Not Quite Pizza Sauce

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?

Every day, we’ve come in from the garden with another haul.

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.

I know you mean well, Buddy.

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.”

We’ve had so many fresh, meaty Romas. I’ll use canned tomatoes in January.

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!

Use an immersion blender to puree it nice and smooth.

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.


Not Quite Pizza Sauce

  • Servings: 6 to 8, depending on use
  • Difficulty: average
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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.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds fresh Roma tomatoes, cleaned
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 small red bell pepper, roasted (instructions below)
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano flakes
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves (or 2 good-sized sprigs fresh basil)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 generous pinches red pepper flakes
  • 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

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


Ratatouille Shakshuka

How is it possible that the simplest combination of ripe-at-the-same-time ingredients turns out to be such a mouthwatering flavor explosion, no matter how you put it together?

Any way you plate it, this is a great combo!

I never get tired of rearranging ratatouille—eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, onions and tomatoes—and this time, I married the classic Provencal stew with a classic Jewish breakfast dish, shakshuka.

The first time I heard of shakshuka was during a pre-wedding meeting with Rabbi Mark, who formerly led Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, where my then-fiancé, Les, is a member. When our ceremony-planning conversation took a detour toward food and cooking (as literally every conversation with me eventually does), Mark asked if I’d ever made shakshuka, the Middle Eastern dish that is a breakfast staple in many Jewish households. I was stumped because I had never even heard of this dish, let alone made it. But that changed quickly, and it has become an occasional favorite at our house.

Shakshuka is a humble and hearty, tomato-based skillet meal, and a great way to use up whatever other vegetables you have on hand, with eggs simmered right into the sauce. It is very similar to a dish the Italians call “eggs in purgatory.” I especially appreciate how simple it is to pull together when I have had a busy week with little time to plan a menu. Up until now, I have made it only with the spicy flavors that are traditional to the northern African region, where shakshuka originated—cumin, paprika, hot pepper, garlic and oregano.

But this time, I took the concept of shakshuka northward across the Mediterranean Sea, into the south of France, using Herbs de Provence alongside all the beloved vegetables of ratatouille. The result, as you can see, was awesome!

Served with a light sprinkle of Parm-Romano blend cheese at the table.

There was so much nourishing comfort in the stewed vegetables, which simmered long enough to become soft and melded, and the delicate herbs were just right. I’m already craving it again!

As with most recipes, it’s helpful to have all your ingredients chopped and ready before you begin. For any stew, I like to cut up the vegetables into roughly similar size. This ensures more even cooking, and also makes it possible to get a little bit of everything in each delicious bite. I used a large zucchini, a large “millionaire” eggplant (the slender, Japanese variety), half of a large onion, half of a huge red bell pepper and three fresh, red tomatoes from my garden. In addition to the fresh ingredients, you’ll need a 15 oz. can of tomato sauce, a splash of dry white wine (I used dry French vermouth), a pinch or two of Herbs de Provence, and up to six eggs.

We’re going to need a bigger pot!

That’s a lot of veggies! I made this version of shakshuka in a larger pot than usual because I knew that tossing all of these fresh vegetables in my go-to cast iron would be a serious challenge, and I wanted to avoid making a big mess. The ratatouille also needs to be stirred as it cooks, so be sure your cooking vessel can handle the volume of ingredients as well as the mixing requirement. Choose a pot that has a snug-fitting lid, as this will be important for simmering.

The width of the pot is what matters, so you’ll have plenty of room to place the eggs.

Begin by heating the pan over medium flame. Add oil and start sautéing the vegetables. Eggplant soaks up oil fast so I held that back until the peppers, onions and zucchini had a chance to soften. Remember to season each layer with a pinch of salt and pepper, not only for flavor, but also because salt helps to draw excess moisture from the vegetables as they cook. During this stage, also add a few pinches of Herbs de Provence, a French blend that includes any combination of thyme, savory, rosemary, marjoram and lavender. These are delicate herbs, but they do pack a fragrant punch, so start with a small amount and inch up to taste.


