Everyone Is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day & Potato Soup with Ale, Smoked Sausage & Greens

A lot has changed since the great Irish migration in the mid-1800s. Today, we all love the Irish, their melodic accent and gift for storytelling. Throughout the country and regardless of heritage, one and all will raise their glasses and sing the praises of the Emerald Isle on Saint Paddy’s Day.

In 1845, the Potato Blight launched a huge wave of Irish immigration to America. Potato crops were decimated and a devastating famine hit Ireland. Within five years, a million Irish were dead and boatloads had fled to America. As proud as many of us are of our melting pot heritage, near and past history shows that too many immigrants, including the Irish, received a far from warm welcome.

The plight of the Irish sticks out for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, there were a lot of them. In the 1840s, about fifty percent of all immigrants to the United States were Irish. And, of course, like all of us, they had accents … but theirs were different. Plus, they were farmers without a farm. Whole families arrived with little more than what they had on their backs. Once landed, they didn’t have the resources to move to the countryside and buy a homestead to farm. Instead, port cities like New York and Boston were suddenly teaming with countryfolk.

And then, let’s not forget, most of these new Irish immigrants were Catholic. Even though the United States was founded by people escaping religious prosecution, the well-established protestants did not see that as a reason to tolerate, let alone embrace, people of other faiths.

Finally, the Irish were destitute or close to it; otherwise, they’d have stayed home. Desperate to find housing and jobs, they did what they could to survive. They took any job available and accepted any roof to live under, leaky or not. Although generally forced to take the most menial work, they were accused of stealing jobs and driving down wages. Poverty forced them into unsanitary tenements and they were then ridiculed for poor hygiene.

Anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings ran high. In newspapers and shop windows, help wanted advertisements boldly told these new immigrants that “No Irish Need Apply” or specified only Protestants would be considered. This sentiment peaked in the 1850s and ever-so-slowly dissipated over several decades.

From Mother Jones to John Sweeney, Irish and Irish-Americans played a key role in the development of labor unions. Organized labor gave many working men and women the opportunity to earn a living wage with reasonable hours. The movement also brought safer conditions to workplaces and protected children from exploitation. In other words, Irish immigrants and their descendants played a key role in building a strong middle class in the United States.

Today there are laws in place that prohibit an employer or landlord from warning that the Irish or any other nationality need not apply. Unfortunately, these laws are not always foolproof. Too many immigrants continue to receive a less than warm welcome to melting pot America.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, we honor Irish contributions to our country and the world. We celebrate James Hoban – the designer of the White House and John F. Kennedy who served in it, actress Saoirse Ronan, writers Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, brewer Arthur Guinness, mathematician George Boole and many, many others. Perhaps it’s a good day to honor all immigrants.

Let’s lift our glasses together and embrace our melting pot nation. Bon appétit!

Potato Soup with Ale, Smoked Sausage & Greens
The potato famine drove the Irish out of Ireland. I’m not a corned beef fan so potato soup sounds like a deliciously hearty way to celebrate the Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!
Makes 4-5 quarts

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 12 ounces ale or beer
  • 2 pounds red skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 8-10 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound your favorite smoked sausage, cut in quarters lengthwise and 1/2-inch thick
  • 12-16 ounces greens – Swiss chard, baby kale, spinach or escarole

Lightly coat a stockpot with olive oil and heat on medium. Add the onion, carrots, celery and leek, sprinkle with rosemary, thyme, paprika and cayenne, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the ale and simmer until reduced by half.

Add the potatoes, 8 cups chicken stock and the bay leaf, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

For a thicker soup, remove the pot from the heat and gently crush some or all of the potatoes to with a masher. Don’t overdo it; you don’t want mashed potatoes.

Add the sausage to the pot and simmer until heated through, 5-10 minutes. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add more chicken stock.

If you have the time, remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Bring the soup to a boil, add the greens and stir to combine. Reduce the heat and simmer until the greens are wilted and tender.

Remove the bay leaf and serve hot in soup bowls or mugs.

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February Vacation & Baked Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Bacon

Now it’s New Hampshire’s turn. Last week, the ski slopes were filled with families from Massachusetts and further south. Finally, local kids and teachers are having a break from the daily grind. However, February vacation can present a bit of conundrum for parents. Do you take the week off and play in the snow … or wait and take the family south in April?

