Potato Gratin

This is a pretty simple side dish to make if you have a mandoline. If you don’t, then the slicing may get a bit tedious.

Serves 4

4 russet potatoes
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1 bay leaf
1 small sprig of rosemary
3 thyme sprigs
1 1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground white or black pepper and nutmeg to taste
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

1. Put all of the ingredients except for the potatoes and the cheeses into a pot and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter a 9″-square casserole, or you can go for a different shape around the same size. If you’re feeling French, you can first rub the pan all over with a cut clove of garlic.

3. Peel the potatoes, and slice them fairly thin, about 1/8″ (this is where the mandoline comes in). When you’re not working with them, keep the potatoes submerged in cold water so they don’t oxidize, but make sure you pat them dry before using them.

4. Arrange the potato slices in the pan, overlapping them, but keeping it to a single layer. Try to fit most of them in, but if your potatoes were on the large size you might have some left over. Strain the cream mixture, and pour it evenly over the potatoes. (If you taste the cream mixture, it will probably be delicious, but too salty. That’s okay, because the potatoes are as yet unseasoned, so it will all work out.)

5. Bake for 45 minutes, and then check it. The top should be browning a bit, and the potatoes should be cooked through (poke the center to make sure). In my experience, how long they take is highly dependent on how tightly packed your potatoes are, so give yourself some wiggle room, they may go longer.

6. Take them out of the oven, sprinkle with the cheese, and either put them back in for a few more minutes to get melty, or heat up the broiler and brown to desired crispiness.

Chickpea Soup for All Souls’ Day

A little late, but, while we’re still in the right season, I wanted to share this soup, from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, which is warm, hearty, vegetarian (in fact, vegan), and tons of flavor for very little effort. You do have to like chickpeas — seriously, it’s just a bowl of chickpeas — and you must use dried ones, not canned.

You’re probably going to look at the recipe and go ‘What? That’s so boring,’ but please, trust me. You are going to love this soup!

Serves 4-6

14 oz. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in the refrigerator in water to cover by 2 inches
Cold water
1 1/2 TB extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 medium to large onion, minced
2 6-inch branches fresh rosemary
6 large fresh sage leaves
1 large bay leaf
1 large clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

1. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a soup pot. Add water to cover by 2 inches. Cover and bring to a slow simmer.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, rosemary, sage, and bay. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion is a deep golden color. Stir in the garlic and cook for a few seconds.

3. Stir in about 1/2 cup of the chickpea liquid into the onion pan, swish it around to pick up any brown bits, and dump everything into the chickpea pot. Simmer, covered, for 3 hours, or until the chickpeas are tender, but not falling apart. Season generously with salt (but not too generously – it should taste good, not salty) and simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes.

4. Remove the herbs, puree 2/3rds of the mixture in a blender, then stir it back into the pot. Adjust the seasoning, then ladle into bowls, topping with parsley, black pepper, and a little more olive oil if you like.

Okay, real talk: you don’t have to soak the chickpeas overnight. If you forgot or didn’t plan ahead, just go ahead with the recipe anyway. Ask me how I know. Also, the cooking time is kind of dependent on your chickpeas, but when I made it it only took two hours to cook to doneness. You don’t have to puree it (I didn’t this time), it’s honestly good either way, and it’s still good even if you completely forget the parsley, which I obviously did.

Cottage Cheese Burgers

My mom used to make these for us when we were kids, and I’ve started making them for my kids, because they’re quick, easy, fun, and delicious. How’s that for a pitch? They’re also, if the internet is anything to go by, not a very common recipe, so I thought I’d go ahead and share them.

So, it’s a very free form recipe, but I use 16 oz cottage cheese, 2 thinly sliced scallions, 2 eggs, some grated Parmesan and salt to taste, and enough breadcrumbs to be able to form the mixture into patties (I’d start with a half-cup, and add more if you need to). Then form into about 8 patties, and fry in a nonstick pan (or well-seasoned cast iron) with a couple TBs of olive or other oil of your choice, over medium to medium-high heat. When they’re brown on one side, flip them over, and continue frying until cooked through. My advice would be to pick a cottage cheese with low moisture, or even strain it if it’s too liquid-y, and the smaller curd types work better than the large curds.

As long as you’re not adding very much more liquid, you could probably season them however you like, but part of the appeal for me is their simplicity, so I usually don’t. Oh, and, this is very important, to achieve their fullest potential, serve them with Russian dressing (or whatever they’re calling ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together these days).

Cauliflower and Chickpea Tacos

My cooking method these days is often to get an idea of what I want to make, Google several recipes, and then combine the best parts of each recipe, adding stuff I like, and getting rid of stuff I don’t like. Then the next time I go to make that dish, I have to recreate the whole process, so, instead, here’s a quick and dirty (and delicious) cauliflower taco recipe reminder.

Two heads of cauliflower + one can of chickpeas. Olive oil, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, chipotle chili flakes (couple pinches), salt, pepper. 400° for 25 minutes. Serve with cabbage slaw (1/2 head cabbage + olive oil + lime juice (about half a lime) + cilantro and salt), crema or sour cream, avocado, and queso fresco. Might be good with some kind of toasted almonds next time. Also, maybe double it.

Sweet Potato Chili

My daughter has decided to eat less/no meat for the time being, and I’m now realizing that a lot of our autumn/winter comfort foods are very meat-forward. Fortunately, my mom has been a vegetarian (pescatarian if you’re being picky) for longer than I’ve been alive, and she has some really great recipes. This is based on her sweet potato chili, but I kind of went off on a tangent, because I just really love these cumin roasted sweet potatoes, okay?

Serves 4-6

4 TB peanut oil (divided)
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 – 1 tsp berbere spice blend
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 28 oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes, depending on your texture preference
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup apple cider
2 15 oz. cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, leaves and stems
1/2 tsp fresh grated orange peel
Salt to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss the sweet potatoes with 2 TB of the oil, the cumin seeds, and some salt. Spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer, and roast for 40 minutes, turning them over halfway through. They should get pretty dark, but not charred. Remove from the oven and let sit while you make the rest of the chili (or roast them ahead of time, if you want).

2. Heat up the other 2 TB oil in a stew pot over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers, and sauté until golden and soft, about five minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, berbere, and paprika, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, or until the paste thickens up and gets a little darker.

3. Add the tomatoes, broth, cider, beans, and salt to taste, and stir and scrape the bottom of the pan if you need to. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for ten minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and cumin seeds, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

4. Stir in the cilantro and orange zest, and cook for another minute or two. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve hot, with sour cream, cheese, cornbread, or whatever toppings you like on chili.

Notes: Berbere spice blends are going to vary, so taste yours first and add more or less depending on how spicy you like things. I did one heaping teaspoon, and it was on the edge of too spicy for me, but I’m like a medium spice white person, so, adjust accordingly. Also, this was very thick, so feel free to add more broth or water if you like it saucier.