Even though the temperatures this week undoubtedly hint at fall, the vegetables at the farmers market still speak of summer. Nothing makes me happier than the colors and flavors of tomatoes, summer squash, corn, and eggplant, and I’m happy to extend their season way into September.
This brings me to one of my favorite recipes, ratatouille. This success of this dish is rooted in its components – bring together all your freshest summer vegetables, throw them in a pot, and you’re sure to get a winning result.
What’s more, the cooking directions are entirely informed by sturdiness of the vegetable. Curious where to start? Eggplant is notorious for its long cooking times, so why not saute it in a batch by itself. Ready to move on? Add in your peppers and onions, which typically take about 5-7 minutes to begin breaking down. Follow up with your summer squash and zucchini, since both vegetables have relatively similar textures and will cook at about the same speed. Top the dish off with your tomatoes and continue cooking until the flavors and fresh and sweet – you’ll know it’s ready when you taste it!
A few tips: chop your vegetables so that they are fairly comparable in size. This will help to control cooking times, ensuring that each vegetable is cooked through (but not overcooked!). In addition, don’t forget your seasonings. Salt and pepper go a long way with fresh summer vegetables, and the basil adds a special last touch.
Ratatouille Spaghetti (adapted from Alice Waters’ recipe at Food 52)
- 2 Japanese eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 1 summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 1 red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
- red pepper flakes
- 1 cup corn kernels (from one ear of corn)
- handful of basil, chopped
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- olive oil
- cooked spaghetti, for serving
- Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a sturdy skillet. Once hot, add eggplant slices and saute until lightly browned and softened, about 7-10 minutes. Remove eggplant and set it aside.
- Heat another tbsp olive oil and add in the onions. Stir for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add in the garlic, 1/2 the basil, and red chili flakes and stir for 30 more seconds.
- Add in the diced red pepper and stir for a few more minutes. Once slightly softened, add in the zucchini and summer squash. After 2 to 3 minutes more, add in the tomatoes. Salt and pepper as needed and cook for 10 minutes over low to medium heat (tomatoes should not come to a boil).
- Add corn and eggplant to the skillet and cook for 10 more minutes, or until all vegetables are softened and flavorful. Top with remaining basil and serve over spaghetti or pasta.
People often ask me how I have time to cook during the week. The days are so busy, they tell me, that the last thing they want to do is spend their evening hovered over a recipe in the kitchen.
My answer to their question is simple: Have a set of go-to dishes that you can make in 30 minutes (or less) without a recipe. These dishes don’t have to be radically different from one another, or use fancy ingredients that you probably don’t have stocked in the pantry. Instead, these dishes can be variations on a theme, each with a slightly different flavor profile and set of ingredients. The key is to have a flexible base recipe, one that allows you to recreate the dish 2-3 times a week without it feeling repetitive.
This dish meets all of those requirements. The concept is very simple, combining pasta, vegetables, and protein. The recipe itself is infinitely adaptable, making it a great dinner option for every season.
During the winter, I try to stick with vegetables that are easily available. This recipe features cherry tomatoes and kale, although root vegetables also work well. My preferred protein is sausage, which adds a hint of spice without a huge investment of time. Just remember to cook the sausage before the vegetables, since the cooking oil from the sausage adds great flavor to the sautéed kale.
During the week, I rarely dig up that complex recipe from Bon Appetit that I’ve been waiting to try. Instead, I save that recipe for the weekend, whipping up something similar to the recipe below.
Sausage and Winter Vegetable Pasta Recipe
- 2 cups penne pasta, uncooked
- olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 spicy Italian-style sausage (I’ve used both turkey and chicken sausages here)
- 8-10 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
- 2 tbsp Romano or Parmesan, or a mixture of the two cheeses
- red pepper flakes
- dried thyme
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and follow directions on package for correct cooking time. Before draining, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water for later.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, coat with olive oil, and spread on a foil-lined baking pan. Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until tomatoes are wrinkled and slightly brown on the bottom.
- Remove sausage from casing and break into small pieces. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add sausage and stir occasionally, until the sausage is browned and fully cooked.
- Remove sausage but leave as much oil in the skillet as possible. Add onion to the same skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, kale, red pepper flake, and thyme and sauté for another 4-6 minutes, until kale has broken down slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add sausage and tomatoes to the kale filled skillet. Toss in the pasta and stir, adding pasta water as necessary for additional moisture. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.
Makes 2 servings.
This is a great example of a dish that can be prepared on a weeknight without taking over the whole evening. The ingredients are very simple, and many of them are winter staples that you probably have sitting around in your pantry or fridge.
The recipe uses both the oven and the stovetop, significantly cutting down preparation time and making things easier for those of us that cook in close quarters.
In addition, delicata squash makes a great choice here. It can be roasted and eaten without peeling, significantly cutting down preparation time. Once the squash is in the oven, the whole meal comes together in 30 minutes or less.
After a busy thanksgiving, this dish is a welcome vacation from long hours in the kitchen.
Pasta with Winter Squash and Kale Recipe
- 6 0z. penne pasta
- 1 delicata squash, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/3 inch slices
- 1/2 an onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 8-10 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
- splash of white wine
- 4 oz. ricotta cheese
- pecorino cheese, to taste
- Cook pasta according to the directions on the package.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Toss delicata squash with 1 tbsp of olive oil and place on a lined (or greased) baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until squash can be easily pierced with a fork.
- In the meantime, heat remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute more.
- Add chopped kale to the skillet. stir until kale begins to wilt, about 5 minutes. If desired, add a splash of wine during the last minute of cooking.
- Add the cooked squash and pasta to the skillet. Stir in ricotta and pecorino cheese and serve.
Makes 3 servings.
Looking at the picture, you might be confused and think, “This looks like just another pasta with red sauce.” If you did, you’d be partially right. The dish is just as simple when it comes to ingredients, and it takes about the same amount of time. But, there are a few things here that separate it from the pack:
1. The pancetta. This was the first dish that I ever cooked with pancetta, and I have to say I was skeptical. Post-dinner, I can tell you that the pancetta makes a huge difference in the dish. Instead of being just ordinary pasta, the pancetta turns this recipe into one of my go-to “nice meals” to cook at home.
2. The bucatini. Before cooking this, I had never heard of this pasta type. It’s essentially a mix between spaghetti and penne, and the end product reminds me a bit of a twizzler. I bought mine at Eastern Market, where this great stand sells tons of fresh pasta in all shapes and sizes. If you’re in DC, I definitely suggest stopping by (but try not to get distracted by all the other stands, otherwise you’ll stay far longer than you planned).
Bucatini all’Amatriciana Recipe
- 3 oz. pancetta, sliced and cut into thin slivers
- 1/2 an onion, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 pound fresh bucatini
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pecorino romano for serving
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add sliced pancetta. Cook until browned and then remove from the pan.
- With pan still over medium heat, add onions and garlic and saute until translucent.
- Pour tomatoes into the skillet. Bring them to a boil and let simmer for 15 minutes (the longer the better with sauces). During the last 5 minutes, add pancetta back to the sauce mixture and stir to mix the flavors.
- Bring water to a boil. Cook fresh pasta for 2 minutes (or follow package directions if they are different). Drain in a colander.
- Once sauce is finished, add pasta into the pan and cook for 1 minute, or until the pasta is fully coated with sauce.
- Serve on two plates and top with freshly grated pecorino cheese.