Stuffing Formula

I realize it’s a bit belated, but it will still be here the next time you want to make stuffing. Honestly, everything about this is probably very fungible, but this year in particular I didn’t want to have to run out to the store last minute for something I forgot, so I was even more planny than usual.

Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing

Per 1 lb. of bread* (whatever kind you prefer, or a mix, cubed and toasted until dry):

1 onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
6-8 TB butter (less if you’re using sausage, more if you’re going veggie)
2 TB mixed chopped fresh herbs – think Greensleeves here – plus some chopped celery leaves
1/2 lb. sausage meat (optional, or you can use bacon, or ham)
1 1/2 c broth or stock, turkey, chicken, or veggie
1 egg

1. Sauté onion and celery, in the butter until softened. Remove from heat, and add fresh herbs and celery leaves.

2. Optional: brown the meat.

3. In a large bowl, mix the bread, the onion mixture, the meat (if using), and add broth or stock, and beaten egg. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and any other dried herbs or spices you like in stuffing (sage, thyme, marjoram, paprika, nutmeg, etc.)

4. Dump into a greased pan, cover with foil, and bake at 350°. Can be cooled and refrigerated for a day or two, then reheated, or baked on the day. At the end of the cooking time, remove the foil and cook for 15 minutes or so at 425° to crisp up the top.

Add whatever other aromatics or mix-ins you like. Fresh or dried fruits, nuts, peppers, leeks, oysters, I don’t know, you do you.

* for reference, 2 lbs. will get you a 9 x 13 pan of stuffing

Vegetarian Sourdough Stuffing with Apples and Dried Cranberries

Nana’s Meatballs

My great-grandmother, Michelina Parrinello, immigrated to the US from Sicily in the 1920’s, with her husband Antonio and my Great-Aunt Anne. She lived to be 102, long enough to meet my kids, and, to be honest, I don’t know a lot about her life. I know she was a seamstress, that she raised four kids, and that she was an amazing cook, but she was pretty old even when I was young. What I remember about her most is, I think, what everyone in the family remembers about her, which is that every meal at every family gathering, for as long as she was able, included pasta with her meatballs. And look, I’m not impartial, but they really are the best meatballs.

Of course, Nana made everything by hand, according to taste and smell and memory, so there wasn’t a codified recipe until my Aunt Judy took the time and effort to put measurements to Nana’s methods. I’m fortunate that she took the time to teach me, and now I’m happy to pass them on to you.

Nana’s Sauce

2-3 TB olive oil
1 good-sized bell pepper, chopped
1 medium-large yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
12 oz. tomato paste
1 1/2 – 2 tsp dried basil
1/2 – 1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp fennel seeds
1-2 bay leaves
(optional: 1/2 – 1 tsp dried oregano)
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
(optional: season to taste with grated Romano cheese or leftover cheese rind)

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the pepper and onion until softened but not browned. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.

2. Add the tomato paste and spices and cook for a few minutes until heated through.

3. Add the crushed tomatoes, and one can of water per can of tomatoes including paste (so, 68 oz.). Season with salt and pepper (as always, with canned tomatoes, you can add sugar or lemon juice to get the tomato flavor you prefer). Simmer the sauce for at least 45 minutes; the longer it simmers, the better it tastes.

Nana with (some of) her four generations of descendants

Nana’s Meatballs

Makes about 30

1 lb. ground beef (80% lean if you can find it)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups mixed grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses
1 cup breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
at least 2 TB milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Mix all the ingredients except the milk gently but thoroughly. Add enough milk that the mixture is pretty squishy.

2. Roll the meat into walnut-sized balls, square top and bottom slightly and place on baking sheet. Indent the tops with your thumb to keep them from puffing up too much in the oven.

3. Bake until the meatballs are lightly browned on the bottom, about 8 minutes. Turn them over and bake for another 8 minutes or so, until lightly browned on both sides.

4. Remove the meatballs to the simmering sauce and let stand until you’re ready to eat.

Notes: The sauce recipe makes a lot of sauce. If you’re just making a pound of pasta, you could probably halve it. Also, I usually use a little less water, but if you want to be a true Nana, you have to at least swish some water in the tomato cans to get every bit of tomato out. Note the fennel seeds, which are there to make it taste a little sausage-y, even though there’s no sausage in it. I usually add red pepper flakes, too.

For the meatballs, The recipe calls for ground beef, but you can also use ground pork, or double the recipe and use one lb. of each. If you prefer, you can pan-fry them instead of baking them. You can also just simmer them in the sauce until they’re cooked. Of course, you can make them bigger or smaller, just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

If I have some on hand, I like to add some chopped fresh parsley to the mix. Also, the recipe calls for at least 2 TB of milk, but I usually need 1/4 to 1/2 cup to get the right squishiness.

In order to make sure the meatballs were properly seasoned, Nana would taste some of the raw mixture. I don’t recommend doing that! Fortunately, my Aunt Judy came up with a modern solution, which is to pinch off a little bit and microwave it until it’s just cooked through, then taste it.

