Simple Pleasures & Sausage & Broccoli Rabe Ragù

January is a time of resolutions. Every year, about forty percent of us resolve to make some change or another. We pledge to fix whatever is broken and a few things that aren’t. Popular promises include exercising more, spending less and losing weight. By the Fourth of July, the majority of those resolutions have been kicked to the curb.

Why do we fail? More often than not, these annual attempts at reform are all about deprivation and denial. Not only that, we make them during northern New England’s coldest, darkest days. Even if we somehow manage to keep our resolution through the long winter, there’s still the soggy, black fly infested spring to endure.

Whether we achieve the goal or not, all that deprivation can drive us to foolhardy indulgences. Or maybe it the endless snow and ice that lead us into temptation. Anyway, we take trips we can’t afford. Or spend days binge watching something, anything to avoid going outside for some exercise. Or go on shopping sprees for things we don’t need.

Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and overindulging, how about considering a new approach to resolutions. Why not use them to embrace a happier, healthier and saner lifestyle? Maybe it’s time to pare down and create a life filled with simple pleasures.

An avid walker, I follow the same route almost everyday but it never gets old. There is always something beautiful to experience. One day, it’s the sun filtering through snow covered trees. On another, the songs of the loons fill the air or I bump into a neighbor and enjoy a chat. These simple pleasures send me back out day after day.

However, if the cold isn’t for you, how about dancing? Turn up the music at home or take a class. Find simple joy in good company, in movement and, most of all, in music. An added benefit, you may fulfill another resolution and loose a few pounds.

Is it past time you got out of debt? You are not alone. Just over forty percent of Americans are plagued with credit card debt. The solution is easy; don’t buy anything. And by anything, I mean all of those needless and often impulse purchases that we too often make.

Several years ago, I had a small remodeling project balloon into a much bigger one. I won’t bore you with the details except to say the builder discovered rot. The budget quadrupled. Freaked out, I stopped shopping for at least a year. I went for months without buying another pair of sneakers or a new sweater and whatever other impulse purchases I might have made. My feet were still well shod and body clothed. I already had more than enough dishes and cookware and homey stuff. The house was already filled with piles of books to read and lots of stuff to do

And no, my year without shopping wasn’t enough to cover the increased construction costs. However, it made me feel better – calmer and more in control. Besides, it was surprisingly easy. Except for the supermarket, farm stand and pharmacy, I stayed out stores. The rewards were fantastic. It’s amazing how many interesting adventures, how much fun you can have when you avoid recreational shopping. Instead of deprivation, I enjoyed the simple pleasure of more time to relax, to enjoy nature and to be with loved ones. I still do.

Wishing you many simple pleasures in the days and months to come. Bon appétit!

Sausage & Broccoli Rabe  Ragù

A hearty ragù is simply delicious on a cold winter night. Try the ragù with last week’s Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe or serve it with polenta or your favorite pasta. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausages, sweet or hot, casings removed
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon or to taste hot pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • About 1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, trimmed and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium high, Add the sausage and, breaking up into small pieces, cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan and drain.

Add the onion to the pan, sprinkle with thyme and hot pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and garlic, toss to combine and sauté until the broccoli rabe is tender, 5-10 minutes.

Return the sausage to the pan, add the white wine and toss to combine. Sauté until the wine evaporates. Remove from the heat and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Serve the ragù with your favorite gnocchi, pasta or polenta. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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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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Peace & Joy for the Holidays plus Rosemary-Lemon Biscotti

Thanksgiving was late this year. Well, actually, it was on right on time. As always, it was the fourth Thursday of November. However, Turkey Day can fall as early as the twenty-second and as late as the twenty-eighth. This year, it fell on the latter. With fewer days, the Christmas season promises to be hustle-ier and bustle-ier.

In anticipation of a whole lot of running around, I wish you peace this Christmas. I wish you peace of mind, peace of spirit and peace in your heart. And, after what might have been a lively but somewhat contentious Thanksgiving feast, I wish you peace in your family, peace in your home and peace in your friendships.

