Minimalist Chirstmas Therapy

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Mark Bittman is the author of many books including How to Cook Everything and The Minimalist Cooks at Home. He is the author of the New York Times' Minimalist Column that appears weekly.

The Minimalist's Choucroute
Makes 6 servings
Time: About 2 hours, largely unattended

  • 3 pounds sauerkraut
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 10 juniper berries
  • 2 cups dry white wine, preferably Alsatian Riesling
  • 1 pound slab bacon, in one piece
  • 1 pound kielbasa or similar dark sausage
  • 3 bratwursts or similar "white" sausage
  • 3 smoked loin pork chops
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Wash the sauerkraut and drain it well. Combine it with the onion, juniper berries, and wine in a large skillet or broad pot and add enough water to come about two-thirds of the way up the side of the sauerkraut (in some pots, the wine may provide enough liquid). Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.

2. Turn down the heat and nestle the bacon in the sauerkraut. Cover and cook 60 minutes, then add the sausages and pork chops. Re-cover and cook another 30 minutes. The sauerkraut should be tender but retain some crunch; cook another 15 minutes if necessary, then taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. To serve, cut the meat into pieces and serve it on a platter with the sauerkraut along with hot mustard.

Forty-Minute Cassoulet
Makes 4 to 6 servings Time: 40 minutes
  • 4 cups chopped tomatoes, with their juice (canned are fine)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 4 cups white beans, nearly fully cooked, drained if canned (see above)
  • 1 cup stock, dry red wine, bean-cooking liquid, or water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, preferably in one piece
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes.
  • 1 boned duck breast
1. Combine the tomatoes and garlic in a large saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Bring to a boil and add the beans; bring to a boil again, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat so the mixture bubbles regularly but not furiously. Cook for about 20 minutes, adding the liquid when the mixture becomes thick. Add the salt and cayenne when the beans are tender and flavorful.

2. Meanwhile, put the sausage in a skillet and turn the heat to medium-high; brown on both sides, turning only once or twice. Add the sausage to the tomato-bean mixture, along with the pork. Raise the heat a bit if necessary to keep a simmer going. Stir the beans occasionally so the pork chunks cook evenly.

3. Cut a 1/2-inch cross-hatch pattern in the skin side of the duck breast, right down to the fat layer. Put the breast in the same skillet as the sausage, skin side down, and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook until nicely browned, pouring any rendered duck fat and juices into the bean mixture. Turn the duck and brown the meat side, then crisp up the skin side again for a minute or so, once more pouring any juice into the beans. Total cooking time for the breast will be 6 to 8 minutes. When it is done, add the breast to the beans.

4. To serve, carve the sausage and duck breast into serving pieces, and put on each of four or six plates. Top with beans and pork.

Recipes from The Babbo Cookbook, By Mario Batali, published by Clarkson Potter

Goat Cheese Tortellini with Dried Orange and Fennel Pollen

The trick to this dish is making sure that the filling is quite moist. Once cooked and plated, the soft filling should ooze out of the cut tortellini like ripened Brie that has spent hours on the counter.

  • 2 cups fresh goat cheese
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 recipes Basic Pasta Dough
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 12 to 14 clean, beautiful fennel fronds
  • 2 teaspoons narrow orange zest strips, dried in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes
  • 1 tablespoon fennel pollen or ground fennel seeds
1. In a large bowl, mash the goat cheese with the milk until soft. Add the herbs, nutmeg, 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano, and salt and pepper and stir well. Cover the mixture and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

2. Using a pasta machine, roll out the pasta to the thinnest setting and then cut the sheets into 4 inch squares. Place 1 tablespoon of the goat cheese filling in the center of each 4 inch square. Fold two opposite corners together to form a triangle and press the edges together firmly to seal. Bring the long points of the triangle together in a ring and join with firm finger pressure. Continue filling and shaping the tortellini until all the pasta and filling are used. At this point you may freeze the tortellini on cookie sheets between layers of wax paper. Transfer to plastic bags and store in the freezer for up to a week.

3. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Drop the tortellini into the boiling water and cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Carefully drain the tortellini, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water.

