If you Google Ziti with Sausage, Onion, and Fennel you would probably find dozens of recipes for this dish, none of them exactly the same. My version of this dish started with a recipe I came across in the Washington Post way back in 2006 published for the Season 6 premier of a little show called the Sopranos. The recipe in the Post was adapted from the Silver Spoon and over the years I adapted that recipe to my own taste (i.e. more spice). This simple pasta dish has become a staple weekday dinner for me, especially when I am super busy at work. It took me awhile but now I can make this meal in under 30 minutes. I’ve also been known to whip it up on the fly when traveling and without access to my myriad of recipes.
Several Fridays ago, I had resigned myself to a fairly low key evening. It was the Friday before the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and I wanted to rest up for the big race. That week, I had come across a recipe in the Washington Post’s food section for Cod with Tomato and Mushroom Wine Sauce that really caught my eye. As it was still Lent at the time, I was super excited to find a meatless and healthy meal that was tasty to boot. I e-mailed roommate Alex to let her know I would be making this for dinner in case she wanted to partake as well and she suggested I serve the fish with some quinoa we had in the apartment. What started out as a healthy Friday dinner turned into a very healthy Friday dinner.
I have always enjoyed a good mushroom and wine sauce, and there is even one I pair with chicken thighs. The addition of tomatoes gave the sauce more depth and texture. As for the fish, the mildness of the cod really lent itself well to the tomato and mushroom wine sauce. The sauce didn’t overwhelm the fish and vice versa. With many ingredients, the dish might sound complicated but overall was really easy to put together. To complete a funfilled Friday night, Emily stopped by after getting her bangs trimmed and ended up staying for dinner. Along with roommate Alex, we opened a bottle of wine, ate dinner, and settled onto the couch to watch Crazy, Stupid Love a not completely terrible romcom.
Growing up, the Lam household was a meat-eating household and beef was often the meat of choice. Of course, weekend mornings often included pho or Vietnamese beef stew (bo kho) and on Sundays, dinner would be steak, pan-fried noodles with beef, or tableside grilled beef. During the weekdays my mother would often marinate flanken style short ribs and I would be in charge of grilling them while doing homework at the dining room table or kitchen counter. There were also many times when my mom would make thit bo luc lac, or shaking beef, which was a favorite among the Lam siblings. Honestly, my brothers enjoyed shaking beef more than I did and while I didn’t mind eating it from time to time, I would have much preferred a grilled steak.
Now that I am fending for myself in the real world, shaking beef is one of my go to weekday meals. Although cutting up a wonderful piece of steak tears at my heart a little, I like the ability to portion out servings and pack the leftovers for lunch. Other than some marinating time (which can be done the night before) the dish takes less than 30 minutes to make. The key to making this dish is to keep the wok or pan incredibly hot so that the beef sears quickly. It is also important to sear the beef in batches so the pan can remain hot, but if I’m lazy I just throw all the beef in. What makes this dish especially great is a lime and pepper dipping sauce that adds a nice tartness to contrast with the sweet and vinegary beef. You can serve this over watercress, but I like it with just a bowl of white rice.
I don’t normally cook seafood during the week because most of the time I need to pack some leftovers for lunch the next day and reheating seafood can be a little tricky. I do not want to be the person responsible for stinking up the office. One exception to this courteous inclination is a pasta recipe I first read about in my cousin’s blog for pappardelle, asparagus, and smoked salmon in a lemon cream sauce. Not only is this dish delicious, it comes together in about 30 minutes, making it an ideal weekday meal for me.
While the original recipe calls for pappardelle and three tablespoons of butter, I use the much easier to find fettuccine and replace the butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil for a healthier touch. (The sauce calls for 3/4 cup of heavy cream. Depending on your perspective replacing the butter with olive oil is either pretty worthless or a good effort in combating heart disease.) Additionally, if I have a few frozen peas on hand I throw them in for a little extra green, which, in my view, never hurts.
After an exhausting week at work, I had no desire to cook and no appetite. I just wanted to go home, pour myself a glass of bourbon, drink it, and go to bed. However, with a long run the next morning I knew going to bed with an empty stomach (or a bourbon-filled stomach) would not work out in my favor. I decided on a compromise of a fast and light dinner with the goal of getting something healthy in my stomach quickly so I could hit the hay on the early side.
After some perusing on the interwebs, I settled on making a stir fry with green beans, shrimp, and garlic. The recipe, on foodandwine.com, was provided by Eric and Sophie Banh who also provided the magazine with their lemongrass chicken recipe that I rely on heavily for a quick weekday meal. The Banh siblings know their Vietnamese food and I am happy they provided a handful of delicious and easy recipes to Food and Wine for the general public.
After a few days of short ribs, cheesy polenta, and cookies, my body was in desperate need of something healthy. While surfing the internet for new and interesting recipes, I came across one for black-eyed pea and kale chili with Monterey Jack cheese from Andrew Carmellini’s new cookbook, American Flavors. I have and love Carmellini’s first cookbook, Urban Italian, and was excited to try something from the new cookbook. I had chipotle chili in adobo left over from the short ribs and roommate Alex keeps the fridge stocked with large amounts of kale so this recipe had the potential to be tasty, healthy, and fridge cleaning.
Black-Eyed Pea and Kale Chili with Monterey Jack Cheese (adapted from American Flavors by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 slices bacon, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice
1 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, drained
2 cups chicken broth
1 or 2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon honey
1 bunch Tuscan or green kale (about 1/2 pound) stems removed, leaves washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over a medium flame. Add the bacon and allow it to render a bit (about 2 minutes), stirring regularly to stop it from sticking.