Christmas is a joyful time. It seems to me that joy should come without strings or pressure. By all means, it’s fine to create a holiday bucket list. However, if that list is suddenly two or three pages long … it’s more than fine to let a few things slide. There is always next year and the year after that. And if you never take your children or grandchildren on one of those Polar Express train rides or make a turducken or build a miniature, snow-covered village … well, that’s okay too.

My mother loved Christmas. She loved everything about it – gathering with family and friends, shopping and decorating. Never an enthusiastic cook, she didn’t seem to begrudge the extra time in the kitchen. Once in a while, the enormity seemed to drive her a little nuts.

As a child, I never really noticed. It wasn’t until later when I was a teenager, or maybe it wasn’t until I reached my twenties. Although, she was quite fussy about her tree; it was never about the decorations. She rolled with any and all punches when it came to holiday feasts. No, her biggest worry was that she’d miss someone or come up short on a gift.

Even in the days before internet shopping, Mom seemed to find the time to get it all together. Of course, on top of loving Christmas, she liked to shop. Still, there were days, make that middle of the nights, when she was convinced that she’d forgotten something or someone. You know the feeling. It’s 3 a.m., two days before Christmas and you’re suddenly bolt upright in bed realizing that there is no present for Aunt Bess. Or maybe it’s Uncle Henry you forgot or, worst, your father-in-law.

Anyway, time is always at a premium but particularly during the holidays. You have a choice, go crazy, develop coping strategies or set priorities. Let’s avoid crazy and …

Take a moment to breathe and enjoy the wonder and beauty around us. Instead of cursing the snow, admire how it frosts the evergreens. Let nature heal any stress.

Make lists. Check them twice and, then, cut them in half. It’s okay to roll back the madness. Clear eyed and calm beats frazzled and crazed any holiday.

Remember being present is the greatest gift. Hug the people you love and tell them what they mean to you.

Wishing you a peaceful and joyful holiday and bon appétit!

Rosemary-Lemon Biscotti

A not-so-sweet cookie to enjoy with mid-morning coffee or afternoon tea. Celebrate the holidays with friends and family by sharing a simple treat and a good long chin wag. Enjoy!

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

  • 2 3/4 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

Put the flour, nuts, lemon zest, rosemary, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs, lemon juice and vanilla and beat until well combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until a soft dough forms.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Dust your hands with a little flour, pat the dough into 2 logs about 12-inches long and set the dough on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten the logs to form loaves about 2-inches wide.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool for about 20 minutes. While still warm, cut 1/2-inch slices on the bias with a serrated knife.

Lay the biscotti on baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Flip and bake 5-6 minutes more. Transfer the biscotti to a rack to cool completely before serving or storing.

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Twenty-Seven Reasons to be Thankful & Turkey Tetrazzini

Forget Disneyland, Finland is the happiest place on earth. Yes, Finland. It seems the United Nations researches a bunch of countries every year and ranks them on happiness. One might assume that warm, sunny countries are the happiest. One would be wrong. During the dark days of December, Finland averages less than six hours of sun. In fact, every one of the top five – Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and The Netherlands – are all well north of the equator.

Happiness is a lot about attitude. Winter days may be short but Finland can thank its lucky stars and hard work for many things. Starting with a healthy life expectancy, the Finns enjoy decent incomes along with a country and culture built on freedom, trust, social support and generosity.

Okay then, we might not be Finland but there is still a whole heap of stuff that can make us happy and fill us with gratitude.

Let hear it for …

  1. An average of nine hours of sun in December.
  2. Indoor plumbing.
  3. Electricity.
  4. Zippers.
  5. Yoga pants.
  6. A warm winter jacket.
  7. Snow boots.
  8. Warm socks.
  9. Finding a ten dollar bill in your back pocket.
  10. An internet connection and the hours of joy-filled procrastination it brings checking out Facebook and watching laughing baby videos.
  11. The vote.
  12. A warm bed.
  13. A funny story.
  14. Fresh air.
  15. Clean water.
  16. An education.
  17. A good hair day.
  18. A little black dress.
  19. A great book, even a good book.
  20. A great movie, even a good movie.
  21. The sense of accomplishment you get from fixing something – anything … a drippy faucet, a gnarly stain in a favorite shirt, a formatting glitch in a document …
  22. Finding a great anything on sale.
  23. Toothbrushes.
  24. A snow day.
  25. A delicious dinner with people you love.
  26. Friends.
  27. Even when they drive you crazy, family around the Thanksgiving table.