4. Meanwhile, in a saut- pan, heat the butter and 1/4 cup of the pasta water together, whisking to form an emulsified sauce. Add the cooked tortellini, fennel fronds, and orange zest to the pan to heat gently and coat with the sauce, about 1 minute. Divide among six warm plates, topping the tortellini with fennel fronds and orange zest. Finish with a sprinkling of fennel pollen and the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan and serve immediately.

Basic Pasta Dough
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 extra large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1. Mound 3 1/2 cups of the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs and the oil. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and oil, then begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well.

2. As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up from the base of the mound to retain the well shape. The dough will come together when half of the flour has been incorporated. Start kneading the dough with the heels of your hands. Once you have a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly reflour the board and continue kneading for 6 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before rolling or shaping as desired.

Pumpkin Cake
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or grappa
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray twelve 3-inch individual cake molds or a 9-inch square cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool. Place the raisins in a bowl and pour the boiling water and brandy over them. Set aside to plump.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking soda. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs and brown sugar until very light. Add the rosemary leaves and then, with the mixer running, slowly beat in the olive oil. Beat in the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the pumpkin and beat until smooth. Stir in the drained rasins and pine nuts.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan or pans and bake until golden brown, 35- 40 minutes for the single pan and 25-30 minutes for the individual pans. Allow the cakes to cool slightly, then run a knife around the outside of each cake and gently remove the molds.

5. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

The following recipes are from Sara Moulton Cooks at Home, published by Broadway Books.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer.

  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1/4 pound capellini
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 small green bell pepper, sliced into thin rings
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite store-bought tomato sauce
  • 1/4 pound Italian Fontina cheese, thinly sliced
  • 2 oz. Prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • Fresh basil sprigs for garnish
1. Bring a large kettle of salted water to a boil. Add the capellini and cook until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain well. Heat the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the bell pepper and cook 30 seconds per side. Transfer to a plate.

2. Add the capellini to the skillet, distributing evenly and pressing down hard. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, until the bottom is golden, about 25 minutes. Invert the "crust" and cook the other side, covered for 10 minutes longer.

3. Spread the tomato sauce over the "crust" leaving a 1/2 inch border. Arrange the fontina on top, overlapping the slices, and top with the bell pepper rings and prosciutto. Cover and cook until the cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Cut into wedges and garnish with the basil sprigs.

Serves 6.

  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 to 2-1/2 pounds beef short ribs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably Turkish
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 72 round wonton skins (Available in the produce or frozen food section of many supermarkets or at Asian markets.)
  • 2 cups Quick Tomato Sauce or your favorite store-bought tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup crumbled ricotta salata
  • 1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
1. Heat the oil in a large covered skillet over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the skillet and cook, turning often, until browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate or platter and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and thyme. Cook for 2 minutes longer. Pour in the wine, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Boil until the wine has reduced by half. Return the ribs to the skillet, pour in the chicken stock, and add the bay leaf. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover tightly, and simmer until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bone, 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Transfer to a plate or platter and set aside until cool enough to handle. Skim off the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid. (Alternatively, transfer the ribs and the sauce to a bowl, cool, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the congealed fat that rises to the surface of the cooking liquid.) Return the liquid to the skillet and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil and cook rapidly until the sauce is slightly thickened and reduced to 3/4 or 1/2 cup, just enough to lightly bind the meat and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

2. Take the meat off the bones of the ribs, removing all fat and gristle. Chop the meat fine and discard the bones. Add the meat to the reduced sauce and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Working with a few wonton skins at a time, keeping the others covered with plastic wrap, moisten the edges with water. Mound 1 Tablespoon of the filling in the center of a wonton and press another wonton skin on top. Press out the air and crimp the edges tightly to seal. Transfer to a flour-dusted sheet pan. Repeat with the remaining wonton skins and filling. (The ravioli may be frozen at this point and kept tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to 1 month. Freeze flat on a sheet pan and, when solid, transfer to re-sealable plastic bags.)

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer over medium high heat. Heat the tomato sauce in a small saucepan until almost boiling. Add the ravioli to the simmering water and cook until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. (If frozen, the ravioli will take a few minutes longer.) Drain well and transfer to warmed pasta bowls. Spoon some of the tomato sauce on top of the ravioli and serve the rest on the side. Top with some of the ricotta salata and a pinch of the basil.