When the vegetables are visibly softened, add the fresh garden tomatoes and give it a stir. Add the tomato sauce and dry white wine. If I have used a canned ingredient, I usually swish the wine around in the empty can to rinse out the last bit of flavor. Another quick pinch of salt and pepper, and then reduce the heat, cover the pan and allow it to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The vegetables will continue to soften, melding the flavors together, but the sauce should not reduce too much. While it simmers, take the eggs out of the fridge; they will set in the shakshuka better if they are closer to room temperature.


When the ratatouille stew has become very soft, crack each egg into a ramekin dish for easy transfer to the shakshuka. This may seem unnecessary, but trust me when I tell you that it is no fun at all trying to fish out itty-bitty pieces of egg shell that went astray into a big saucy mixture. If anything goes sideways with your cracked eggs, you want it to happen in the ramekin, not in your beautiful recipe!

Give the stew a gentle stir, and then use the back of a large serving spoon to create a slight depression for each egg to rest. This doesn’t have to be perfect, and you only need a spot about 3 inches across for each egg. I had room for six eggs in my large pot, but I only used four because I knew the extras would not warm up well without overcooking. Better to add fresh eggs when you heat up the leftovers.

Cook as many eggs as you plan to serve initially. Make more eggs when you reheat the leftovers.

Slip an egg into each depression and give the shakshuka one final pinch of salt and pepper before covering the pot. Keep the flame set on low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks still have a bit of jiggle to them.

I wish you could smell this! 😋

Scatter fresh, chopped herbs over the dish (I used fresh basil from the garden, but flat-leaf parsley would be nice, too), and serve immediately with a slice of crusty French bread. The best way to serve this dish is to use a wide, somewhat flat spoon to scoop underneath an egg, grabbing as much of the surrounding stew as possible at the same time. Sprinkle on a teaspoon or so of grated Parmesan for a big burst of umami flavor.


Ratatouille Shakshuka

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: average
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Choose a wide, covered pot for making your ratatouille, and prepare your workstation by chopping all vegetables before you begin.

Ingredients

  • 1 large zucchini, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 large (or 1 medium) red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large Japanese eggplant, chopped (or about 2 cups of alternate variety)
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • Up to 1 tsp. Herbs de Provence (or Italian seasoning, if preferred)
  • 3 small, fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 15 oz. can low-sodium tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or dry vermouth)
  • 6 large eggs* (see recipe note below)
  • Fresh basil or Italian parsley, for garnish

Note: If you wish, cook only the number of eggs you intend to serve initially. When you use the leftovers, fresh eggs will yield a better result at that time.

Directions

  1. Heat large pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and saute vegetables, beginning with only zucchini, onion and bell pepper. When the first vegetables begin to soften, add the eggplant and saute until all veggies are tender. Season with salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence.
  2. Add fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce and dry wine, stirring to combine evenly. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Remove eggs from fridge during the simmer time.
  3. When vegetables are fulley softened, crack each egg into a ramekin cup for easy transfer into the pot. Use the back or a large serving spoon to make a depression for each egg. Slip the eggs into the depressions, season with salt and pepper and cover the pan.
  4. Cook over low heat about 8 minutes, until egg whites are set and yolks are still slightly jiggly. Serve immediately.


Thai Basil Chicken

To say that I’ve been under stress lately would be a gross understatement. I know that many of you feel the same angst related to the stories that plague our newsfeeds, and that alone is enough to make anyone shaky. On top of the stressors of life, things at home have been a little, um, hectic.

Besides the uncharacteristically high pressure of late in my day job (which is usually quiet in June), and beyond the fact that we are now past the 90-day mark since the start of our master bath remodel (with issues still happening every day), I had an unwelcome bit of news this week at my first primary care visit in nearly a decade. It’s nothing serious—at least, not yet—but I am considering the results of my blood workup to be an important wake-up call.

