Chuck the Chicken: Try This Roasted Salmon Piccata with Lemon Miso Sauce

As a young married person starting a family, I didn't often cook fish for dinner because I didn't grow up eating or cooking with it—good fresh fish was hard to come by in our small Central Oregon town. Even after my parents moved the family to Portland there wasn't much available in the strip mall supermarkets around our suburban housing development, the streets strangely named after Native American tribes. (Pawnee Path? Shawnee Trail? Sioux Court? Seriously?)

My mother was much more comfortable cooking red meat, what with her upbringing in an Eastern Oregon cattle ranching family. When we did have fish, it was most often from a can—tuna or the dreaded canned salmon, which was unceremoniously dumped in a dish, the indentations of the rings from the can still visible on its surface. Any whole fish tended to be less than absolutely fresh, requiring lots of what was called "doctoring" to cut the fishiness.

Needless to say, there was a lot I had to learn about cooking it.

Fortunately, we now have a myriad of choices for fresh-caught fish available at farmers' markets or one of many retail outlets featuring species caught off our own coast or harvested from regional waters. Recently I bought a portion of a friend's share of sockeye salmon from her Iliamna Fish Company CSF (Community Supported Fishery) subscription, several vacuum-sealed frozen fillets ready to thaw and throw on the grill or in a pan. (Check out this guide to Pacific Northwest CSA and CSF offerings.)

Since the weather was too inclement even for Dave, who's been known to stand over his grill with a beer in hand in an ice storm, I decided to try roasting it in the oven with a lemon piccata sauce that our friend Dana had made for a dinner. She'd come across a chicken piccata recipe that sounded great, but she had rockfish fillets on hand. Ignoring tradition like any creative cook, she decided to try a completely new dish on guests, subbing in the fish for the chicken. Excellent!

It seemed like salmon might be a good match, as well, so I followed her lead. Start to finish, it's ready in about half an hour…and I think you'll agree it's a winner. And it pairs nicely with my recently posted recipe for Turmeric Rice with Dried Tangerine Peels!

Salmon Piccata with Lemon Miso Sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. garlic, chopped fine
1/2 c. fish or chicken stock
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. white miso (optional)
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped fine, for garnish (optional)
1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillets

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add garlic and very briefly sauté until it's just warmed. Add lemon juice and stock and heat until it barely comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add capers and miso and stir to combine. Add a small amount of water to the cornstarch to make a thin paste. Add cornstarch to sauce while stirring, and allow to thicken slightly.

Place fish fillets in a 9" by 12" baking dish. Pour sauce over the top and roast in oven for 20-25 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Adventures in Vegetables: Sear that Radicchio!

Verona. Castelfranco. Treviso. Chioggia. Lusia. Rosa del Veneto. A wide range of colors from deep burgundy to pastel pink to soft yellow, and solid to streaked to brightly speckled.

Radicchio season has been glorious this year, as evidenced by the gorgeous abundance of varieties at farm stands, farmers' markets and greengrocers. Not only has the weather been spectacular for this late fall crop, but more local farmers than ever are growing these slightly bitter members of the brassica family.

One reason it grows so well here is that, as Anthony Boutard has pointed out numerous times, we're at virtually the same latitude as Italy's Venezia and Piedmont regions, which means crops that grow well there will more likely than not will adapt well to our maritime climate. Luckily for us, Brian Campbell and Chrystine Goldberg, owners of Uprising Seeds in Bellingham, Washington, have caught the "bitter is better" bug and are working with several Northwest growers to develop and adapt these chicories to our climate. (To find out more, check out the Gusto Italiano Project, a collaboration between the Culinary Breeding Network, Uprising Seeds and the northern Italian vegetable breeders at Smarties.bio.)

So in late fall, my heart leaps when I see the first heads of Treviso and Castelfranco at the markets, and I can't seem to get enough of them in salads, chopped in wide ribbons and tossed with other greens and fall vegetables like black radish and fennel. I've also discovered an affinity between radicchio and our own hazelnuts—I've been crushing roasted hazelnuts and scattering them with abandon, where they bring a sweet counterpoint to the bitter notes of the chicory.

This year I've also discovered how delicious these fall beauties—particularly the tighter heads of Treviso, Chioggia and Verona—are when seared in a pan over a fire or on the stovetop. It takes just a few minutes to quarter them, sear them in a bit of hot olive oil and drizzle them with my creamy Miso Vinaigrette (below). And don't forget the roasted hazelnuts!

