Category Archives: pasta

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

firm ripe tomatoes for slow roasting

I haven’t put away the sandals and sundresses yet. The markets still burst with zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes. We took the subway out to Rockaway Beach a few days ago for an early evening swim. It’s imminent — the Halloween icons, the sweater weather, the short days. But I refuse to let go of summer.

halved tomatoes on a sheet pan for roasting

Making slow-roasted tomatoes extends the vibe. These plump, sweet-sour treats explode in your mouth with concentrated flavor, transporting you to a summer day in one bite. They can be tossed with a salad, served with grilled meat, scattered with pasta and herbs, or popped into a lunch box. I love them on bruschetta, garlic rubbed toast smeared with ricotta and basil leaves.

sprinkle cut tomatoes with sugar, salt and pepper

My cousins Betsy and Bobby live in the Yorkshire Dales (photo below), about a five hour drive north of London. I visited them in August and was served a most delicious salad of slow roasted tomatoes with croutons, black olives and red onions. Most of it came from their beautiful garden out back.

walking in the yorkshire dales, UK

If you can find them, roast a mix of yellow and red tomatoes to increase the visual appeal. Use cherry tomatoes if you wish; just decrease the cooking time by an hour or so. Dusting them with a mixture of sugar, salt and black pepper before they go in the oven exaggerates their natural sweetness while keeping them on the savory side.

Summer in northern England doesn’t immediately evoke images of just-picked, ripe tomatoes. I imagine Betsy roasts tomatoes regularly and stores them in jars with olive oil, treasuring them into the fall long after the leaves have turned. Thanks to her, I will do the same.


Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Makes 24 halves, enough to serve 8 as a side dish

12 plum tomatoes, firm-ripe
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper*

Preheat oven to the lowest temperature it will go, 250˚ or 275˚ F. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Arrange cut side up, in a single layer, on a rimmed sheet pan. Mix together sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle tomatoes liberally with sugar mix. Bake for about 4 hours – or more – until tomatoes have collapsed and shriveled, caramelized but not burnt. Eat warm or room temperature. Store for about a week in the fridge, or in a sealed jar covered in olive oil, which preserves them up to a month. You can also freeze them.

* Do you have a good pepper grinder? What does that even mean? Being the house guest of several lovely, kind, adorable friends this summer has provided me with the opportunity of bringing a pepper grinder house present. Selfishly, it’s because I cannot live without the use of my sturdy, workhorse grinder. But also, because everyone – even novice or non-cooks – should have one in their kitchen. This is one I can safely recommend. Look for the Peugeot label on the underside (the business end).


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Filed under Appetizer, Breakfast, fall, Lunch, pasta, Recipes, Salad, summer, vegan, vegetarian

Nettle Pesto

nettles after blanching

Maybe we should just stop eating. Did you read last week’s op-ed about chicken in the NY Times? Benadryl and Prozac laced drumstick, anyone? News about American agricultural practices will do more than curl your hair. You may run for the hills and take up foraging. In that spirit – and because it’s suddenly in season in the climate-altered northeast – this post is devoted to stinging nettles.

ingredients for making nettle pesto

Sorry to sound so doomsday. The good news is that foraging is fun and it takes you for a walk on the wild side. For inspiration, read chef René Redzepi’s newish book, Noma, with sexy photos of pine needles and acorns. Redzepi is the patron saint of foraged foods. I heard him speak at a NY Public Library LIVE event two years ago. On each of the 300 or so seats in the auditorium, attendees found a plain brown paper lunch bag with a handful of edible berries, seaweed and roots. Better than popcorn and a serious conversation starter.

tiny stinging hairs on the nettle leaf

Stinging nettles are those nasty weeds that leave your skin prickly if you brush against them on a hike. A gardener’s enemy. An invasive plant. They’re also a kind of super-food. I found them in the Food Coop this week (my urban existence and work commitments prevented me from foraging, alas). I knew they were a harbinger of spring. You can find them growing in Central Park and abandoned lots in the Bronx.

fresh garlic adds punch to pesto

A quick dash about the Internet taught me that stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) contain high amounts of potassium, iron, sulphur, vitamin C, vitamin A and B complex vitamins. Nettles are also rich in protein and fiber. Whopping nutritional value for a low calorie weed.

powdery parmesan adds richness to pesto

Handle with care! Use leather gloves to pick them, clipping only the younger shoots. Blanche nettles in salted boiling water for two minutes to remove the sting and prepare them for cooking. Serve them as a vegetable side. Make nettle pasta dough or a simple soup. Replace any leafy green in a favorite recipe, using nettles instead. I decided to make pesto and shock (if not sting) my nature loving albeit strange-ingredient averse teenagers. Their mother is a witch…

mix pesto into just-cooked pasta or spread on toasts


Nettle Pesto

You can find stinging nettles growing wild just about everywhere. Snip the younger shoots – with thick gloves on! – and blanche them – with tongs! – for 2 minutes in salty boiling water. Remove and immediately immerse in an ice bath, to stop the cooking and retain the bright green color. Squeeze the water out in handfuls before using the blanched nettles in cooking. Treat them as you would any leafy green: sautéed in garlic and oil, as an ingredient in risotto or a pasta dish, in an omelet or frittata.

