This is not a fancy dish by any means, but it is one of the oldest comfort foods from my childhood. My mother began making a ground beef version of this flavorful chili when I was about 6. It’s easy to estimate my age at the time because we moved around a lot, and I can recall where we lived when certain memories were made. My mom was newly remarried and we had moved out west from upstate New York for my stepfather’s job as a truck driver. I loved my stepdad, but he was gone a lot, so it was frequently just my mom and me taking up space in a single-wide mobile home in rural southern Colorado, where Mexican flavors reign supreme.
You could barely see our little box of a house from the main road, which ran a straight line through the tiny town of about 350 people. There was a long, dusty driveway leading from the school bus stop, over some railroad tracks and past the big white propane tank that provided us fuel for heating and cooking. Occasionally, during deer season, I’d see a carcass hung up from a tree near our house, and that meant my new daddy had a good hunting trip and venison would soon be on the menu. Most days after school, our sweet little dog, Ginger, would meet me halfway on my walk from the bus, and on the days that I’d catch a whiff of my mom’s green chili when I opened the door—well, that’s a very happy memory.
A short time after, many things changed in my world. For the second time in my young life, my parents split. We moved again and the relationship with my mom began a sad but steady decline. I shuttled back and forth between parents (and states) until high school graduation, and then made the decision to move away on my own. Visits with my mother became few and far between, and eventually when I visited as an adult and requested the green chili, I learned that her recipe had shifted from the familiar ground beef to cubed pork. It was tasty, but I longed for the texture of the tender ground meat.
What I really wanted was a taste of happy childhood. Isn’t that what comfort food is?
The first time I made my own green chili, about 15 years ago, I used a flavorful pork sausage I had discovered at Whole Foods. The sausage was made in-house and was utterly addictive with its mild, smoky green chiles and spicy habanero peppers, and I found it a happy medium to provide the soft meat texture I loved about the first version of green chili I ever had and the rich, savory flavor of pork. When my local Whole Foods stopped making it, I was beyond disappointed. I figured I’d have to settle for plain ground pork going forward.
But recently, necessity being the mother of invention and all, I learned how to make my own spicy sausage and baby, I’m back!
I’m still in the learning stages of sausage production, but my imagination has run pretty wild, considering all the unique flavor possibilities before me. I have delved into a few other flavor combinations already, but I know it won’t be long before this one comes up in rotation again. It’s because the green chili burritos I made from the sausage was just that delicious—even better than any of the versions I made before. Link back to the homemade pork sausage post for the particulars on this sausage, or choose a store-bought sausage that has green chile flavors if you want a shortcut. Heck, maybe your Whole Foods still sells that sausage, and you’ll be in business.
The chili itself is the star of these burritos; the rest is just a tortilla rolled around seasoned beans and cheese. Accompanying the sausage were onions, garlic, flour and masa flour (for thickening), canned green chiles, fresh jalapeno (if you love the heat, as we do), a few simple seasonings, and broth (I used both veggie and chicken). Putting the chili together is easy, and then it settles in for a long, low simmer. If you have an extra day, let it sit in the fridge overnight because the flavors mingle even more for better flavor.
If you like, you can serve the finished chili just as it is—either by the steaming bowlful with a handful of shredded cheese or by ladling it over a burrito—but if it thins out more than you prefer during the cooking, whip up a bit of corn starch slurry and stream it in over medium heat. When it’s thickened and glossy, it’s ready to go.
At our house, we enjoyed this at dinner, lazily draped over bean and cheese burritos. And we enjoyed it again for a weekend breakfast, stuffing our tortillas with black beans, scrambled eggs and cheese, plus a scatter of fresh chopped tomatoes.
This dish speaks the language of my childhood, with comforting chili made from ground pork and all that beautiful, melty cheese.
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. EVOO
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. dried green chile flakes (mine were from Flatiron Pepper Co., available online)
1.5 lbs. green chile pork sausage (store-bought, or my recipe which is included below)
1 whole fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped (keep some of the seeds if you like it hot)
2 or 3 Tbsp. additional EVOO to provide fat for roux
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. masa flour (Maseca)
2 small cans (4 oz.) fire roasted diced green chiles
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin (from toasted seeds if possible)
4 cups low-sodium veggie or chicken broth (I used 2 cups of each)
Corn starch slurry with equal parts corn starch and ice water (About 1/3 cup total)
2 cans refried beans, warmed with oil and onions (for serving burritos)
Large flour tortillas (for burritos)
8 oz. block cheddar, colby jack or pepperjack cheese, shredded
Fresh tomatoes, chopped (optional)
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil, season with salt and pepper.
Add sausage, a bit at a time, to brown it without overcrowding the pan.
Add jalapeno and drizzle with olive oil to provide fat for the roux. Stir in ground cumin.
Sprinkle flour and masa all over the meat mixture and toss to coat, adding more oil if needed to make it sticky and evenly coated.
Add veg or chicken broth, half at a time, stirring each to blend and thicken.
Cover the pot, reduce heat and cook at a low simmer for a couple of hours. Aim to keep it below the boiling point so that the thickening doesn’t cook off. If the chili seems “thin” after its simmer, use the corn starch slurry to thicken it back up. Be sure to let it simmer vigorously for a few minutes to cook off the starchy flavor.
To serve the chili over burritos, warm the refried beans in a skillet or deep saucepan with some sautéed onions. Add a generous spoonful of the beans onto the center of a large flour tortilla. Add a small handful of shredded cheese and roll it up, placing it seam side-down on an oven-safe plate. Ladle chili over the burrito, sprinkle on more shredded cheese and just a small amount of extra chili. Place in the hot oven or microwave to melt the cheese.
Below are the ingredients I used in the green chile sausage. Full instruction for making the sausage can be found in my previous post for homemade pork sausage.
Pork shoulder cubes (gram weight of pork determines how much seasoning blend to use)
If I were able to physically load my stress onto the pages of a calendar, December would be the heaviest, but it has nothing to do with holiday anxiety or preparing to entertain. For me, the stress comes with realization of all that I didn’t accomplish during the year, despite my intentions and wishes. I have tried to shift my attention to the things I’ve finished rather than not but, sadly, this seems to be my default. It is heavy on my mind this week as I have reviewed my culinary bucket list, and the ever-growing “I want to try” column.
My most frequent lamentation to my husband is that “I want to do everything at once!” Most of the time, I’m doing good to just break even on my get-it-done list, and the biggest obstacle I face is my own lofty expectation, especially in the kitchen. I don’t want to throw proverbial spaghetti at the wall, hoping something will stick. I research unfamiliar techniques and recipes carefully and if they seem complex, I research some more until I feel at least somewhat equipped for the task. Sometimes, I just keep researching until I flat-out scare myself away from it.
But once in a while I give in and try something that surprises me with its simplicity, and this homemade sausage is one of those things. Turning a chunk of pork shoulder into a flavorful, composed ground meat mixture is not at all the challenge I imagined it to be, thanks in large part to this book by J. Kenji López-Alt and an easy-to-use attachment for my stand mixer.
