Bucatini with Roasted & Fresh Tomatoes

This is a wonderful seasonal dish to make with summer tomatoes. It was especially fabulous with my new favorite pasta, bucatini, too. We ate it warm but it could also be enjoyed at room temperature. The crunchy, cheesy croutons really added something special.

I used store-bought ricotta as a shortcut, but included a link to freshly made ricotta below. This recipe was (very slightly) adapted from Martha Stewart Living. Quick and delicious!

Yield: Serves 4
  • 1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes (3 cups)
  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 slices rustic bread, crusts removed, torn into small pieces (1 1/2 cups) (I used Trader Joe’s Tuscan Pane)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano (1/2 ounce), plus more for serving
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cut into a 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup packed shredded fresh basil, plus sprigs for serving
  • 3 tablespoons shredded fresh mint, plus sprigs for serving (I omitted the mint)
  • 12 ounces bucatini, spaghetti, or linguine
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. In an 8-inch square baking dish, toss cherry tomatoes with 3 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until bursting and charred in spots, 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, on a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet, toss bread with 2 tablespoons oil and Pecorino Romano; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing halfway through, until golden brown and crisp, about 12 minutes.
  4. Toss diced tomatoes, basil, and mint (if using) with remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta; cook according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup liquid; drain.
  6. Return pasta to pot; toss with roasted tomatoes, their oil, and 1/2 cup reserved pasta water. (Tomatoes should coat pasta but not create much of a sauce.) Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Divide among plates, then give each a dollop of ricotta, a spoonful of fresh-tomato mixture, and a sprinkle of croutons.
  8. Serve, garnished with a sprig or two of herbs, a generous drizzle of oil, and some cheese and pepper.

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One-Skillet Chicken Thighs with Buttery Orzo

I had saved this recipe a couple of months ago just waiting for my CSA box fennel to arrive. As soon as I saw it on my list of veggies to expect, I knew exactly what I was going to make. 🙂 I love how the orzo is cooked like risotto in this dish- the results were amazing.

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit, contributed by Claire Saffitz. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of bone-in. I also increased the amount of fennel and used a sweet onion instead of a leek. We ate it with sautéed collard greens as well as sautéed yellow summer squash, also from my CSA box, of course. Easy, fresh, and delicious.

Yield: 4 to 5 servings
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 5 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, patted dry
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped, plus fronds, chopped (I used 1 1/2 bulbs)
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion or 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, chopped
  • 8 ounces orzo
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine
  • 2½ cups chicken stock, divided
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  1. Preheat oven to 400°, preferably on convection.
  2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.
  3. Heat 2 T butter in a medium cast-iron skillet (I used a 10-inch skillet) over medium-high.
  4. Nestle chicken, skin side down, in skillet in a single layer with no gaps (if you can’t quite fit them all, wait until chicken shrinks slightly, then puzzle in the remaining pieces). Cook until meat is opaque around the edges, about 4-5 minutes.
  5. Turn chicken browned side up and transfer skillet to oven; bake, uncovered, until chicken is cooked through, about 4 additional minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate.
  6. Set same skillet over medium; combine chopped fennel bulb and leek/onion in skillet and sprinkle in some salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until leek is looking golden around the edges, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add orzo and cook until pasta is darkened (it will take on a brown hue) to a nice nutty brown in spots and toasty smelling, about 3 minutes.
  8. Pour in wine and cook, stirring, until liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute.
  9. Add broth ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting broth absorb before adding more, until orzo is tender and broth is mostly absorbed but pan is not dry, 10–15 minutes.
  10. Remove skillet from heat, taste and adjust seasoning. Mix in lemon juice and remaining 1 T butter, then chopped fennel fronds.
  11. Nestle and pile chicken on top and finish with lemon zest.
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Orecchiette with Greens, Mozzarella & Crispy Chickpeas

I love a recipe that gobbles up the greens from my CSA share. I have made this dish a couple of times using whatever combination of greens I had available. Recently, I used turnip greens, kale and spinach but I have also used chard and baby collard greens in the past. The classic combination of basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella was a nice complement to the sautéed greens as well.