The Nye family always chose the ski slopes. I have, still to this day, never been to Disney World and it doesn’t bother me one little bit. Minutes after the school bell rang on Friday afternoon, we piled into the family station wagon and headed north. Mom spent the week with us in the little red house in the woods and Dad took a long weekend at either end. Mom-time was always a bit more relaxed than when Dad was around. He had this thing about maximizing our season passes. We had to be on the slopes at nine and stay out, no matter how cold it was, until the lift closed at four. Okay, we were allowed a short lunch break at noon.

Life with Mom was more fluid. After all, it was vacation. A ten o’clock start was fine. Make that ten-thirty if it was particularly cold. If it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, Mom was happy to head home at lunchtime. If one of us wanted to stay, that was fine too as long as we could find a ride home.

Yes, my mother would leave one or all of her kids at King Ridge for hours at a time. In case you’ve forgotten, our upbringing was based on what we now fondly refer to as The Joe and Libby Nye School of Negligent Parenting. Love meant giving you space to grow, make mistakes and make amends. That said, it was a small mountain and there were lots of friends and neighbors around. The parents in my neighborhood stuck together. They didn’t mind telling any one of us to knock it off if we were skiing out of control or cutting in the lift line.

Back at the little red house in the woods, there was always something to do. If we hadn’t had enough of the ice and snow, there was a suicidal sledding hill across the road and a skating pond about a half mile away. If one or the other of us made the mistake of complaining about boredom, the culprit was handed a shovel and told to clear the deck. It wasn’t all that bad a chore. The distance from the deck to the ground was about eight feet, maybe ten. Jumping and somersaults off the deck was a favorite pastime once a nice pile of snow provided a soft landing.

When we had enough of the cold, there was a fire in the fireplace and as many books as we’d bothered to haul up from the suburbs. I always assumed it would be a two or three book week. The television was only good for one station and, except to check the weather forecast, was rarely on. A jigsaw puzzle was always in progress on an old card table. Mom and I were the puzzle fanatics and assembled at least a couple during February break. In addition, we might offer to bake something. There was usually a brownie mix in the cupboard and, as long as we promised to cleanup, Mom could be persuaded to pick up a bag of chocolate chips for cookies.

All in all, those vacations were just what we needed.

Here’s wishing one and all a wonderful winter break and bon appétit!

Baked Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Bacon

Who doesn’t likes Mac & Cheese, especially after a day outside in the cold? If your kids are of the age and inclination, maybe they’ll make dinner for you. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 5-6 tablespoons butter or a mix of olive oil and butter, divided
  • 8 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 cups whole milk or half and half
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 1 pound your favorite short pasta – cavatappi, penne, macaroni …
  • 3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

Lightly butter or oil a large casserole dish.

Heat a skillet over medium, add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently until lightly browned. Remove the bacon from the pan, drain and reserve.

Add the onion to the skillet, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat, add back the bacon and stir in the spinach.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan over medium. Add the flour, season with paprika, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook, whisking, for 1-2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add the milk and heat to steaming. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking, until the sauce thickens.

Put the sour cream and mustard in a bowl and whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in the warm sauce. Add the cheddar and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot, add the bacon mixture and toss to combine. Add the sauce and toss again. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish.

Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, add 1-2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil and toss to combine. Add the remaining the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the mac & cheese.

You can make ahead to this point, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until piping hot and golden.

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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

Stranger on a Train & Cheesy Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Over the holidays, I watched or sort of watched more than a few movies. By sort of watching, I mean I was multitasking. Anyway, one film in particular comes to mind. I’m not sure what I was doing but it probably included wrapping presents, baking a flourless chocolate cake and setting the table while vacuuming up pine needles. Except for one wonderful line, I don’t remember a thing about the movie. Delivered with just the right amount of indignation, a pretty blond woman responded to a cheery fellow’s questions with “That’s not something I’d tell a stranger on a train.”

It stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder, “What would I tell a stranger on a train?” I stopped what I was doing, found a scrap of paper and wrote it down – in red magic marker. Then went back to baking and decorating or whatever I was doing. Until today. This morning, I sat down at my desk with a story in my head and ready to write. Fumbling through the flotsam and jetsam for lip balm, I found that scrap of paper. (Now, a newly scrawled note with what would have been today’s topic sits amongst the pens and pencils, cables, flash drives and dogeared scraps that surround my laptop.)

Maybe it’s just me but the whole idea of a conversation with a stranger on a train is intriguing. Especially when it’s a stranger that you’ll probably never ever see again. So … what would you tell a stranger on a train? And what’s off limits or too much information?

Would you stick to the top of mind? The newest, biggest thing in your life like the sweet, little dog who just became the latest addition to your family. Of course, you’ll want to cover any and every detail of her adorableness. After all, she is without a doubt the world’s very best dog.

Then again, the everyday stuff might serve you better. Take for instance, the manager who drives you crazy on a daily basis. A stranger is the perfect target for a good long vent. Whether the boss is a micromanager or a drama queen, your fellow passenger will be thrilled to hear all the awful stuff you put up with. After all, everyone knows that you are more than the perfect employee; you are a saint.

Or, perhaps … a cozy compartment might be just the place for a confession. We all have secrets; some deeper and darker. What might you share? Did you sleep with a married man? Or are you the married man who did the cheating? Maybe you bullied the kid who sat behind you in middle school or scarfed that last piece of cake when no one was looking – and blamed it on your little brother.

An hour is generally plenty of time to share a favorite story. Why not skip the here and now and tell a tale that has been burnished by time, telling and retelling? Regale your seatmate with a glimpse into the life of your remarkable grandfather or childhood adventures on Pleasant Lake.

If you are so inclined, you could also lie. You could weave a tale about your engagement to Brad Pitt. So what if the closest you’ve come to marrying the two-time sexiest man alive was spotting him (or someone who looked a lot like him) on a hike in the Hollywood hills. Perhaps you’d rather share the details of your visit to Washington. The one that ended with you sitting next to Justin Trudeau at a fabulous White House dinner.

Or tell nothing, nothing at all. Maybe you’d hide behind a book and keep your stories, secrets and lies to yourself. At least for another day.

Wishing you many good stories in the new year and bon appétit!

Cheesy Sweet Potato Gnocchi

If train travel isn’t in your immediate future, maybe you’ll share your tall tales, confessions, stories and lies during a cozy dinner with family and friends. Enjoy!

Makes about 2 pounds (6-8 servings)

  • 1 large (1-1 1/2 pounds) sweet potato
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 or more cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Put the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Prick the sweet potato with a sharp knife, set on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and bake at 425 degrees until soft, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, put the ricotta and egg in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses, sprinkle with thyme and paprika, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and stir to combine.

As soon it is cool enough to handle, halve the sweet potato, scoop the flesh into a large bowl and mash it with a fork. Add the cheeses and egg mixture and stir to combine.

1/2 cup at a time, stir in the flour until a soft, sticky dough forms. Gently knead the dough on a well-floured surface.

Divide the dough into 6-8 balls. Working on a well-floured surface, roll the dough balls into ropes about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 3/4-inch pieces. Place the gnocchi on baking sheets lined with parchment or wax paper.

Can be made a few hours ahead, covered and refrigerated until ready to cook. Or freeze on the baking sheet, transfer to a container, cover and store in the freezer. Do not defrost before cooking.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, simmer until they rise to the surface and then continue simmering for 2 minutes.

Serve the gnocchi tossed with roasted or sautéed vegetables or your favorite sauce and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese.

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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

Scruffy Entertaining & Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

So, I hear that there is a new trend in entertaining. It’s called scruffy hospitality. It seems that it is becoming quite popular with families with young children. Here’s how it works. You come home from work or skiing or skating or with your freshly cut tree ready to decorate. You know that the stew or chili you’ve already made for dinner is big enough for an army. But (there’s always a but) the house is not spotless and you’re not having the best of hair days.

So, what do you do? Why, in a scruffy, no judgement world, you invite your nearest and dearest or soon-to-be nearest and dearest to join you. Okay, you might throw a few wayward shoes into the bucket by the back door but you don’t run around the house with the vacuum cleaner and dust cloth. You don’t spend an hour fussing with your hair and finding the perfect outfit. You call your guests, throw dinner in the oven, set the table and light the fire. If it’s tree night, you get out the decorations.

