Beefy Caponata Baked Penne

15 05 2010

So there I was, standing in front of a 2-for-1 organic Italian pasta display, when my phone rang.  It was Nick, and he, like me, had no idea what he wanted for dinner.  Except that given the unseasonable cold and rain, it had to be warm and hearty.  The words “pasta bake” came out of my mouth, and were enthusiastically received.  I grabbed two boxes of penne, and when I looked up, I was faced with jars of Sicilian caponata.  Hmmm… eggplant, olives, capers, onions, tomato… that sound pretty good.  The jar was halfway to the basket when I decided I’d rather make it myself, fresh.  Many circles through the grocery store later (it’s an adjustment getting used to a new supermarket, too), my basket filled to the brim with pasta, eggplants, canned tomatoes, ground beef, a jar of green olives, a block of mozzarella, a container of ricotta, and a couple bottles of chianti, I made my way home under increasingly gray skies.


I arrived home and started cooking immediately. What better way to warm up a chilly apartment?  I browned the beef in olive oil, then threw in some chopped onion.  Next came a few cloves of garlic and two small eggplants, diced and lightly salted and drained.  When everything was nice and brown and roast-y smelling, I deglazed the Dutch oven with a splash of the aforementioned chianti, scraped up the tasty fond, and poured in the tomato products and a canful of water.

Meanwhile, I whisked the ricotta, an egg, and some cream with salt, pepper, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.


When the beefy eggplant sauce was nearly done (that is to say, reduced but still a bit watery so as to finish cooking the parcooked pasta in the oven), I roughly chopped some olives and added them to the mix.  Then I quickly boiled a pot of water (yay induction!) and cooked the penne for about five minutes.  (If I didn’t have the stupid induction top, I could definitely have been doing these things simultaneously.  It’s a mixed blessing.)  I drained the still-slightly-crunchy pasta and poured the ricotta concoction into the empty pot.  I stirred in about half of the eggplant sauce, then the pasta and some mozzarella cubes.  This was then divided between two baking dishes (if you’re going to make something like this, it really doesn’t take any more tie to make two, and then you have an emergency dinner just waiting in the freezer) and topped with the remaining red sauce.  More mozzarella cubes and a grating of Parm finished them off.

One for now, one for later

Both got covered in foil, and one went straight into the oven.  The other I left to cool a bit before freezing for a future dinner.  After 30 minutes in the oven, I took off the foil and let the top get toasty.

Browned and delicious

And let me tell you, tucking into the gooey, beefy, steaming hot bowl did wonders for my outlook.  I mean, if cold, gray days mean food like this, who am I to complain?

On this day in 2008: How to Make Vinaigrette

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Tonight’s Dinner in Real Time

16 10 2008

6:00 pm – Writing emails.  Maybe I should start the beans if I want chili for dinner tonight.

6:10 pm – Beans are on.  Back to obsessing over blog stats.

7:15 pm – Where the hell is Nick?  He left to take pictures of foliage well over an hour ago.  I should probably get the rest of the chili going, at any rate.  S*#%!  The burner was on too low and my beans have just been sitting in hot water for the last hour!

7:22 pm – Nick calls from somewhere in the 19th.  He’s on his way home now that it’s dark.  Really need to start cooking chili.

7:24 pm – Chopping onions, tears in my eyes.  The chili powder in my nose isn’t helping, but is going to be delicious.  Add beef and break it up as it browns, à la Bolognaise.

Browning the beef and onions

7:30 pm – Love the smell of minced garlic hitting a hot pan.

7:31 pm – Rummaging around in the pantry (the fridge isn’t working and the pantry is open to the outside so things stay cool) for the chicken stock.  Damn.  It doesn’t smell good.  Need liquid, quickly.  Beer!

7:32 pm  – Pour some semi-cool Kronenbourg into the pan.  Scrape up fond.  Notice that the beans need liquid and pour some beer in there, too.  Start drinking the remaining beer.

7:35 pm – Don’t tell me we’re out of tomatoes!  Oh, there they are, hiding behind the lemons.  Dump can of tomatoes into chili.

7:37 pm – Was it pasilla chili powder or California that I used before?  Does it matter?  Probably not.  I’ll just put some of each.

7:47 pm – Everything is simmering.  Come up with brilliant idea for blog post.

8:00 pm – Throw beans in pan with meat to cook together.

Come on, we're missing the chili!

8:07 pm – Nick finally makes it home.  He’s jealous of my (now empty) beer.

8:14 pm – Taste.  Definitely salty enough, but is it chili-y enough?  Needs cumin and guajillo powder.  (Nick is my hero for bringing back four kinds of ground dried chilis from the States.)

8:24 pm – Nick suggests I add cayenne.  I start grating the world’s best Cheddar cheese to top the chili.

Another of the spoils from Nick's New World Adventure

8:28 pm – Time to eat.  Hunks of Pain des Amis from Du Pain et Des Idées complete the meal.