Sweet Potatoes with Yogurt, Spinach, and Chickpeas

Inspired by this recipe on Epicurious, I took these in basically a totally different direction, so here’s my version.

For the potatoes (4-6 medium-sized sweet potatoes): cut in half, brush cut sides with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast, cut side down, in a 450° oven for 25 minutes, or until fork tender. Let cool until handle-able. Scoop out the edible bits and mash together. Add butter, honey, cinnamon, cardamom, salt and pepper to taste, mix, and spoon back into skins. Throw in the oven for the last ten minutes or so of the chickpea cooking time.

For the chickpeas: drain and rinse 2 15-oz. cans of chickpeas. Mix with olive oil, cumin, paprika, chili powder or crushed chili flakes, salt and pepper, to taste. Roast at 375° for 15-20 minutes, until roasty and delicious.

For the spinach: honestly, it looks good, but the spinach doesn’t need to go on top. You could just make your favorite spinach preparation and have it on the side if you want. I sautéed sliced shallots and minced garlic in butter until soft and golden, then threw in a bunch of baby spinach and cooked it until it was wilty. Season with salt and pepper, and I like some nutmeg.

All together: top the sweet potato with a spoonful of Greek yogurt, then the chickpeas, then the spinach.

Ricotta Dumplings with Spinach and Peas

These pretty much came about because we had ricotta and spinach that needed to be used, but they were good enough that I want to save the recipe so I can make them again. As you can tell from the photo, I didn’t exactly get the shaping down, but nobody seemd to mind.

Serves 4

For the dumplings:
16 oz. whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan and/or pecorino
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting

For the rest:
4 TB butter
2 TB olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 oz. baby spinach
1 cup frozen peas
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper

1. Mix the ricotta, cheeses, eggs, salt and pepper thoroughly in a large bowl. Add the flour and mix gently, just to combine (you don’t want to work it too hard, or you’ll end up with tough dumplings). Depending on how wet your ricotta is, you might need more flour, but it should be soft and sticky.

2. Flour a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon out a small spoonful of ricotta mixture, and shape gently into an ovoid (again, you want to avoid roughly handling it). The dumplings expand to almost twice their original size when you cook them, so keep that in mind. Keep making dumplings until you’ve used up all the ricotta mixture, placing them on the baking sheet. Dust them with some more flour and let rest for about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat up a large pot of salted water for the dumplings.

4. In a sauté pan, heat up the butter and oil. Cook the onions until soft and golden, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.

5. Add the spinach to the pan and cook until wilted, then add the peas, and cook until hot. Add the lemon juice, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, stir, and turn off while you make the dumplings.

6. Drop the dumplings into gently boiling water one at a time (you may have to do more than one batch depending on how big your pot is). Cook until the dumplings float, then cook for 4-5 minutes more (I did a test one to check the time – you want it to be light and fluffy, not doughy).

7. Using a spider or slotted spoon, fish the dumplings out and add them to the pan with the spinach and peas. Turn the heat on to low, add the lemon zest and enough pasta water to make things saucy. Stir gently, heat through, and serve with more grated cheese if you like.

Vegetarian Chicken and Dumplings

I love the recipe for Chicken and Dumplings in Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine, but my daughter is a vegetarian, so I came up with an alternate version for her, which is basically potato stew. It’s really good, though, and very filling, and uses mostly pantry staples, so I thought I’d share. The dumpling dough recipe is O’Connell’s, but the rest is mine.

Serves 6

Dumpling Dough
3/4 cup milk
3 TB butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 TB baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup club soda

Potato Stew
3-4 large potatoes (boilers would be good, but all we had were Russets, and they were fine), diced
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 celery rib, diced
3/4 tsp each dried sage and thyme (or fresh, if you have them)
4 TB butter
4 TB flour
6 cups vegetable broth (it will go faster if you heat it up)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup-ish chopped fresh parsley, again, if you have it
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the milk and butter until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add the milk, butter, and club soda, and mix gently just until everything is incorporated.

3. Cover and let rest 30 minutes or so, while you get everything else ready.

4. Cover the potatoes with cold, salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until just cooked through. Toss in the frozen peas at the last minute just to thaw them. Drain and reserve.

5. Sauté the onion, carrots, and celery in the butter until soft and golden. Add the thyme, sage, and salt and pepper to taste.

6. Add the 4 TB flour to the pan and cook, stirring often, until light golden. Stir in the broth, a little at a time, until it’s all added. Bring to a boil and then simmer for five minutes.

7. Add the cream, parsley, peas and potatoes. Taste and season as necessary.

8. Bring back to a lively simmer, then drop the dumpling batter in small spoonfuls (it’s supposed to be teaspoons, but that takes forever) on top. Cover and simmer for ten minutes, or until dumplings are cooked all the way through. They should be light, not dense and claggy (that’s a technical term I learned from GBBO).

You want to use a wide pan to cook the stew and dumplings in, so that you can cram as many in as possible. Also, I said to dice the veggies, but if it’s easier to just chop them, go for it. Just keep in mind that the cooking times will change, depending on how large the pieces are.