And guess what? Everyone is happy. I never met anyone who didn’t love a last-minute invitation. Even if they can’t come, people love it that you thought of them and wanted to spend time with them. If you’re a decent cook, they are even happier. Whether it’s Meme and Gramps, the cousins, your oldest friends or your newest neighbors, they will be delighted to join you.

Now, scruffy entertaining is nothing new. Years ago, an old boyfriend told me about a party he and his roommates threw. Just out of college, their party was beyond scruffy. Perhaps you remember the early days of supermarket brands. Instead of fancy names like Natures Promise, Wellesley Farms or Great Value, store brands version 1.0 were called generics. They came in simple black and white packaging. Anyway, the boyfriend and his roomies threw a generics party. They bought a boatload of generic beer and chips and invited all their friends. They even bought white T-shirts and had HOST in black letters printed on the front. It was nothing fancy and everyone had a wonderful time.

Now, I not suggesting that you entertain like a bunch of recent college grads. However, you can turn down the stress level with a more casual approach. Scruffy hospitality is about connecting around the table. It is about friendship and love. It recognizes that time spent together is more important than a spotlessly clean, picture perfect home. Besides, even with a few pine needles scattered about, your home’s imperfections are what make it perfect.

If you’ve been planning to freeze half of tonight’s dinner, why not invite friends to share it instead? They can help you decorate the tree. Or invite family and share old holiday memories. Next time spaghetti is on the menu, pull an extra quart of sauce from the freezer and turn dinner into a small party. Feel free to ask your guests if they have any salad in the refrigerator or a few extra Christmas cookies that they can bring along.

Opening your home and sharing a meal is a joyful expression love and kindness. Hosts and guests, old and young, everyone benefits. By embracing a bit more scruffy attitude, you might just entertain more, share the love more and stress a whole lot less.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with love and joy. Bon appétit!

Braised Lamb with Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

Here is a not-too-scruffy dish to serve over the holidays or anytime this winter. The lamb can bubble in the oven while you relax and catch up with family and friends. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • About 4 pounds boneless leg or shoulder of lamb, trimmed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and reserve.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary; add the carrots, celery and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the red wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and herbs and bring to a simmer.

Return the lamb to the pot, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the lamb 2 or 3 times, for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and pearl onions to the lamb. Add more chicken stock or wine if necessary. Continue cooking, uncovered, until the lamb is very tender; an additional 30-45 minutes.

Remove the lamb from the casserole and cut across the grain in thick slices. Serve the lamb with a generous spoonful or two or three of sauce and vegetables.

The lamb can be made a few days ahead. Cook for 1 hour, add the mushrooms and onions and cook for 10 minutes more. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. To reheat, bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Transfer to a 350-degree oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until bubbling and piping hot.

Quick tip: use your food processor to finely chop carrots, celery and onions. Cut the veggies into large chunks and, a handful at a time, pulse until finely chopped. Don’t overdo it or overload the processor; you’ll end up with purée instead of finely chopped.

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Selective Memory & Alpine Mac & Cheese

The local schools are closed for winter break. It’s time to ski! When it comes to family ski vacations, I admit it – I have selective memory. The snow was always perfect. In fact, it snowed every night. Come morning, the sun always shone and the slopes were perfectly groomed. The dog, who loved to roll in the snow, had a brilliant shiny coat. At the end of a long ski day, we were too tired to squabble and the house was a model of peace and harmony.

Except for the part about the dog, none of the above is actually true. Or at least, they are only partially true. While February is a very good month for all those S-sports – skiing, sledding, skating and snowshoeing – I’m sure we had a few rocky vacations. And by rocky, I mean it literally – as in not enough snow to cover the rocks on the ski hill. I’m just as certain that my sister and I never went a full week without a spat; particularly when we were teenagers. (Of course, it was never my fault.)

The truth of the matter, hard as I try, I can’t remember a single February vacation without snow. Instead I remember happy days clambering around on skis. The late afternoons and evenings were just as happy. These hours were spent twirling on skates, jumping off the deck and flying down the hill across the road on our sleds.