I was gifted this fascinating book a couple of years ago for my birthday, and I love the science that its author lays out on every page. If you want the full scoop and Kenji’s brilliant approach to things in the kitchen, get the book. You won’t regret it. But not everyone cares to know the backstory details of a recipe and why it works (what can I say? I’m a nerd), so rather than echo the 13 pages of detailed, scientific information Kenji has provided on this subject, I’m grinding it down into three takeaway points and then I’ll share my own adventure in sausage-making. Here goes!
Use a digital scale to determine how much salt and seasoning to use in your sausage; don’t make yourself crazy trying to do the math using cups or teaspoons.
Let the meat chill in the fridge with the proper amount of salt and seasonings for about 24 hours before grinding; it changes the texture of the meat so it’s optimal when you grind.
Keep it cold, cold, cold for best results; this means putting your grinding tools (and the meat, for a time) in the freezer, and working quickly to avoid a big mess.
I should disclose here that I did not go “all in” to the point of using casings for link sausages. Frankly, I’m not sure where to even buy them, though I might talk with our favorite local butcher about that in the future, especially before next summer’s grilling and smoking season rolls around. This experiment has been all about bulk sausage, and I have not had a bad batch yet!
If you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, there’s a simple attachment that allows for grinding of food with a propeller-type blade that cuts the food chunks as they pass through a feeder tube. It takes practice, but works great. If you don’t have this device, I think you could probably begin with smaller chunks of meat and use the pulse function of a food processor to achieve a similar result. Kenji even discusses that in The Food Lab.
Here’s the basic technique that I learned from Kenji. Cut up the pork shoulder (best quality you have available, of course) into chunks about the size of walnuts. Weigh the raw meat, using the grams setting of a digital scale. Next, grab a calculator to determine what is 1.5% of the meat weight—that’s how much kosher salt you need. Not that this is kosher, mind you. It’s pork, so of course not. But un-iodized salt is recommended here, and kosher is what I use in the kitchen anyway. Sea salt would probably be fine.
Toss the meat chunks to evenly distribute the salt, cover the bowl and refrigerate it for 24 hours. After the rest time, you can see the difference in the texture of the meat. It looks darker, smooth and glossy, and is noticeably smaller in volume. This consistency change is what makes sausage different from regular ground meat, and it’s as easy as “salt and wait.”
My interest in making homemade sausage stems largely from repeated disappointment at the Whole Foods meat counter, where I used to buy a fantastic green chile and habanero pork sausage that was wonderfully spicy and perfect for my favorite green chili recipe. But, as with most “big box” retailers, Whole Foods only appeals to the masses now (even more so since they were bought by Amazon) and after hearing for the umpteenth time that “nobody wants to buy that spicy sausage,” I finally decided to get on with things and make my own.
Kenji’s tutorial in The Food Lab did not include suggested seasonings for a green chile-habanero version, but I trusted my instinct and put the flavors together myself. Two kinds of Flatiron Pepper Co. chile flakes, smoked paprika, cumin seeds, pickled garlic (which I ended up not using because I couldn’t get the darn lid off), Mexican oregano and black pepper.
For this batch, I waited to add the seasonings (2% of the original meat weight, per Kenji), but I discovered later that I could have added it at the same time as the salt. In subsequent batches, I’ve added my spices at the same time as the 1.5% of kosher salt.
I spread the meat out into a single layer on a baking sheet and slipped it into the freezer for 15 minutes while I set up the meat grinder attachment for my stand mixer. The meat and all the parts that touch the meat should be really cold, so I also put the cutter blade, the large-hole cutter plate and my mixer’s beater blade into the freezer. I took Kenji’s advice about this to heart and it paid off with an easy grinding process. I also put ice in my stainless steel mixing bowl to chill it down for the next step.
This part of sausage production moved quickly, and I couldn’t take pictures from every angle as I pulverized the very cold meat, but the action shots here tell the story pretty well. As soon as it was ground, I transferred it to my chilled mixing bowl and used the beater blade to whip it around for about 2 minutes. During this mixing stage, which essentially serves to make the meat mixture sticky and cohesive, I poured in roughly 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. That acidity makes all the difference in flavor!
For my first batch of sausage, I passed the meat through the grinder a second time before mixing it, using the small-hole cutter plate included with my food grinder. This proved to be tedious and unnecessary, and my later batches were all done in one pass, using only the large-hole cutter plate. Sometimes the lesson is about what you don’t need to do, right?
The green chile sausage was fantastic, and I used it make a pot of this oh-so-comforting green chili for burritos. This is a favorite dish from my childhood, and I’ll share the recipe in January.
I also made a chipotle, ancho chile and maple sausage, which I used in a stuffing blend for a rolled pork loin roast that we enjoyed with friends a few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving. I’ll share the recipe for that lovely roast sometime in the next couple of weeks.
And I made an Italian fennel and Calabrian chile sausage, which became the big flavor enhancer for the sausage used in Les’s amazing Thanksgiving stuffing. It was his year for the bird, and though I said it was his best turkey ever, he declared the sausage made it his best-ever stuffing. We are a darn good team!
We have used up all the sausage I’ve made so far, but I already have a dozen ideas for flavors I want to make next. Here I go again, wanting to do everything at once! I can’t, of course. But homemade sausage is now definitively in the “done” column, with more variations coming your way soon. 🙂
Making your own sausage is not as intimidating as it may seem. All you need is the right meat-to-salt ratio, a good imagination for flavor, and a device to grind the meat. Use a digital scale to measure the ingredients and keep the meat and grinding device as cold as possible through the entire process.
Good quality pork shoulder meat, with a decent amount of fat
Kosher (or other non-iodized) salt, in 1.5% proportion to meat weight
Non-salt seasonings of your choice, in 2% proportion to meat weight
1 to 2 Tbsp. vinegar for each pound of meat
Use the “grams” setting of a digital scale for the easiest ratio calculation. Weigh the meat, then use a calculator to determine percentages. If your calculator doesn’t have a percentage button, convert it to decimal value. 1.5% = .015 and 2% = .02.
Cut the pork shoulder into chunks about the size of walnuts. Place a bowl on the digital scale and zero the tare weight. Add the pork and take note of the gram total weight.
Calculate salt and seasoning measurements, using the notes above as a guide. Sprinkle both over the pork chunks and toss to combine. Refrigerate overnight, preferably 24 hours.
Arrange meat in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the sheet pan into a flat space in the freezer for about 15 minutes to partially freeze the pork chunks. Also place the metal grinder parts into the freezer for this time, as the meat grinds best when it is perfectly cold. Measure the vinegar into a glass or cup and put it in the fridge to chill.
Grind according to manufacturer’s instructions for your grinder. Place ground meat immediately into the fridge again to chill it down.
Add 2 cups of ice to the bowl of stand mixer (or bowl you’ll be using to blend ground meat) and swirl it around to chill the bowl. Dry the inside with paper towels.
Add chilled ground meat to the cold bowl and beat for 1 to 2 minutes, adding vinegar a bit at a time until blended in.
With 20 days to go before Thanksgiving, I’m starting to feel a little edgy. There’s no point planning the menu, because I will change my mind about it a dozen times before Turkey Day arrives. It’s too soon to start much of the cooking, but I can’t sit still either. It’s just my nature, and so I have to focus my effort. And because this will be the first full table since 2019, getting organized feels more important than ever before.
But what can I do, this far ahead?
Spiff Up the Dining Room
To a good degree, we have already done this by having the room professionally painted and replacing the dated, builder-basic chandelier with a beautiful, recycled glass fixture that complements our kitchen remodel. It looks great, and we have a few more upgrades coming soon.
Table wise, I will be washing platters and serving dishes to knock a year’s worth of dust off them. I’ll inspect the table linens and press the napkins if they need it. I’ll wash all the wine glasses in the corner cabinet to be sure they are spot-free and gleaming. I’ll double-check our wine selection and attend a few tastings to be sure we have something for everyone.
Dust the chandelier and the window blinds and tidy up the bar. Clean and fill all the salt and pepper shakers because we don’t want to find an empty one when the meal is on the table.
Refresh the Kitchen
A few weeks before Thanksgiving each year, I pack up my favorite knives and take them to Chef Larry, my sharpening guy, and he will get them in tip-top condition for me. I’ve noticed a little greasy film on the cabinet doors nearest the stove, so I’ll be filling a bucket of hot soapy water to knock that down. It’s time for a deep clean of the gas range and the oven, too, and then the kitchen will be ready!
Restock the Essentials
This is one area that I tend to keep in order throughout the year, and much of that is attributed to my regular baking. I have more than enough flour, sugar and spices. But there are some ingredients I use more during holiday cooking, so I’ll be stocking up— especially nuts, because they are best when they are fresh. While I’m at it, I’ll clean out canned goods that we aren’t using and get them ready for donation.
OK, Now What?
I’ll be wringing my hands with too much time ahead to really start any cooking. Except for one thing— by this weekend, I will at least have my turkey stock in the done column. I don’t know at this point exactly what side dishes we’ll be serving on Thanksgiving— those decisions are always up for grabs until a few days before— but I do know for sure that there will be turkey and mashed potatoes, and that means we will need gravy (My husband, Les, will be making the turkey this year, because we alternate and he does the even-numbered years. He felt I needed to share that, while also noting that he “allows me” to make stock for him).
I am a big fan of store-bought broth, and I use it regularly throughout the year. But for a meal as special as Thanksgiving, it absolutely must be homemade. The holiday week will be busy enough without me taking up a burner all day to simmer down my ingredients, so my solution is to make the stock now and stash it in the freezer for a few weeks to make the best homemade gravy to accompany our meal.
My stock cannot be salty, because we brine our bird, and the drippings can be quite salty on their own; having a stock that doesn’t amplify the sodium is very important. So, as odd as it seems for me to not suggest “season every layer,” in this particular case, I advise against it if you are also a brine enthusiast.
What does go into my stock is some roasted turkey flavor, and I get that by oven roasting a few turkey wings, seasoned only with black pepper and the slightest touch of salt. Let them go until they are golden brown all over, and then strip some of the meat off the bones—these turkey bits are excellent for spoiling any good dog or kitty you have around the house—and then simmer them down with a pile of chopped aromatic vegetables and some chicken parts.
I like to roast a whole chicken around the same time I make my stock, because I can spatchcock the chicken to remove the backbone and also use that, plus the giblet packet, in my stock mix. Wait— have you ever spatchcocked a chicken? It’s sooo easy to do; just grab a pair of kitchen scissors.
Next week, I’ll share the wonderful recipe I made with the spatchcocked chicken. For now, let’s just take the backbone and get back to the homemade stock.
Load up the roasted wings, chicken parts, vegetables and spices into your stock pot and add enough water to cover it all, which should be about two quarts (or roughly two liters). Bring it to a slight boil and then put a lid on the pot and reduce the heat to a low simmer, checking on it occasionally to be sure it isn’t boiling down too quickly. It takes time to extract all the flavor from the poultry parts, so don’t rush it.
After about five hours, the vegetables will be nearly mushy and the turkey will have literally fallen apart—this ensures the most flavorful, collagen-rich stock, and it’s exponentially better than any store-bought stock you’d find. Pick out and discard the solids, and then strain the stock through a mesh strainer into a pitcher bowl. Let it cool for a few minutes, and transfer the stock to freezer-safe containers for storage up to two months. We rarely have more than eight people at our table, so this four-cup batch of stock is enough for our brood, including some gravy left over. Obviously, if you are cooking for a crowd, double all your ingredients for a larger batch.
One day before you’re ready to use the stock, transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw. Warm it in a sauce pan, and add it to thickened roast turkey drippings to make the best homemade gravy your Thanksgiving table has ever seen!
This is one of the most important make-ahead items for Thanksgiving, and you can get it done this weekend! Make the stock now and freeze it for a truly amazing homemade Thanksgiving Day gravy. Did I mention that it's also easy to do?
2 fresh turkey wings, sprinkled with pepper and only a small amount of salt
Spine, neck and giblet packet from a fresh, whole chicken (see recipe notes about the spine)
1 medium onion, cut into large chunks
3 ribs celery (plus leaves), cut into large chunks
2 medium carrots, unpeeled and cut into large chunks
1 tsp. black peppercorns
2 dried bay leaves
Cold, filtered water
Notes: Plan to roast a chicken a few weeks before Thanksgiving, and purchase a whole one with the giblet package and neck included. Spatchcock the chicken, using heavy duty kitchen scissors, and reserve the backbone for this stock, along with the other chicken innards.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the turkey wings on it. Roast the wings for about an hour, until the skin is golden all over. You’ll know they’re done when the kitchen smells wonderful! Cool the wings to room temperature, then shred some of the meat off the bones for any other purpose you choose. Keep about 1/3 of the meat intact on the bones.
Place turkey wings and all other ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stock pot. Add enough cold water to just cover everything.
Bring the pot to a slight boil, then reduce heat and cover the pot. Allow the stock to simmer on low heat (no boiling) for about 5 hours, or until the meat pulls easily from the bones. Cool for about an hour.
Remove and discard the large solids, and then strain the remaining stock through a mesh strainer into a pitcher bowl. Double strain as needed, to remove any fine bits of bone or solid pieces. Transfer to freezer-safe containers and freeze for up to two months. Thaw in refrigerator before using.
If you wish to make a lower fat stock, place the pitcher bowl in the fridge overnight, then scrape the solidified fats off the top before transferring the stock to your freezer containers. The stock will be gelatinized, which is normal. Reheat for a few minutes to return it to liquid form before freezing, if preferred.
Now that we’re fortunate enough to have a garden again, thanks to Terrie’s persistence, we have a bounty of summer tomatoes to deal with.
And recently I had the chance to create a pizza sauce. I used to always make my own sauce when I made pizza (pre-Terrie, pre-sourdough) with store-bought dough. But we’ve been using sauce we buy at a market because there’s quite a variety now and they’re way more flavorful than even just a few years ago. But homemade sauce, that’s the good stuff. And we have fresh Roma tomatoes, so why not?
As an aside, I should note that I’ve been gardening and canning off-and-on for 25 years, but several years ago conceded gardening to Terrie for two reasons—the persistence of the deer wore me out, and in 2013, I had an allergic reaction to yellow jacket stings and was advised by my doctor that activity in the grass where yellow jackets hung out could be dicey for me. And our raised-bed garden is right in the middle of a lot of grass. Every time I go near it, I always see bees buzzing and I’m on high-alert mode.
But back to the story. Sauces are a big thing for me. Before Terrie, I would concoct all kinds of sauces for things I grilled. My go-to sauce for grilled chicken, for example, was a combination of five ingredients that I can still name from memory even though I’ve not made it that way for years: a base barbecue sauce such as Sweet Baby Ray’s, Italian dressing, Kraft Catalina dressing, duck sauce (most often Saucy Susan brand), and some splashes of either soy, teriyaki or hot sauce depending on my mood.
Under Terrie’s watch, however, we have eliminated anything containing ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup (bye-bye Sweet Baby Ray’s) and soybean oil (see ya, Kraft Catalina). The result is that we’ve eliminated a lot of my go-to’s, and to be honest, I don’t mind that. When I create a sauce now, it’s with more natural ingredients and usually means I’m investing my own labor, starting with sautéing vegetables and ending by blending. That’s how it was to be when I told Terrie I wanted to make a pizza sauce.
To increase my knowledge, I searched the inter-webs for pizza sauce recipes. I know how to create “Sunday gravy,” but a homemade pizza sauce from scratch is a different animal. Do you know that almost every recipe out there, including in the cookbooks we have at home, all start with one can (28 ounces) of plum tomatoes? So I changed the search to include “pizza sauce using homegrown tomatoes.”
The problem is I was mostly interested in a recipe by one of Terrie’s favorite chefs, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. And he also used canned tomatoes. I remembered another bit of Terrie’s constant advice—don’t be married to a recipe; use your instinct. As a result, I used the Lopez-Alt recipe as a baseline but was able to embellish it with my own touches, like fresh tomatoes.
This included blanching (and then ice bathing) the tomatoes, sautéing garlic and some seasonings in a combination of olive oil and butter, roasting and dicing a sweet red bell pepper, and then adding an onion cut in half for the cooking (but removing at the end), then whizzing it up smooth with an immersion blender. The end result was amazing!
There was just one teeny problem. It’s not quite pizza sauce.
Rather, the sweetness of the red bell pepper and spice of the red pepper flakes meant it read uniquely, a cross between roasted red pepper sauce (like the one linked here that I made last summer) and something akin to vodka sauce (but without vodka, go figure). It was more complex than I wanted for pizza, which to me is a more tomato-forward and simple taste. We wound up using this sauce instead for turkey meatball subs. The subs had a tangy, bright pop thanks to our garden ingredients, and Terrie promises to share her recipe for the meatballs soon. The rest of the sauce (and meatballs) found its way into a stuffed zucchini boat, thanks to inspiration from a recent post on Dorothy’s New Vintage Kitchen.
As for my desire to make pizza sauce, well, we still have plenty of Roma tomatoes coming in. Stay tuned.
My intention for pizza sauce turned into something more interesting and complex, perfect for topping pasta, Italian meatball subs or even lasagna. I used fresh Roma tomatoes from our garden, rather than canned tomatoes. If you use canned tomatoes, choose a 28 oz. can of Italian plum tomatoes and reduce the simmering time by half.
3 pounds fresh Roma tomatoes, cleaned
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small red bell pepper, roasted (instructions below)
1 large sweet or yellow onion, peeled and cut in half from stem to root end
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese (or the Parm-Romano blend that we are so fond of at our house)
1 or 2 tsp. sugar, to taste
Bring a large stock pot of water to a boil for blanching the tomatoes. Score the blossom end of the tomatoes to make it easy to peel them. Plunge the tomatoes into the water and let sit until you can see clear signs of the skin splitting. Have a good-size pot or bowl filled with ice water to chill the hot tomatoes and keep them from cooking once they are blanched. Then peel the tomatoes, give them a rough chop and set aside.
Quarter the bell pepper and press the pieces to flatten them, skin side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Set the oven to broil setting and roast peppers for about 10 minutes, until charred but not burned. Transfer the pepper pieces to a bowl and cover to steam, which will allow easier peeling. Dice the pepper.
In a large non-reactive pot on a low flame, heat the oil and butter until the butter melts. Add the garlic, oregano and pepper flakes. If using dry basil, add it now, too. Continue cooking on low for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes, and salt generously. Add the onion halves, Parmesan cheese, fresh sprigs of basil (if using that) and roasted red pepper. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and cook on low until volume is reduced by up to half (about two hours).
Remove the onions (and basil sprigs if you used fresh), and then process the sauce with an immersion blender until smooth. Continue to simmer on low, and taste and season it from that point to suit your palate.
Serve immediately over pasta or whatever dish needs a bright Italian sauce. This also can be refrigerated (the flavors really shine after a couple days in the fridge), but probably should be used within a couple of weeks. Or you can freeze it.
When you’re in love, you do crazy things. Not that making your sweetheart’s favorite foods is crazy, mind you, but I do think it’s possible to push the envelope quite far, as I have done at times in my quest to tantalize my husband’s taste buds. This dessert might qualify, because not only did I make a homemade version of his favorite ice cream, I scooped that deliciousness right over a chocolate waffle and drizzled it with a homemade cherry syrup.
Les’s all-time favorite sweet flavor combination is chocolate with cherries, and I have mentioned this previously on Comfort du Jour, in these scrumptious posts:
All those desserts were delicious, but when it comes to cherry and chocolate, it is unquestionably ice cream that wins my man’s heart. One of his favorite grocery store ice creams is the Ben & Jerry’s classic flavor, Cherry Garcia, and though I made it back in October 2020 for the triple chocolate-cherry brownie bowls, I felt that it needed a little tweaking, so I didn’t share the recipe at the time. The color of my first batch was off, because I had used my go-to custard base that had a yellowish tint from the egg yolks. And the chocolate chunks were 70% cacao, which proved to be too bitter and a touch gritty in the mix of so much creaminess.
So, I did what I do best and gave the recipe a makeover. And I’m back to share it with you—a homemade version of “Cherry Garcia” ice cream—one that uses sweetened condensed milk in its base, for creamy sweetness without the yellow egg color, a ribbon of sweet-tart cherry syrup that is tinged with a surprise ingredient, and bits of semi-sweet chocolate that bring just the right balance to the sweet cream, vanilla and cherries.
And, in a bold move, I gave it a go with a recipe I’d been eyeing for years on King Arthur Baking’s website—sourdough chocolate malt waffles. This dessert was nothing short of spectacular.
Over the top? Obviously, but c’mon, we’re talking about Valentine’s Day!
Before I get into the making of this lovely dessert, let me acknowledge that a few of you may not be inclined to go this crazy, or maybe you don’t have an ice cream machine yet, or you don’t have sourdough starter to make the chocolate waffles. Please feel free to lift any single part of this dessert for your own celebration, even if it means just making the cherry syrup to drizzle over store-bought ice cream, or serving the ice cream with a store-bought chocolate cookie. I ended up making a second batch of the cherry syrup (with chunks of cherries), and it was fantastic over plain vanilla ice cream.
My ingredients and instructions are all included in a downloadable PDF at the end of the post. Enjoy!
There was a time (in the not-so-distant past) that we didn’t rely on overly processed food from the supermarket for every little thing. Before the grocery aisles were jam-packed with 173 kinds of salad dressing, there was oil and vinegar, and people spiced those up by whisking in a handful of other common items to create dressings far tastier than the pre-made stuff. Vinaigrette is one of the simplest dressings to make from scratch, and creamy dressings are equally simple with a few basic ingredients.
