Another Quick And Easy Meal

Those sautéed tomatoes that I wrote about a few days ago? Fantastic with penne and prosciutto. Use another ounce of olive oil, and when the tomatoes are cooked, add 4 ounces of prosciutto (cut into strips works well) and one pound of cooked penne. Toss to coat the pasta with the oil, and serve with freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano (or regular parmesan cheese if you don’t have a large trust fund). I added a bit more of the herbs while I was cooking the tomatoes, because they would be doing double-duty, flavoring the tomatoes and the pasta. And as I write this, I realize that the spicy Italian sausage I had just bought would have been great with this dish (and less expensive)!

Marinated Tuna Steak

I realize that tuna is an expensive fish, but there is almost no waste, it tastes great, and it is full of those wonderful fatty acids that we are supposed to eat. I made this dish last night, and had I not known what I was eating, I would have sworn that it was a New York Strip steak. It went wonderfully with the sautéed tomatoes that you, hopefully, see below.

Marinated Tuna Steak


2-inch thick tuna steak, trimmed of skin and any connective tissue
oz. of good-quality extra virgin olive oil
tsp. fresh thyme leaves (don’t chop them)
tsp. fresh black pepper
tsp. lemon zest

½ tsp. kosher salt

Whisk the olive oil with the lemon zest and the thyme and pour over the tuna steak. Dredge the tuna through the oil so that it is completely covered in the oil-and-herb mixture. Cover and refrigerate for two hours. If you remember, turn the steak once or twice to ensure even marinating. Remove the steak from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking.

Preheat a heavy cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat for at least five minutes. Make sure that it is well seasoned; otherwise, the fish might stick to the pan. Meanwhile, remove the tuna from the marinade and salt and pepper both sides. leave whatever thyme and lemon has adhered to the fish. Turn the heat up to high for about one minute and place the tuna steak in the middle of the skillet. Do not move it or poke it; you are looking for a nice sear, and if you are impatient, the tuna will stick to the pan and you will have to order a pizza. The house is going to get a bit smoky, so turn the exhaust fan up to hurricane setting. With a large metal spatula, turn the fish, hopefully in one motion. After another three minutes, you have a choice of removing the tuna or searing the sides, as well. Just be careful not to overcook the tuna. Let the steak rest for a minute, then slice and serve. By the way, the cooking time above is for a rare steak (the only way to have it).

Sautéed Tomatoes?

This is a recipe that my wife and I saw on Ina Garten’s TV show, barefoot contessa. It looked like fun, so we gave it a shot last night. It was more than fun — it was very, very good. The herbs are a perfect foil for the sweetness of the tomatoes. We ate them at slightly warmer than room temperature, but I think they would be great straight out of the pan (actually, I know they would be; I snagged a few while they were cooking). We served the tomatoes with marinated pan-seared tuna. I have not edited the recipe except for spelling, for obvious reasons.

Garlic and Herb Tomatoes

3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic (two cloves)
2 pints cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan large enough to hold all the tomatoes in one layer. Add the garlic to the oil and cook over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to lose their firm round shape. Sprinkle with a little fresh chopped basil and parsley and serve hot or at room temperature.

Banana Bread

This is a fairly rich bread, so don’t be fooled into thinking that you can eat four slices for breakfast and keep your trim figure. But it’s probably healthier than cake, and every kid who has come through my kitchen has seemed to like it. It is also a way to use those bananas that no one will eat because they are completely brown.

Banana Bread

4-5 over-ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 ounces (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda (mix into flour)
½ teaspoon salt (mix into flour)

Preheat oven to 350°

Butter a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan.

With an electric mixer, or even better, a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the bananas and sugar together for a few minutes on the highest speed that won’t splatter banana on your ceiling; the goal is to blend the sugar thoroughly into the bananas and get some loft into the mixture.

Slow the speed to medium-low and add the eggs and vanilla; mix for 30 seconds or so and then slowly (especially if you didn’t have time to allow it to cool) add the butter. Mix in the dry ingredients at low speed for a few seconds, just until you can’t see any dry flour. Using a spatula, scrape the sides and bottom down and finish mixing by hand. Pour the batter into the buttered loaf pan. Whack the pan on the counter and then give it a bit of a shake until the batter is level.

Place the pan on a baking sheet to catch any overflow and bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes. About is the important word here. After about an hour take a quick peek at the loaf. If it looks wet at the top then bake it for a few more minutes. Just make sure not to overcook it. I actually don’t like banana bread very much, but it is positively awful when it’s overcooked and dry. I make this for the little brats, who seem to devour it, especially when it is slightly underdone. They like banana bread more than they like raw bananas, so every time I buy bananas they carefully do not eat the last four, hoping that I will make this crap. It works. I hate being manipulated by children.

Oh, one more thing. This works fantastically as a muffin batter (Bake for about 32-34 minutes).

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

In matters of pasta, I will usually defer to Marcella Hazan; she is as close to a food god as I know. But for this dish, I must disagree with her. She doesn’t like using bacon, because the smoky flavor “adds a sharpness that wearies the palate after the first bitefuls.” She’s wrong about the bacon, but I wish I could write like that! Hazan says that pancetta is the only way to go. While pancetta makes a good carbonara, try both and you will see that the smokiness of good bacon adds a wonderful component to the egg and cheese flavors.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1 pound dry spaghetti or linguine.
8- to 12-ounces bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Black pepper (Fresh!)
½ cup Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped

Cook the pasta in a large quantity of salted water until it is al dente, or firm to the bite. Drain it, reserving a cup or so of the pasta water.

While the water for the pasta is heating, put the bacon into a large sauté pan, along with an ounce or two of good olive oil. Cook the bacon on medium heat until it just begins to crisp, then add the chopped garlic. Turn the heat down a bit and continue cooking until the bacon is crispy and thegarlic is soft. Be careful — if the garlic browns too much or burns, it will add a bitterness to the dish that can only be masked by several large glasses of a good Chianti. Try to time it so that the pasta is finished cooking at the same time as the bacon and garlic.

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk them until they start to become frothy. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and whisk until the cheese is completely absorbed by the eggs.

Add the pasta to the bacon and toss until the spaghetti is completely coated with the bacon fat and olive oil. Add the egg and cheese mixture (do this off of the heat), spreading it over the pasta as you pour, and toss again, coating the pasta and lightly cooking the eggs. This is the tough part. The pasta has to be hot enough to barely cook the eggs as they coat the pasta, but not too hot; otherwise, you will have scrambled eggs. That’s not a bad combination, but it isn’t Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

Crack some black pepper into the pasta and toss again. I like tossing the parsley in with the pepper, but you can also use it as garnish after you serve it. If the sauce seems to be too thick, add a bit of the reserved pasta water.

As for serving? I use a pair of tongs and try to get a bit of everything into the serving. It looks great if you twist the tongs as you lower them into the plate. It mounds the pasta and makes you look like a professional.

Who Doesn’t Like Guacamole? (But get good chips)

I make guacamole whenever I find nice, big, fat, ripe avocados. And that is the problem. Most of the time the avocados can be stand-ins for baseballs at the Little League game down the street. And most of the ripe ones are bruised because idiots (like me) are constantly squeezing them to check their ripeness. That last avocado you bought with the huge brown spot inside? That’s my thumb print. But if you find a great looking avocado, grab it. By the way, I don’t need the lecture about how avocados ripen off of the vine, and if I were only patient I could have as much ripe avocado as I want. Not true! The unripe avocados can still bruise, and when they ripen they also turn completely brown. No thanks.

1 Large, ripe avocado
1 small ripe tomato, seeded
and chopped (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon
1 shallot, minced fine
½ garlic clove, crushed or
minced fine
pinch of cayenne
pinch of salt
a few grinds of fresh black
A sprinkle of cumin

Dump everything except the avocado and tomato into a small bowl, whisk a bit just to make sure that everything is dissolved, then add the tomato and set aside until you have attacked the avocado.

Avocados are easy to prepare for guacamole since it doesn’t matter if they get a bit mashed. Slicing them into pretty discs for garnish is a different, and messier matter. Besides, anything that tastes good with a slice of avocado will probably taste better with a spoonful of this guacamole.

Cut the avocado lengthwise, just missing the stem and rotating around the fruit so the end of the cut meets the beginning on the other side. Cut through to the pit and then just rotate around the avocado. Twist gently apart and set the pitless side down. Using the middle of your knife tap the blade firmly into the middle of the pit, and then twist a few degrees to loosen it from the flesh. It should pull away easily. Then whack the handle of the knife onto the edge of the sink and watch the slippery pit pop off the blade and careen around the bottom of the sink, hopefully not smashing your expensive wine glasses.