Speaking of skates, there was that one time when my brother fell through the ice on the frog pond. He was maybe six. It was probably during February vacation. Although scary, it’s not a terribly traumatic story. As far as I know, John hasn’t suffered any lasting physical or psychic damage. Even for a little boy, the pond is probably only about chest deep. No, the story made a lasting impression because it was so well told.

A neighbor passed by at just the right moment and threw John in the back of her station wagon and hurried him home. With wide eyes and more than an ounce of gratitude, John shared the tale of his rescue. One of the neighborhood teenagers had raced across the little pond with his hockey stick and pulled him out of the icy water. From the telling, you’d have guessed that the skater was about to join the Boston Bruins or the Olympic speed skating team.

A few years later, that same brother (I have only one) broke his leg during winter vacation. It was in Colorado – our first family trip outside of the northeast. The snow really was magnificent and it really did snow every night. Thank goodness John waited until the very end of the week.

On the last run of a wonderful day on the slopes, John caught an edge and took a tumble. He was carted down the mountain on a sled and the rest of the family followed. At the bottom, Mom and Dad hopped into the ambulance with him … leaving me with four pairs of skis to lug back to the condo. If it wasn’t for lugging, I suppose I might have forgotten the whole thing.

So yes, when it comes to family ski vacations, I have selective memory. The snow was always perfect. Any injuries were minor. The one or two that required hospitalization left no scar. Instead, they added another interesting chapter to family lore.

Local kids are off from school this week. Have a blast and bon appétit!

Alpine Mac & Cheese
This recipe shows you what happens when America’s favorite comfort food spends winter break in the Swiss Alps. Enjoy!
Serves 8-12

Butter for the pan
8 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1-2 tablespoons kirsch* (optional)
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk or half and half
1 pound your favorite short pasta – penne, rigatoni, bowties …
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
8 ounces Emmental cheese, shredded
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 tablespoon melted butter or olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large casserole.

Heat a skillet over medium, add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently until lightly browned. Remove the bacon from the pan, drain and reserve.

Drain the excess fat from the pan, add the onion, sprinkle with thyme, paprika and nutmeg, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the wine and simmer until almost dry. Remove from the heat and stir in the kirsch.

Put the cream cheese in a large bowl, add the sour cream and mustard and stir or beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, season with salt and pepper and cook, whisking, for 1-2 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the milk and heat to steaming over medium. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking, until the sauce thickens. A little at a time, stir the warm sauce into the cream cheese mixture. Add the bacon and onion and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the pasta water.

Combine the pasta and sauce and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water. Sprinkle the pasta with the Gruyere, Emmental and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish.

Put the breadcrumbs and herbs in a bowl, add the melted butter and toss to combine. Add the remaining the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the mac & cheese.

You can make ahead to this point, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. Remove the dish from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking.

Bake the mac & cheese at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until piping hot and golden.

* About Kirsch – A spirit made from cherries, traditional cheese fondue recipes add a shot of kirsch just before serving.

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One Year Ago – Fettucine with Mushrooms & Kale
Two Years Ago – Spaghetti with Cauliflower & Olives
Three Years Ago – Flourless Chocolate Cake
Four Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs
Five Years Ago – Panna Cotta with Strawberries
Six Years Ago – Decadent Mac & Cheese
Seven Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Eight Years Ago – Creole Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Nine Years Ago – White Bean Dip
Ten Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your favorite winter vacation memories? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

’Tis the Season for … Pasta & Gnocchi with Mushroom & Bacon Ragù

Winter is a great time for pasta. So much so that I seem to find a lovely bowl of warm and wonderful spaghetti, gnocchi or tortellini on my table at least a few times a week. I know the anti-carb lobby does not approve but there is something ever-so-cozy about pasta. Admit it, there’s nothing better on a cold winter night. Damp and rainy cold or polar vortex cold, it doesn’t matter – pasta is the answer.

Of course, you’ll never get bored because the variety of shapes and sizes is endless. It’s not just the hundreds of possible choices to throw in the boiling pot. The list of sauces goes on forever as well. Why – I bet you could enjoy a different dish every night for year without a single repeat.