You might be amazed at how much flavor you will be able to create at home with nothing more than simple fridge items, a few spices and a whisk (or, as I’ll show you today, a food processor). On the economic side, it costs pennies on the dollar to make your own dips and dressings, and it only takes a few minutes to pull them together.
The other benefit of making your own dressing—besides the savings and the flavor factor—is that you will know exactly what is in it. Commercial dressings contain so many stabilizing and preservative ingredients that aren’t necessary. And if it seems a healthier bet to buy the packets of ranch dressing mix and “make it yourself” with fresh buttermilk, all I can suggest is to take a closer look:
I suppose these ingredients might be perfectly harmless (remember when they said that about partially hydrogenated vegetable oil?), but it’s a fair assumption that the fresh herbs and minimal spices you add to a real homemade dressing will present a lesser concern. And your dressing will taste better, which might even lead you to enjoying more salads and vegetables.
For this creamy ranch dressing dip, I have used a whole bulb of roasted garlic to add a mellow flavor to plain Greek yogurt, buttermilk, olive oil-based mayo and a bunch of fresh herbs. A little salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and that’s all there was to it. If you prefer a bit more zing, use fresh garlic, but only a fraction of what is called for here. If you don’t have the same fresh herbs, substitute what you have or what you like. If you want to add half of a ripe avocado in place of some of the mayonnaise, go for it.
My homemade roasted garlic ranch dip was intended for dipping fresh veggies as a game day snack, but if you prefer a more pourable dressing for salads, simply ease up on the mayo and use more buttermilk.
This recipe makes about 1 1/4 cups.
2 scallions, white and green parts
1 small handful fresh parsley
1 small handful fresh dill
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 an average-sized fruit)
1/4 cup stirred Greek yogurt (whole fat or 2% recommended)
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. carboxymethylcellulose (just kidding—I’ve never heard of this, but it’s in the store-bought ranch mix!)
Choose a mayonnaise that you trust, bearing in mind that labels can be misleading. The front of the jar may suggest that your mayo is made with olive oil, but on further inspection, soybean oil could be listed as the first (most prominent) ingredient, with the healthier oil listed much later. Learning what your food is made of can be an eye-opener, and when you do find a product that meets your health standards, you will be able to build on it to make a lot of other foods serve you better.
Thick buttermilk works especially well for dip-style dressings. Look for a brand that doesn’t have a lot of “gum” ingredients, which are unnecessary stabilizers. Bacterial cultures should be present in good buttermilk as well. And for this dip, I do not recommend making a buttermilk substitute using regular milk and lemon juice or vinegar. That works for some baking recipes, but not in this instance, as you will miss the smooth textural element that buttermilk lends to your dip or dressing.
I love roasting garlic for use in many things, and it is easy to do. If you have never made your own, you may find some helpful tips in my previous post for making your own roasted garlic. When roasted, the garlic takes on a mellow, somewhat nutty flavor that lends a lot of depth to foods. If you prefer fresh, or simply don’t have the time or patience to roast it, I would recommend only using one or two segments of the garlic rather than a whole bulb (unless you’re battling vampires, obviously).
Begin by chopping up your fresh herbs, together with the Dijon, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. I made a small batch this time, and my processor only rough-chopped these ingredients, even in the small insert bowl. As long as the volume reduces to make room for the other ingredients, it’s fine.
Add the mayo and pulse to combine. Add the roasted garlic and process until you no longer see visible bits of the garlic.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add yogurt, buttermilk and onion powder, and whisk until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste (remember that additional salt will need time to dissolve, so you may want to let it rest a few minutes before final taste adjustments).
Chill the dip at least one hour before serving. Enjoy within a few days for best freshness and give it a good stir when you take it out of the fridge.
Of all the things to be excited about when our kitchen remodel is finished, I’m especially looking forward to having my pasta rolling machine closer at hand. We have what we call the “prime real estate” rule in our existing kitchen, which means that we must use a gadget or appliance more than a couple times each week to justify giving it counter space or base cabinet storage. Everything else is relegated to the baker’s rack in the attached garage, or atop the wall cabinets in our laundry room.
My pasta machine, which I only use once every few months, lives way up there, mere inches from the ceiling. I can only reach it if I stand on tippy toes on the top step of our stepladder—it is inconvenient, to say the least. And I have not pressed very hard on the argument that if I could actually reach the thing, I might use it more often, thereby earning its spot in the better real estate. It’s a catch-22 kind of thing, and a real shame because I love to make handmade pasta.
But my deepest pasta prayers will be answered with the installation of a brand-new section of cabinetry in this unused corner of our kitchen, right next to the huge sunny window. It will be my own special space—a baking station—and the cabinets and drawers will give me all the space I need for my favorite gadgets, including the pasta machine, plus a lovely butcher block countertop where I will make pasta (and sourdough bread) to my heart’s content. I cannot wait!
And in preparation for that time, I have been getting in some practice rounds with handmade pasta, due in part to my purchase of this amazing how-to book. The author of Pasta, Pretty Please, Linda Miller Nicholson, describes her recipes for brilliantly hued handmade pasta dough, flavored and colored with pure, natural ingredients, and then shaped with the most clever and creative techniques. Linda is all over Facebook, YouTube and Instragram with her craft, and you can count me among those who are utterly enthralled by her incredible, edible art. Feast your eyes!
The impatient side of me wants to dive head first into the most complex shapes, designs and colors, but I am restraining and pacing myself—partly so that I don’t get frustrated with techniques that I don’t yet understand, and partly because there is only so much pasta that my husband, Les, and I can consume in a week. If I made as much pasta as my heart desired, we’d be in major carb overload!
But I am practicing, both with the natural color ingredients and some of the special shaping. I’m happy to share a sneak peek of my progress, and then I’ll dive into the recipe that I promised at the beginning.
Stay tuned for more progress as I go. Until then, let’s talk about this handmade spinach pasta, lovingly wrapped around an easy ricotta and parm-romano filling. I will not be so smug as to imply that handmade pasta is a cinch (because it does take practice), but I will absolutely say that it is worth the effort, and if you have made pasta before, you can make a couple of simple changes to twist up the flavor and color, and you will impress even yourself with the outcome. I’ve made colored and flavored pasta many times before—with spinach, butternut squash, sun-dried tomato, lemon and dried mushrooms as ingredients—but I have already learned some new tricks from Linda Miller Nicholson, and I am excited to share them with you.
For starters, her instruction shifted me away from extensive kneading of the dough to a simpler means of laminating the dough to build gluten strength. Laminating means “layers.” After a brief kneading and a half-hour rest, you repeatedly fold the sheets of dough onto itself, layer upon layer, as you run it through the pasta machine. As you go, the dough becomes more and more supple and strong enough to withstand pressing into thin sheets for ravioli. This is good news for anyone who finds kneading tedious or painful.
Next, the color of the pasta can be intensified with a simple addition of baking soda in the blanching water for any vegetables you use to color up your dough; then, a quick straining through a mesh sieve weeds out the solids for a cleaner-looking dough. In the past, I have simply wilted spinach in a pan and pureed it into my dough. My previous results were good, but not this good.