At the risk of TMI, I’ll summarize to say that several key markers are out of whack, and I need to get my act together quickly as it relates to my diet and my overall health. As luck would have it, going through menopause, starting a food blog, and signing up for not one, but two major home renovations during a world pandemic did not have positive effect on my body. I should have seen it coming.

For the first time in my life, a doctor told me that I must make changes, and that was a little scary. There’s plenty of time to turn things around, and I am truly thankful for that, but it means healthier options will be my first choice and decadence is on the bench for a while. I need to embrace regular exercise, too, but that’s another post entirely. Today, I’m focusing on healthier eating. It does not mean that we can’t have pizza or ice cream or some of the other fun things my husband and I love; rather, it only means that I must be more mindful of what goes into those dishes in the first place. Luckily, I do love experimenting!

For me, what makes a meal truly satisfying is variety of texture, big flavor and interesting spices. I’m not suddenly turning vegan or entirely giving up any food groups—I have never been one for a total elimination diet. I can move toward better health with a few lightened-up favorites, more meatless dishes and plenty of vegetables, and that’s what I intend to do. Truth be told, part of the reason I’m telling y’all this is that it builds in an extra level of accountability. Now that you know, I’ve painted myself into a bit of a corner. So here comes the first of several fresh and healthy meals served up at our house recently.

It smells even more delicious than it looks!

Thai basil chicken meets all the criteria I mentioned for a satisfying meal. The texture is amazing and packed with crunchy vegetables, including carrots, broccoli and red bell pepper. The flavor is phenomenal, with a complex blend of spicy ingredients in the Thai-inspired sauce that gently coats the vegetables and lean ground chicken. The signature flavor that gives this dish a little extra “zhuzh” is Thai basil, a fresh herb in the mint family that is similar to the Genovese basil you’d recognize in Italian food, but with a spicy undernote and a hint of anise or licorice. I’ve had an abundance of this ingredient lately, since my husband and I reinstated the Aerogarden that he gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago. This gorgeous herb has taken over the whole dining room, even visible from outside the window because it’s growing through the blinds (which, I suspect, is causing the neighbors to whisper). I prune the plants every couple of days, which only makes them grow faster, and so I needed a dish that uses a lot of Thai basil at once. This recipe is perfect for it!


The prep for Thai basil chicken is easy; it’s just a bit of chopping and slicing of fresh vegetables that have plenty of texture, color and nutrition. The other essential prep is making the sauce. My recipe includes chili-garlic paste for heat, soy sauce and coconut aminos for an umami burst, oyster and fish sauces for a little funky depth, rice vinegar for a slight acidity and a touch of coconut sugar to round it all out. There’s also a bit of corn starch in the mix to keep it silky. If you like Asian flavors even a little bit, you won’t regret having these ingredients in the door of your fridge, and in no time at all, you’ll be mixing and matching them to come up with your own amazing recipes. One final note on the point of these Asian sauces, and this is not a joke. There is an imminent shortage of both sriracha sauce and chili-garlic paste, so you may want to grab a jar of each now to avoid the drought that’s coming on these ingredients. Now, let’s get cooking on this dish!


I used carrots, red bell pepper, onions and broccoli in my recipe, but there are other veggies that would feel right at home here, including scallions, cauliflower, celery, crunchy green beans or snow peas. Sliced fennel would also be terrific, and if you can only find Genovese basil, having fresh fennel in the mix would help fill the gap of the licorice flavor that Thai basil offers. Basically, aim for lots of color and texture and you’ll have a winning dish. The only vegetable I wouldn’t recommend is tomato, which is too soft, and hardly ever used in Asian cuisine.

Cooking the dish is simple, beginning with a little bit of oil in a large, fairly deep skillet or wok. Because this recipe is cooked over medium-high heat, you need an oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut, coconut or canola oil, but you won’t need more than a few tablespoons. Extra-virgin olive oil is not best for this kind of cooking because it overheats easily and turns bitter.


You’ll cook the veggies first, only a few minutes until they begin to soften, then move them to the outside edges of the pan and cook the ground chicken, half at a time. You could use cut-up pieces of chicken breast, also, but I find that ground chicken cooks more quickly and evenly. I normally use a wok when I make this dish, but that is one of the few tools that didn’t earn prime kitchen real estate after our remodel, and the overflow of stuff in the garage is a bit of a nightmare right now. If you have a wok, of course it would be the best vessel for cooking, but any large, sturdy skillet or pan with deep sides will work fine.


After the chicken has lost its pink color, whisk the sauce to mix it up again, and pour it all at once over the pan ingredients. Toss a few times to coat, and you should see the sauce thicken quickly, thanks to the cornstarch in the mix. Add the Thai basil at the very end, and when it wilts down and turns darker green (which takes no more than 30 seconds), this meal is ready to serve!

I’ll be looking for other fun ways to use my Thai basil, and I’m already planning to do something with the shrimp we have in the freezer—maybe a drunken noodle kind of thing? Oh, aaand, I don’t think I have mentioned that I planted a vegetable garden this year, and we have found a new weapon against deer invasion. More on that next time. 🙂

Fingers crossed, we will have fresh zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant soon. Stay tuned!


Thai Basil Chicken

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: average
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This recipe moves quickly, so it’s best to have your fresh ingredients and sauce ready before you begin. If you have a favorite store-bought, spicy Thai sauce, you could substitute that, using about 2/3 cup. If you cannot find fresh Thai basil, a regular Italian basil can be substituted but the flavor will not be quite as authentic. As long as we are talking substitutions, the chicken could also be swapped out for shrimp or even extra firm tofu cubes. Go on, make it yours!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 small onion, halved and cut into slivers
  • 1 large broccoli crown, trimmed and cut into florets
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 3 small carrots, peeled and cut on bias into thin slices
  • a fat handful fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 3-4 Tbsp. high-heat oil, such as coconut, peanut or canola (you will divide this to cook the vegetables and the chicken)
  • Spicy Thai basil sauce (ingredients listed below)
  • Cooked jasmine rice, for serving

Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a glass measuring cup or other bowl that is suitable for pouring. Have it ready before you begin cooking.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. garlic chili paste
  • 1 Tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut aminos
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar (not seasoned)
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. corn starch
  • 2 Tbsp. COLD water

Directions

  1. Place a large, high-side pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the oil, and when it shimmers, add all vegetables to the pan. Sprinkle with a slight pinch of salt (not too much, because the sauce has plenty), and toss in the pan until they begin to soften, or about 7 minutes.
  2. Push the vegetables toward the outside edge of the pan. Add half of the remaining oil in the center of the pan, and add half the ground chicken, tossing to cook just until it’s no longer pink. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
  3. Whisk the sauce to reincorporate ingredients that have settled. Pour the sauce all over the pan mixture and stir or toss to coat. The sauce should begin to thicken very quickly.
  4. Add the Thai basil to the skillet all at once and toss to wilt it into the recipe. This will happen very quickly.
  5. Spoon the Thai basil chicken over portions of hot cooked rice, and enjoy it while it’s hot!



“Air Fryer” Jerk Chicken Wings

After much discussion, and consideration of all the newfound extra space in our remodeled kitchen, my husband and I have finally decided for certain on the matter of an air fryer.

Several of our friends with air fryers have extolled the virtues of their machines and enticed us with descriptions of the ultra-crispy and mouthwatering dishes they have produced with them. We got the rundown on the various styles and sizes and functions, and even made a special trip to Williams-Sonoma to compare the features for ourselves and measure and imagine exactly where we’d put such a device in our newly remodeled kitchen.

And after all that planning and considering, our final decision was that, well, we didn’t need one after all.