When it comes to homemade pasta, I find that one thing leads to another. A batch of ravioli inspires a nest of tagliatelle. The same goes for gnocchi. I’ve no sooner served up a hearty platter of potato gnocchi that my brain starts to spin with new recipes. Spinach, butternut squash or what about roasted beet gnocchi? When was the last time you had a purple dinner?

Anyway, pillowy-soft gnocchi, tantalizing tortellini or a simply delicious fettucine, they all need a fabulous sauce. As kids, the only one to grace our table was a hearty Bolognese. However, we were in no way fancy enough to call it that. To us, it was simply Spaghetti Sauce. And by the way, my mother, who really never liked to cook, simmered up a mean Bolognese.

Eventually, I learned there was more to Italian cooking then a great red sauce. Given my penchant for pasta during the winter months, that’s a good thing, a very good thing. After a long day, if you have an urgent need for a cozy meal, consider pasta and any of the following for a quick and easy sauce:

  • Leftover roasted vegetables topped with browned butter and toasted hazelnuts are a wonderful combination – try butternut squash or cauliflower
  • For an early taste of spring, sauté asparagus, snow peas and spinach and drizzle with fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil
  • Cacio e Pepe – made with butter, cracked pepper and cheese – it’s the minimalist’s answer to Mac & Cheese
  • Sauté your favorite spicy sausage with broccoli rabe and garlic and finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon
  • Simmer garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes in olive oil, wine and lemon and add clams
  • Sauté some onion with lots of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes, add crushed tomatoes and simmer before adding shrimp, olives and a few capers
  • Whirl up a batch of bright green pesto with basil or your favorite herbs plus a sprinkle of cheese and nuts
  • Chop up a green sauce of spinach, herbs, olives and capers – finish with a touch of lemon and garlic
  • Anything with cream including just cream and cheese
  • Anything with bacon

The possibilities are endless. Bon appétit!

Gnocchi with Mushroom & Bacon Ragù
Last week’s column featured homemade Cheesy Potato Gnocchi. For a cozy supper, toss the gnocchi in an easy sauce of bacon and mushrooms. Enjoy!
Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds gnocchi,* homemade or store bought
6 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
Olive oil
1 1/2 pounds whole mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cognac
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4-1/2 cup half & half (optional)
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

If making homemade gnocchi, prepare the gnocchi.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil and place over medium heat. Add the bacon and, stirring occasionally, cook until the bacon just starts to brown. Add the mushrooms and onion, sprinkle with rosemary and thyme, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5-8 minutes. When the mushrooms start to brown, add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Add the wine, stir in the mustard and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cognac. Return the skillet to the stove, stir and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add the broth and simmer until reduced by half. Reduce the heat to very low to keep warm.

Cook the gnocchi according to directions.

Use a spider or slotted spoon to add the gnocchi to the mushrooms and gently toss to combine. If the mixture seems dry, add the half & half or a little pasta water and toss again. Cover and cook on medium heat for 1 minute.

Transfer the gnocchi to shallow bowls and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

* if you don’t have homemade gnocchi in the house, the ragù will be just as delicious with tortellini or fettuccine.

Print-friendly version  of this recipe.

One Year Ago – Pa Jun – Savory Korean Pancakes
Two Years Ago – Spaghetti with Mushrooms & Bacon
Three Years Ago – Oven Braised Chicken with Mushrooms, Onions & Garlic
Four Years Ago – Capellini with Lobster & Caviar
Five Years Ago – Sour Cream Cupcakes with White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
Six Years Ago – White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis & Fresh Raspberries
Seven Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Beets & Lentils
Eight Years Ago – Chicken Niçoise
Nine Years Ago – Greek Pizza
Ten Years Ago – Triple Threat Brownies

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your favorite dishes to cook up on a cold winter day? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

Winter in New England & Cheesy Potato Gnocchi

Oh yes, we think we are soooo clever when we quote Mark Twain and tell visitors, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” Among ourselves, we don’t find anything funny about below freezing temperatures, fifty mile an hour wind gusts or torrential rain in January. As for those January monsoons, they are particularly unfunny when followed by plummeting temperatures. While many of us like to ice skate, we prefer to do it on a lake or pond; not the post office parking lot.