Quarantine Cuisine Week 1: Stress Baking

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I spent much of our first week of voluntary self-isolation baking, but I thought I’d do a quick round-up here. Because both baking and eating baked goods are good stress relief.

Salted Butter Chocolate Chunk Shortbread from Smitten Kitchen

Ligurian Focaccia from Salt Fat Acid Heat

Malted Buttermilk Biscuits via Lottie + Doof

Bagels via Epicurious

I hope that you’re keeping safe and well, and finding your own ways to deal with these difficult days.

Irish-Italian-American Soda Bread

The traditional Irish Soda Bread is a plain loaf, basically just a big biscuit/scone. The traditional Irish-American Soda Bread has a bit more going on, usually in the form of raisins, caraway seeds, and added sugar. Now, I like the idea of the Americanized version, but I can’t stand caraway seeds, so I developed this modified version.

Both of my grandmothers were the children of immigrants — from Ireland on my mom’s side, and from Italy on my dad’s — so when I was looking for alternate ways to flavor my bread, I decided to try anise seeds. It worked better than I expected, and now this is the version I make for Saint Patrick’s Day every year.

Makes one loaf

3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 Tb butter
1/2 cup raisins or currants
2 Tb anise seeds
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 350°

2. Combine dry ingredients and cut in butter (processor, knives, fingertips, whatever).

3. Add the currants and anise seeds.

3. Mix buttermilk and egg and add to flour/butter mixture.

4. Knead briefly, turn onto a baking sheet, and shape into a dome around seven inches across.

5. Slash a deep X across the top of the loaf.

6. Bake at 350° for 60-70 min (until it sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom).

Peasant Pie

Happy Pi Day! My mom has been a vegetarian for longer than I’ve been alive, and this, along with mushroom stew, was her traditional Thanksgiving dinner. She still makes it every Thanksgiving, but it’s so good that none of us want to only eat it once a year.

Crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
16 TB butter (2 sticks)
½ cup buttermilk

Combine the flour and salt. Add the butter (I usually use a food processor, but you can use a pastry cutter or freeze and grate the butter, or your preferred method for pie crust). Gently mix in the buttermilk until a dough forms. Press into two disks and refrigerate while you’re making the filling. This actually kind of makes more dough than you usually need, but you can always find something to do with leftover pie dough.

Filling (part 1, veggies):
4 TB butter
2 onions
½ small head of cabbage
2 peeled potatoes
1 peeled turnip
1 large carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp whole dill seeds
Combine chopped fresh or dried herbs to taste (suggestions: parsley, dill, marjoram, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme)

Slice all vegetables (except the garlic) thinly — I usually break out the mandoline for this. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, add all the rest of the ingredients, plus salt and pepper, and cook, covered, until just tender but not mushy.

Filling (part 2, sauce):
2 TB butter
3 TB flour
½ cups milk
¾ cups broth (veggie or chicken)

Cook the butter and flour over medium heat. Add the milk and broth and cook, stirring, until thick. Add salt and pepper and nutmeg to taste and mix gently with the vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Using a deep-dish pie pan, roll half the dough out and line the bottom of the pan. Dump the veggies in and arrange evenly. Roll out the other half of the dough and place on top, crimp the edges together and make slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake for 15 minutes or so, then reduce oven to 350° and cook for 30 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the filling is bubbling. Serve warm or hot, with sour cream or plain yogurt.

Rage Baking

Today I went to the library all on my own. Before I hurt my knee I wouldn’t have commented on the independence of it, but being able to run small errands in the sun feels like a little miracle right now. I picked up Rage Baking by Kathy Gunst and Katherine Alford. You may have heard of it — a book of recipes accompanied by essays, stories, and poems by women activists, artists, and bakers — and you may also have heard that the authors failed to properly credit Tangerine Jones, a black woman who had popularized the hashtag ragebaking on Instagram. Frustrating, and why I got it from the library rather than buying it as I had originally planned. As a book it’s a little lightweight. There are definitely some recipes that I want to try, and I have a lot of empathy for the women whose anger at everything happening these days is overwhelming, but I thought it could have included more recipes, more women, more perspectives, more food history, &c.

And yet, as a concept, I am all in. While I was laid up, all I could think of was all of the things I would bake when I got well again. Yesterday I managed to make banana bread*. I gritted my teeth to get it done, even though I had to stop three times to rest while making it. Ridiculous. Banana bread is so easy to throw together, before Christmas I could have done it half asleep. Yesterday it was such an effort, but I did it anyway. There were overripe bananas that needed to be used, of course, but there was also the feeling, of needing to do something, right now. And this was something that I could do, right now. I’m not advocating baking as a replacement for voting, volunteering, and donating, but when you’ve done all of that, and you still need to do more, yeah. Better preheat the oven and get your apron on.

* My favorite banana bread recipe is on Epicurious, although I increase the salt to 1/2 tsp, use brown sugar for half of the sugar, and add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg.