Category Archives: Next Up

Cast-Iron Skillet Pizza with Italian Sausage and Hot Cherry Peppers

tonyr_cook_k  Tony writes: I’ve become slightly obsessed with cooking pizza in cast-ironWhy cast-iron? It retains heat well (think Chili’s fajitas), so the dough gets a crisp crust and a nice, puffy texture. Over the last while, I’ve been tinkering with the method for both a regular pie and deep-dish and each is relatively easy, This cast-iron technique entails two more steps than your basic pizza method: pre-heating the pan and blind-baking the crust (see below). After that, just top the pizza amply and bake until the cheese bubbles and browns: home pizza that looks and feels like a pizzerias’.

– “Blind-bake”Blind-baking, or pre-cooking a crust without its toppings, is standard procedure with pies (pie pies like blueberry pie or apple pie). I like to follow this technique with cast-iron pizza. I don’t full-on cook the dough through, just lightly brown it (about 8 minutes) to ensure the bottom crust doesn’t have a soft, doughy texture once the toppings get added. After this initial browning, I add the toppings to the browned shell and finish baking.

Photo Note: The recipe below is for my favorite deep-dish pizza pairing (sausage and cherry peppers), but the pictures are for my favorite photogenic pairing (broccoli, pepperoni, and mushrooms). Use the base recipe and then you do you with the toppings.


The recipe (Serves 4) 

1. Make the dough: Measure out 3/4 cup lukewarm water (technically, it should be 100F to 110F; if the water is warm-ish, you’re good) and mix in 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar and 1 tsp. active dry yeast (about half a packet). Let sit for 10 min to check that the yeast is alive and well (the top of the liquid will foam and thicken). Add 2 cups all-purpose flour (10 oz.) and 3/4 tsp. kosher salt to a food processor (or standmixer) and pulse (or whisk gently) to mix. Still pulsing (or whisking), pour in 2 Tbs. olive oil and the yeast mixture. Pulse (or whisk) until the mixture comes together into a uniform dough. Adjust with a splash of water or flour if the mixture is wet or crumbly and dry). On a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough for 2 or 3 min so it becomes uniform and elsasticky; it should spring back when pressed. Transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl, top with a dish towel, and hold somewhere warm until it doubles in size, about 1 hour; or hold in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.



2. Organize the toppings: This is really up to you; far be it from me to tell you how to top your own pizza. I like 1/2 lb. roasted Italian sausage (cut in 1/2-inch pieces) 3/4 lb blend of cheeses (Parmigiano, mozzarella, and fontina), 2 cups tomato sauce (2 cups whole, peeled tomatoes, pureed in a food processor and seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh basil, and 2 jarred hot cherry peppers.


3. Roll out and blind bake the dough: Heat the oven to 425F; give the oven at least 30 min to properly preheat. Set a 12-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven for 10 min to heat. Meanwhile, on a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out into an 18-inch round. Brush the top side with 2 Tbs. olive oil. Using an oven mitt, remove the skillet from the oven and set on a trivet or dish towel.  Using both hands (without the mitt now), transfer the dough (oiled sound down) into the skillet; use a small heatproof spatula (or carefully with your fingers) press the dough to fit the contours of the pan; against and up the sides. Use the tines of a fork to lightly mark the dough (this will prevent it from puffing), brush with some more olive oil (especially the edges) and transfer to the oven. Bake until the dough browns lightly, 8  to 10 min.


4. Top and bake: Sprinkle half of the cheese on the dough, top with half of the meat or vegetables, and half the sauce. Repeat, reserving the remaining sauce for after baking. Bake until the cheese bubbles and browns and the pie cooks through, about 20 min. Top with the remaining sauce and let cool for a couple of minutes; then cut into wedges and serve.



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Asian “Carnitas” with Sesame-Shiitake Slaw

 Tony writes: What would “carnitas” be like if reimagined with an Asian pantry? Kogi has kinda already  answered this question, but  the technique is relatively intuitive, so you can trail-blaze your way through the method even without a trip to the West Cost (though  do, if it’s an option; I included a visit to Kogi on a recent L.A. tour and it was well worth the wait!!). Slow-cook a tough cut (pork shoulder is the thing for carnitas, but any hardy cut will do – even boneless chicken thighs) until falling-apart tender. Then shred, pair with an intense sauce and other interesting textures and flavors, and tuck into some sort of wrap. The whole thing, though slow cooking, is easy and hands-free and the best part is you get plenty of leftovers which keep in the fridge for 4 or 5 days and go well in rice, pastas, salads, or even vegetable-heavy re-braises. Here’s the basic set-up:

-Pork butt actually has nothing to do with the animal’s posterior; rather, it’s the front shoulder, a marbled, tough cut that’s traditional to braising (and shredding) in Southern pulled pork or Mexican carnitas. A full boneless butt weighs about 9 lb. (and feeds 12 to 14); for this method, a half butt suffices.

Balanced flavors: As tender as pork butt becomes with slow cooking, it’s got a slightly gamey flavor which you’ll want to match through a two-pronged effort. The first is a spice rub, a relatively simple one at that: a sprinling of salt, pepper, sugar, and 5-spice powder. The longer you let this mixture marinate the meat, the better (it will almost cure the pork the way you would with bacon). The second step is to create an aromatic – ie: really intense – braising broth: here, garlic, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns (if you have), fermented black beans, and a good splash of vinegar become the Asian heavies, mimicking what chiles and spices do with Mexican carnitas.

Season, sear, simmer, shred: Alliteration makes me happy; that and pun-y names for hairdressing salon’s.  Though the actual cooking in this recipe takes about 3 hours, each step in this process is relatively simple and hands-free. The further ahead you can season the meat, the better (shoot for 1 day). Sear the meat in a heavy pot (I use my Le Crueset) to get good color which, in turn, creates a rich, caramelized base for the broth. After adding some liquid (water, sherry, soy, and vinegar), cover and simmer gently until the meat becomes completely – and I mean COMPLETELY – tender. Let the meat rest for a bit and then shred using forks or tongs or whatever.

Recipe (Serves 8)

1. Season: Unfurl a boneless half pork butt (about 4 lb; Boston butt). In a small bowl, mix 5 tsp. kosher salt, 2 tsp. granulated sugar, 1 tsp. black pepper, and 1 tsp. 5-spice powder. Sprinkle all over the pork and let sit at room temp for 15 minutes or up to 2 days in the refrigerator; the longer it “marinates”, the more uniform its spiced flavor.



2. Sear and simmer:  Set a heavy-based Dutch oven over medium-high heat until a droplet of water instantly evaporates on its surface, about 1 1/2 minutes. Pat the pork dry (to remove any excess moisture that the salt rub might have pulled out), add 2 Tbs. canola oil to the pot, carefully set the pork in the pot, and cook without touching until an edge easily releases when lifted with tongs and the underside is nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip, reduce the heat to medium, and brown the other side in the same manner. Transfer the pork to a large plate. Add 1 Tbs. canola oil, 3 dried chiles (broken up), 3 garlic cloves (smashed), a 1-inch knob ginger (thinly sliced), 1 Tbs. fermented black beans (chopped), and 1/2 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns (if you have, or are interested in making a trip to the Asian market). Cook, stirring, until the garlic browns lightly and all the aromatics become fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 3/4 cup  dry sherry (or Shaoxing wine) and cook, stirring to incorporate any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until it almost completely cooks off, 1 minute. Add 1 cup water (or chicken broth if you have), 2 Tbs. white vinegar, 1 Tbs. light brown sugar, and 1 Tbs. sesame oil. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer (about medium low). Add the pork, cover, and cook, flipping the meat every 30 minutes or so, until it’s completely tender (you should be able to easily break apart and shred off pieces of the meat), about 2 1/2 hours.


3. Shred and slaw: Transfer the braised pork to a large platter and let cool for 10 minutes. Spoon off and discard the top layer of fat from the braising liquid. Then strain the braising liquid (through a fine-mesh sieve) and return to the pot; season to taste with salt, pepper, soy, vinegar, etc…. Using tongs or a fork, shred the meat and transfer to its braising liquid in the pot to keep warm. Meanwhile, make the slaw: Heat 1 Tbs. canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add  1/2 green cabbage (cored and thinly sliced, about 5 cups), 1 pack shiitakes (3 1/2 oz, stemmed and thinly sliced) and 1 tsp. each kosher salt, granulated sugarsesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds. Cook, tossing, until the mixture wilts and browns in places, 2 to 3 minutes.



