Category Archives: Sauces & Dressings

Pasta with fennel, sausage and sweet peppers

This recipe was designed to go with orecchiette, and it assumes you will make the pasta yourself. But you could substitute another pasta, including dried pasta. If you do this, you’ll probably want a shape that has some body. The recipe makes four servings.

Pasta with fennel, sausage and sweet peppers

1 pound fennel bulbs, quartered and core removed
1 pound small sweet peppers, stemmed and seeds removed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more as needed for pasta
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 recipe homemade pasta dough
10-ounces Italian sausage, casings removed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup grated Parmesan, divided
1 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 475 degrees, with the rack in the top part of the oven.

Slice fennel and peppers crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces. In a large bowl, toss with olive oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Spread out over two rimmed baking sheets and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating pans as necessary until evenly browned and tender. Set aside.

To make orecchiette: On a lightly floured work surface, take a golf ball size piece of pasta dough and roll it into a 1/2-inch wide log. Slice the log into 1/8 inch pieces. Using a thumb, or the tip of a dinner knife, firmly press into the center of the disc. Form the pasta around the pad of your finger like a shell to make a well indented circle.

Heat a large pot of water over high heat until boiling. Add enough kosher salt to season the water like sea water. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 3 to 4 minutes. Reserve about 1 cup pasta water and drain orecchiette through a colander. Return pasta to pot, toss lightly with olive oil and set aside.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, add sausage and cook until browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Add garlic, shallot, thyme and pepper flakes and cook until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste, roasted vegetables, pasta, and reserved cooking liquid. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Reduce heat and cook until the sauce coats the pasta, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese and basil. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Divide between four bowls. Serve immediately with remaining grated cheese on the side.


Pasta with black olive tapenade and goat cheese

Here’s another recipe from my pasta-making class. My teacher said, “Tapenade makes a flavorful and light topping for fresh pasta. The briny flavors of the olives and capers hold up against the tangy creaminess of the goat cheese.”

This makes four servings.

For the tapenade:
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, rinsed and chopped
1/4 cup capers, rinsed
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pasta
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice

For the pasta:
1 pound pappardelle (or other pasta)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper 3 cups baby spinach sliced into thin strips
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
6 ounces crumbled goat cheese at room temperature

To make tapenade:
Combine the olives, capers, garlic, anchovy and parsley in a food processor, and pulse until roughly chopped. Add the oil, lemon zest and juice and pulse until well combined. Set aside.
To cook pasta:
Heat a large pot of water over high heat until boiling. Add enough kosher salt to season the water like sea water. Add the pasta, and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until pasta al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes if it’s fresh pasta. Reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta through a colander. Then, in a large skillet over medium-high heat combine the tapenade, spinach, tomatoes, hot pasta and 1/2 cup reserved pasta water, toss to coat pasta thoroughly with tapenade. Add additional olive oil and remaining pasta water to adjust consistency as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
To serve:
Divide the pasta between four bowls, and top with toasted pine nuts and goat cheese.

Alfredo-style sauce with asparagus and prosciutto

This is my favorite sauce that I learned to make last summer when I took a pasta-making class at Sur La Table.

Linguine with Asparagus and Prosciutto
4 servings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, peeled and minced (or use a little bit of onion)
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 pound asparagus, stemmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 ounces prosciutto, sliced into thin strips
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound fresh linguine
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter and oil. Sauté shallot and garlic until fragrant, 1 minute, add asparagus and prosciutto and cook until asparagus is tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.
  2. To cook pasta: Heat a large pot of water over high heat until boiling. Add enough kosher salt to season the water like sea water. Add pasta and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until pasta is al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water and drain pasta through a colander.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, cheese, parsley and reserved hot pasta water. Add the hot pasta to the egg mixture and toss until well coated. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to the large skillet with asparagus and prosciutto and return skillet to stovetop over low heat. While stirring constantly to incorporate ingredients, heat pasta until the egg sauce just begins to thicken, be careful not to scramble. Once the sauce has thickened and is evenly coating the pasta, remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Divide pasta between four bowls. Garnish with Parmesan and serve immediately.

Mom’s BBQ Sauces


G. and I always wonder why we don’t have barbecue up North. It’s everywhere in the South; the other night, we had great barbecued short rib tacos at a little place in Smyrna, called Crooked Tree Cafe. The tacos came with Brunswick stew, which is basically a soup with leftover barbecued meat and some vegetables.

My mom makes great barbecue. She marinades it in a basting sauce, roasts the meat, shreds it and adds barbecue sauce. Below are the recipes she originally used, followed by the lower-in-sugar variations she eventually created.

Eastern Carolina Basting Sauce

1/2 gallon vinegar
1 tablespoon red pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
1 cup brown sugar

Mix well, and allow to stand at least 4 hours. Use the sauce to baste the meat while cooking the pork roast.

Mom’s Basting Sauce

2 cups vinegar
1 tablespoon red pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

Mix ingredients and use like the basting sauce above.

Western Carolina BBQ Sauce I
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup minced onion
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Melt butter, and sauté onion. Add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Western Carolina BBQ Sauce II
24 ounces ketchup
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 onion
2 tablespoons grape jelly
1/4 teaspoon garlic sauce
1/4 cup tarragon vinegar

Cook in a crockpot for 3 hours.

Mom’s BBQ Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon mustard (or mustard seed)
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 cup ketchup

Melt butter in a pan and sauté onion, celery and garlic. Mix in the honey and mustard and cook for three minutes. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and cook for another 15 minutes.

Tomatillo and Tomato Salsa

One of our favorite restaurants in the Florida Keys was Mrs. Mac's Kitchen in Key Largo, where you can get the fish of the day with Tijuana, or TJ, sauce.

