Rib roast, roast duck, pork loin baked with apples…there are a lot of wonderful culinary options for New Year’s Eve.
But what if one of your dinner guests is a vegetarian? Do you just make a bigger salad for them and hope they’re not offended? Nope, even if they don’t adhere to my beliefs in eating certain proteins, I want ALL my guests to feel like they are welcomed. However, I was a bit unsure what to serve when, into my life, walked the Barefoot Contessa.
The short history is in 1978, Ina Garten decided to leave her job in Washington DC writing nuclear energy budgets for the government and purchase a little specialty food store called Barefoot Contessa (named after the movie with Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart and meant to signal it was both elegant and earthy) in the East Hamptons of New York.
The store was a hit and so was Ina. She eventually sold the business (but not the rights to the name or the building) and in 1999 wrote the surprise bestseller, “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.” The book contains the recipes that made her store famous for takeout.
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Ina became nationally famous through appearances on Martha Stewart’s show, and after another cookbook was successful, she was approached by Food Network with an offer to host her own television cooking show. Seasons of “Barefoot Contessa,” have aired continuously since 2002 and she has also written for Martha Stewart Living, House Beautiful, and O, The Oprah Magazine.
So, how is it that I just discovered her? I had always shied away from her books and shows because I somehow thought they were aimed at people who don’t usually cook but after watching every episode of Julia Child, then Jacques Pépin, I started looking for more cooking shows and found reruns of “The Barefoot Contessa” on the Food Channel.
These are not shows or cookbooks (she’s published 12) to stretch your knowledge of Cantonese, Creole or Cuban but she works hard to make her recipes sound and look easy, so you immediately have confidence to try it.
Throughout her shows, after demonstrating how to do the recipe, she often finishes with “How easy is that?” making it clear that you can nonchalantly pull this off, too. As with all cooking shows, it is easier when you have a behind the scenes crew that buys the food, cuts it up and has everything ready for the host to toss together, but that’s just the limitations of time on TV: If chefs showed the real time of purchasing and preparation, they’d have an extremely boring show, and that means death in TV land.
So, I have now become her biggest fan and I’m still not done watching her reruns (this may take a while). In the meantime, I want to introduce you to a meatless lasagna that will satisfy your guests, vegetarian or not, and an easy appetizer and finishes with a trip to nostalgia land for me.
1 day-old baguette (or toast the pieces longer with just purchased bread)
3 tablespoons olive oil to make crostini
1 can cannellini beans (sometimes labeled white beans) drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
20 crostini (see below on how to make)
Extra virgin olive oil for finishing
First make crostini. Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut 20 slices of day-old baguette into about ½ inch thick slices and place on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and bake until crisp and golden, around 10 minutes. Cool before using.
Make cannellini beans: Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, and sage. Cook over low heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 10 minutes to completely warm and start to break down. Mash the beans with a spoon to make a rough purée. Spread a teaspoon or so of bean purée on the crostini. Top each crostini with a little diced red pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve warm.
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Adapted from “Make It Ahead” by Ina Garten
1½ pounds eggplant, unpeeled, sliced lengthwise ¼ inch thick
¾ pound zucchini, unpeeled, sliced lengthwise ¼ inch thick
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
10 ounces lasagna noodles, such as De Cecco
16 ounces fresh whole-milk ricotta
8 ounces creamy garlic and herb goat cheese, at room temperature
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
4½ cups good bottled marinara sauce, such as Rao’s (but it’s better if you learn to make your own sauce, which has hundreds of uses. One of my favorites is below)
1 pound lightly salted fresh mozzarella, very thinly sliced
First make marinara sauce. This is a called Serenity Marinara after the Italian yacht that author David Shalleck was the chef on in France’s Cote d’Azur and Italy’s Costa Bella. A Mariner’s style sauce, originally made by the Italian fishermen’s wives to cook the day’s catch, is freshly made and includes the classic garlic, olive and crushed tomatoes with oregano.