4. Serve: Heat 8-inch flour tortillas in foil in the oven. Serve by topping the tortillas with a drizzle of hoisin sauce and sriracha and then the shredded meat and slaw. Have plenty of napkins on hand at the dinner table.


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Tortilla-Crusted Pork Chops with Pickled Red Onions and Jalapenos

My friend Hobie writes: My kids eat nachos frequently, so we’re often faced with the dilemma of what to do with the crushed pieces at the bottom of the bag. Any thoughts?

Tony’s take: Hobie, these are the questions that keep me up at night. My normal solution to this specific scenario – to dig my fingers into the bottom of the bag and kinda cheez-doodle the last bits -robs you of your dignity (trust me). The good news is that tortilla crumbs do have quite a few culinary applications (see below),  My favorite entails coating them on pork chops and mixing them with quick-pickled jalapenos. Give it a whirl:


– Coat or sprinkle:  You can divide the repurposing of tortilla chips into two groups. You can crush them into small uniform crumbs,  pat onto chicken breasts, fish (mild, white-fleshed varieties like cod or tilapia), or pork chops, and pan-fry or roast in a hot oven (a modern riff on “Cornflakes Chicken”). Or you can sprinkle tortilla crumbs on tortilla soup, a black bean stew or white bean chili along with diced avocado, fresh tomato and chopped cilantro.

About the chops and chips: I tested both bone-in and boneless chops in this recipe: boneless are easier eating (and cooking), though I preferred the pairing of the hearty bone-in chops with the crisp crust. As for the tortillas, the goal is to make sure they become uniform crumbs (about the coarseness of Panko) so they coat evenly. If your chips have experienced a real storage/crushing problem, you might have enough (about 2 cups) from the remnants of one bag. Chances are, though, you’ll need to crush up some larger pieces to get to this amount. You can do so in a food processor, though I prefer smashing them in a zip-top bag, using a clenched fist and thinking angry thoughts:


The recipe: Serves 4

1. Season the chops:  Sprinkle 4 large center-cut bone-in pork chops (about 2 1/4 lb.) or 8 boneless chops (about  1 1/2 lb) with 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, and 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder (or pimenton de la Vera).


2. Crush the tortilla crumbs:  Add 3 cups tortilla chip pieces (about 3 oz.) to a zip-top bag, seal (this is important), and then pound away until the pieces become uniform (the size of Panko); you should get a yield of about 2 cups; pound another cup or so if  using boneless chops.


3. Coat the chops: To 3 shallow bowls, add 1 cup all-purpose flour, 2 eggs (beaten), and the tortilla crumbs. Working one chop at a time, add the pork first to the flour (gently shake off any excess), then dip in the egg (here’s a good place to use tongs), and then drop into the tortilla crumbs (use your fingers to press and pat the tortillas onto the pork). Transfer to a large plate.


4. Sear-roast the chops: Heat the oven to 425F. Heat 2 Tbs. canola oil or vegetable oil in a large, heavy-based skillet (I used my cast-iron which fit 4 bone-in chops) over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the chops (or half if cooking the boneless), evenly spaced, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the crust browns lightly, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook the other side for 1 minute (If using boneless, transfer the cooked chops to a plate and cook the remaining chops with 1 Tbs. oil). Transfer the pan to the oven and cook the pork until it becomes mostly firm to the touch and registers 145F when temped with an instant-read thermometer, 4 to 8 minutes depending on thickness.

 5. Serve (with pickled red onions): You could serve the chops as is with a wedge of lime, though I chose to up the tang quotient with some quick-pickled red onions (see below). However you serve the pork, make sure to let it rest for a minute or two before eating so the juices redistribute (ie: the pork stays juicy).


Spicy Pickled Red Onions: There really isn’t much to these, just wilt some sliced red onion and jalapeno with a little salt and sugar and then marinate in red wine vinegar for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 week: Add 1 sliced red onion (cut in half, peeled, and thinly sliced) and 1 sliced jalapeno (sliced in thin rings crosswise…with the seeds) to a large bowl. Toss with 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. sugar and let sit for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add 1/2 cup red wine vinegar and let sit for another 15 minutes before serving or cover, refrigerate, and hold for up to 1 week.

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Grilled Chicken Burritos with Smoky Pinto Beans and Fresh Corn Salsa

tonyr_pot_kAmanda writes: I’ve become so burrito-obsessed lately that I’ve decided to start making them for the family (easier, cheaper, more fun – right??). Got any recipe ideas?

tonyr_cook_kTony’s take: I’m burrito obsessed, too, Amanda. Like, a lot. I frequent Chipotle and other local burrito spots often and I also make them myself every now and then. The preparation is a good fit for a busy week. You won’t necessarily save loads of money, but  you can cook up big batches of varied, vibrant fillings and then graze on them for the next day or two (rice and beans reheat fine). Look, burritos are not fine dining, but beans, vegetables, and lean protein offer  balance and nutrition and they’re good eating. I’ll take them over meatloaf every weeknight of the week.  Since burritos are all about the fillings, here are 4 mini recipes for the essentials as well as a basic gameplan to roll.

Spicy Pinto Beans with Chipotle and Bacon: Purists favor dried beans (and so do I; they’re great), but canned beans are perfectly fine here and far more manageable. Bacon offers a little richness while a handful of spices impart depth. Yields 3 cups.




Recipe: Cook 2 slices bacon (about 2 oz., cut into thin strips) with 1 Tbs. olive oil in a heavy-based pot over medium heat, stirring, until the bacon renders its fat and starts to brown, about 5 minutes; transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Spoon off all but 1 Tbs. of the bacon grease. Still over medium heat, add 2 smashed garlic cloves and cook until the garlic starts to brown lightly, about 1 min. Add 2 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. chile power, 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried oregano), and 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder. Cook, stirring, until the spices become fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 2 15-oz cans pinto beans (rinse and drain the beans first), 1 canned chipotle chile (finely choppy), 2 Tbs. tomato paste and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the flavors mix and meld, 15 to 20 minutes. Add a splash of water if the mixture dries out. Season with salt and lime juice to taste and serve sprinkled with the bacon; or let cool and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Grill-Marinated Chicken: If you have the time, marinate the chicken up to a couple of days ahead (with the oil, garlic, and spices) so the flavors soak in. Boneless chicken thighs have a little fat which keeps them juicy on the grill. If you want to make this with beef, try flank or skirt steak, chewy cuts with big flavor. Serves 4 to 6.

IMG_0071 IMG_0081Recipe: In a food processor, pulse 1 garlic clove (coarsely chopped) with 1/4 cup olive oil until it’s minced to a paste (you may need to scrape down the sides of the work bowl). Add 2 tsp. ground cumin, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. chile powder, 1 tsp. granualted sugar and 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder and pulse. Spread this spice paste over 1 1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts). Transfer to a large zip-top bag and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days. To cook: grill (or broil) the chicken over medium-high heat until cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Let cool for 5 minutes, then chop and serve.

Spicy Summer Corn Salsa: Canned corn has its merits, but not in a salsa. Not now, when summer corn is sweet and in season. Grill up fresh cobs or use leftover grilled or boiled ears. Yields 3 cups salsa.



Recipe: Drizzle 2 ears corn with 1 Tbs. olive oil and sprinkle with S+P. Grill over a medium fire, flipping every minute or two, until the corn browns lightly, about 8 min total. Transfer to a cutting board to cool, then remove the kernels from the cob (use a paring knife). In a medium bowl, toss the corn kernels (about 1 1/2 cups) with 2 plum tomatoes (cut in 1/2-inch dice), 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1/2 red onion (finely diced), the juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tbs.), 1 jalapeno (seeded and finely diced) and salt to taste (about 1 1/2 tsp.).

Cilantro-Lime Rice: This recipe is little more than steamed rice with flavorings: use Jasmine rice, steam it with a touch of oil so the grains don’t stick, and then toss with the lime and cilantro. Yields 4 cups rice.