Most of the foods our friends described were not the kind of things we imagined we’d really make at home (though crispy French fries with minimal oil sounds pretty darn good), and when we really dug in to learn how air fryers work, we realized that we already have a version of an air fryer in our full-sized electric convection oven. If we use the convect-roast or convect-bake setting, in combination with a higher temperature, the effect is nearly the same as in an air fryer, at least for the foods we expected we would actually make. And to prove it (to ourselves as much as anyone else), we made these crispy chicken wings, using a tried-and-true method I learned from Food Network’s Alton Brown.

Tons of spicy flavor, without all the grease or drippy sauce of the usual Buffalo wings.

This method differs from others because it involves first steaming and chilling the wings, a process which renders excess skin fat so that better crisping can take place in the oven. No oil is required because there is plenty of natural fat remaining in the chicken skin. Roasting them at high temperature further tightens the skin, and you are left with a crispy-crunchy exterior and tender, juicy meat inside.

With football’s biggest game only days away, I thought it would be appropriate to share a different kind of wing recipe—one that packs plenty of flavor and as much heat as you want, but without the same old “Buffalo” flavors. These wings are covered in Jamaican jerk seasoning, featuring allspice, scallions, scotch bonnet peppers and brown sugar, which may sound complex, but I used a ready-made jerk rub that is easy to find in stores. The flavors are intense but not overpoweringly hot, and because we like to dip our wings into a dip or sauce, I made an easy mango and red pepper chutney to go with them.

I’ve made steamed and roasted wings before, but without convection and usually for my Just South of Buffalo Wings (which are still a favorite at our house). We also have done the jerk flavor wings many times, but usually on the grill during the summer months. This time, we combined methods and flavors and put the convection method to the test. As you’ll see, it passed with flying colors, and the convection chopped nearly 15 minutes off the previous steamed-and-roasted recipe. No need for one more appliance here!

This recipe is written for 16 pieces, but it should be very easy to double or triple as needed.


Ingredients

8 whole chicken wings (trimmed and cut into flats and drummettes if desired)

4 Tbsp. prepared jerk rub (a wet version from a jar)

2 Tbsp. canola, avocado or peanut oil (to thin the jerk rub)

1 Tbsp. light brown sugar

1 Tbsp. dark rum (preferably Jamaican)


Mango-Red Pepper Chutney

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

2 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/2 cup mango, chopped (fresh or frozen, thawed)

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. dark Jamaican rum


Instructions

  1. Set a lidded steamer basket over a pot with about two inches of water and bring it to a low boil.
  2. Spray the basket with oil and arrange the chicken wings in it, overlapping them so that the rising steam can permeate the whole batch. Cover the steamer and keep at a low boil for about 10 minutes.
  3. Transfer the steamed wings to a parchment-lined baking sheet and rest until they are cooled to near-room temperature. Cover and refrigerate the wings for at least one hour or up to overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 425° F on a convection setting, with oven rack in the center position. Spray a cookie cooling rack with oil and set over a foil-lined cookie sheet. Arrange wings on rack, with space between the pieces to allow easy air flow.
  5. Convect-roast for 15 minutes (or regular roast for 20 minutes). While wings are roasting, make the mango-pepper chutney.
  6. After 15 minutes, turn wings to roast the other side 15 more minutes (or 20 for regular roast setting). The wings should be nicely browned all over and the skin on the wings should appear tight but not too dry.
  7. During the second half of roasting, combine jerk wet rub seasoning, canola oil, brown sugar and rum in a large bowl. Whisk until evenly combined.
  8. Toss wings in the bowl of jerk rub, spooning the seasoning over any unglazed areas. Return the wings to the rack on the cookie sheet and roast about 3 more minutes to set the glaze in the oven.
  9. Serve immediately with the mango-pepper chutney.

Mango-Red Pepper Chutney Instructions

  1. Place a small saucepan over medium heat. Swirl in oil and saute peppers and scallions, just long enough to soften them. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the cut-up mango pieces and stir until the mixture is heated through. Stir in brown sugar, vinegar and rum. When mixture begins to bubble, reduce heat and cover, simmering until thickened. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.