Serves 4 to 6
  • One 3-1/2 pound chicken, trimmed of excess fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil for brushing
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper, brush with the oil and place breast side up in a heavy roasting pan. Roast, uncovered, until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a skewer, about 45 minutes. (A meat thermometer inserted into the leg-thigh joint should register 165 - 170 degrees F). Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.
Janet Mendel is the author of My Kitchen in Spain: 225 Authentic Regional Recipes, published by Harper Collins.

(Spanish meats and spices can be found at La Espanola Meat Company, 310-539-0455, 25020 Doble St, Harbor City.)


  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1/2 large onion)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups peeled, seeded, and diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white wine, Sherry, reserved tomato liquid or water
  • pinch of crumbled oregano (optional)
  • pinch of pimenton (optional)
1. Heat the oil in a skillet and add the onion and garlic. Saut- on a medium heat until onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes and continue frying on a high heat for 5 minutes. Add the salt and the 1/2 cup liquid. Cook, uncovered, on a medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. If necessary, add a spoonful of additional liquid to prevent the sauce from sticking.

3. The sofrito is now ready to be incorporated with other foods and continue cooking.

4. To turn the sofrito into a smooth tomato sauce (salsa de tomate frito).

Serves 6.

  • 1 pound dried large, white beans, soaked overnight
  • 4 oz. lean bacon in one piece
  • 8 oz. ham
  • 8 oz. chorizo sausage (preferably smoked Asturian)
  • 8 oz. morcilla (blood) sausage (preferably smoked Asturian)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron, dissolved in 1 Tablespoon water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Drain the beans and put them in a cazuela or flameproof casserole. Blanch the bacon in boiling water for 5 minutes and drain. Add it to the beans. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam.

2. Add the ham, chorizo, morcilla, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and skim again. Add the saffron.

3. Cover and simmer until beans are tender, 1 to 2 hours, adding cold water as necessary so beans are always covered with liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste. Don't stir the beans, but shake the casserole from time to time.

4. Let the fabada rest for 15 minutes before serving. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Remove the bacon, ham, and sausages from the beans and cut into bite-size pieces with kitchen shears. Return to the beans and serve.

Serves 4.

  • 3-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained, and liquid reserved
  • 1 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chickpea cooking liquid or water
  • 1 large ripe tomato
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pimenton
  • Chopped fresh mint, for garnish
1. Combine the chickpeas in a large pot with the pumpkin, potatoes, bell pepper, oil, salt, black pepper, and chickpea cooking liquid. Stir to distribute the ingredients.

2. Remove the stem and core from the tomato. Set the whole tomato on top of the other ingredients. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Remove the tomato from the pot with a large slotted spoon. Slip off its skin and combine it in a blender with the garlic, cumin, and pimenton. Blend until smooth. Stir the tomato mixture into the vegetables.

4. Ladle the vegetables, chickpeas, and some of the liquid into shallow soup plates. Garnish with a little chopped mint and serve.

Berza Andaluza
Serves 6.

  • 8 oz. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 12 oz. beef shin or brisket
  • 8 oz. meaty pork spareribs
  • Small piece ham bone (optional)
  • 1 oz. salt pork (optional)
  • 1 pound chard or green beans
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 pound pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 6 oz. morcilla (blood) sausage
  • 5 peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 small, firm pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • Chopped fresh mint (optional)
  • 1. Drain the chickpeas. Pour 8 cups of water into a large soup pot and add the beef, pork ribs, and ham bone, if using. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam. With the water boiling, add the chickpeas. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.

    2. Chop the chard stems or green beans into 1-inch pieces. Shred the chard greens, if using. Add to the pot with the carrot and pumpkin. Prick the morcilla several times with a skewer (so it doesn't pop open when steam accumulates) and add it to the pot. Add the peppercorns and salt. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes more.

    3. Add the potatoes and pears. Cook for 20 minutes more. Remove several chunks of potatoes and pumpkin and mash them until smooth. Stire the mash into the soup to thicken the broth.

    4. Let the stew stand for 10 minutes before serving. Cut the beef, pork rib, and sausage into bite-size pieces. Serve the meats, vegetable, and broth in shallow soup plates. Garnish with chopped mint, if desired.