And my filling is improved also, simply because I took a few extra minutes to drain excess moisture from the ricotta before mixing the filling. More advice from Linda, and it worked like a charm. Oh, it pays to stay curious!
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour* (see notes)
2 large eggs, room temperature (plus water, as noted in the instructions)
A fat handful of fresh baby spinach leaves, washed
1 tsp. baking soda (in the blanching water, not the dough)
1 Tbsp. kosher salt (also for the blanching water)
As always, be sure you measure the flour properly so that your dough is not dense. Use the fluff, sprinkle, level method if measuring by volume. For less fuss and greater precision, measure it by weight—270 grams.
The very best flour to use for pasta is Italian 00 milled flour or finely milled durum (semolina), which is my favorite. But both can be tricky to find. For the sake of practice, I have been using King Arthur all-purpose flour, and I have had excellent results so far. If you sub in any amount of whole wheat flour, increase the water a bit as well.
Here, I will run through the instructions in pictures, as usual. At the end of the post, you’ll find a PDF available for download, so you can print it for your recipe files. 🙂
Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the salt and baking soda and stir briefly to dissolve. Toss in the baby spinach and stir it around for 15 seconds. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the spinach and place it in a mesh strainer to drain excess water.
Transfer the spinach to a regular or bullet blender, together with the eggs. Pulse blend a few times, and then run the blender continuously until the mixture is evenly mixed.
Pour the pureed mixture through a mesh strainer over a glass measuring cup. Press the puree through to strain out the solids, and then add enough water to the mixture in the glass to measure exactly 3/4 cup.
In a large bowl, stir a generous pinch of salt into the flour and create a well in the center of the flour. Pour in the pureed spinach mixture and mix with a spoon until a clumpy mixture comes together. Knead with your hands in the bowl or turn the dough out onto a countertop and knead several times until all flour is incorporated and no dry spots remain.
Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before rolling. You may also refrigerate the dough for several hours or even a day. I’ve found this formula for pasta dough to be very forgiving.
Make the ricotta filling while you rest the pasta dough
Strain the ricotta in a mesh strainer (lined with cheesecloth if you have it) over a medium bowl. Let the ricotta drain for at least 30 minutes. Stir in parm-romano, egg yolk, lemon zest and nutmeg. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the mixture into a plastic bread bag for easy piping. Refrigerate mixture while you roll out the pasta dough.
Sheet the pasta and fill the ravioli
Divide the dough into sections, keeping most of them wrapped as you work on one. Use a rolling pin or the heel of your hand to press the first section into a flat oval. Run it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting, folding it into thirds like an envelope and then run it through again. If it sticks, dust both sides with flour. When the dough reaches a very supple stage, adjust the setting knob one notch per run, until the dough reaches the desired thinness. For ravioli, I recommend using the thinnest or second-thinnest setting.
Let the pasta sheet rest, uncovered, on the floured counter for about 10 minutes before filling with ricotta filling. This gives the pasta time to tighten up a bit for easier shaping.
If you are making ravioli without a mold, squeeze 1 1/2 teaspoon-sized dollops of ricotta filling onto one long side of the pasta sheet. Space the dollops about 2 inches apart, allowing room to seal up the pillows on all sides. Dip a finger into a small bowl of water and slightly moisten the dough in between ricotta dollops and along the long edge.
Fold the dough over the ricotta dollops, taking care to keep the edges aligned. Carefully press out any air pockets, starting from the folded edge, then in between dollops. Seal the open edge last to ensure no air bubbles are trapped.
Use a pizza wheel or sharp knife to trim any ragged edges. Cut between the raviolis and transfer them to a semolina- or flour-dusted parchment paper. Allow the ravioli to dry for at least an hour before cooking.
To cook handmade ravioli, bring salted water to a gentle boil. Carefully transfer ravioli, taking care not to overcrowd the pot. Fresh pasta cooks much more quickly than dried or frozen, so keep an eye on it and prepare to rescue it from the pot after about four minutes.
Serve with any favorite sauce. I made the simplest marinara with sauteed onions and garlic, my own Italian spice blend and canned San Marzano tomatoes, plus a splash of cream.
For the record, I bought Linda Miller Nicholson’s book with my own hard-earned money. This is not a paid advertisement for Linda, but I cannot help sharing my discovery of her work because she is just awesome. You can pick up a copy of Pasta, Pretty Please at the bookstore or on Amazon, but I bought it directly from Linda’s website, called Salty Seattle. If you buy the book directly from Linda, she will even sign it for you. 🙂
In six short weeks, life will be turned upside down for my husband, Les, and me. This is when our kitchen tear-out will begin, and we are beginning to shift our expectations as we prepare for the eight weeks or so that we will be “without” a kitchen. Welcome, friends, to our “in-between” kitchen!
We have rearranged our dining room space to accommodate a baker’s rack that will hold some of the appliances that will help us get through the chaos. A new two-burner induction cooktop will allow us to do simple stove-top cooking, including heating water for my daily dose of French press coffee. We will make good use of our slow cooker, toaster oven and the panini griddle that doubles as a waffle iron. We have the gas grill for outdoor cooking, and so far, the only thing I haven’t quite figured out is how I will make bread without our oven, though don’t be surprised if I use one or more of the above to make it happen!
As we are preparing for the load out of the old kitchen (not to mention a bevy of random pantry and freezer ingredients), I’m giving all of our other small electrics a chance to prove themselves worthy of a spot in our new space. One item that will be (sadly) getting the boot is our KitchenAid 11-cup food processor, but not because we don’t use it; on the contrary, this thing gets so much action, it is on its last legs. The protective film over the power buttons has become brittle and is completely worn away from the pulse button, the feed chute is cracked and the inside of the “S” blade stem has some dried-on crud that I have not been able to remove. I have had the appliance nearly 20 years, and KitchenAid no longer makes my model (or any of the parts), so my only choice will be to replace the machine.
Until then, I’ll keep going with recipes like this one, for easy homemade hummus made with garbanzo beans, lemony artichoke hearts and lots of fresh garlic. Hummus is one of my favorite “blank canvas” foods, and it’s so simple at home, it makes no sense to buy it. The other key ingredients include tahini, olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon, which is a perfect highlight to the tangy artichoke.
Warm the garbanzo beans to soften them up before you begin and use a food processor or a good blender for best, smoothest results. Enjoy your hummus on crackers, chips, crostini or fresh veggie slices.
15 oz. can garbanzo beans, with liquid
3 Tbsp. tahini* (see notes)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
About 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts*, drained and rough-chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Kosher salt and pepper
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. It is available in most larger supermarkets, usually in the same section as olives, or perhaps in the international aisle.
The artichoke hearts I used were Trader Joe’s, marinated in sunflower oil, vinegar and spices. If you use plain hearts, consider adding a pinch or dried herbs (dill or oregano would be great), and either way, drain all the excess liquid from them.
Pour the entire contents of the canned garbanzo beans into a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until mixture just begins to boil. Remove from heat and drain liquid off beans, but do not discard it (you’ll use it for blending).
Transfer warm beans into a food processor or blender and pulse a few times to grind the beans into a meal-like texture. Scrape down sides of the processor bowl. Add tahini, garlic, artichoke hearts, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to combine. Scrape down the sides again.
Turn processor on and run continuously while slowly pouring about 3 tablespoons of the warm liquid into the processor. Blending slowly will help to emulsify the ingredients into a smooth blend. Add more or less of the liquid, depending on your preference for hummus consistency. Remember that the mixture will become firmer after chilling. Scrape down sides once more.
Run processor continuously and slowly blend in about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
Transfer hummus to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for up to a week.
There are plenty of things I don’t buy pre-made anymore—bread, salad dressing, pizza dough, ice cream, pasta—but corn tortillas are among the simplest, and the flavor is far superior to the ones I find in the supermarket. Even the “authentic” corn tortillas at the grocery are mass-produced with all kinds of processed ingredients, conditioners, preservatives and heaven knows what else. When you make them from scratch, you only need two ingredients—masa harina, which is finely ground corn that has been alkalized with lime (the mineral, not the citrus), and water. The dough rests for a short time, then it is rolled into balls and flattened into discs. Cook them on a hot griddle or cast-iron skillet, and you’ll enjoy tortillas that will make you skip store bought forever.
Flavoring the tortillas is simple, also. I like to put a couple of shakes of onion powder into a basic batch, for a quick little savory “something.” But if you want more noticeable flavor—spinach, for example—simply puree a small amount of cooked spinach with some water and measure it out in the same measurement as water in the recipe. You could do the same with cilantro, pumpkin, garlic, tomato or black beans. If you can imagine it, you can make it. Experimenting in the kitchen has resulted in some of my favorite foods!
I use a tortilla press to create the perfect round shape, but you can also use the flat bottom of a large glass bowl to do this. Once cooked, the tortillas can be used for soft tacos or enchiladas, fried crisp for hard-shell tacos or tostadas (one of my faves), or cut into wedges and fried to become homemade tortilla chips, perfect for dips and salsas.
Making tortillas can be a little challenging at first. The ratio of ingredients is printed on the masa flour bag, but your technique can only be developed with practice. See my tips for success at the end of the instructions. No reason you should go through all the frustrating mistakes I’ve made. One of these days, I’ll make a list of all the cuss words I’ve made up in the kitchen. 😊
Ingredients for Basic Tortillas
1 cup masa harina (I like Maseca brand, white, yellow or blue)
2/3 cup very warm water (or 50/50 mix of water and puree of choice)
A pinch of kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir until liquid is absorbed. Knead the dough ball a few times until mixture is smooth, soft and uniform in texture. Cover the dough ball snugly with plastic wrap and allow it to rest at least 20 minutes.
Preheat a cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat, about 375° F.
Divide masa dough into 8 equal pieces, then roll each piece into a smooth ball. Keep the dough balls covered to prevent drying out as you shape and press them into flat tortillas.
Place a dough ball between two squares of plastic wrap, or cut apart a zip-top bag. The thicker plastic gives better results. Use the tortilla press to slowly flatten the dough to a disc that is about 5 to 6 inches across. Alternatively, press the flat bottom of a clear glass bowl evenly over the surface of the dough ball until the tortilla is about 5 to 6 inches across.
Carefully peel one side of the plastic away from the tortilla, then turn the tortilla out into your hand and peel away the second piece of plastic. Be prepared to ruin a few, but don’t panic if you do (see Tips below)!
Turn the tortilla onto the preheated griddle and cook the first side 60 to 90 seconds, until the edges look dry and steam is emerging from underneath. Use a spatula to flip the tortilla over and cook the second side about 60 seconds.
Transfer the hot tortilla to a plate lined with a clean kitchen towel and fold the towel over to keep them warm as you finish the remaining tortillas.
If you love corn tortillas and want to make them at home more regularly, I recommend investment in a tortilla press because it makes it so simple. I picked mine up in a specialty market that carries a wide array of foods and products for Mexican cuisine, and you can easily find them online, too. But what if you’re jonesing to make them right now? Here’s one easy way to do it, using a flat-bottomed glass dish as your “press.” For this batch, I used the blue corn masa harina, and I demonstrate how to incorporate another ingredient: black beans!
Follow the same guidelines for measuring the masa harina as I offer for measuring flour—fluff it up, sprinkle over the measuring cup to overflowing, and then level it off. If you dig a measuring cup directly into the masa bag, you’ll end up with too much and the dough will be dry. The masa should be soft and loose in the measuring cup, not packed tight.
Use warm water, not cold, to mix with the masa flour. I’ve found that the warm water is more easily absorbed and helps to create better dough. Knead the dough until it is soft and smooth, which is usually only a minute or two, though longer kneading will not cause any harm.
Don’t skip the rest time after mixing the masa. This gives enough time for the masa to hydrate fully. If you rush this step, you may find the dough crumbly or sticky (or both) during pressing.
When you roll the dough into balls, it should hold together easily without sticking to your hands, and only showing slight cracks. Trust your instinct; if it feels too dry, wet your hands and knead a few more times. If it’s sticky, lightly dust it with additional masa flour, then knead and rest it again.
I have found a modified zip-top bag more useful than plastic wrap for pressing the tortillas. Use a freezer bag if possible, as it is thicker than a sandwich bag. Cut off the zipper top entirely, and cut down the sides, leaving only the bottom of the bag attached.
Shape the sections of dough into balls all at once, and then place one dough ball inside the zip top bag layers. Keep the other dough balls covered with a damp paper towel or plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. When placing the dough ball in the tortilla press, arrange it slightly off center toward the hinge side. Close the press and use the lever to apply gentle pressure. If the tortilla is noticeably thinner on one edge, turn it and gently press again to even it out. Until you get used to this process, it may help to make slightly thicker tortillas. If you are using a flat-bottomed dish to press them, press your hands on it in a rocking motion all the way around until the tortilla is about 5 inches across. It’s helpful to have a clear dish so you can see the progress.
Focus on peeling the plastic away from the dough, not the other way around, and accept that you may find the first few tries unsuccessful. Hold the plastic bag flat in one hand, and use the other hand to peel, keeping the plastic at a sharp angle to the tortilla. Don’t peel straight up or the tortilla will tear. If the tortilla falls apart, just scrape it into a ball and try again. There is no gluten in corn tortillas, so they will not get tough from extra handling. If the dough feels dry after a few failed attempts, wet your hands and knead it a bit.
The initial cooking of the tortillas should be on a dry skillet or pancake griddle. If you want to fry them later to suit a dish you are making, that will be a separate process. Think of it as a form of bread, which must be baked before it can be toasted or grilled.
Give your griddle or cast-iron skillet enough time to pre-heat, and plan to let your first tortilla be a test. It may take some practice to get the right temperature on your stove or griddle. Be ready to flip them when they look “right,” not by the clock, but aim for somewhere between 60 and 90 seconds.
Have a plate ready, lined with a clean kitchen towel. You’ll want to keep the freshly cooked tortillas wrapped as you complete the rest of the batch—for warmth and also for softness.
If you decide to use pureed vegetables to make flavored tortillas, start with a liquid mixture that is at least 50% water. Pureed vegetables such as spinach or pumpkin are wet, but there is also fiber in them that may change the consistency of the masa. I recommend making basic tortillas a few times to get used to it. As you gain experience making them, you will instinctively know what the dough should feel like, and how to best adjust ratios of other ingredients to produce fun colors and flavors. Here are a few of my favorites: spinach, black bean, pumpkin, cilantro, roasted garlic.
March was National Flour Month, and I’m finally catching up on paying respect to the many ways flour feeds us, beyond the obvious (bread). My first attempts at making handmade pasta 10 years ago were outright disastrous, mostly because I had assumed the method of stirring eggs by fork into a mountain-like peak of all-purpose flour was going to be easy. In my defense, the shows I had watched on Food Network made it seem easy, but in real life, it was a humongous freaking mess that left me cussing up a storm and vowing that I’d “never make that again.” Truth is, it is those really frustrating failures that inspire me the most to give it another go, and I’m so glad I did!
In my later efforts, I enjoyed more success, letting my KitchenAid do the mixing, but there was always something about the handmade pasta that didn’t sit right with me, even after I had invested in a “Made in Italy” hand-crank pasta roller. The dough always seemed heavy or thick, even on the thin roller setting. It fell apart or crumbled, or stuck to the roller or cutting blades. But a few years ago, I found the perfect, James Beard Foundation-approved recipe that fixed all the problems I had encountered. My issue was not only how I was making the dough or rolling the pasta, but also the ratio of ingredients I was using. To that point, I had been using only all-purpose flour and whole eggs (yolks and whites). I had no idea what temperature was best for my ingredients, nor did I fully understand how long to knead the dough or whether it needed to be rested.
The better recipe, and the one I use to this day, takes advantage of a special variety of wheat called durum, which is used to make semolina flour, the gold standard in authentic Italian pasta recipes. Semolina lends a warm, slightly nutty flavor, a light yellowish color and a firmer, more toothsome texture. It has been a game changer in my journey to making handmade pasta.
The other big difference was a shift in liquid ingredients in my formula. Rather than using whole eggs, the recipe that has become my standard requires separation of the eggs, using only the yolks, plus an amount of water. Once I found this easy formula, the flavor possibilities became near-endless. And that’s where the real fun of making handmade pasta begins! Being creative with the colors, flavors and shapes of handmade pasta is one of the things that gives me—a home cook—a very satisfying sense of accomplishment.
I won’t claim that handmade pasta is “easy,” because I still feel the ego bruises from my early attempts, but I will say that if you are already making handmade pasta, go on and experiment with the flavors until you find something amazing. New flavors make their way into the mix either in the liquid, perhaps by using finely pureed vegetables as part of the water measurement, or by way of dry add-ins, as I am sharing in today’s post. And if you’re still on the fence about trying handmade pasta, I hope my adventure inspires you!
This recipe has helped me use some of the abundance of fresh herbs I’ve had since my husband, Les, gifted me the countertop hydroponic herb garden that keeps throwing parsley at me. The lemon, parsley and basil combination is terrific and perfect for spring, but you could just as easily flavor your pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, roasted red peppers or—well, you can imagine your own (and I do hope you’ll share those fabulous ideas).
8 oz. semolina flour (plus extra for rolling pasta dough)
4 oz. unbleached, all-purpose flour* (see notes)
2 oz. white whole wheat flour*
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup filtered water, room temperature*
2 egg yolks, room temperature*
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine is whole lemon-fused for bright lemon flavor)
Zest of one organic lemon* (only the bright yellow peel)
2 Tbsp. very finely minced fresh herbs (I used a combination of Italian parsley and Genovese basil)
All-purpose flour is easy to find, but “00” flour is better if you can get your hands on it. The double-zero flour is milled to a very fine texture, and its use results in tender, silky pasta. I have seen it in well-stocked larger supermarkets, gourmet shops and online. I also use some portion of whole grain flour in my pasta dough, but if you prefer, skip the white whole wheat and make up the difference with equal amount of additional all-purpose or 00 flour.
As with bread dough, I have found that hydration of flour for pasta dough is much improved with room temperature or slightly warm water. Cold water makes for very stiff dough that is tougher to knead.
Eggs are more easily separated when cold, but once this is done, cover the bowl of yolks and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you begin mixing the pasta dough.
Most of the time, conventionally-grown citrus is fine. But when you intend to eat any part of the peel, it’s best to choose organic to avoid chemical pesticides.
Instructions – making the dough
Zest the lemon and mince the herbs first, and spread them out on a cutting board so that the add-in ingredients dry out a bit.
Combine flours, salt, lemon zest and lightly dried herbs in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Combine egg yolks and water in a separate bowl and whisk them together until the mixture is light and frothy.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the wet ingredients into the center and use the dough hook to do the blending. Though it might seem logical to mix with the beater blade, using the dough hook completes the blending from the center-out, in the same way as the chefs using only a fork to gradually mix the eggs into the flour. Allow the mixer to do this work for you, until the dough mixture is combined but crumbly, and no dry flour remains in the bowl. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time, if needed to achieve this stage.
Empty the dough onto your work surface, and knead by hand for at least 10 minutes, probably more like 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic, with no creases or cracks or lumps. If the dough shows any sign of cracking or breaking, wet your hands and continue to knead, repeating as many times as necessary until the smooth texture is achieved.
Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough ball at least one hour, or up to overnight. Do not refrigerate more than a day.
Time to make the pasta!
Remove the pasta dough from the fridge (still wrapped) about 30 minutes before you plan to roll it, to remove some of the chill. Set up your pasta rolling machine, and keep fresh semolina out to aid in rolling and to prevent the dough from sticking. Have a parchment-lined cookie sheet within reach, and set up your drying rack if you’re using one.
Instructions – rolling the pasta
Unwrap the pasta dough and use a bench scraper or sharp knife to slice off sections of dough about one inch thick. Keep remaining dough tightly wrapped until ready to roll, so it doesn’t dry out.
Flatten a piece of dough into an oval-shaped disk, then roll it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting. For the first few passes, fold the pressed dough in half and run it through again on the same setting. Fold it in thirds, as you would fold up a letter, and turn the dough 90° so that it runs through the machine at a different angle. This helps to reduce curling or bending when the pasta dries later. When the dough feels supple after running through the press several times, begin reducing to thinner setting with each pass.
When the dough reaches the desired thickness (either the thinnest or next-to-thinnest setting, allow the sheet to dry slightly before cutting into strips or using as ravioli. In my experience with pasta, the cutting and shaping stage seems to work better when the pasta is not super-soft. If you rush directly to cutting it, at least with a machine, the dough tends to stick in the rollers, and it will definitely stick to a ravioli mold.
After pasta sheets are complete, allow them to rest for a couple of minutes before cutting, either with the pasta machine or by hand with a fluted pasta trimmer, pizza slicer or sharp knife. If cutting by hand, the simplest way is to fold the pasta sheet crosswise multiple times, and slice through the layers with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Dust the pasta really well with extra semolina flour before cutting to minimize sticking.
This time, I’ve opted to use the cutter attachment for my pasta roller to fashion my lemon-herb pasta into fettucine strips, but this lemony pasta would also be terrific for making sweet crab-stuffed ravioli, or ricotta-filled tortellini. I will save those for another day. 🙂
We used the lemon-herb pasta in a couple of ways—first, with littleneck clams in white wine broth, and again as a base for an amazing dish of chicken thighs in vodka sauce that Les made for us.