(Adapted from “The Mediterranean Summer” by David Shalleck)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, cut into 6 wedges, and the layers separated
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and light crushed
1 tablespoon roughly chopped anchovy fillet
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, pureed with their liquid (I use crushed tomatoes to give me the same results without work)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
Heat the olive oil, onion, and garlic together in a nonreactive (meaning the metal won’t react to the acid in the tomatoes: stainless steel is a good choice here) saucepan large enough to hold the tomato purée over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion and garlic are soft but not browned, 8-10 minutes from when the onion starts to sizzle.
Add the anchovy. Using a wooden spoon, mash the anchovy with the garlic and onion so that they combine into a paste. Add the parsley, stir, and continue to cook for 30 seconds, and then add the tomato purée, oregano, hot pepper, salt and sugar. Adjust the heat to keep the sauce at a low, steady boil and cook, stirring from time to time to keep the sauce from burning on the bottom, until the sauce starts to thicken, 30-40 minutes. Check the seasoning and add more oregano, hot pepper or salt to taste if needed.
Make Lasagna. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the eggplant and zucchini in single layers on 3 sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Brush them generously with the olive oil on both sides, using all of the oil. Sprinkle with the oregano (I crush it in my hands), 1 tablespoon salt, and 1½ teaspoons pepper. Roast for 25 minutes, sprinkle the garlic evenly on the vegetables, and roast for another 5 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through. Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, fill a very large bowl with the hottest tap water and add enough boiling water to bring the temperature to 140 degrees. One at a time, place the noodles in the water and soak them for 15 -minutes, swirling occasionally so they don’t stick together. Drain and slide the noodles around again.
Combine the ricotta, goat cheese, eggs, basil, ½ cup of the Parmesan, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed.
Spread 1 cup of the marinara in a 9 × 13 × 2-inch baking dish. Arrange a third of the vegetables on top, then a layer of the noodles (cut to fit), a third of the mozzarella, and a third of the ricotta mixture in large dollops between the mozzarella. Repeat twice, starting with the marinara. Spread the last 1½ cups of marinara on top and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of Parmesan.
Place the dish on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until the lasagna is browned and bubbly. Allow to rest for 10 minutes and serve hot. This would go great with a Caeser Salad on the side, like the one I showed you from Marx Bros. Café. on June 23, 2020. Well worth saving.
From Eva Powell, five-time winner of Mitchell, Indiana’s Persimmon Festival
Before you mash persimmons for this dish, make sure you have the Hachiya, the heart-shaped persimmon, not the flat-shapped Fuyu, which are eaten when they are crisp, like an apple. This is a step back in time since I grew up in Indiana and Hachiya where the only persimmons we saw. Turns out it is the native American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana.
Biting an unripe Hachiya makes you want to spit it out, thanks to its vivid astringency. But a Hachiya that’s “softer than baby cheeks” as Elizabeth Schneider writes in her comprehensive guide, “Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables” tastes something like ripe plum and date.
Mitchell, in southern Indiana, is home to the annual Persimmon Festival, and is just north of the equally small town of Paoli, where my parents grew up and where we often visited while I was growing up. (My family had moved to Northern Indiana for work.) My mother loved ripe persimmons and would make a persimmon pudding every fall, almost into winter. The late harvest is because you wait until the fruit naturally falls off the tree to make sure they are ripe.
Pulp from enough halved ripe persimmons to make 2 cups (about 5 Hachiyas)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter, melt
9 by 13-inch baking dish, greased with butter
Preheat oven to 350°F. Put pulp and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Beat in eggs. Put buttermilk and baking soda into a small bowl and stir. Add to pulp and mix well. Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt into a medium bowl. Gradually add to pulp, stirring until well combined. Add heavy cream and mix well.
Pour batter into greased baking dish. Bake until dark brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Set aside to cool. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.