Back in the Saddle – Why We Cook

WEEK:  February 19 – February 25, 2018

chicken Jardiniere

Monday:                   Chicken Jardinière, app of marinated mushrooms with toasted baguette (J Pépin)


Tuesday:                   Fagioli all’Uccelletto (White Beans with Sage, Garlic and Fennel – Milk Street, Mar-Apr, p. 6), Smoked Brats on the Grill with German Mustard.  The Faglioli is a fine dish on its own, but toss in the brats and whisk in a little mustard and you have an Italian peasant’s quick cassoulet.

Pasta with Broccoli Sauce

Wednesday:            Rigatoni with Roman Broccoli Sauce (adapted fromMilk Street – Mar-Apr, p. 7).  This is an absolute killer of a pasta dish

blueberry muffins

Beez’s Blueberry Muffins – if you have extra blueberries or ‘dried out’ berries, whiz them up in a blender and put them on toast or muffins.  SWMBO came up with this one, but I got to eat it.

Thursday:                 Dunnings Gathering (where Bill and his friends solve the problems of the world).


Friday:                       Salade Niçoise – Alex Guarneschelli’s version is perfect – eliminating the potatoes makes for a much lighter dish with all of the tastes coming through, not suppressed by the doughy warmth of the potatoes.

Greg and Kevin

Kevin (life-long friend) with Greg

kellie greg and mike

Kellie, Greg and Mike

Saturday:                  Greg’s Birthday Party at The Map Room.  Great beer, good people, superb relatives.  Late night dinner of egg salad and leftover Niçoise with toasted baguette.

pepper steak

Sunday:                     Steak au Poivre with Roasted Potatoes and Caesar Salad

On Saturday night, we attended a birthday party for Brother Greg at The Map Room in Regent Square.  The party was organized by his children, Kellie and Mike, and his friends and was one of the most pleasant, laid-back evenings we’ve spent in a long time.  If there was ever a Pittsburgh bar that equaled television’s “Cheers,” The Map Room is it.  It’s also where Andy Stewart and Silly Wizard played and drank for pleasure when they visited Pittsburgh.  Along with Greg’s birthday venue – that makes it a sacred space.  Greg turned 60 on Saturday which means that I have become, roughly, 107.

Back in the ‘burgh and back cooking, we had fun and some great food and were reminded why cooking has become such a focus and delight in our lives.  It’s not that we don’t enjoy going out, it’s that we eat better and get more done (reading, television, walking the dog) when we’re at home.  And then there’s the practice we get for my favorite activity, having family and friends over for dinner.  Beez says that we also save money which I suppose is true, but we don’t skimp on ingredients, so I’m not sure how much is actually saved.  Except, of course, on booze.  When I make a Rob Roy, I do not charge myself $15.00 – though God knows, I make them well enough to charge at least that much.

And there is the aspect of learning a trade in all of this.  The first 100 times you cook a steak, you might over or under-cook it – but after enough tries, you learn to adjust to oven temperature, burner temperature, or how cold the meat was when it hit the pan and you usually (not always – blew it last Sunday night) get it right.  You learn which ingredients you can substitute for and which are irreplaceable.  You learn how to slice, chop, and dice efficiently.  And you get very good at organizing your cooking and cleaning the dishes.  You could, of course, leave all of this to the help (we couldn’t, but perhaps you could), but then you would become so far removed from daily existence that you would be in danger of evaporating* – which I think is the visual phenomenon we are witnessing on the top of President Trump’s head.

Saving money, getting more done and read, learning a trade, staying grounded and not evaporating* are fairly good reasons for cooking at home.  But the best reasons are the meals you can create – the ‘proof of the pudding,’ so to speak.

And we had some mighty fine pudding last week.  Our most creative dish was the Faggioli al’Ucellito, which we turned into a sort of instant cassoulet by adding grilled brats with a little German mustard.  But the new twist on pasta we discovered by cooking a broccoli sauce was the most exciting.  And we’ll share that below.

*If you find yourself discussing whether to stay at the Ritz or the Mandarin Oriental, or when to visit Germany to purchase your custom-made Benz, or how difficult it is to find a good drive, you are in danger of evaporating.

pasta broccoli bowl


(adapted from Milk Street magazine, March-April, 2018)

Yeah, I wouldn’t have thought of a broccoli sauce on my own.  But this turns out to be one of the best pasta sauces we’ve ever had.  Take some time, put this together, and treat your family and friends to a great meal.


About 35 minutes, very active the entire time.  I’d hold the martini until after dinner, if you want to get this right.

Ingredients:                                     Serves 4

1 pound of broccoli, stems, florets and leaves separated.  Peal the stems until you get to the green part.
1 ½ cups (packed) baby spinach
2 medium garlic cloves, chopped (we used one, grated into the food processor over the cooked stems)
4 tablespoons of butter cut into 1 tablespoon pieces to help it melt
1 tablespoon of capers, drained
½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes (we used a heavy hand here – maybe ¾ teaspoon)
2 tablespoons lemon zest, divided into equal amounts
12 ounces rigatoni (boxes are usually 16 ounces – eyeball it, this does not need to be exact)
½ cup finely grated Pecorino of Parmigiano-Reggiano and more for serving
Kosher Salt
Ground Black Pepper


Prepare the broccoli:  Remove and save the leaves.  Peal, then cut the stems crosswise into ½ inch rounds.  Cut the florets into 1-inch pieces.  Put the stems with the leaves, and then put the florets into a separate bowl.

Measure out the spinach, capers and grated cheese.

Peal a garlic clove and place the seasonings within reach.

Prepare the sauce and cook the rigatoni:

In a large pot, get 4 quarts of water up to a boil – add 2 tablespoons of salt.

Cook the stems and leaves until tender – 10 minutes, then stir in the spinach and cook until wilted – 20 seconds.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the broccoli and spinach to a blender.

Remove about ½ cup of the cooking liquid to a bowl and keep the water boiling.

Now add the florets to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes – you want them to be tender but still a bit crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer florets to a colander and rinse under cold water until cooled.  Keep the water boiling!

Add the garlic, butter, capers, pepper flakes, ¾ teaspoon of salt, reserved cooking water and 1 tablespoon of the lemon zest to the blender with the cooked stems.  Puree until smooth and bright – about 30 seconds.  Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.

Stir the rigatoni into the boiling water and cook until al dente (probably 10 minutes for a dried rigatoni).  Reserve another ½ cup of cooking water, then drain the rigatoni.

Return the rigatoni to the pot with the broccoli puree and the florets.  Add about ¼ cup of reserved cooking water (more as needed), the remaining lemon zest and the cheese.  Cook over medium, stirring the entire time, until the pasta is well-coated and the sauce thickens – maybe 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat – season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Serve immediately with extra grated cheese.