And that’s just for starters … Happy Thanksgiving and bon appétit!

Turkey Tetrazzini

Perhaps I should have added Thanksgiving leftovers to the list. Most tetrazzini has peas, I prefer spinach and, so, make the swap. Feel free to swap back. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
  • About 4 ounces (2 cups) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 pound mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups bite sized pieces cooked turkey
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 12-16 ounces spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

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

Make the Béchamel Sauce. (Recipe follows.) Whisking frequently, cool the sauce in the pan for 10-15 minutes.

Put the sour cream, white wine and 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian herbs in a large bowl and whisk to combine. A little at a time, whisk the Béchamel Sauce into the sour cream. Add 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and whisk to combine.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a skillet with olive oil, add the onion and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes more.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute, and drain.

Add the turkey, sautéed vegetables, spinach and pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. Transfer everything to the prepared baking dish.

Put the breadcrumbs and remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbs in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Drizzle with a little olive oil and whisk again. Sprinkle the casserole with the cheesy breadcrumbs.

Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake the casserole at 375 degrees until piping hot and golden, about 45 minutes. If it browns too quickly, lightly cover with aluminum foil.

Béchamel Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Life in a Small New England Town & Pumpkin-Sausage Ragù

A bunch of years ago, some friends were visiting from Switzerland. It was the Summer of the Gnus. I did what everyone else in town did with guests that summer. I took them on a walking tour of Main Street to see the colorful cows. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny. We parked at the top of the town green, stopped for coffee along the way and turned around at the farm. We chatted and admired and chatted some more.

About the time we turned around to head back to the car, Bob remarked, “At least a dozen people have greeted you by name.” I’m pretty sure he was exaggerating but he continued, “I could walk up and down the Rue du Rhone all day and not see anyone I knew.” Or maybe he mentioned the Rue de l’Hotel-de-Ville, it was a while ago. Anyway, there is nothing anonymous about living in a small town. No, not everyone knows your name but a good many do. And for those that don’t, there’s a pretty good chance they know someone in your family.

With or without houseguests, October is a wonderful time to meander up and down Main Street. Just about now, the foliage is at its peak. It’s cool enough to wear a sweater but you don’t need to pile on a parka and heavy boots. If you grew up in New England, a sweater has got to be your favorite piece of clothing. Southern girls can have their fluffy, flowery dresses, Californians – their bikinis and let those Midwest farm girls wear their jeans or overalls or whatever. Gimme a cozy sweater any day. Cotton, wool or cashmere, they’re all good.

Today, only a handful of gnus continue to strut their stuff on Main Street. The majority were adopted and are now hidden away in backyards. Luckily, October brings a brand new diversion – the invasion of the Pumpkin People. So please, you must take an hour to wander up and down Main Street. If you want; you can make a few stops along the way and support the local economy. Buy yet another sweater or sip a coffee in the sunshine. It’s all good.

If you’re feeling particularly energized, you can take it around the bend. There are a few more Pumpkin People on Newport Road. While nothing was up as I rushed to meet my deadline, the hospital can usually be counted on for a nice display. For anyone counting steps, the round trip from the top of the Town Green to the hospital and back is about three miles.

It’s more than worth the trip. The creativity of our merchants is impressive and you will be absolutely charmed by the Cub Scouts’ delightful display. From Dorothy and her three friends sashaying down the yellow brook road to Cookie Monster and Elmo, there something for everyone.

As important, you’ll see lots of smiling people. Real people that is, not the pumpkin head kind. There’s a very good chance that at least one real person will compliment your sweater. The combination of wonderful foliage, pumpkins and smiles will remind you of why small New England towns are so special.

Happy fall and bon appétit!

Pumpkin-Sausage Ragù

This cozy, country-style ragù is great with pasta on a chilly night. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 2 pounds eating pumpkin* or winter squash, seeded, peeled and cut in small dice (3-4 cups)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large onion, cut in small dice
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds Italian sausage – sweet or hot or a mix, casings removed and cut into small pieces
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups or more chicken broth
  • 1-2 tablespoons cognac
  • 1 cup or more half and half
  • 1 pound hearty short or long pasta, try rigatoni, fettucine or tortellini
  • Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the pumpkin in a large skillet, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes.