Seared Radicchio with Creamy Miso Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed in a garlic press
1 Tbsp. white miso
Herbs, finely chopped (I like tarragon or thyme as well as chopped chives)
1 tsp. honey (optional)

For the radicchio:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 smaller heads of Chioggia, Verona or Treviso radicchio
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, crushed

To make the vinaigrette, combine the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk together.

Slice the heads of radicchio in quarters, leaving the core intact so the leaves will stay together. (The cores will soften while searing and be quite lovely.) Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and place the quartered wedges cut-side down and sear until very dark brown (don't worry if they look blackish…that's good). Turn and sear the other cut side, then turn onto the back and sear. Remove to a serving plate and drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with crushed, roasted hazelnuts. Serve warm.

Photo of heads of radicchio from Slow Hand Farm. Radicchio print from Culinary Breeding Network Etsy shop where you can buy lots of radicchio merch!

Before I Forget: Deconstructed Ratatouille

My first efforts here at Good Stuff NW were to simply record things I came across, from a new-to-me charcutiere in Seattle to a road trip south to Redding, California—which we promptly named after the Robert Mitchum classic "Thunder Road"—to a profile of our first Cardigan Corgi, Rosey. All themes that have remained mainstays of what has become my second career.

Northwest seasonal bounty in spades!

You see, GSNW—so much nicer than just "this blog," isn't it?—is also a record of sorts of my journey through food. It's chronicled my sense of betrayal when I found out how my until-then-beloved Tillamook cheese actually sources its milk, to discovering the true meaning of nose-to-tail eating through a pig named Roger. It included finding out that we do indeed have a "food system" here in the Northwest that impacts our health, our communities, the environment and the climate. Wow.

What does that have to do with ratatouille, you might rightly ask? Good question.

Since the beginning, I've also recorded favorite recipes* from the basics like a quick tomato sauce and mustard vinaigrette to what to do with leftovers (a series I call "The 'L' Word") to a yearly Crustacean Celebration of our world-class Dungeness crab. It's been a boon to scroll through this list on those I-have-no-idea-what-to-have-for-dinner nights and find something that will fill the bill of fare.

Which brings me to ratatouille. (Finally!)

I love eggplant, whether in a ginger-rich Chinese sauce or an Italian Parmigiana. But ratatouille, that Southern French simmered melange of vegetables, has never broken my top ten eggplant dishes. Maybe it's the color of the finished dish, which tends to turn to the drab side of the spectrum when finished, or that the vegetables lose their individual flavors in the stew, especially sad when the members are fresh from the farm, vibrant in color and hardy in texture.

But then…

I'd just picked up our CSA share one week and there it was (above, left). Deep purple-to-pale-lavender eggplants, yellow and green summer squash, and tomatoes fresh off the vine. It took no urging to get Dave to fire up the grill, and I pulled a couple of chicken thighs out of the fridge to throw on with those gorgeous vegetables. Tossed with a caper-studded vinaigrette, it was a definite keeper.

Which, because of the post you are reading, I'll now have to refer to the next time I find myself in need of dinner ideas.

Grilled Ratatouille

Eggplants
Italian peppers (red, yellow and orange, or any mix of those)
Summer squash (yellow and green zucchini, patti pan, crookneck, etc.)
Tomatoes

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1-2 Tbsp. capers
Salt and pepper to taste

For the vegetables, mix and match amounts and types as available and adjust amounts for the number of people you're feeding.

Make a fire in the grill (we use a chimney for that purpose). While coals are heating, make the vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and whisking them together. Then chop or slice all the vegetables except the tomatoes into larger grill-able pieces. I usually cut larger eggplants into 1" slices and halve the zucchini. Usually the peppers can be grilled whole then seeded before using. DO NOT OIL VEGETABLES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES prior to grilling. When coals are white-hot, dump them out and spread evenly in one layer. Place vegetables on the grate over the fire and cook until tender, turning as needed and pulling them off the fire onto a platter as they become done.

When all the vegetables are cooked, chop into bite-sized pieces, including the fresh tomatoes. Place on platter and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* Find more recipes for leftovers, or get the whole massive list here and here.

Broke Leg Scones: Think of Them As Delicious Occupational Therapy

First, I want to thank everyone who has contacted me to ask how Dave is doing after his accident. He's healing and making progress with help from his physical and occupational therapists from Providence Home Health, a benefit we never imagined we'd need but one we're incredibly grateful to have. Second, an apology for not posting much since then—caregiving, as many of you already know, is pretty much a full-time gig or, as our friend Chad said, "you just take it one hour at a time."

The sourdough is back!

Thankfully, by now we're at the point where we're taking it a day at a time, and each day shows small improvements over the one before. He's been able to go back to making his stunningly delicious sourdough bread even though he's still confined to a wheelchair—we've dubbed it "Wheelchair Sourdough"—and this morning I encouraged him to take a stab at his orange currant scones.

Yes, it is admittedly a self-serving suggestion, but I prefer to think of it as fitting into his occupational therapy regime. (His OT therapist, Debbie, I'm sure would agree, since she was very excited to learn he loves to bake.)

If you'd like to take a stab at making them, from a sitting position or not, I can guarantee you're going to feel so much better!

Dave's Orange Currant Scones

3 c. (390g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. sea salt
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 c. (1 stick) frozen unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg
1/4 c. sour cream
3/4 c. whole milk
1/4 to 1/3 c. currants

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a baking mat.

In a large mixing bowl, toss dry ingredients and zest together with a fork. Transfer mixture to a food processor and add the cubed pieces of butter. Pulse several times until the texture is slightly coarser than cornmeal. Put the mixture back in the mixing bowl and add currants, tossing with the fork to combine.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the egg, sour cream and milk and mix thoroughly. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in egg mixture. Mix ingredients together with a spatula until a loose dough forms, then press dough into a large ball. Turn out onto floured surface, cut the ball in half and knead each half four or five times with your hands.

Pat each half into a 6-inch circle. Using a knife or metal-bladed bench scraper, cut each disk into quarters. Place them spaced apart on the baking sheet. Bake until light golden brown, about 22 minutes; rotate the pan front to back halfway through.

Leftover scones—it happens, but rarely—can be placed in a zip-lock bag and refrigerated or frozen for later.

Being Green: Asparagus and Sorrel Risotto

Author's Note: First of all, apologies for not posting for so long…having a new puppy will do that to a schedule! Waking up an hour earlier every day, taking the youngster outside every hour for potty breaks, plus the exercise it takes to tire out a nine-month-old—fortunately we've found out he loves to play soccer—has filled up our days but limited my writing time. (And we wouldn't trade the experience for the world!)

Plus it's spring! I've been seriously indulging in asparagus at every opportunity, mostly in the simplest way possible (puppy, remember?), that is, drizzled with olive oil and pan roasted in a 350° oven for 20 minutes, then served with a squirt of lemon. Heaven!

But when I've had that umpteen times and want to change it up a little, I'll make a risotto that does double duty as a main dish and veg…though if someone in your household happened to grill up some salmon or chicken to go alongside, that would be hard to turn down.

Asparagus Risotto with Sorrel Pesto and Preserved Lemon

For the pesto:
2 c. sorrel leaves (some peppery arugula or spinach would be fine, too)
2 c. cilantro or parsley
3 cloves garlic
1/4 c. pine nuts or filberts (aka hazelnuts)
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. grated parmesan

For the risotto:
1 lb. asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 onion, diced

1 Tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
2 c. arborio rice

1 c. white wine
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 c. sorrel pesto

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. preserved lemon, chopped (or zest of one lemon)
Salt to taste


To make the pesto, place the sorrel, cilantro, garlic and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Begin processing while slowly adding the olive oil until the mixture is a smooth purée, scraping down as necessary with a spatula. Remove to a bowl and stir in the half cup of parmesan.

Clean the processor, then put half of the chopped asparagus stalks in the food processor and add just enough water to make a smooth purée; set aside.

Put stock in a medium saucepan over very low heat. Then, in a deep skillet or large saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid absorb into the rice. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about absorbed into the rice, add more. 

When you have used about half the stock, add the puréed asparagus and asparagus tips, then continue to add stock as necessary. In 5 minutes or so, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. Add a half cup of the pesto, preserved lemon and parmesan and stir briskly, then remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt. (Risotto should be slightly soupy.) Serve immediately.

Going Where (Almost) No One Has Gone Before: Kimchi Risotto?

If nothing else, this pandemic has taught me to not be so slavishly obedient to the dictates of a recipe, and to trust my own tastes in flavoring dishes. That's because I haven't been able to run to the store for an exotic ingredient, or dash out when the yen for a special dish pings my brain's rolodex, or even to simply give up on a recipe, thinking I don't have everything the instructions call for.

Five-allium risotto? Why not?

Cooking every day—like everyone else, we're WFH or, in Dave's case, retired—means sometimes making three meals a day from a pantry that gets refreshed only a couple of times a week. For daily shoppers like we used to be in what are being quaintly referred to as "the before times," it's meant we've had to be more creative, more flexible and not so darn fussy. You might say we've been developing our dancing-in-the-kitchen muscles, while trying not to sacrifice deliciousness to expedience.

Not that every experiment or adaptation has been a smashing success, mind you. But the five-allium risotto made with  the yellow onion, green onion, shallot, leek, and garlic we had on hand when there was no chicken in the fridge? Or the mapo tofu made with some admittedly inauthentic ingredients? Or the sausage and pasta casserole when we didn't have enough sausages for grilling? They were all pretty dang good!

Not enough sausages for the whole family? Make a casserole!

So it was, when yesterday evening I found we only had three-quarters of a jar of Choi's kimchi and most of a leftover grilled pork chop to work with. To be honest, I'd actually been itching to try a kimchi risotto, just because it sounds so weird, and our nearly empty veg bin was the perfect excuse. How bad could it be? (Insert winking emoji here…)

Turns out it was actually easy as heck, and more of an umami bomb than you usually get from a traditional risotto. From the reaction of the diners I'd say it'll be appearing again regardless of the state of our pantry.

You can't ask for more than that from an impromptu dance in the kitchen!

Kimchi Risotto

3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced fine
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock, warmed on the stove
2 c. prepared Napa cabbage kimchi plus 1/4 c. brine
2 c. cooked pork or chicken (or substitute 1 lb. ground pork, sautéed)
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
Salt to taste
Red chile oil for drizzling

Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat until the butter melts and starts to bubble. Add onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and sauté for about 3 minutes or so—each end of the rice grains should be slightly translucent.

Add a ladle-full of stock with the kimchi brine and stir until it's almost all absorbed, then add another ladle of stock and stir until it absorbs. Continue adding stock, and when you've ladled in about half the stock, stir in the chopped kimchi and cooked meat. Keep adding stock and stirring until the rice is al dente or still has a nice texture without being crunchy. Stir in the fish sauce and salt to taste. Serve with a drizzle of red chile oil.

I separated a head of cauliflower into small florets (adding the chopped stalk and leaves), mixed in olive oil and garlic, then roasted it on a baking sheet in a 375° oven while I made the risotto. When it was browned nicely, I served it alongside the risotto as in the top photo.

Underappreciated Allium: The Shallot

It's allium season in the Pacific Northwest, with wild varieties of onions and garlic appearing in spring meadows and their domestic cousins like leeks, spring onions, scallions, Spanish calçots, garlic and shallots cascading in from local farms. (By the way, if you see ramps? They don't grow here and are imported from other areas of the country.) Ginger Rapport, Market Master of the Beaverton Farmers Market, shares her love of these ubiquitous bulbs.

Shallots are an underappreciated member of the allium or onion family. While they are an essential ingredient in many cuisines like those of Southeast Asia and Vietnam, most Americans fail to appreciate all they have to offer. 

Shallots have a delicate, sweet flavor without the intense heat of an onion. They are preferable over onions in raw applications such as salad dressings and vinaigrettes. Finely diced, they provide a subtle bite to pan sauces and are delicious roasted whole, or pickled as a garnish. Shallots are ubiquitous in Vietnamese cooking, especially pho, where they are combined with ginger to give pho its unique taste and fragrance. 

In the past shallots were mainly imported from Europe which made them somewhat expensive when compared to onions. This is probably one reason why they are not as widely used here in the States as they should be. Domestically grown shallots are becoming more common, which is also making them more affordable. Fortunately for us here at the Beaverton Farmers Market, Farmer Yo Tee Telio grows huge, gorgeous shallots and you can find them in his Salmon Creek Farm booth at the market.

Fried Shallots

Frying shallots turns them into crispy, flavor-packed clusters that are good on almost anything. (This is not an exaggeration.) Beaverton Farmers Market Master Ginger Rapport keeps a container of them in her refrigerator at all times. Their caramelized flavor and crunchy texture adds sparkle to salads, potatoes, roasted or steamed vegetables, grain bowls, omelets, steaks, deviled eggs and avocado toast. Chopped, they can be added to dips or combined with mayonnaise as a sandwich spread. Bring cottage cheese to life with a sprinkling of fried shallots on top. They are also delicious eaten by the handful, and making them is super easy. 

When we said that they are good on everything? We meant it. 

8 small shallots
1 c. peanut oil (or vegetable oil like canola)
Salt

Peel shallots of their papery coverings, slicing off the root and papery tip. Slice shallots crosswise into very thin (1/16" or so) rings.

Heat oil in a frying pan until it shimmers. Check the temperature by taking one of the rings and tossing it into the pan. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Put sliced shallots into the pan and move them around with a spatula to keep them from sticking. Moderate heat to keep them sizzling but not burning. When they are golden brown remove them to racks set over paper towels to cool and crisp up.

Use immediately or store in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two months.

Just In Time for Easter: Easy-to-Peel Farm Fresh Eggs!

Recently I was shocked to read that a well-known columnist and chef had published an article about deviled eggs with the dictum "never use super-fresh eggs, because they will not peel."

I beg to differ.

One of the joys of using fresh eggs from pasture-raised hens is their flavor, that indescribably eggy brightness that comes from the chickens' diet of grass, bugs and minerals found in the soil around them. Their unctuous, velvety texture and brilliant deep yellow-orange color would have—and probably did—set Van Gogh's heart aflutter.

Not to mention that pastured birds live their lives with the sun on their backs and the earth under their feet, taking dust baths and socializing with their friends rather than crowded under artificial light in dim barns, breathing the dust kicked up from the litter of their own urine and feces. Ick!

And yes, anyone who's cracked open a fresh-from-the-hen egg will notice that the white does cling to the shell much more tenaciously that its sad, store-bought sibling. That's because eggs in the grocery coolers, even those labeled as "pasture-raised," can be up to a month old when you get them home. (The above-mentioned writer even suggested buying store eggs, then keeping them in the fridge for "seven to ten days." That would mean they could be up to a month-and-a-half old. Imagine how great those would taste!)

So how to make those super fresh eggs peel easily? The trick is getting the egg white to release from the inner membrane (the "skin" on hardboiled eggs) and end up with perfectly unmarred whites for your platter of company-worthy deviled eggs.

The technique is dead simple:

  • Make sure your eggs are at room temperature. This will reduce cracking when submerging them in boiling water.
  • While they sit, bring a pot of water to boil over high heat.
  • Slowly lower the eggs into the boiling water.
  • When boiling resumes, set timer for 15 min. and reduce heat to keep at a low boil.
  • When timer goes off, immediately submerge them in an ice bath until thoroughly chilled, then peel.

How easy is that?

Oh, and the author of the article in question also said that it's overcooking that causes the "dark green ring around the yolk and a funky, sulfurous taste." Wrong again! In my experience, it's caused by not taking the eggs from the boiling water and immediately putting them in the ice bath as instructed above. Do that and you'll never again have that greyish-green ring on your yolks.

And if you're looking for some killer deviled egg recipes, here are four of my favorites!

Pot Roast Bourguignon: Reward for an Early Spring Workout

First thing every morning I grab a cup of coffee that Dave brews early each morning and I take out our Corgi, Kitty, to, as my mother would have said, "stretch her legs." While she busies herself sniffing out the latest news from every tree and shrub, I look up at our ash trees to see if they're starting to build their furry leaf casings—a sure harbinger on our little lot—and I take a moment to note which canes of forsythia need clipping and whether the bleeding heart has emerged from under the leaf litter.

From this…

Early spring around here means yard work, with its requisite raking, trimming and moving of plants to new spots before they're smothered in shade by larger neighbors or spread beyond their assigned places in what we loosely call our "landscape." Attempting to tame their natural inclinations is better achieved in the cooler temperatures we're having now, before it warms up and they explode with growth and we'd rather laze about and sip cool drinks than labor in the yard.

…to this in four hours. So worth it!

Cool days and still-chilly nights not only hamper this spring explosion, but also provide a last opportunity to get out the braising pot before warmer days beg for grilling outside. The heavenly pot roast recipe below is super simple and can be assembled and put in the oven to simmer for a few hours while you're outside doing yardwork. Plus it provides an excuse to schedule breaks every hour or so to check and make sure the liquid hasn't all cooked away (add water if it seems low).

The smell when you come in the house for those "breaks" will give you motivation to get the outside work done quicker, too, the better to come inside and enjoy a cocktail while you make a salad and boil potatoes to serve alongside. And sitting down to a hearty and flavor-filled dinner that basically cooks itself? I can't think of a better reward for all that hard work!

Pot Roast Bourguignon

This is extremely easy to make, but you'll need to get it in the oven four hours before dinner or make it the day before. Cutting back on the time in the oven makes for a less than stellar, though still delicious, result.

4 slices bacon, cut in 1/4" pieces
1 3-5 lb. chuck roast
Salt and pepper
1 lg. onion, chopped in 1/2" dice
4 lg. cloves garlic, chopped roughly
4 med. carrots, sliced in 1/4" rounds
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. thyme
3 large bay leaves
2 6" sprigs rosemary
1 qt. (32 oz.) roasted tomatoes
3-4 c. red wine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put bacon in a large braising pot that can go in the oven and fry till fat is rendered and it starts to brown. Add onions and garlic and sauté 2-3 min., then add carrots and sauté 2-3 min. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté till tender. Stir in tomatoes, bay leaves and herbs, then add wine. Sprinkle roast generously with salt and pepper and add to pot. Bring to a boil, then cover tightly and place the pot in the oven. (If the lid doesn't fit tightly, put a sheet of parchment paper over the pot, then place the lid on.) Roast for 2 hrs. Remove meat from pot and slice in 1/4" slices, then return the sliced meat to the pot, submerging slices in the sauce and vegetables. Replace cover and bake for another 1 1/2 hrs.

Pandemic Pantry: Sausage and Pasta Casserole with a Kick

I suppose you could call us the casserole generation. We were one of the first cohorts of children whose mothers were entering the work force in the largest numbers since WWII, mostly because inflation had been whittling away at the salaries of "breadwinners" (mostly dads) for years. But women were still expected to do all their "mom" duties like laundry, housecleaning and, of course, shopping and cooking, in addition to putting in 40 hours on the job.

That meant my mom came home from her work as a social worker after an hour's commute and had to get dinner on the table fairly quickly while my dad, who (bless his heart), came home around the same time, turned on the nightly news, put his feet up and sipped a scotch and water until Mom called us in for dinner.

So with three hungry kids and a husband to feed, I can't blame my mother for welcoming convenience foods like Hamburger Helper with open arms, or making classics like Swiss steak and Spanish rice that could simmer away in the electric frying pan while she ran upstairs to change out of her work clothes.

(Did she have a glass of wine in her hand? Maybe…)

Noodle casseroles figured prominently in the pantheon of dinner menus—the "primavera" version hadn't yet appeared and fancified it into "pasta"—with goulash, macaroni and cheese and, on Fridays, the holy tuna version. (I was never sure why fish on Friday was a requirement since we weren't Catholics, though I suppose Episcopalians run a close second in the rules-ridden churchy hierarchy.)

As the female child, I was called on to put down whatever book I was currently immersed in to help my mother with prep chores and getting dinner on the table. It meant I learned to chop and mix and simmer early on, which I suppose cemented my inclination to appreciate the tastier parts of life. For that I'm thankful.

The recipe below—which involves little prep but calls for two-and-half-hours of simmering—would have been unthinkable for a weeknight dinner in my mom's day, but it's do-able in pandemic times since so many of us are spending scads more time at home. (And everyone needs an occasional break from Zoom meetings, right?) It's a variation on the perennial penne alla vodka served at 3 Doors Down café, which itself starts with a variation on the classic Marcella Hazan tomato sauce with onion and butter.

As the classic commercial from my childhood trumpeted, "Try it, you'll like it!"

Penne alla Vodka Casserole

1 lb. penne
4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 med. onion, chopped in 1/4" dice
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 qt. roasted tomatoes (or 1 28-oz. can tomatoes)
3 mild Italian sausages (~1 lb.) sliced crosswise in 1/4" coins
1 c. vodka
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 c. sour cream or whipping cream
1 c. Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
Salt to taste

In a heavy-bottomed saute pan or skillet, melt the butter and add onion and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat until onion is translucent. Stir in the whole tomatoes with liquid and simmer for one hour. Add the sausage coins, vodka and oregano and continue to simmer for another hour. Turn the heat to medium high, add sour cream (or cream) and stir constantly for 10 minutes. Reduce to simmer and to cook for another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

During the final half hour of simmering the sauce, bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook, stirring frequently until tender but still firm to the bite, a little less done than usual "al dente." Drain well, put back in pasta pot, add sauce, then toss pasta with sauce and 2/3 cup grated cheese. Adjust for salt. Pour into 2 3/4-qt. casserole dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.