One of our favorite restaurants in the Florida Keys was Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo, where you can get the fish of the day with Tijuana, or TJ, sauce.

It’s a long trip from Wisconsin to Key West. G. and I flew into Atlanta, met my mom and her boyfriend and flew on to Miami. Then, we all piled into a rental car for the nearly four-hour drive to Key West.

We had all been up since about 4 a.m., so we were hungry by the time we landed in Florida. Worried about Miami traffic, we decided to drive to Key Largo and stop there for a lunch break before heading on down Route 1. I did a quick search on Yelp and decided we should stop at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, which has quite a reputation for its key lime pie. (More on that later.)

It turned out to be one of our favorite restaurants, and we ate there on our way back to Miami too.

We all ordered the same thing on our first visit: the fish of the day with Tijuana sauce, which is a salsa made with tomatillos, tomatoes, jalapeno, onion and fresh cilantro. It comes with rice, beans and a roll; both days we were there, the featured fish was mahi-mahi.

It was so good that I ordered pretty much the same thing during our second visit. That time, I had the fish southwestern style, with a green salsa and avocado.

The TJ sauce is what stuck with me though, particularly because it has been a great year for us to grow tomatillos. We’ve had a lot of fruit, and a lot good-sized fruit, on our plants.

I tried to recreate the restaurant’s sauce when I got home. My version is based on the tomatillo salsa recipe in Canning and Preserving for Dummies. Essentially, I replaced half of the tomatillos with tomatoes and used different peppers.

I am sure it’s not the same as the restaurant’s because I had to add vinegar to make a recipe that could be safely canned. But it’s delicious nonetheless, and I nice variation on the salsa verde that I often make.

Michelle’s TJ Sauce

2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed, cored
2 pounds tomatoes, skins removed
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 ice cubes of jalapeño (2 tablespoons)
8 ice cubes of roasted poblano pepper (1/2 cup)
2 cups white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Peel and seed the tomatoes. Run them through a food processor until they are fairly well chopped.

Wash the tomatillos and then run them through the food processor too. If you need to chop the onion, cilantro and some peppers, you can use the food processor for that as well.

As a side note, I often cut up peppers when I have them and then freeze them in ice cube trays. It makes for convenient cooking later on.

Combine all the ingredients in a big pot and bring the salsa to a boil. Then let it simmer for about 20 minutes.

Can in half-pint jars with 1/4-inch headspace. Process the jars in a rolling water bath for 15 minutes from the point of boiling.

Here’s a quick cherry tomato sauce for pasta

We've started getting some nice cherry tomatoes in our garden.

We’re getting some nice cherry tomatoes in our garden.

We always have a lot of cherry tomatoes because G. won’t let me put in just one plant. He worries it would die, and then he wouldn’t have cherry tomatoes to give his mom. So, we always put in two, and they both thrive and then I have more cherry tomatoes than I know what to do with. G. doesn’t eat raw tomatoes, and his mom doesn’t eat a lot of anything.

I found a pretty good recipe for a quick tomato sauce in Bon Appetit. It’s not a thick red tomato sauce, but more of a clear sauce with some cooked tomatoes in it. It’s different — light and refreshing for warm weather.

Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 sprigs basil
1 sprig thyme
1/2 sprig tarragon
1 whole star anise pod
1 whole clove
4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 teaspoons Sherry or red wine vinegar (I used 1/4 cup cheap red wine because I like wine in pasta sauce.)
12 ounces spaghetti

Cook the spaghetti. Reserve 1 cup of the water from the cooked pasta.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet, and add the onion, stirring often until it is soft but not brown. Add the garlic and herbs and cook about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and vinegar (or wine). Cook, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes release their juices and a sauce forms. This will take 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the pasta and 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the tomato sauce. Cook, tossing the pasta and adding more liquid as needed until the sauce coats the pasta. This will take about 2 minutes. Serve!

Grandmom’s mayonnaise for chicken salad

My grandmother's chicken salad is one of my favorite foods. I usually eat it on toast.

My grandmother’s chicken salad is one of my favorite foods. I usually eat it on toast.

My grandmother’s chicken salad was one of my favorite foods when I was growing up and one of the first things I learned to make when I moved out on my own.

About a year after I graduated from college, my parents were coming to visit me in Indiana. I proudly made the chicken salad and twice-baked potatoes. They were my two specialties at the time. On Friday night, I talked to them briefly by phone and made plans for the next day. I had spent the afternoon cooking because they were arriving the next morning. Later that night, I got a call that there had been an accident, and my father was in the hospital. I left immediately for Michigan. He died before I got there.

I was in Michigan for a week. Before I got back to Indiana, my boyfriend went to my apartment and emptied the refrigerator so that I wouldn’t come back to a mess. I don’t think I’ve ever made twice-baked potatoes again, and it was a long time before I made chicken salad.

I don’t want to give it up though because I love it, and it reminds me of my grandmom. I made it a few weeks ago, and it was delicious as ever. And yet, whenever I eat it, I think of my dad and that night, as well as my grandmom. I still miss him.

Chicken Salad

1 recipe Grandmom’s Mayonnaise (see below)
3-4 cups of chopped chicken (I cut up a rotisserie chicken, but you can boil 2 chicken breasts and cut that up.)
2 medium stalks celery, chopped

Combine chicken, celery and mayonnaise in a bowl. It’s that easy.

Grandmom’s Mayonnaise

1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
9 tablespoons fat-free evaporated milk
4 tablespoons commercial mayonnaise (such as Hellman’s or Kraft)

Mix all the ingredients except the commercial mayonnaise and cook until thick. Stir in the commercial mayonnaise. Beat well. Let cool.