Warm, hearty, and satisfying

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Happy 4th of July!

8 07 2008

OK, so I’m a little behind the times, but better late than never, right?  For the 4th last Friday Nick invited some students who are doing a Summer program in Paris over for some good old-fashioned cheeseburgers.  He bought freshly ground beef from the butcher while I procured potatoes and appetizer fixins.

When I got home from work I started a batch of brioche dough with which to make hamburger buns.  Nick made his famous potato salad – with a few changes.  Usually he uses Russet potatoes, but starchy-type potatoes are thin on the ground over here, so this time they were red.  We also made the mayonnaise from scratch, and the sweet pickle relish that often goes into the salad was absent.  But it tasted like home nonetheless. 

For the apéro, I decided that onion dip would be suitably Classic American Cookout to serve at our 4th of July party.  My friend Pete recently told me about his onion dip, made with bacon, caramelized onions, and sour cream.  I loved the idea, so I did just that, with the minor substitution of crème fraîche for sour cream.  No one complained.  In fact, the entire batch (500 g crème fraîche, 4 small onions, and a few ounces of bacon) was gone by the end of the night.  We will definitely be making that one again.

Having found a fairly reliable source for cheddar, we knew exactly what to put on our burgers.  That, along with some sliced tomato, red onion, and lettuce leaves, and we were in business.  (We realized just slightly too late that we had neglected to purchase ketchup – d’oh!)

Cheeseburger and potato salad

And of course, we washed it down with some All-American beer.  (Although these particular beers were brewed in Spain and they have to shorten the name in Europe because some Czech brewery got the name first…)

Budweiser, King of Beers

Happy 4th, everyone!  (Or 8th, or whatever.)

Tagliatelles à la Bolognaise

1 05 2008

Yeah, I spelled it the French way.  Luckily, when I was researching the dish, Google was quick to correct me and thus turn up many more articles than my original search provided.  After cross-referencing Cook’s Illustrated with several of Mario Batali’s recipes, I came up with my own French-ified version.  (As one of my old teachers used to say, “the Italians invented cooking, and the French made it better.”)

I started with some poitrine fumée from the butcher, cut it into small pieces, and put it in a Dutch oven over low heat along with a little olive oil and butter.  While it rendered, I harnessed my knife skills to cut onion, carrot, and celery into a small dice.  By this point the bacon was starting to crisp, so I added the mirepoix, salt, pepper, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and fresh thyme.  I stirred it around and let the vegetables cook down until they were very soft and about half their original volume.

Good old mirepoix

Then I added ground beef (freshly ground to order by the butcher) and stirred constantly in order to break up the lumps of meat for an even-textured final result.

Beef for Bolognaise

When the beef was nicely crumbled and browned, I added some minced garlic, and then the long, slow simmering process began…

Read the rest of this entry »

Philly Cheesesteak

13 03 2008

The other day, after a wild-goose chase searching for masa (I was going to try making tortillas, but I guess we’re stuck with Old El Paso) left me empty-handed, I wanted something quick and filling.  Nick came home later than usual, hungry for a big sandwich.  He hit on Philly cheesesteaks, which sounded pretty good to me, and somehow we ended up at the supermarket at 8pm staring in frustration at the beef cuts.  Did we want bavetteOngletFiletFaux-filetPaleronRumsteck?  Being hungry did not help matters.  I knew that onglet is hanger steak and faux-filet is sirloin.  Rumsteck is probably rump, but is that or is it not what we’re looking for?  And it all seems pretty expensive.  After some debate, we  bought the faux-filet.  We debated buying hot sauce and decided to skip it in favor of the cayenne we had at home.  Then we went to the cheese aisle, determined to find the crappiest, most processed cheese there.  Much to our surprise, we found not one, but two brands of what appeared to be American cheese (it wasn’t labeled as such, but if it looks like Kraft singles…).  Then to the bakery section, where I chose the only baguette left that didn’t look like it had been manhandled or smashed.  Ingredients procured, it was time to cook.

Beef ‘n’ cheese

I’m sure this photo will cause many of you to cry out in disgust.  That lovely piece of meat next to that package of “cheese.”  Yes, we could have gone the high-end route, but I don’t think that’s the point of the Philly cheesesteak.  We set our shame aside and got to work.  Nick sliced and sautéed an onion, while I researched beef cuts in French.  I managed to find a hexalingual website,  where you can cross-reference the names of the different cuts.  Never again will I be at a loss in the meat department or at a butcher!  Meanwhile, Nick sliced the sirloin thinly and sautéed it with a little salt and cayenne.

Cheesesteak Prep

Then it was time to make the sandwiches.  With the baguette cut in half and split lengthwise, we lined each piece with cheese and filled it with beef and onions.  More cheese on the top, and into the oven to melt a bit.

Philly Cheesesteak

Yuenglings being thin on the ground over here, we washed it down with tallboys of Heineken.  It was a gut bomb, but it really hit the spot.

%d bloggers like this: