I WAS EXHAUSTED. It turns out that having a toddler and a baby (plus a husband, house and job) is tiring. I just needed a quick dinner but it had to be healthy. We’d been relying too heavily on pizza around here, being Rome you can imagine how often this possibility comes up, and I was craving something more fresh. That’s when I saw these giant shrimp at the store. Sold!
THERE’S A SECRET INGREDIENT IN this one. It’s even pictured above. The trouble with a mystery like this though, is that if you’ve read the title of the post it’s already given away. Hmpf. Anyway, pickles.
WE LOVED IT, PHOEBE DIDN’T. Such is life, especially when you’ve got a toddler. This lentil soup, originally inspired by the Barefoot Contessa, is a favorite for Paul and me but this time I added a couple of special ingredients: lentils that Paul got from the Salone Del Gusto food festival plus fresh turkey sausage. Lentils are such a great source of protein and fiber, plus this soup makes a perfect meal any time of year.
To top it off, we had the good fortune to slather toasted bread with fresh olive oil, picked and processed by hand from Paul’s co-worker and friend David Bowen.
None of this mattered to Phoebe. She ate two bites and moved on to a banana. Two nights in a row.
- 1 pound green lentils
- 1 pound turkey sausage (cooked)
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for serving
- 4 cups diced yellow onions (3 large)
- 4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (2 leeks)
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 large cloves)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 cups medium diced celery (8 stalks)
- 6 cups medium diced carrots (6 to 10 carrots)
- 3 quarts chicken stock or canned broth
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons dry red wine or red wine vinegar
- Parmesan cheese grated on top
Start by pouring the lentils into a large bowl and cover with water. Allow to sit for 15 minutes then drain. While you’re waiting for the lentils, get started on the sausage.
Use a large stockpot and begin with olive oil over a medium burner. Cook the sausage until it’s done, then remove to a plate. Add a little more olive oil then saute your onions, leeks, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent and tender. Be sure to turn your burner down so you don’t brown the veggies, you just want them to be soft and tender. Add celery and carrots and saute for another 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and drained lentils, cover, and bring to a boil. Once the soup is boiling, reduce the heat again and simmer uncovered for about an hour. Check for salt, pepper, cumin or herbs. When the lentils are tender you’re ready to add the sausage and red wine. Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.
I’VE MADE IT BEFORE BUT THIS TIME, I ADDED A LITTLE MORE OOMPH. By now you know that I love my Barefoot Contessa. But you also might be aware of her delicious yet wildly fattening food, a dilemma for someone who is already 14 pounds heavier than usual, also trying to keep a 17-month old foodie happy and healthy. This is where Ina Garten meets Missy Chase Levine.
You might know Missy as The Sneaky Chef, and if you don’t, you should. She’s such a clever resource for parents trying to pack more veggies, whole grains and other good stuff into foods kids love. Her version of tomato soup includes a puree of white beans and cauliflower, mashed up ahead of time and quietly worked into the soup without any picky tastebuds ever detecting the difference. But since Phoebe actually likes both of these things (for now), I just added them in their regular form. It worked well because soup isn’t so easy for her to eat, what with her limited mastery of spoons and all. The beans and cauliflower chunks made it easier thicker and easier to get onto the spoon and that she did, with gusto. After all, this is one of Barefoot’s best soups.
IT’S DINNER TIME AND it’s fall and that means…apples. This recipe was featured in my most recent Food Network magazine (which I actually love, for many reasons, but won’t go into that now). It’s simple, seasonal and really good!
For Honey-Mustard Chicken and Apples, you brown the chicken thighs (which are juicier, cheaper and more flavorful than white meat) on the stove top then take them off to cook the apples and onions together. Put them all back in the pan, add some honey-mustard and a cup of chicken broth before tossing the whole thing in the oven for just a bit. Here the juices come together and the chicken finishes cooking in time for you to steam a few veggies to go along.
Now let’s talk about Food Network magazine. I subscribed a while ago because we don’t get the Food Network in Italy and I’m just a fan. And a former employee of HGTV, a sister network. I wanted to stay up on what people are cooking in the States–or at least what they’re watching other people cook! The magazine itself is full of ideas, recipes, kitchen designs and clever layouts. I give it a thumbs up, and based on this recipe for Phoebe, a mini thumbs up too.
Quick idea for a toddler-friendly lunch or dinner…
- one whole wheat tortilla cut in half + cheese + turkey, chicken, ground beef or beans
- put one side of the tortilla in a pan and add the cheese plus protein, making sure to get cheese on top and bottom because it’ll be the glue, and add the top
- saute over medium-low heat until cheese is melted, flip once
- cool and cut into cubes
It also works well on the go.
I LOVE THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA. I just do. I always have, I hope I always will. Her recipes are always delicious, they inspire me to try new things and she just seems fun, doesn’t she? With that husky laugh and a button down shirt, there she is making all manner of soups, roasted chicken and decadent desserts from her Hampton’s manse, surrounded by handsome men of a particular persuasion. I love it. The problem with her dishes though, as anyone who has ever seen an episode of her show (or a recipe for that matter) is that they’re usually laden with butter. But not this one. That’s why I made it for Phoebe.
Her recipe on the Food Network website is easy to follow and totally delicious. I used fresh rosemary from my terrace and added cubed pancetta, just for extra flavor. Paul loved it. Phoebe spit both of them out. Otherwise, she ate it all. Really! For her portion, I strained out most of the liquid, drizzled olive oil on top and grated a little fresh Parmesan cheese. In big gulps Phoebe used a spoon, her fingers and would’ve tried chopsticks if she thought she could shovel more of this rosemary goodness in with them. So, hooray!