Recipe: Bring 3 1/2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and 1 Tbs. olive oil and then 2 cups Jasmine rice. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring once or twice, until the rice absorbs most all of the liquid. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes without disturbing so the rice steams and finishes cooking. Transfer to a large bowl and fluff/toss with the juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tbs.) and 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro. Season with more lime juice and salt to taste.

Gameplan: Big burritos demand big tortillas. Restaurants generally use 12+ inch tortillas. In the supermarket, it’s hard to find anything much bigger than 10 inches (these will be labeled “burrito-size”). Measure out your fillings accordingly – nothing worse than a busted burrito. Add in guacamole, grated cheddar, or sour cream if you like. To assemble: spread some rice in the center of a warmed tortilla (heat in a skillet or the microwave), top with the beans, chopped chicken, some corn salsa, and a couple shakes of hot sauce (try El Yucateco for big-boy heat). Then roll: fold the side closest to you over the filling (over and away from you), fold the sides in to the center and roll away (check this video from Porkyland for decent folding technique). Serve and enjoy.

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Grilled Spice-Rubbed Chicken with a Honey BBQ Glaze

Michel writes: What am I missing with barbecued chicken?  It’s always been my favorite, but every time I grill it, I burn it and not from not lack of attention. Should I just bake it? I’m thinking the oven might be the way to go. Agreed?

Tony’s take: Happy days….first grill question of the season! And make no  mistake, Michel, this is a grill question. Baking bbq chicken is, at best, a compromise: no smoke, no fire, no fun. Yes, grilling bbq chicken can go wrong, but it goes wrong for the same reason folks burn campfire marshmallows or roll solo through HOV lanes or wear shorts in April in New England: not enough discipline (or a plan, as it were). And here’s the thing: a simple method can get you there. Just divide the technique into two stages: first, grill the chicken sauce-free until cooked through and crisp (but most definitely not burnt); then, finish grilling the chicken with a couple of minutes of controlled basting to achieve the desired glazy/gooey crust, but still without crossing into charred or burnt territory. Go to the grill with this plan (and a quick, but intensely flavored homemade bbq sauce), and you’ll forever solve your bbq chicken conundrum.

The technique: I like chicken parts for grilling, preferably from a whole bird so you get a nice mix of white and dark meat (after cutting it up). The bones help maintain moisture and the skin offers crisp possibilities. Break the whole bird down into 10 even pieces, then hit it with a double dose of flavorings: a spice rub to start and a quick bbq sauce/glaze to finish. Grill the spice-rubbed chicken over a moderate fire, flipping often, until it browns and cooks through. Then start basting with the sauce and flipping until it, too, browns and caramelizes. Serve with vegetables or something else kinda good for you and start stretching for a summer full of grilling.

IMG_0004 1. Prep and spice rub the chicken: Cut a whole chicken (4 lb.) into 10 pieces (or buy 3 lb. chicken parts). Rinse well and then pat dry. In a small bowl, mix 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. pimenton de la Vera (or chipotle powder), and 1/4 tsp. garlic powder. Sprinkle all over the chicken along with 1 Tbs. olive oil and then marinate the chicken for up to 2 days (in the refrigerator) or let sit at room temperature while the grill heats.IMG_0006 2. Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup honey, 2 Tbs. ketchup, 1 Tbs. cider vinegar, 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard, 2 tsp. Sriracha, and 1 tsp. Worcestershire. Reserve or refrigerate for up to 1 week. IMG_0008   3. Grill: Heat a gas grill to medium or prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire. Rub the grill grates with oil. Grill the chicken, covered on a gas grill or uncovered over a charcoal fire, flipping every couple of minutes, until browned and crisp and completely cooked through, about 20  min.; cut into a thicker piece or check that the chicken hits 165F on an instant-read thermometer. If there are flare-ups, move the chicken to another part of the fire. If the chicken begins to burn, reduce the heat to medium or transfer to a cooler zone.


4. Glaze and serve: Brush both sides of the chicken with the bbq sauce and cook, flipping, until the sauce browns all over and caramelizes, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.