Add the onion and sausage to pumpkin and toss to combine. Return to the oven for 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, herbs and nutmeg to the pan and toss to combine. Stir in the white wine, 1 cup chicken broth and the cognac and return to the oven.

After 15 minutes, give the ragù a stir, add more chicken broth if necessary and return to the oven. After another 15 minutes, stir in the half and half and return to the oven for a final 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions.

Reserving a little of the pasta water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the ragù and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little of the pasta water or more chicken broth or cream. Cover and cook on low for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano.

* The pumpkins you carve for Halloween are stringy and tasteless, not good for eating. Try a sugar, cheese or peek-a-boo pumpkin. Then again, you can’t go wrong with butternut squash.

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Back to Basics & Traditional Marinara Sauce

A friend recently confessed that she doesn’t make her own tomato sauce. She buys it at the supermarket, all made and packed in a jar. Before I go any further, I guess I should add that this particular woman is Italian-American. While I can’t verify, I’ve got to assume that her nonna is turning in her grave.

I did my best version of tough love by simultaneously expressing outrage and sympathy. Although, I’m not quite sure why I should be sympathetic. Tomato sauce, marinara in Italy, is both easy to make and takes almost no time at all. Besides, there is just enough chopping in a single batch to calm you down at the end of a tough day. (If it’s been a really, really tough day, better keep the knife in the block and order take-out.)

An added bonus, marinara freezes beautifully. So, go ahead and stir up several quarts to enjoy throughout the fall and winter. It is the perfect way to spend a rainy fall afternoon. Turn on some music, sing along and dance around the kitchen surrounded by the warm and wonderful aroma of garlic, onion and herbs simmering in tomatoes and wine.

Now, if your roots are not in Italy, there are loads of variations on this theme. Tomato sauces are found around the world. Perhaps, you’ve heard of the five mother sauces of French cuisine. Yes, tomato is one of them. Where ever you may travel, if locals can grow them, you’ll probably find tomato sauce in one form or another. Or to-mah-to sauce, if you prefer.

Just as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are the building blocks of mathematics, a handful of recipes are culinary basics. These basics are at the heart of many meals and the foundation for new invention. What are they? Well, you can find them on dozens of lists. You know what I’m talking about; these lists have names like Five (or Ten or Twenty or More) Essential Recipes Everyone Should Know. There are a bunch of them. I think maybe I should put a list together. Anyway, in case you haven’t noticed, tomato sauce is on all or at least most of them.

Tomato sauce is definitely one of the basics in Mediterranean cuisine. A quart of marinara is good for more than a quick and easy meatless Monday spaghetti supper. A lot more. It is perfect for braising chicken, beef or lamb. It is just as good in a fish soup. Add ground beef or turkey or pork or veal or some combination to your marinara and it becomes Bolognese, a hearty sauce for fettucine. Play around with the spices and that Bolognese is perfect for moussaka or pastitsio.

Some might ask, “Why bother?” Simple, your homecooked sauce will be better than anything you’ll find in a jar. It won’t be filled with preservatives and weird ingredients you can’t spell or pronounce. In addition, you’ll be rewarded with almost instant gratification. From start to finish, it takes about a half hour to make a quart of marinara for a delicious dinner to share with those you love. And by the way, for about twenty of those minutes the sauce is simmering. Except for an occasional stir, you are freed up to make a salad or do whatever needs doing – including relaxing with a glass of wine. With a little more time, you can use it as the base for a fabulous chicken cacciatore, an Italian beef stew, lasagna or whatever suits you tonight.

Happy cooking and bon appétit!

Traditional Marinara Sauce

If it’s been a while or never since you made homemade marinara, there is no time like the present. Enjoy!

Makes about 1 quart

  • Olive oil
  • About 1/3 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2-1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian herbs
  • Pinch or to taste dried chili pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and season with the herbs, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the basil and simmer for a minute or two more.

Use about 1/2 cup of sauce for each serving of pasta or include it in your favorite tomatoey casseroles, braises and soups.