This quick dish was adapted from a Food and Wine staff favorite recipe, contributed by Marcie Turney. I doubled the recipe, decreased the red pepper flakes, and increased amount of fresh mozzarella. SO delicious.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 pound orecchiette
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and patted dry
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • coarse salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 pound greens such as Swiss chard, kale, turnip greens, spinach, stemmed and leaves coarsely chopped (or more, as desired)
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 16 large basil leaves, torn or chiffonade
  1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the orecchiette until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium, deep skillet, heat 1/4 inch of vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the chickpeas and cook over high heat until crisp, 4 minutes. Transfer them to a paper towel–lined plate, sprinkle with the cumin and coriander and season with salt and black pepper. Discard the oil and wipe out the skillet.
  3. Add the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper to the skillet. Cook over moderately high heat until fragrant, 30 seconds.
  4. Add the tomatoes and cook until softened, 3 minutes.
  5. Add the greens and cook, stirring, until wilted, 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.
  6. Add the pasta and 1/2 cup of reserved cooking water to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring until incorporated.
  7. Add the mozzarella and basil and toss. Add more pasta water, if necessary.
  8. Spoon the pasta into bowls, sprinkle with the chickpeas and serve.

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Happy Mother’s Day & Cooking for a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge

Happy Mother’s Day! I wish all of the mom’s out there a beautiful and relaxing day. ❤ While Mr. BrookCook and my kids take care of me and the cooking today, I have time to share a special mother-daughter cooking project.

In order to earn a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge, my daughter (with my help) had to cook a complete breakfast, a healthy dinner, and a delicious dessert. Understandably, she wanted to make meals that she wanted to eat! This was actually a great opportunity for her as she is harder to please when menu planning. It was a lesson in itself to see how much time and work is required to put together an entire meal. 🙂

We made Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins for breakfast with fruit salad on the side. She loved cutting all of the fruit herself. For the “healthy” dinner, she prepared a No-Boil Macaroni and Cheese (recipe below) with Simple Caesar Salad. Healthy enough, right? She loved it so much we have already made it again.

We made a Lemon Meringue Pie, using a store-bought pie crust, for dessert. Not only did she make the pie, she typed out the recipe to share with her Girl Scout Troop. A big project! She did a great job and I was very proud of her. I hope that she continues to enjoy cooking more and more in the future. ❤

No-Boil Macaroni & Cheese (adapted from Bon Appetit)

Yield: 8 Servings

For the Pasta:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 T coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more, to taste
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar, divided

For the Topping:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 400°, preferably on convection.
  2. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
  4. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.
  7. Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13x9x2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
  8. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil.
  9. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

For the Topping:

  1. Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To Finish the Dish:

  1. Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture.
  2. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer.
  3. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

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Shortcut Baked Rigatoni with Meatballs

There are so many end-of-the-school-year parties this time of year. A great time to share a crowd-pleasing casserole! I brought this baked pasta dish to my son’s pre-County Championship Swim Meet pasta dinner. I was thrilled when my friend’s husband asked for the recipe. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from such a fun book- Mad Genius Tips: Over 90 Expert Hacks + 100 Delicious Recipes by Justin Chapple and the Editors of Food and Wine. I love Chapple’s column in the printed magazine and knew I would enjoy this book as well. The pasta and the meatballs cook in the oven. Truly genius!

  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup lightly packed basil, torn or chiffonade, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ziti, rigatoni, rotini, fusilli, shells, or campanelle pasta
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 28 oz (about 3 cups) prepared marinara sauce
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the pork, beef, bread crumbs, eggs, 1/3 cup torn basil, 1/4 cup of Parmesan and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; mix well.
  3. Using a cookie scoop, form the meat mixture into one-inch balls.
  4. In a 9-by-13-inch ceramic baking dish, spread half of the pasta in an even layer.
  5. Arrange half of the meatballs (about 16) and mozzarella on the pasta.
  6. Spoon half of the marinara on top and season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  7. Repeat with the remaining pasta, meatballs, cheese, and marinara. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  8. Place baking dish on a rimmed cookie sheet. Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the baking dish and cover tightly with foil.
  9. Bake for about 1 hour, until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
  10. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes longer, until lightly browned.
  11. Let stand for 5 minutes. Garnish with basil and parmesan and serve.

