Friday, October 18, 2013

Fresh Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce

Not too long ago, my best friend/roommate and I had a petty argument about the quality of store-bought red pasta sauce. She loves Classico, I love Prego. We ended up agreeing to disagree, mostly because the reason we disagreed was because she likes her sauce chunky, and I'm not a huge tomato fan.

I mean... I like tomatoes, but they have to be in the right setting. I used to hate tomatoes altogether, but I've mostly gotten over that (Baby steps, right?). 

The residual damage of my former tomato aversion is that I'm pretty picky about dishes that include tomatoes. In the last couple years of my more recent culinary adventure, I've forced myself to cook with and enjoy tomatoes, and I've been pleasantly surprised... and yet still very, very picky.

Today I took my last midterm of the week, during one of the most intense quarters in college that I've ever taken. I got out of class early, went to the grocery store, and literally spent an hour on my smartphone researching how to make smooth pasta sauce out of fresh tomatoes. 

When I got home, I spent my first afternoon cooking without midterm studying or homework hanging over my head.

I made my first red pasta sauce from fresh ingredients. And I do believe I nailed it.

(Makes 80 ounces of sauce. This equals about 4 average-sized jars. We freeze this sauce in big Ziplock bags!)

  • 5-6 lbs Roma tomatoes
  • 1 can (12 oz) tomato paste
  • 4 teaspoons garlic, minced finely
  • 2/3 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons italian seasoning
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup red wine


  1. Peel tomatoes. There are a few different methods for this, but I like to roast mine. Spear one tomato with a fork and roast it over a stove burner on high for 30 seconds to one minute. Let it cool enough to handle and then peel the skin off.
  2. Quarter skinned tomatoes and put them in  a food processor or blender until they're smooth. (We have a mini 3-cup processor, so I had to do 3 or 4 batches)
  3. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
  4. Saute garlic and onions until soft and fragrant.
  5. Add parsley, oregano, basil, salt, black pepper, pepper flakes, italian seasoning, brown sugar, broth, and wine. Simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. 

Strip Steak with Brandy Peppercorn Cream Sauce


  • (2) 7 oz steaks
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • salt and pepper
Brandy Peppercorn Sauce:
  • ½ tsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp green peppercorns (pickled)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 3-4 tbsp Brandy


  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat.
  2. Brush steaks with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Sear steaks on skillet, about 1-2 minutes per side.
  4. Transfer to oven for  3-4 minutes per side, or until internal temperature reaches about 130 F for medium rare (The temperature will rise during resting).
  5. Remove steaks from oven, keep warm, and let rest while making sauce.
  6. Add butter and garlic to pan, sauté 2-3 mins until it is just beginning to brown.
  7. Add broth, reduce until almost gone.
  8. Add brandy, cream, and both peppercorns. Reduce until it has reached your desired consistency.
  9. Spoon sauce over steaks and serve with Prosciutto and Sun-Dried Tomato Wrapped Asparagus.

Prosciutto and Sun-Dried Tomato Wrapped Asparagus


  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed (About 16 spears)
  • 4-6 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, minced
  • 8 thin slices of prosciutto
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Slice each piece of prosciutto lengthwise, so you have sixteen pieces. 
  3. Lay a piece of prosciutto out flat. Sprinkle a couple pinches of sun-dried tomato on it. Wrap one asparagus spear with prosciutto/sun-dried tomato. Repeat until all asparagus spears are wrapped. 

  4. Lay asparagus out in a ceramic or glass dish. 
  5. Brush spear with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  6. Bake, uncovered, for 12-15 minutes.

Gingered Salmon with Grilled Corn and Watercress Salad

(Adapted from Food & Wine)


  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 5 small ears of corn, shucked
  • Four 6-ounce skin-on salmon fillets
  • 20 small slices of pickled ginger (about 1 ounce)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 bunch of watercress, thick stems discarded (about 8 ounces)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°.
  2. In a small saucepan, boil 1/2 cup of the balsamic vinegar until reduced to 3 tablespoons, about 5 minutes.  
  3. Let the reduction cool, then stir in 1 tablespoon of the canola oil.
  4. Heat a grill pan.
  5. Grill the corn over high heat, turning, until nicely charred all over, about 5 minutes. Let cool.  
  6. Using a serrated knife, cut the kernels from the cobs.
  7. Arrange the salmon fillets skin side down on a work surface.
  8. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make five 1/2-inch-deep slits crosswise in the flesh of each fillet.
  9. Stuff 1 slice of ginger into each slit, then thread each fillet lengthwise with a short skewer.  
  10. In a large, ovenproof, nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil.
  11. Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper and add the fillets to the skillet, skin side down.
  12. Cook over moderately high heat until the skin is lightly golden, about 3 minutes.
  13. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the salmon for about 6 minutes, turning once halfway through, until the skin is very crisp and the fish is just cooked through.
  14. In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar with the mustard and the honey.
  15. Gradually whisk the remaining 1/4 cup of canola oil into the dressing.
  16. Add the grilled corn kernels and watercress to the bowl and toss to coat.  
  17. Transfer the salad to plates and top with the skewered salmon. Drizzle the fish and salad with the balsamic vinegar reduction and serve right away.

Pan Seared Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce and Salt-Baked Fingerling Potatoes

(Adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli)



  • 4 (14-ounce) strip steaks, trimmed
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon green peppercorns, preferably in brine, lightly crushed
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 cup veal stock, home-made or store-bought
  • 4 sprigs fresh tarragon, washed, dried, leaves finely chopped

Salt-Baked Potatoes:

  • 1 1/2 pounds small fingerling potatoes, washed and dried
  • Pinch coarse sea salt
  • 15 bay leaves


For the steaks: 

  1. Heat 2 cast iron skillets large enough to hold 2 of the 4 pieces of beef until they begin to visibly smoke. Season the steaks on both sides with salt and pepper. Shut the heat off underneath the skillet and use a pair of tongs to place the steaks in the pan 1 by 1 in a single layer. Turn the heat on under the skillet and brown the first side, 3 to 5 minutes. Try to resist the temptation to turn them over or move them as they cook.

Turn the steaks on the second side and brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Arrange the steaks on a rack to "rest" while you make your sauce.

Remove the excess grease from 1 of the pans that was used to cook the steaks and reserve the other pan for the potatoes. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the shallots and cook until they are translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the green peppercorns and brandy and cook until the liquid reduces almost completely.

Stir in the mustard, lemon juice, lemon zest and Worcestershire sauce. Swirl the pan so all of the flavors start to meld together.

Add the veal stock and reduce to a desirable consistency, then stir in the tarragon.

For the potatoes:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Add the potatoes to a casserole with a fitted lid that is just big enough to hold the potatoes. Toss them with some sea salt and the bay leaves. Cover the casserole and put in the center of the oven to bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

When the potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, remove the casserole from the oven and discard the bay leaves.

Heat the reserved skillet that the steaks were cooked in over medium heat and add the potatoes into the steak drippings. Cook until they brown and become slightly crisp. slightly. Season with salt, to taste.

Arrange the potatoes on the bottom of 4 dinner plates and top with the steak. Drizzle with the sauce and serve immediately.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Chicken Stuffed with Prosciutto, Basil, and Fontina Cheese

(Adapted from Grace Parisi)


  • Four 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 ounce Fontina, Manchego or fresh Pecorino Romano cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 ounce thinly sliced prosciutto (about 4 slices)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth


  1. Using a knife, cut into the side of each chicken breast half to create a pocket; do not cut all the way through. Season the pockets with salt and pepper.
  2. Fold 1/4 of the basil and 1/4 of the cheese cheese into each slice of prosciutto. Stuff prosciutto rolls into each chicken pocket. Close the chicken pockets, tucking in any filling. Pound with a meat pounder to flatten slightly.    

  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden and cooked through and the cheese is beginning to melt, about 12 minutes. Transfer to plates, cover loosely and keep warm. Watch out for basset hound thievery. 

  4. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the skillet along with the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened. Add the tomatoes and cook, tossing, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and cook until nearly evaporated, about 30 seconds. Add the stock, season with salt and pepper and simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Spoon the tomato sauce over the chicken and serve.