Think we have a mini-Contessa in the making? Maybe I should just enjoy the soup success before I get ahead of myself. And before Phoebe starts requesting a mini-BMW of her own…
ANOTHER WIN! Trust me, I was due. One of my hopes here is to update a few classics that I enjoyed as a kid and introduce them to my own family. This meatloaf has a secret but not so surprising ingredient: sausage. Lots of meatball recipes include a combination of ground pork, veal and beef. I’m not a big veal person, especially when pregnant, but I just can’t pass up pork. The sausage added a great flavor but it did make the pan a little greasier so I wouldn’t go overboard; and if your crowd eats spicy foods you could certainly try hot sausage. Phoebe has a delicate 15-month old palette and I come from Irish folk so we don’t do a lot of spices here.
One bonus of cooking mini-meatloaves is a fast cooking time; a huge asset for the onset of afternoon crankiness. (Around this time Phoebe gets a little whiny too.) After 30 quick minutes, dinner was ready! (And no one said anything like “yum-o” even once.) For the grownups, we just ate everything the regular way. With knives and forks and plates. For Phoebe, I mashed everything together and added steamed peas. And to add a little extra Phoebe-friendly flavor, I drizzled extra virgin olive oil on top. It’s always a favorite. Thank you Italy.
Mini-meatloaf with Parmesan smashed potatoes
Makes about 6 generously sized meatloaves
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1/3 cup carrot, finely diced (about half of a medium sized carrot)
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley chopped well
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 pounds sweet sausage (turkey or pork). If using links, remove casings
1/2 cup oatmeal
2/3 cup ketchup (reserve 1/3 cup for sauce)
2 tablespoons steak sauce such as A-1
1 egg lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar, optional
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Melt the butter in a skillet and saute onion and carrots together on medium low heat until onions are tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic plus parsley and cook another 2 minutes. Let cool.
In a large mixing bowl combine remaining ingredients (beef, sausage, oatmeal, 1/3 cup of ketchup, steak sauce, lightly beaten egg, salt and pepper), reserving half of the ketchup. Use your clean hands, it’s just easier. But take care to not overdo it. Once everything is nicely combined form 6 mini loaves with your hands and set 1-2 inches apart on a baking sheet or 9 x 13 cake pan. (Be careful not to crowd the pan or the meatloaves won’t cook evenly or brown nicely.)
If using brown sugar, combine with the remaining 1/3 cup ketchup. Use a brush to slather the ketchup mixture all over the top of the loaves. Some recipes suggest waiting until the end of the cooking process to add this topping for fear of burning. But since our loaves are so small the cooking time is much faster and shouldn’t be in danger of burning at all.
Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Parmesan smashed potatoes
1 pound red or yellow new potatoes, cut in half (quarter the particularly large ones)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
pepper to taste
Scrub the potatoes and cut in half, but leave the skins on. For any especially large potatoes, cut into quarters; the idea is to make everything basically the same size so it cooks evenly. Put the potatoes into a large sauce pan or stock pot and cover with cold water. There should be about 2 inches of water above the potatoes.
Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for approximately 25 minutes, checking the potatoes after 20 minutes. They should be fork tender.
When the potatoes are ready, drain the water and leave the potatoes in the colander with a clean dish towel on top for an extra 10 minutes. The extra bit of steam will soften the potatoes even more. While the potatoes are still warm, transfer back to the pan. Add the milk, yogurt, cheese and butter then mash with a potato masher until you see the consistency you want. I like them chunky, especially with the skins still on. Don’t go too far otherwise your potatoes will be sticky. Add pepper to taste. The cheese will likely make the potatoes salty enough but add a little at the end if you like.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE HAVE A (new) winner for dinner. And it couldn’t be easier to make.
Inspired by a lunch in the country this summer, tonight I made a simple supper…and it worked. For babies under a year, some say you should limit raw tomatoes but at nearly 16 months Phoebe is well beyond that mark, and lucky for me a tomato fiend. She popped half a dozen of these little guys into her mouth before I could get the pasta water boiling.
You could use any kind of small tomato, cherry, grape or whatever is sweet and in season. Ditto for the cheese. I used provolone tonight because I had a fresh block right in the fridge. Of course mozzarella would probably be even better.
Penne with fresh tomatoes, basil and cheese
Feeds two adults and one baby with leftovers (if you’re big eaters or a bigger family, just double everything)
1/2 pound whole wheat penne pasta
3/4 pound cherry or grape tomatoes or two pints, cut in half
1/2 bunch basil (about 1 cup julienned or torn)
6-8 oz. provolone or mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup very good extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Put on the water for the pasta. When it reaches a boil, add 2 tablespoons of salt. It’ll infuse the pasta with flavor but the amount of salt you’re eating will be less than adding a heap at the end.
While the water is on, cut the tomatoes in half and dice the cheese. Either tear or julienne the basil.
Cook the pasta according to package instructions and drain well. I always stop at al dente — which literally means “to the tooth” in Italian–and otherwise means the pasta’s still a little chewy but definitely not crunchy. But do as you like.
Put the drained pasta back in the big pasta pan (which should still be quite warm) then add the fresh ingredients, oil, salt and pepper. The heat of the pasta will slightly melt the cheese while warming the tomatoes and basil just enough to bring out their full flavor.
Fill a plate or bowl and add more olive oil, salt and/or pepper to taste.
This one was a huge hit for Phoebe at 15 months who loves finger food more than any other. Just don’t forget the bib. Or be surprised if they go back for more.