Make Ahead: The baked pasta can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat gently.

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Pasta Primavera with Asparagus, Peas, & Crème Fraîche

This quick and fresh dinner was truly springtime on a plate. It uses a combination of early spring vegetables- asparagus, peas, and scallions- which, as the author describes, makes it a “true celebration of the season.”

This recipe was adapted from the New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I modified the proportions and omitted the tarragon. I also used reserved pasta water to adjust the consistency of the sauce. Loved it!

Yield: Serves 6

  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, stems trimmed
  • 3/4 pound asparagus, ends snapped
  • tablespoons unsalted butter
  • cup fresh English peas
  • 1/3 cup (5 large) thinly sliced spring onion, white part only (or use shallot)
  • garlic cloves, finely chopped
  •  coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 16 ounces pappardelle, fettuccine or tagliatelle, preferably fresh
  • cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, at room temperature
  • 6 oz (3/4 cup) crème fraîche or whole milk Greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon, optional
  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, slice snap peas in half and asparagus stems into 1/4-inch-thick pieces; leave asparagus tips whole.
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add snap peas, asparagus, English peas and onion. Cook until vegetables are barely tender (but not too soft or mushy), 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  5. Drop pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente (1 to 3 minutes for fresh pasta, more for dried pasta). Drain well, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
  6. Transfer pasta to the skillet of prepared vegetables or to a large bowl.
  7. Immediately toss pasta with vegetables, Parmigiano-Reggiano, crème fraîche and herbs.
  8. Thin sauce to desired consistency with reserved pasta water.
  9. Season generously with salt and pepper, if needed, to taste. Serve.

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Three Cheese Crepe Manicotti

During my college days, I was lucky enough to celebrate Easter with one of my roommates and her large Italian family. It was always an amazing feast. One of the first courses served was a homemade manicotti. I’ve loved it ever since- and now think of it in the springtime.

I was drawn to the “French” twist in this version, using crêpes in lieu of pasta. They were tender and delicious. Lovely.

This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine contributed by Christine Dimmick. I adjusted the seasoning and ratios. I also modified the crêpe batter technique from using a blender to hand-whisking, and to cooking them on a lightly oiled crêpe pan, my tried and true method. This dish could be modified to include any variety of fillings in the crêpes. Next time I may incorporate spinach or mushrooms. 🙂

  • 2 cups ricotta cheese (15 ounces), preferably fresh
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella (about 6 ounces)(part-skim okay)
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped basil, plus more for garnish
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • vegetable oil, for the pans
  • 3 cups tomato sauce, preferably homemade (I used local Mamma Lombardi’s Marinara Sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  1. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta with the mozzarella, basil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, to taste.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flour and eggs until thoroughly combined. Add the water and a generous 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Whisk until smooth.
  3. Heat an 8-inch crêpe or omelet pan over moderately high heat. Using a brush, lightly oil the pan and add a small ladle of the batter (about 1/4 cup); working quickly, swirl the pan to coat it evenly.
  4. Cook until the top of the crêpe is dry and the bottom is lightly golden, about 1 minute. Flip the crêpe and cook until the bottom is lightly golden, about 20 seconds longer.
  5. Transfer the crêpe to a large plate and repeat with the remaining batter to make a total of 16 crêpes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375°, preferably on convection.
  7. Coat the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish with 1 cup of the tomato sauce.
  8. Arrange the crêpes on a work surface. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ricotta filling in a line down the center of each crêpe. Loosely roll up the crêpes, burrito-style with ends folded in, and arrange them, seam side up, side by side in the baking dish. (I placed them in 2 rows of 8 crêpes.)
  9. Pour the remaining 2 cups of tomato sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
  10. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the tomato sauce is bubbling and the manicotti are heated through.
  11. Garnish with basil, if desired. Serve piping hot.

Make Ahead: The unbaked manicotti can be refrigerated overnight. Allow up to 15 minutes longer for baking.

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