Now let’s be clear, when it comes to New England weather, you can rant and rave as much as you want. You can complain; you can pout but throwing a tantrum will not change a darn thing. Your childish outburst will have zero influence on Mother Nature. Take note, that’s MOTHER Nature. Mothers have been there and done that. From a meltdown in Macy’s to a tantrum over a Tyrannosaurus Rex t-shirt, mothers have seen it all and are rarely daunted. Save your strength for battling the elements. Your fit of temper won’t phase her.

Unfortunately, calm negotiations won’t either. Mother Nature is a stubborn sort when it comes to winter in the northeast. So, what to do? How about …

Live in layers. Make every day Throwback Thursday and channel Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Hey, it was a look and I for one was a big fan. I think I may still have a bowler hat somewhere. Anyway, start with a turtleneck, layer on flannel shirt, top with a sweater of some sort and finish it off with a big, wooly cardigan. Add a pair of long johns, sometimes two, underneath your trousers to keep your legs warm. For those feet, leave the city boots in the closet. You’ll want heavy snow boots and wool socks. Don’t forget your hat and gloves.

Latch on to a winter hobby. Indoors or out, find something that is best done in winter. Something like, setting a goal to become the world’s greatest baker. Winter is the perfect time. Who wants to turn on the oven in the middle of summer? No one. Or take up snowshoeing and enjoy the peace and quiet of the woods after a storm. Start a movie club and vow to see all the nominees before Oscar night. Then, host an Oscar party.

Stay in shape. Who knows, maybe an old friend will surprise you with a free trip to Hawaii. You’ll want to be ready to don a swimsuit at a moments notice. Besides, you’ll feel much better, mentally and physically, if you get some exercise. If you hate the cold, switch it up and try an aerobics class or climb a rock wall. Your mood and your thighs will thank you.

Beware of ruts and doldrums. A change of scenery will do you a world of good. Get out of town and visit an ice castle, see a show or spend an afternoon wandering through a museum. You don’t need to travel far. Up to Hanover or down to Concord should do it. Before or after your adventure, treat yourself to a lovely lunch or dinner.

Make something warm and wonderful. If you are yarn person, knit a magnificent hat. A foodie? Try something new in the kitchen. Want a cozy spot to relax and read? Make your living room more inviting by rearranging the furniture and adding a few homey accessories.

And remember, spring will come eventually. Stay warm and dry. Bon appétit!

Cheesy Potato Gnocchi
There is nothing better than delicious comfort food at the end of a dreary winter day. Serve the gnocchi with your favorite sauce or roasted vegetables and browned butter. Enjoy!
Makes about 1 1/2 pounds (5-6 servings)

1 large (about 12 ounces) baking potato
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 large egg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4-1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prick the potato 3-4 times and bake at 375 degrees until tender, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, put the ricotta and egg in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses, sprinkle with thyme, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Let the potato cool for about 10 minutes. Cut the potato in half and scoop out the flesh. Run the potato through a ricer. If you don’t have a ricer, mash with a fork.

Put the riced potato in bowl and fold in the cheeses and egg mixture. Add the flour and stir until a soft dough forms. Gently knead the dough on a floured surface.

Divide the dough into 4 balls. Working on a floured surface, roll the dough balls into ropes about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the ropes into pieces 3/4-1-inch long. Place the gnocchi on baking sheets lined with parchment or wax paper.

Can be made a few hours ahead, covered and refrigerated until ready to cook. Or freeze on the baking sheet, transfer to a container or resealable plastic bag and store in the freezer. Do not defrost before cooking.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, simmer until they rise to the surface and then continue simmering for 2 minutes.

Serve the gnocchi with your favorite sauce and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese.

Print-friendly version of this recipe.

One Year Ago – Penne alla Vodka
Two Years Ago – Oven Braised Chicken Cacciatore
Three Years Ago – Poverty Casserole
Four Years Ago – Roasted Cauliflower
Five Years Ago – Savory Blinis
Six Years Ago – Lettuce Cups with Shrimp & Noodles
Seven Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Eight Years Ago – Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower & Bacon
Nine Years Ago – Chocolate Mousse
Ten Years Ago – Shrimp & Feta

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your favorite dishes to cook up on a cold winter day? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019