Ratatouille Lasagna Roll-ups

The summer season brings all the garden-fresh vegetables I love, including zucchini and eggplant, which I would definitely be growing in our little garden plot if it weren’t for the deer. Year after year, I have tried in vain to grow my own veggies, and the increase of deer activity on our property and that of our neighbors has been almost humorous. Almost.

Gardening, for me, started as a fun, nature-loving adventure but has rapidly declined into a frustrating drama, and now we have this elevated box in our yard, where we cannot grow anything but marigolds and basil, which have proven to be the only things our local deer detest. Last year’s garden was demolished, right down to the flowers and budding fruit of the eggplants and even the jalapeno pepper plants (which I had been told deer would never eat). We have tried all the folk remedies on the internet—human hair, shavings of bar soap, peppermint oil, so-called deer repellent, and even a weird concoction I made from rotten eggs, cayenne and dish soap. That last remedy had near-catastrophic results, but I won’t embarrass my husband again with that story (you can read it here, if you’d like). This year, we didn’t even bother planting a garden, and I’m contemplating turning the raised bed into some kind of wildflower bed. I get exasperated just thinking about it.

To make up for a lack of homegrown veggies, we are regularly visiting our weekly Cobblestone farmers’ market, which features a variety of vendors offering fresh produce as well as pastured meat, eggs, organic mushrooms, jams and preserves, and even handmade alpaca wool products. It’s a fun way to spend an hour on a Saturday morning, and this past weekend, we came home with everything I needed for a new batch of ratatouille. Ah, my favorite veggie-centered summer meal!

Classic ratatouille ingredients = zucchini, eggplant, pepper, onions (leeks this time), tomato and herbs de Provence!

Me being me, though, I cannot simply chop up these ingredients and make a “traditional” ratatouille, which would be a rustic casserole-meets-stew kind of thing. I have to twist it up! My culinary muse inspired me this time to combine the French classic dish with another favorite comfort food—lasagna. I figured that I could infuse my herbs de Provence seasoning into a ricotta mixture with lemon zest and some grated cheese and that it would be the “glue” to hold the other ingredients together inside a rolled-up lasagna noodle. The eggplant and zucchini would be sliced and roasted, and the red pepper would be worked into the sauce. This is how my mind sees a pile of ingredients, and the end result was exactly as I had imagined, both visually and in perfect summer flavor. Delicious!

Inside, you can see and taste all the flavors of a summer ratatouille!

This reimagined one-dish meal took mostly time to put together; it was not at all difficult. I cannot say definitively how much time is needed because I was cooking all day, in between work emails and other home tasks. I will say that it was mostly passive time; I was either waiting for things to lose moisture or to finish roasting or to boil or bake. The rest was just slicing, chopping and stirring, and there’s no particular order that must be followed. You could even make everything a day ahead and just assemble and bake it the next day.


The entire ratatouille-meets-lasagna project weaved itself nicely into my busy day, and because each ingredient received its own treatment, the simplest way I can describe it is to share the process of each component. I’ll share a PDF version of the recipe at the end if you want to try it, but I’ll let the pictures tell the story in today’s post. Here we go! 🙂


The Ricotta Filling


The Eggplant


The Zucchini


The Red Bell Pepper


The Onions


The Tomatoes

The only classic ratatouille ingredient remaining is tomato, and though my ingredients photo displays a big, lovely heirloom tomato from the farmers’ market, I thought better of it when I began cooking my ratatouille. The heirloom tomato would have been full of seeds and too juicy for this dish, so I cast it aside and used half a can of San Marzano tomatoes instead to produce a fusion sauce, together with the roasted red pepper and a healthy dose of garlic. This sauce was similar to the roasted red pepper sauce that my husband, Les, discovered last year, but it leans more toward tomato than pepper. It was exactly what this recipe needed.