4 ounces stinging nettles, blanched (a heaping cup, once blanched and the water squeezed out)
1.5 ounce/3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted and divided
2 ounces/ 1 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, best quality, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature (optional)

  1. In a food processor, pulse blanched nettles, 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts, ½ cup Parmesan, salt, olive oil and pepper. Consistency should be a little rough, not baby food puréed.
  2. Add butter by hand just before serving pesto over pasta, or as a spread on little toasts. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Sprinkle with additional cheese and pine nuts.

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Filed under pasta, Recipes, vegetarian

Pasta, Sardines & Roasted Cauliflower

eat more sardines!
Sardines conjure strong feelings. Few people are neutral on the subject. I think of eating them grilled, al fresco under a wisteria pergola in southern France. With a glass of pale pink rosé. I think of being with an old boyfriend in a Portuguese fishing port, watching wizened women wearing all black choose the glistening fish in the market. And I think of cheap tins of sardines, devouring them whole on salted crackers with a squeeze of lemon juice. Yes, I love sardines.

shopping for fish in new york city's chinatown

The other day, crossing through Chinatown on my way somewhere, one of the fish vendors had fresh sardines piled high up front. I snapped up a pound ($2.39). That night, I made supper using what we had in the fridge, with these sparkly fish as the centerpiece.

lemon zest and juice fresh parsley

Sardines are an oily fish found in many parts of the world. Called a “super food” for their high nutritional content, they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium and protein. They are plentiful and inexpensive. The best source of fresh sardines in the USA is wild-caught Pacific, according to the Seafood Watch List.

fresh sardines ready to broil or grill

If you have an outdoor grill, cook the fish there. They kick up a lot of smoke and fumes when cooked, hence their bad reputation. Indoors, they’re best cooked under the broiler. I find the stove contains the cooking smells and our stove hood takes care of the rest. To eliminate cooking odors in the house, my friend Vander told me his 89 year-old mother boils a little sugar, water and a cinnamon stick or cloves. It works!

This recipe is based very loosely on a classic Sicilian recipe. Use a chunky dried pasta, such as fusilli, orecchiette or campanelle. Or use whatever you have. Fresh or tinned sardines can be used. Switch out the cauliflower for something else, if you wish. This is one-pot pantry cooking at its best.

pasta tossed with grilled sardines cauliflower and crispy garlic bread crumbs

Pasta with Sardines and Roasted Cauliflower
Serves 4-6

1 small head of cauliflower, stem cut away, and broken into bite-sized florets
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
½ cup unflavored bread crumbs, preferably homemade and not powder-fine
(whiz old bread, crusts removed, in the food processor until roughly cut into ¼” pieces and freeze in a plastic bag; they can be used straight from the freezer in this recipe)
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine
Zest from one lemon, plus the juice
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 pound fresh sardines or 4 small tins of sardines
1 pound dried pasta such as campanelle or fusilli

  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Place the cauliflower florets on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to distribute the oil and seasonings. Spread out the florets evenly in a single layer on the pan. Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until browned on one side. Remove from the oven and turn off the heat.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over a medium-low heat, cook the garlic and hot pepper flakes in one tablespoon of oil for about 2 minutes until fragrant. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil and brown the breadcrumbs in the same pan (about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally). Turn off the heat.
  3. Add the garlic and hot pepper to the bread crumbs, as well as the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, capers, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. If using fresh sardines, light the broiler or fire up the outdoor grill. Rinse the gutted, scaled fish (get your fishmonger to do the messy part) under cold water and lay them out on a towel to dry. Pat dry on all sides. Lay fish on a rack set into a baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with the remaining olive oil and season both sides with salt and pepper. Cook under the broiler or on the grill for about 4 minutes on each side. Check for doneness by poking into the thickest part of the fish with a knife and looking to see that the flesh is white (cooked). Let fish cool a little, then remove the flesh (discard skin and bones), and cut into bite-sized pieces.
  5. If using canned sardines, drain off the oil and cut into bit-sized pieces.
  6. Make the pasta in a large pot of well-salted water. Cook until al dente (taste for doneness) and drain.
  7. In a large bowl, stir together the roasted cauliflower, bread crumb mixture and sardine pieces. Taste for seasoning and garnish with pine nuts. Serve hot or room temperature, with a light leafy salad, a lemon vinaigrette and a cold glass of Vermentino (Italian white wine).


Filed under fish, pasta, Recipes