Friday, August 21, 2009

anti-recipe: f'in simple avocado hors d'oeuvre

Rule #1: Don't freak out about hosting friends or family for dinner. Your boss, priest, or Secretary of Defense? Sure. Your best friends? Non.

Rule #2: Cooking and eating are fun, so enjoy the process as well as the results.

Rule #3: Make something that is easy. This will give you more time to clean your bathroom and have an apéritif prior to your guests' arrival. Both of those things are important. This avocado dish is good practice.

I first tasted this exquisitely simple creation as a student in southern France. I know, it sounds pretentious, but as a French major it was necessary to learn grammar in person and increase my vocabulary of regional foods and drink. This included, among other adventures, spending a couple weekends at a French friend's parents' home in Landes. Seeing that I am quite a large individual, my friend's mother immediately implied that the size of my appetite must surely equal or exceed that of my physical stature. She was not mistaken.

As part of a massive late spring meal, she served avocados, halved lengthwise on small plates. She put a small amount of hot Dijon mustard in the center of each, then drizzled some balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and sprinkled some coarse sea salt and black pepper. Just looking at these made me excited. As a Minnesotan, I was not accustomed to eating many avocados, and surely not as an elegant hors d'oeuvre. Eat them with a small spoon and watch your guests drool.

What is this preparation called, you might ask? I do not know. She may have referred to them as "avocats" (avocados), because French people eat stuff like this every day. Let's give it a sophisticated name, to score you points. How about "avocados balsamiques?"

Saturday, August 15, 2009

recipe: rustic tomato sauce and sausages

Walking through the White Bear Avenue farmer's market last Wednesday, we found a pile of roma tomatoes for just a few dollars. The heirloom slicing tomatoes in our garden are finally starting to ripen, so it seemed appropriate to use the romas for something cooked. We don't plan meals for the week as well as we should, but in the summer it's usually easy to slap something together with whatever we buy at the market. The following day I remembered reading an easy tomato sauce recipe in Mario Batali's Molto Italiano cookbook (a favorite). This, served with some wild rice pork sausages from Pastures a Plenty and a baguette, turned out to be a great weeknight dinner that also tasted great the following day.

Mario's original sauce recipe is intended for more traditional pasta applications, and calls for canned or skinned/seeded tomatoes, so I cut a few corners to make a more rustic version with chopped whole tomatoes. It's perfect for weeknights or lazy weekends.

rustic tomato sauce and sausages
*serves 4 as a main course or 6-8 as antipasto


  • about 2 pounds fresh, locally grown (important!) tomatoes, roughly chopped - if good tomatoes are not available, a high quality canned variety will work
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced carrots (1-2 large, or 4-6 small carrots)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, chopped fine
  • 2-4 tablespoons of other fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, etc.)
  • olive oil
  • hot red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4 large uncooked pork sausages, dried with a towel, then dredged in flour
  1. over high flame, heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a wide skillet until just smoking
  2. sauté onions, garlic, and carrots until soft and translucent (8-10 minutes)
  3. while vegetables are cooking, heat another skillet over high heat with 1 tbsp of olive oil and sear sausages on all sides until deep golden brown (8-10 minutes)
  4. lower heat to medium, add tomatoes and cook until tomatoes are very soft and everything resembles a very chunky sauce (probably 10-20 minutes)
  5. gently lay sausages in the sauce and simmer over low heat for another 10 minutes, until sausages are cooked
  6. after removing sausages from skillet, stir the herbs into sauce (off heat)
  7. plate the sausages, pour some sauce on the side, and drizzle with some oil
  8. serve with bread and a spicy dry red wine