Putting it all together

Assembling and finishing my ratatouille lasagna roll-ups was a cinch! I par-cooked the lasagna noodles until they were soft and flexible, spread the ricotta mixture onto them, layered the eggplant, zucchini and leeks and rolled them up!


First ratatouille of the summer! 🙂

Oh, and that plump, juicy heirloom tomato I mentioned found its way instead to a BLT, which we enjoyed as a separate meal on freshly baked sourdough bread with local greens and some pastured pork bacon (also from the farmers’ market).

Who needs a garden, anyway? 😉



Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Every now and again, I accidentally cross paths with a recipe that has so many uses I have no choice but to add it to my repertoire. This is one of those sauces, and I can thank my husband, Les, who discovered this one last fall, tucked inside an email he received from New York Times Cooking. The sauce was intended for some kind of “couscous cake,” which sounds interesting for another day, but Les trusted his instinct to believe it a perfect dipping sauce for his spinach ball appetizer recipe, and indeed it was.

First time making the red pepper sauce to accompany these, and it was fantastic!

As Les and I have repurposed this flavorful sauce for various uses, I have laughed to myself recalling an inside joke from the “Pinch” kitchen, which was how the staff usually referred to A Pinch of Thyme, the catering company where I spent my spare time for about two years. In the Pinch kitchen, it did not matter what kind of sauce you were preparing—it might have been one of the fancy French “mother sauces,” such as a hollandaise or béchamel or velouté, or maybe even a turkey gravy or a cheese fondue—if it was sauce of any type, Chef Rodney had a code word for it: “weez.” I imagined that the moniker might have been adapted from the name of the overly processed spread known as “Cheez Whiz,” but Rodney never confirmed that. It was amusing though, and we all secretly looked forward to the recipes that required creation of a weez, just because it was a funny word to say.

There was such irony in those scenes; while my friend Tammy, the Pinch events manager, was on the phone selling clients on the elegance of a dish such as filet mignon with béarnaise, Rodney was in the kitchen offering instruction for making a “tarragon weez.” He definitely kept things interesting.

This roasted red pepper weez is simple to make, which is surprising, given its depth of flavor and incredible versatility. The sauce begins in the oven, with the roasting of red bell peppers, a tomato and two whole bulbs of garlic, and it’s finished in the blender, where those ingredients come together with a splash of red wine vinegar, olive oil and the smallest kiss of maple syrup. The result is perfectly balanced and utterly addictive.

Easy, weezy, and delicious! 😊

Did I eat some of this yummy sauce straight from the spoon? Maybe. 😉

Adapted from Giant Couscous Cake with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Recipe makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

2 medium red bell peppers

1 Roma tomato, halved and seeded

1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 bulbs roasted garlic (link to this post for easy DIY instructions)

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 tsp. real maple syrup (or substitute honey)


 Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Cut the bell peppers into segments, along the natural lines of the fruit. Discard the seeds and membranes. Lay the tomato halves and pepper segments, skin side up, on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush all pieces with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Roast about 40 minutes, until the skins on the peppers are nicely charred.
  3. Transfer the tomatoes and pepper segments to a bowl. Cover the bowl and set it aside for several minutes, giving the skins time to soften for easy release.
  4. Once cooled, carefully peel the skins off the peppers and tomato halves. Transfer them to a food processor or standard blender. I do not recommend a “smoothie” blender for this step, because you will need to drizzle oil in later. An immersion blender would also work. Pulse a few times to chop the peppers and tomatoes into smaller pieces. Carefully squeeze in both bulbs of roasted garlic.
  5. Add the red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and maple syrup. Pulse a few times, then run processor or blender continuously while drizzling in the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Transfer sauce to a jar or bowl.


This roasted red pepper sauce has so many easy uses, from appetizers to pasta to pizza and more. It will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks, though we have not been able to make it last that long at our house. Next time, we will make a double batch!