytime heat and casts an evening chill, even in the depth of summer. I always imagined that warmer climates were the only ones to produce county-fair-ribbon-worthy vegetables. That’s where I saw them growing up: at the California state fair, my grandparents’ house in Missouri.

Until this summer, when my mother and I planted a vegetable garden in her backyard. We dug out packets of seeds from the laundry room that must have been ten years old, from the last time she had a diverse garden. Chives, kale, spinach, carrots, peas, four types of lettuce, and zucchini. I think the zucchini seeds were oldest of all.

Seduced by the blank slate of fresh soil, we planted everything, packing seeds in tight rows. Those veggies faced tough conditions. First they went for a week without water. Then the April rain came down so hard we thought the seeds had washed away.

Eight pound zucchini

zuke2

Now, months of not-too-hot-and-humid-weather later, the garden is brimming with vegetables. Especially zucchini. I don’t particularly care for zucchini, but when I brought home an eight-pound squash last week, we spent the week eating it disguised in many creative forms. The most creative, most consumptive way to use the surplus that we found was zucchini-zagna. Or maybe it’s zucchini-za? I think I’ve finally settled on zuke-zagna.

sliceszuke

zagna

No-Noodle Zucchini Zuke-Zagna Lasagna

Notes

This is essentially a classic lasagna, but with zucchini instead of noodles. It’s gluten-free when made this way, and could be vegetarian if you just left out the meat and used something like mushrooms instead to beef up the tomato sauce (so to speak).

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 28 oz. tomato sauce (use a jar of plain pasta sauce, or make your own with 1 14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, and one 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes)
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • ½ tsp. dried basil, or 4 fresh basil leaves
  • ½ tsp. oregano
  • ½ tsp. parsley
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 lbs. zucchini, sliced thinly
  • 16 oz. ricotta
  • ¼ cup shredded parmasean cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 oz shredded mozzarella

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice zucchini thinly and salt it. After 30-60 minutes, rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp. canola oil in a skillet on high heat. Add both meats and brown them until cooked through, stirring occasionally to brown evenly. Once meat is mostly cooked through, turn heat down to medium. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is almost translucent.
  4. Add tomato sauce, wine, and herbs to meat and onion mixture, and simmer for 15 minutes on low. This is an ideal time to rinse and dry your zucchini slices and whip up the ricotta.
  5. Speaking of which, in a separate bowl, mix the ricotta with the eggs and grated parmasean cheese.
  6. Taste the sauce. Is it too acidic? Add some sugar! Not acidic enough? Add a splash of red wine vinegar. Not salty enough? DON’T ADD MORE SALT YET. The zukes will take care of that one.
  7. Assemble the pieces: Start with a layer of zucchini slices, then add a layer of ricotta mixture, then tomato-meat sauce, then the mozzarella. Repeat two more times.
  8. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until cheese is bubbling and starting to brown on top.
  9. Remove from oven, serve, and enjoy your surplus zukes.
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