Holding the now pitless avocado in one hand, carefully cut a grid pattern through the flesh, but not through the skin. I use a bread knife with a slightly rounded tip so I don’t gouge my hand. But you can do it with a sharp tipped knife, just be very careful. Repeat on the other half. Just pop the chunks out of the skin by turning it inside out. Sometimes some flesh will be left in the skin, but that can be dealt with quickly with a spoon. Spending a bit of time cutting the fruit this way instead of just scooping it out makes it easier to mix with the rest of the ingredients. And I feel like I am more of a professional sous chef.

Now comes the hard part: mixing everything up in a bowl. Use a fork to break up the big chunks, and mix until you reach your desired consistency (remember, you’re the one who will be eating it). Try to avoid tasting, especially if you have some really good chips. The guacamole doesn’t need any resting time or to be chilled, but one avocado does not make that much guacamole, and I can polish of an entire bowl without too much trouble. The real issue is the chips. It is imperative that you find a source for good quality tortilla chips. The mass produced ones just don’t make the grade. It is also possible, and not too difficult, to make your own tortilla chips, but that is a bit obsessive/compulsive, although hot chips fresh from the oil are hard to beat.

This recipe can be doubled or tripled or quadrupled. Whatever you want. And I like my guacamole on the lemony side, so if it’s a bit tart for your taste then cut the lemon a bit, or add some more cayenne. Whatever floats your boat.

Grilled Swordfish with Mustard

I love grilled swordfish, but I have limited my consumption because of the popular, and as I have discovered, probably incorrect assumption that it is endangered. Also, swordfish tend to concentrate methylmercury, and I like my mercury in thermometers, not in my food, so that was certainly a concern. But, damn, swordfish is really, really good!

Well, I am weak, so you know where this is going. Whole Foods had some really nice-looking swordfish steaks on sale for less than our mortgage payment, so I took the chance of dying a horrible death and picked up a 1-inch thick steak. One of the things that I noticed about these steaks is that they didn’t have very much of the dark red meat from near the spine (I think) that tastes rather strong and, quite frankly, unpleasant.

One of the problems with swordfish is that it isn’t particularly fatty, so it is easy to dry it out on the grill. I decided to marinate it for a bit in mustard and garlic, but I was also inspired to ask for help. Mom said to add a bit of mayonnaise to the mustard and garlic. Huh? That sounded faintly disgusting, but she is a far, far better cook than I, so I wasn’t going to argue until it turned out to be, in fact, disgusting. Needless to say, it was great. Why? I have no idea, but it worked perfectly. The mustard and garlic added a bit of tang, and the mayonnaise added a smooth, subtly creamy texture. Give it a try, and if you don’t like it, you can blame my mother.

1-inch swordfish steak (enough for two people)
3 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. mayonnaise

garlic clove, minced fine

Whisk everything together and smear the mixture all over the swordfish. Cover and refrigerate until 15 minutes before you cook it.

Preheat the grill on surface-of-the-sun setting, making sure that the grill is immaculately clean. If necessary, after it is hot, wipe it with a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil. Use tongs!

When the grill is very hot and very clean, slide the swordfish off the plate directly onto the grill surface. Do not move it! Do not prod it! Do not touch it! Close the cover and cook for 3 1/2 minutes. Using the biggest spatula you have, flip the steak carefully. Try to slide the spatula under the fish in one motion. Cover and grill for another 3 1/2 minutes. Remove from the grill and let it rest for a few minutes before you serve it. This cooking time is for a rare steak, which is the only way to eat swordfish. But if you insist, add 1 minute on each side for medium (or well done — it cooks quickly).

P.S. I liked this dish so much that I made it again last night. I added
½ tsp. of pesto sauce to the mustard mixture. Not enough to flavor it much, but it added an interesting taste. Next time, I will add more.

Linguine With Eggplant

This is a simple dish to make, and the leftovers are fantastic. We even put the last of the sauce on some ciabatta toast for an impromptu snack with our martinis last night! The eggplant retains enough shape that the texture is wonderful.

Tomato Sauce
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
½-1 cup dry white wine
1 can (28 ounce) chopped tomatoes (try to use good quality — it does make a difference)
½ teaspoon dried thyme*
½ teaspoon dried basil*
½ teaspoon dried oregano*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
½ cup freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano

2 ½ lb. eggplant, half peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes (the skin adds flavor)
2 to 3 garlic
cloves, minced
½-1 cup
extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound dried linguini

Heat on medium a pot large enough to hold the sauce, spaghetti and eggplant. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom and then add the onions. Sauté for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions soften. Add the garlic and turn the heat down to medium-low (burned garlic is bitter and not very pleasant). Stir every few minutes until the garlic has softened. Add the wine and turn up the heat to medium-high, stirring to deglaze whatever may be stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the thyme, basil and oregano to taste. Not too much, because the predominant flavor of this dish is
eggplant. Stir a bit to hydrate the herbs and then add the tomatoes. Stir again to mix everything together, then reduce the heat to medium-low, just enough for a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, then cover and turn off the heat.

Start heating the pasta water! 

Meanwhile, heat your biggest non-stick pan as hot as you can get it. Add a bit of olive oil and then the diced eggplant and a teaspoon or so of salt. Toss it occasionally while adding more olive oil until the eggplant is lightly coated. Be careful; eggplant is a sponge! The goal is to evaporate some of the water from the eggplant while browning it in the oil. Yes, it is messy, and it will take some time, but the results are worthwhile. After a few minutes, add the minced garlic. Now is also a good time to start cooking the linguine. Keep tossing the eggplant as it browns. You will probably have to reduce the heat to medium as the eggplant gives up moisture and begins to brown in the oil. It will get softer and break up as it cooks. Don’t worry, it’s going to get thrown into the tomato sauce anyway. When it is nicely browned, dump everything into the tomato sauce (If you didn’t use a non-stick pan, just dump the sauce into the eggplant and deglaze the pan with the sauce). Add the grated cheese, stir to combine, and allow it to rest until the pasta is done.

Drain the linguine, reserving a bit of the pasta water in case the sauce is too thick. Add the pasta to the sauce pot and toss to combine. Serve with a bit of extra grated cheese for garnish. It doesn’t need it for flavor, but it does look good. And there is never anything wrong with extra cheese.


* Fresh herbs are great (especially basil) if you have them, but dried works well.


Lime Grilled Shrimp

This is a simple grilled shrimp dish that is great as an appetizer, or on a Caesar salad. As I write this I realize that this will work well in quesadillas too, especially if I double the cayenne for a bit more zing.

1 lb. raw peeled shrimp (#30 is a good size), tails left on.
1 ½  limes, juiced*
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced fine
2 oz. Extra Virgin olive oil

Soak 4-5 wooden skewers in warm water while the shrimp is marinating.

Whisk the marinade ingredients together. No need to emulsify them, just mix well. Actually I think it would work quite well if you are able to emulsify this marinade, but I haven’t been able to, and it tastes great anyway.

Pour the marinade over the shrimp and mix gently. A small bowl is fine, or you can put it all into a Ziploc™ bag and squish them around until they are covered completely with the marinade. Whatever works.

Refrigerate for about an hour and then place the shrimp onto the soaked skewers. Pierce the shrimp in two places so they don’t rotate around the skewer and make you nuts when you try, and fail, to flip them on the grill.

Preheat the grill for several minutes; the hot grill will leave great looking and tasting grill marks on the shrimp. The hotter the grill, the better the flavor, so use the surface-of-the-sun setting if you have one.

Grill, covered, for a 2-3 minutes on each side. Try not to overcook the shrimp. This is the only remotely difficult part of this recipe. If you get distracted by the pretty birds in the backyard, or go inside for another drink, the shrimp will still taste good, but they’ll be a bit rubbery and not as sweet.

 *Use the extra ½ lime for fresh-squeezed lime juice for the
margarita that goes really well with this dish.

3 Bean Salad

1 can Kidney Beans
1 can Black Beans
1 can Cannellini Beans
1 can Black Eyed Peas
1 red pepper, minced
½ red onion, minced (any onion will be fine)
1 green onion, minced
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste, but 1 teaspoon each will work.

In a bowl large enough to hold everything, whisk the oil and vinegar together. Drain the beans and rinse gently, then dump into the bowl.
Add the rest of the ingredients and correct the seasoning. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving to allow the flavors to blend together.

Most beans will work, so whatever you have in your cupboard will most likely be fine. And the more the merrier; as you can see, I have 4 kinds of beans in my 3 bean salad!