September 11th is a weird day for everyone. You feel like a jerk if you go about your day as if it’s any other day. You feel like a jerk if you mope around with dramatically downcast eyes, unless you lost a member of your immediate family in the attacks. You feel like an ineffectual, unpatriotic, vaguely awkward jerk no matter what you do.
I threw up my hands and just surfed the wave of blues with everyone else, called my parents, sent my girlfriends an embarrassingly cheesy email, hugged my dog a few more times than strictly necessary and went to a half-triathlon with Stephen in the stunningly beautiful 500-acre plus Croton Point Park to hang out with a bunch of other confused Hudson Valley-ers who didn’t know what else to do.
There was a memorial ceremony under a searingly blue, if cloudy, sky, and then more than a thousand emaciated, muscle-bound athletes hopped up on B Vitamins and bananas were let loose. Watching them blaze through the rippling water and the wildflower-dotted fields to the sound of cowbells, clapping and children’s screeches, I couldn’t help but have an almost physical upsurge of patriotism. Whenever I hear a bunch of drunken frat boys chant “USA! USA!” during a football game or other event centered around hand-eye coordination, I generally roll my eyes, tense my jaw and sigh like a PMSy-teenager who just had her iPhone taken away. But now, I kinda get it. (Kinda).
Then it was time to go home and make dinner.
I am a firm believer in mood eating. Pasta is always at the tip-top of our comfort food list, and being of Irish descent, tators will never be far behind. Cheese? It’s a given. I did a spin on my Mom and Dad’s recipe for Twice-Baked Potatoes and whipped up a super-simple pasta late-summer made using a tomato technique I borrowed from Lottie + Doof, who borrowed it from Michael Ruhlman.
Quick note on cheese: I have been using Pecorino Romano in place of Parmesan a lot lately (I used it in the recipes below too). It’s generally $2-$10 cheaper per pound, and I’ve found that it’s tastier. It’s a bit richer and saltier, and a touch softer, while still landing firmly in the firm category of cheese. Pecorino Romano is also made with sheep’s milk rather than Parmesan’s cow’s milk, and I find that sheep’s milk generally produces a sharper, more pungent (but not funky) flavor.
Click on for recipes and pictures!
Mom and Dad’s Twice Baked Potatoes
Makes 4 servings
- 5 russet potatoes
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- 4 slices of thick, smoked bacon
- 1 TBSP melted butter
- 1 cup sour cream (go for the full fat, you know you want it)
- 4 oz. cheese (a mixture of cheddar and Pecorino Romano is delish), grated
- 2 or so TBSP freshly snipped chives.
- Salt, and lots of it
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle oil over the potatoes and rub it in. Sprinkle liberally with salt. (I have found that baking potatoes with olive oil and salt makes the skin really crisp and flavorful. Wrapping the potatoes in foil just makes the potatoes soggy.) Line a sheet pan with foil and place the oil and salt-sprinkled potatoes on the pan, and bake for about 1 hour, until fork tender. Move on or store potatoes in fridge, covered, for up to two days.
- Meanwhile, fry up the bacon (or just nuke it) and crumble it when cool. (Vegetarians, skip this step).
- Peel one potato completely. Peel the top (lengthwise) of the other four potatoes. Cut the fully peeled potato into four. If you have a melon baller (they’re absolutely darling and perfect for jobs like this because they control how much you scoop; if I used a spoon, I’d spaz out and probably scoop straight through the bottom of the potato), use it!
- If not, carefully use a small spoon and scoop out the potatoes innards, leaving about ¼ – ½ inch of potato in the skins. Put the fully peeled potatoes and the innards in a medium-sized bowl.
- Add the melted butter, bacon crumbles, cheese, sour cream, more salt, chives and stir it all up with a smooth. When it’s a uniform(ish) paste, start spooning it back into the little potatoes. Mound the filling up like a treasure. The fully filled tators will look like vaguely naughty mounds of high-cholesterol danger.
- Pop them back into a 400 degree oven and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove and serve, with more chives if you’re a fancy lady, which I’m not.
Nutritional Breakdown for Mom and Dad’s Twice-Baked Potatoes: About 475 calories and 25 grams of fat. These bad boys could be a meal in themselves; just serve with a big salad. Twice baked potatoes aren’t diet food; they’re loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat. Consider using half of the sour cream and cutting down on the cheese a bit if dietary concerns are an issue.
Cost Breakdown for Mom and Dad’s Twice-Baked Potatoes: Fattening, yes. Expensive, no. These come in at about $1.00 per serving.
Verdict / In the Future: As with all gut-busters in our house, twice-baked potatoes are always a huge hit. We mused that really, you could do anything with twice baked potatoes — throw in sauteed veggies, chicken, pepperoni, sliced sausages, gravies or even curries. The key is scooped out potato + some form of dairy + random delicious fillings.
Super-Simple Late Summer Pasta
Makes 6 holy cow these are big servings
- 1 tomato, diced and placed in bowl with a ton of salt
- 3 slices bacon, fried up and crumbled, fat reserved in large frying pan (or 1-2 TBSP olive oil)
- 1 cup peas (frozen are fine)
- 1 small white onion, diced medium
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Splash white wine or vermouth
- 1 pound pasta (I used Bouble macaroni, which is fancy twirly macaroni)
- 1 TBSP snipped chives or other fresh herb on hand
- 2 oz Pecorino Romano, grated
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Place chopped tomato and salt in small bowl and let it sit and leak it’s tomato water for at least an hour, up to four. (I usually hate the excess water in tomatoes and bemoan the watered down flavors fresh tomatoes sometimes produce, until I used this technique, which turns all of the excess water to its sauciest advantage). Thaw the peas.
- Throw the onion in the pan with the bacon fat, throw in some salt and pepper, and cook over low-medium until translucent, which should just take a few minutes. Deglaze the pan with a bit of wine or vermouth. Throw in the peas, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Pour the “tomato water” (the liquid that has seeped from the tomato) and the tomatoes into the pan, toss quickly over heat, about one minute, throw in the bacon crumbles. There will still be liquid (“tomato water”) in the pan.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of salted water.
- Drain in colander, reserving about a cup of cooking water. Toss the noodles with the tomato mixture, grated cheese and chives. Toss in a bit of cooking water to keep things melty and moving if necessary.
Nutritional Breakdown for Super-Simple Late Summer Pasta: About 375 calories and 6.5 grams of fat. High in Vitamin C and A, thiamin, folic acid, so-so source of fiber and protein.
Cost Breakdown for Super-Simple Late Summer Pasta: About $2.00 per serving.
Verdict / In the Future: We love this one because it has all of the bounty of late summer vegetables and the flavorful tomato water eliminates the need for a heavy cream sauce. And you can never go wrong with bacon; in fact, I’ll probably double the amount next time.