That’s a Wrap

Summer’s over and so is the photography portion of the cookbook project I spent my weekends on. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate 1) completing the work, 2) the unofficial start of fall and 3) football season than with a big pot of beef & lamb chili and an over-the-top dessert. It’s a retread of the Vanilla Roasted Pears with Amaretto Mascarpone I made earlier in the year, but made this time with the courage of my convictions. And let me tell you, espresso cream is in no way a bad (or overpowering) thing.

Seckel and Bartlett Pears

I had no real plans to go with such a fall feast, but the pears at the farmers’ market called to me Saturday.

I was powerless against them.

Fall dessert

Wicked, wicked pears.

Decadent fall dessert

Now please pardon me while I shovel more of this into my piehole.

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Recipe doctoring

I’m a big mark for Patton Oswalt. Of course he’s funny, sometimes scathingly so, but what I like most about him is the degree of reflection he puts into any interview he gives. He’s been making the rounds to promote his new book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, so I caught him on a couple of podcasts recently — The BS Report with Bill Simmons and WTF with Marc Maron (which you must subscribe to, if you don’t already). Aaaaanyway, Oswalt made a great observation on The BS Report while discussing his work as a script doctor. He said he learned early on that movie remakes can be done well, provided they aren’t too faithful to the original. That if you explore the story from a tangent — and remake rather than retell — the new project isn’t so burdened and can become its own thing, possibly more interesting than the source material.

I agree fully with this approach, having experienced it repeatedly while struggling to make old favorites gluten-free. Some recipes handle the noodling better than others, but the simple fact is GF baked goods NEVER will be the same as ones made with wheat. And once I accepted that fact and moved on, I learned to love my food for what it is instead of moaning about what it can’t be.

In that spirit, I had a craving for tiramisu early in the week, wanted to make it gluten-free, and started pondering. You’d think finding an alternative to ladyfingers would be a big problem, but it really wasn’t; I stayed faithful to the original idea with mascarpone and cocoa, but remade the dessert into something new by using roasted pears as the base.

A quick search turned up a recipe for roasted pears on Smitten Kitchen, whose seal of approval is all the convincing I need to try a new dish. I sliced up both red bartlett pears and bosc, then adjusted the sugar down a bit, knowing they’d have to contend with a sweet topping later on.

When the pears came out of the oven they were perfect specimens of roasted pearhood, so even if I’d stopped there, toes would’ve curled and plates would’ve been licked. As you can see, the red bartletts were beautifully caramelized after an hour in the oven:

The boscs retained more of their juices and didn’t caramelize quite as much, but still were gorgeous and delicious in their own right:

But I just couldn’t stop there, since the milky, creamy part is what I love most about tiramisu. I didn’t want espresso in the mascarpone cream to overwhelm the delicate pears, so I worked up a rich version with amaretto and vanilla bean whipped cream instead.

Toppings were simple: I tried one version with cocoa powder and one without, but sprinkled both liberally with toasted ground almonds. I loved them equally and couldn’t choose a favorite any more than choosing between Rufus or Otis.


recipe after the jump

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On the shoulders of giants


You guys know I usually like to wing it in the kitchen, right? It’s certainly not a surprise to poor Gil, who has to deal with my creations. (Btw — sorry for that particularly meh quinoa salad I made for dinner recently, honey!) But sometimes I do the thing up proper-like and follow real recipes from people who know what they’re doing — people like Mario Batali, Patricia Wells and Giuliano Bugialli.

Above, you see the first of two pasta dishes we’ve had in the last couple of weeks. Ground veal and ground pork sang a song of ragu from the freezer, and at their insistence, I did a web search for a real recipe to follow. The first link I clicked featured a video of Mario Batali making a traditional Ragu Bolognese. I’m so happy I followed the video’s instructions instead of the written recipe below; I never, ever, would have thought to cook each stage of the recipe for as long as instructed. But the prolonged cooking added a depth of flavor I’ve never achieved in my years of sauce-making. I might use slightly less wine next time because that flavor was especially strong (and not my favorite thing in the world, to be honest), but diffused with ample amounts of pasta, it was phenomenal.


A few weeks ago, Gil and I got to spend three whole nights in the city during a pharmaceutical conference he attended for his magazine. I took full advantage of my time there and met up with friends on three consecutive nights for dinner and drinks. The first night I didn’t venture out of my work neighborhood, meeting my friend Scott at Bar Stuzzichini. I went mainly for the small plates (the arancini were disappointing this time, but I plan to recreate the zucchini alla scapece just as soon as my grill comes out for the season — possibly this very weekend), but the pasta dish we shared was the real revelation: macherroni alla chitarra, or pasta with pistachio and lemon cream sauce.

Once we made it home, I started researching recipes in my Italian cookbooks and decided to use a simple lemon-cream sauce adapted from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria and Giuliano Bugialli’s Bugialli On Pasta. I toasted shelled pistachios, cooled and chopped them, the steeped the smaller bits (pistachio dust, really) in lemon juice and cream while I made the pasta with my brand new Kitchenaid Pasta Rollers. (I happened to find them fairly heavily discounted on Amazon, but they’re worth paying an everyday price for.) After cooking the pasta, I tossed it with the cream sauce and grated Parmesan over a low flame until the sauce had thickened. Just before serving, I added more Parmesan, chopped parsley and more chopped pistachios. It was a great success, but not quite as pistachio-infused as the original. I have more experimenting to do before I give you a real recipe, but I’m pretty happy with the results of my first go-round. It’s hard to go wrong when you listen to the experts.