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Sauteed Shrimp “Scampi” with Lemon and Asparagus

Dee writes: My husband and I used to a go to an Italian place in New York for the shrimp scampi. I make it myself every now and then, but I think it could be better. It’s my mother in-law’s recipe: shrimp, garlic, butter, and a whole lot of white wine.

Tony’s take: Dee, thanks, for writing. But first things: I do not (repeat: DO NOT!!) want to mess with your mother-in-law (or anyone else’s mother-in-law for that matter). I’m drawn to this question – I’ve spent entire years of my life  thinking about shrimp –  but I’m always nervous about familial blowback. So look out for me…


The dish: Here’s the thing: your mother-in-law probably has it right anyway. Shrimp scampi is one of those dishes that’s more technique than recipe. If you nail the basic steps in the process – brown, but don’t overcook the shrimp, gently toast the garlic, and make sure to add a little acidity to taste at the end – the recipe itself shouldn’t matter all that much anyway. So, below, I highlight each of the difference-making tricks (in addition to  the basic recipe, of course). And to make sure I knew what I was talking about, I ran through the recipe myself. Given it’s almost April, I added in a couple of  spring touches (feel free to ignore them as you like). My version starts traditional: brown the shrimp and then set aside for the garlic. Gently toast thin slices so the garlic infuses its flavor without getting overly aggressive. Then you hit a culinary fork: I suggest adding in some asparagus, strips of lemon zest, and crushed red pepper flakes (but you could just skip ahead to the wine and butter). Saute the asparagus until lightly browned, then deglaze the plan with a splash of white wine. Add the shrimp back to the pan with a couple pats of butter, toss well, and finish with some fresh herbs. Serve with pasta or rice or whatever.

Serves 4. 

1. Prep the shrimp (Tip: make sure they’re dry): Peel 1 lb. shrimp (preferably 16-20 count), devein them, and rinse well under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towel: this last step is important as the shrimp won’t properly brown if they’re still damp. Sprinkle the shrimp with 1/4 tsp. kosher salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper.



2. Prep the veg (Tip: Slice thinly so it cooks quickly):  Thinly slice 3 garlic cloves. Using a peeler, gently shave the zest of 1 lemon into strips from the lemon, taking care not to get any of the bitter white pith. Reserve the lemon to juice later. Trim and discard the ends of 8 oz. asparagus and then cut in 2-inch pieces on the diagonal.IMG_0008

3. Brown the shrimp (Tip: Get the pan good and hot): Heat a heavy based 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 min. (a droplet of water should instantly evaporate when it hits the pan’s surface). Add 2 Tbs. olive oil and once it’s shimmering hot, add the shrimp in a single layer. Cook without touching until the shrimp browns nicely, about 2 minutes. Flip and brown the other side (but the shrimp should still be a little undercooked), about 1 1/2 min. Transfer to a large plate.IMG_0009

4. Cook the veg (Tip: Deglaze with a little wine): Reduce the heat to medium, add 2 Tbs. olive oil and the garlic and cook, tossing, until the garlic starts to sizzle steadily, about 30 seconds. Add the asparagus, lemon zest, and 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and cook, tossing often, until the garlic is golden brown and the asparagus browns in places, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/3 cup white wine and cook, stirring, until it completely cooks off, about 1 minute.


5. Toss and cook through (Tip: Taste for acidity): Stir in the shrimp and cook, tossing, until the shrimp is firm to the touch and the asparagus is crisp-tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in 2 Tbs. unsalted butter (cut into pieces so it melts more quickly), 1 Tbs. lemon juice, and any fresh herbs you have (parsley is traditional; I also like thyme). Then add salt, pepper, and more lemon juice to taste. Serve immediately.


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Spring Frittata with Asparagus, Feta, and Basil

Stacey writes: I’ve made a few frittatas over the years, none memorable. I have a brunch coming up next week and I’m thinking I’d like to try one. This, of course, could be a really bad idea. Advice? Also, two friends coming are vegetarians.

Tony’s take: I’m a big frittata booster. To start with, they’re scalable: easy to prepare, ample enough to feed a crowd, and ok to serve however (warm, room temp, re-heated). Frittatas also give off a composed, professional vibe essential for the kind of gathering you’re describing. And, entertaining aside, these stylized Italian eggs (basically an omelette, but sturdy and open-faced) are perfect when your fridge is empty (they top my Weeknight Top 5: category “dishes I make when I have nothing to make”; spaghetti all’aglio, olio e pepperoncino and non-depressing takes on grilled cheese are also in there). So if you get this recipe down, it’ll be good to you. And, trust me, it most definitely will impress. Here’s how:

My idea: We’ve not quite hit spring, but I would lean in that direction. Continental asparagus (ie: from Mexico or Southern California) are finally coming to market, sweeter (and more, well, alive) than their hard-traveling Peruvian counterparts. Roast the spears with olive oil until tender. Then fold into the eggs with fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes, and crumbled feta. The salty tang of the cheese complements the sweetness of the asparagus while the basil, my favorite with eggs, perfumes the finished dish. If/when vegetarians are not part of the picture, mix in some sliced prosciutto or ham; or try wild mushrooms, but make sure to sauté them first so they don’t leach off moisture. My method for making frittatas (see below) is part stovetop, part oven. I suggest preparing the eggs about a half hour before your friends arrive. The frittata will be coming out of the oven just as the bell rings. Then serve with standard brunch fare (or whatever you were thinking of): a crusty-whole grain loaf of bread, some fruit, something sweet, and so on….


My technique: The Larousse Gastronomique or Oxford Companion may definitively categorize the many different egg preparations, but I think of this stuff more simply: an omelet is stovetop with a fold, a Spanish tortilla is stovetop but with a full flip, and though I’ve seen it vary in Italy, a frittata is part stovetop, part oven, flip optional. I do like how frittatas begin on the stovetop; it gives them a running start which helps them cook quickly and uniformly. On the stovetop, I employ a scrambling (scribbling) motion with a silicone spatula, moving until the eggs start to firm up. I then transfer the skillet to a hot oven (make sure the pan is ovenproof so you don’t melt a plastic handle!) and cook until the eggs set and brown lightly; the heat of the oven should puff them up a bit. Slide onto a cutting board, let cool for a couple of minutes, then cut into wedges and serve.

The recipe:

Serves 6 to 8

1. Roast the asparagus: Heat the oven to 425F. Cut 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 lb., trim off the ends first) into 1 1/2-inch pieces and toss with 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil and 1/2 tsp. each kosher salt and pepper. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and roast until the asparagus brown lightly and are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Leave the oven on for the eggs.


2. Mix together the ingredients: In a large bowl, beat 10 large eggs with sprinklings of salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp. each; don’t go crazy with the salt as the feta is plenty salty). Fold in the asparagus, 6 oz. crumbled feta (about 1 ½ cups), 4 sun-dried tomatoes (thinly sliced), and 12 basil leaves (torn).

3. Saute the frittata on the stovetop: Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large, oven-proof skillet (nonstick is fine provided it doesn’t have a rubber handle) over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Pour in the eggs and gently stir and scramble, using a heat-proof silicone spatula, until the eggs start to form soft curds, 3 to 4 minutes; stirring the eggs helps avoid a browned bottom crust from forming.


4. Bake the frittata: Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the top turns golden brown and the eggs set and just firm up, 8 to 12 minutes.


5. Serve: Slide the frittata out onto a cutting board and let cool for a couple of minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.


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Pancake Perfection: Caramelized Banana and Chocolate Chunk Pancakes

Tony writes: Since Christmas morning when I unexpectedly assigned them annual-holiday-tradition status (it was snowing lightly; I got swept up in the moment), I’ve become obsessed with pancakes. Really good ones, of course, with crispy edges and a super-light texture and interesting (but not obnoxiously so) flavor pairings. I’ve whisked up many batches since to better understand pancakes, testing them in my griddle-less kitchen, armed with my less-than-stellar baking abilities. I’ve discovered 3 basic tricks (in addition to the familiar “don’t overwhisk/leave the lumps” refrain) which I list in order of importance as well as a basic recipe for my newest favorite iteration. Give them a go this Sunday:

1. Heat control and a really heavy pan: I won’t lie: I’ve burned plenty of pancakes, so I’ve learned there is a little nuance here. You want the pan to be hot enough to crisp up the pancakes, but not so hot that that first side burns. The trick is two-fold: you need to pre-heat a really heavy pan or griddle at moderate heat (I used medium low) for a good long while (around 3 minutes). Both elements are equally important. The pan has to be heavy enough to properly retain and transfer the heat. I favor my cast-iron skillet, which gives the pancakes a nice crust and some lift to their texture. Non-stick pans are fine –  the pancakes won’t stick, of course, but they won’t get the same crust or lift either. And because it’s dangerous to pre-heat non-stick pans (teflon fumes), you’ll have to alter the cooking method; don’t pre-heat with the oil for more than 30 seconds.

2.Filling and texture on the back side:  As with most all things that get seared on the stovetop, the first side to be cooked is the beauty side, the opportunity for perfect browning. The second side (the flipped side) is hard to make pretty, no matter how carefully you cook it. Couple that with the fact that the second side gets sprinkled with the pancakes’ fillings (below, slices of banana and chocolate chunks) and they’re doubly ugly. All of which got me to thinking: if it doesn’t matter how they’re going to look, why not give the underside of the pancakes some texture. A sprinkling of kosher salt and coarse brown sugar (or turbinado) might not result in full-blown crunch, but it does offer little pops of flavor. And here, in this recipe, the sugar caramelizes on the surface of the bananas. Along with the salt, that adds another layer of complexity (think salted caramel).

3. Fruit  (or something else good): Pancakes are basically muffins cooked flat. Both are classified as quick breads, relying on leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda (not yeast) to give them lift. As with muffins, fruit is a good fit for the filling. In the summer months, I’m a blueberry-cornmeal pancake fan, but blueberry season is short. The rest of the year I tend to turn to bananas. They’re always around and, when ripe, melt into the batter. Add to that, a surface crunch of salt and sugar (see above) and some chopped dark chocolate and you get a really interesting brunch centerpiece.

4. Whisk lightly (ie: leave the lumps): The basic pancake method is to mix 1 part dry ingredients (flour, leavening, etc…) with 1 part liquid (milk or buttermilk, eggs, etc…). As you mix the two, lumps will form in the batter: leave them be! Mixing the batter overzealously (ie: trying to beat it until completely smooth and uniform)  keeps these  agents from doing their lifting thing. This causes the pancakes’ crumb to be dense and their texture to be tough. Use a spatula (not a whisk) and a gentle folding motion (around the sides of the work bowl) to mix the batter.


The recipe IMG_20130113_082827_090 Make the batter (mix dry ingredients, then gently fold in the wet): Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl: 2 cups all-purpose flour (weigh it out – 9 0z. – if you’re the baking type), 2 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. baking soda, 1/4 tsp. salt. In another medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups 2%milk, 2 eggs (beaten), 1/4 cup light brown sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Whisk well, then slowly pour into the center of the flour mixture, gently mixing with a spoon or spatula, until the mixture becomes mostly uniform with the exception of a couple of lumps. IMG_20130113_085522_223 Cook the pancakes: Use a heavy pan and get it good and hot. To do this: heat a heavy-based pan or griddle over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until a droplet of water instantly evaporates when it touches the pans surface. Add a light coating of canola oil or vegetable oil (1 to 2 Tbs.) and then add the batter evenly spaced in 1/4 cup amounts (I can fit 3 pancakes in my 12-inch cast-iron skillet). Top with 1/2-inch slices of ripe bananacoarsely chopped dark chocolate (about 6 oz.), a light sprinkling of Turbinado sugar (or brown sugar) and some sea or kosher salt. Cook the pancakes without touching until they start to brown lightly around the edges (and the raw batter starts to set around the sides), 2 to 3 minutes. Flip (this shouldn’t be too hard as they’re only 6-inch rounds) and cook the other side until it browns lightly and the pancakes cook through (cut into a thicker piece), 2 more minutes. Top with a couple pats of butter, some powdered sugar, syrup, or honey, and serve. IMG_20130113_085750_585

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