Feel free to make a big batch; I usually make about 6 quarts at a time. The only things you don’t need to multiply by six are the carrot and bay leaf – 1-2 carrots and 1-2 bay leaves should do it.

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If They Can … You Can & Risotto with Fresh Corn & Grilled Tomatoes 

If NASA can put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth …

If Oprah can turn cauliflower into pizza …

If I can teach little kids to hit a baseball …

… you can more or less do whatever you set your mind to.

About the baseball thing, let me explain. When I was in the second grade my report card noted that, although I was a sweet little girl, I was a dismal failure at the bean bag toss. I’m sure the teacher didn’t use the words dismal or failure but you get the picture.

It was a family joke for years and still pops up from time to time. Quite simply, I was that kid. The one who couldn’t throw or catch a bean bag or ball, shoe, orange or whatever. Forget about connecting a ball to bat or ball to foot or racket or goal or anything else. Oh, sure, once in a blue moon I won a tennis game but never a match. I never hit a home run and tripped over more than one soccer ball. The whole eye-hand (or foot) coordination thing just didn’t work for me.

You can imagine my surprise when I was drafted to coach T-ball. Of course, the commissioner or whatever they call the guy who organizes the teams was desperate. I figure he ran out names to call when he stumbled across my number in his directory. Anyway, he must have caught me at a weak moment because I said yes.

Either that or I somehow realized that he wasn’t taking the light blue team seriously. Perhaps they were Geneva’s answer to the Bad New Bears. Yes, this all happened when I was living in Geneva and at least half of the team didn’t speak English. One little girl didn’t speak French either. Two American dads, they were the red team’s coaches, divided up the kids. They stacked the deck, filling their roster with Americans who knew at least a bit about baseball and spoke English.

However, while I knew practically nuttin’ about baseball, I knew a whole lot about concentration. In addition, I spoke more than enough French to communicate the few basics I was able to grasp. By teaching the kids to concentrate on the ball – to ignore their friend on second base and not to worry about the bat – I taught them how to hit. One on one, I whispered to each child. I assured them that as long as he or she kept their eye on the ball, they’d hit it every time. With all seriousness and no shame, I attributed this no-fail/eye-on-the-ball thing to magic. After all, who needs skill when you have magic on your side.

Anyway, it worked. The light blue team won every game – yes, EVERY game.

But it’s not just kids who need focus and inspiration. We all do. A healthy measure of confidence and a little magic never hurts either. From that first day of kindergarten, fall has always been a time for new beginnings. With New England’s beautiful foliage, it’s also a magical time. Whatever your goal is for the coming months, if you set your mind to it and focus; you might just hit a home run.

Here’s to hitting it out of the park and bon appétit!

Risotto with Fresh Corn & Grilled Tomatoes 

September is the perfect, maybe the only, time for this dish. Local corn is at its peak and temperatures are cooling down. Homey and comforting but far from ordinary, risotto is great on a chilly night. Enjoy!

Serves 6 as a main course and 12 as a side dish

  • About 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • About 5 cups chicken stock
  • About 4 cups (4-6 ears) fresh corn kernels
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated plus more to pass
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves cut in julienne

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the tomatoes and garlic in a bowl, drizzle with just enough olive oil to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Put the tomatoes and garlic in a grill pan, place on the grill and, stirring from time to time, grill on high until lightly caramelized, 4-5 minutes. Return the tomatoes to the bowl and fish out the garlic. Finely mince the garlic, add it back to the tomatoes, drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and toss to combine. Set aside.

Heat the chicken stock to a simmer and then reduce the heat to low to keep warm.

Lightly coat a large, heavy saucepan with a little olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until it starts to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring for another 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium low, add the wine and simmer until the rice absorbs the wine. Add 1 cup stock and, stirring frequently, simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, and stirring, until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the corn and nutmeg and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add the butter, cream and the Parmigiano-Reggiano and stir until melted and combined. Stir in half the basil.

Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls, garnish with grilled tomatoes, sprinkle with the remaining basil and serve. Pass more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for those that like a cheesier risotto.

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Do you have a any special goals for the fall? Feel free to share!

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