Ottolenghi's Pea Fritters with Za'atar and Feta

Ottolenghi's Pea Fritters with Feta and Za'atar

 A quick, quick dispatch from over here because it's 5:06 pm and my mother, who kindly agreed to watch Bruno so I could work for a few hours, is leaving soon. Yes, Bruno's home again from Kita, which is supposed to be closed to all but essential workers. (It's not, though; there are plenty of people sending their kids who most definitely are not essential workers, but don't be surprised, the pamphlet explaining the exceptions runs more than 30 pages long, TELL ME ABOUT THAT FAMED GERMAN EFFICIENCY AGAIN WHY DON'T YOU.) After two weeks of spring break, Hugo's back at school for his 2 1/4 hours of daily learning and I'm back to chauffeuring him and taking care of Bruno full-time and it's only Monday and I'm already ready for hara-kiri, LET'S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE SO I DON'T CHEW MY FACE OFF.

Fritters! PEA fritters! From the excellent pages of Ottolenghi Simple, which is the ONLY Ottolenghi book you truly need, in my extremely humble opinion. (Fine, you can have Jerusalem and if you bake, Sweet too, but Simple is truly what it promises - excellent, fast and - for Ottolenghi - simple recipes that will knock your socks off almost every time.) I've had my eyes on these pea fritters ever since getting the book years ago, but for whatever reason (fear of frying?) didn't make them until Saturday night. DO NOT REPEAT MY MISTAKE AND WAIT TO MAKE THESE. Make them right away! Today! Tomorrow! For no reason! They're so easy and SO delicious and...fun? I hate calling food fun, but these actually are fun? I mean, frozen peas! Blitzed into rubble! Mixed with za'atar and feta and mint and some baking powder/flour to help them puff and aerate! Fun!

They are an actual delight and when eaten hot from the plate, with lemon squeezed over, and a glass of cold white wine to wash them down, like an actual civilized person who still holds the potential to entertain something like a sexy aperitivo hour, may even hold the power to transport you from your miserable existence into an alternate reality for a brief, tongue-singeing moment. I AM NOT OVERSELLING THESE, I SWEAR.

One final note: If you have eaters at your table who do not like feta (ASK ME HOW I KNOW), you can leave out the feta and these babies will still be absolutely wonderfully delicious. Your mystical transportation may become somewhat more...limited in its scope, but it's still worth going for it.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Pea Fritters with Za'atar and Feta
Makes 25 - 30 fritters
Adapted from Ottolenghi Simple
Print this recipe!

500 grams (1 lb 2 oz) frozen peas, defrosted
120 grams (4 1/2 oz) ricotta
3 eggs, beaten
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
Salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons za’atar
100 grams (2/3 cup) all purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
20 grams (small handful) mint leaves, finely shredded
200 grams (7 oz) feta, broken into 2cm pieces
800ml (3 cups) sunflower oil, for frying

1. Put the peas in a food processor and pulse until roughly crushed, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the ricotta, eggs, lemon zest (reserve the lemon, cut into wedges for serving), three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and mix well. Add the za’atar, flour and baking powder, mix until just combined, then gently fold in the mint and feta, so it doesn’t break up.

2. Pour the oil into a medium saucepan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, use two dessert spoons to scoop up balls of the fritter mixture: they won’t be uniform in shape, but should each be about 4cm wide. You should be able to fry about six or seven at a time: carefully lower them into the oil and fry for three to four minutes, turning them once, until cooked through and golden-brown. (If the fritters are cooking too quickly, reduce the temperature, so they cook right through to the middle.) Once done, lift the cooked fritters from the hot oil with a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and serve immediately or keep warm in an oven.

3. Repeat with the remaining fritters, and serve warm with lemon wedges alongside.


Aran Goyoaga's Red Lentil Hummus

Red Lentil Hummus

I had my mind blown by a handful of red lentils this weekend and since this is what counts as exciting, here in this strange in-between-world of waiting-for-vaccinations and hoping-not-to-get-infected-and-suffer-before-then, I would very much like to tell you about them in case you, too, would like to have your mind blown by a handful of red lentils.

I mentioned Aran Goyoaga's cookbook in my last post. It is an absolutely magnificent cookbook, full of the kind of food you'd like to make every day, that you could feed your family and your guests, full of big and small ideas, project-y recipes and easy, back-pocket ones (Apple Cider Yeast Doughnuts! Rice Pudding with Plums! Tomato and Romesco Tart! Roasted Pears with Seed Crumble!) It's entirely gluten-free, but that feels almost beside the point, because Aran's recipes are so good that they appeal to everyone, not just the gluten-intolerant. It'll be on my bookshelf forever and not just because of the sourdough starter, though that's certainly one of the book's stars. 

This red lentil hummus is another one. Aran got the idea to use red lentils in place of chickpeas from Heidi's cookbook Near & Far and it is a brilliant idea, because red lentils famously cook in the fraction of the time as chickpeas PLUS you get to entirely circumvent the issue of whether or not you should peel your chickpeas when making hummus. Win! 

I was a leetle skeptical to start. I was imagining an orangey hummus, slightly lumpy perhaps, I don't know, the powers of my imagination can sometimes be quite limited! But no, friends, red lentil hummus is magnificent: light and creamy and exceedingly smooth and airy. It takes almost no time at all to make and when we brought the hummus down to our neighbors last night for cocktail time (we are in a kind of pod together, plus she is vaccinated), our hostess said it was the best hummus she'd ever eaten and I wholeheartedly agree. 

It's so good that you will ask yourself why anyone would ever make a chickpea hummus again! Seriously! Lamination-worthy. I topped our plate with za'atar and a generous glug of olive oil, while Aran serves it with roasted vegetables and toasted pine nuts. We ate ours with crackers and then I magnanimously left our neighbors with the leftovers so I could make more upstairs.

Important: Follow the recipe exactly! The seasonings are perfect as is and the blending times are essential to the final whipped texture of the hummus. I don't have a standing food processor, but I used this and it worked perfectly.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Aran Goyoaga's Red Lentil Hummus
From Cannelle et Vanille
Makes 4 servings
Print this recipe!

1 cup (185 grams) red lentils, rinsed
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (360 grams) cold water, divided
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup (120 grams) tahini
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup (75 grams) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
1/4 cup (55 grams) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
Za'atar, for topping

1. Place the lentils in a small saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and have absorbed all the water.

2. Transfer the lentils to a food processor with the garlic and process for about 3 minutes. Scrape the sides well, add the tahini, salt, pepper and cumin. Process for another 3 minutes. Scrape the sides again. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the lemon juice and olive oil. Scrape the sides one last time, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. If the hummus is too thick, you can add up to 2 tablespoons water. Pulse a couple more times, then transfer to a clean bowl.

3. The hummus will still be warm. To keep a skin from forming as it cools, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the hummus, pressing down to eliminate air bubbles. When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap, smooth out the top artfully, sprinkle with za'atar and drizzle liberally with olive oil.


Samin Nosrat's Kimchi Pancake

Kimchi Pancake

Everything is terrible, but this kimchi pancake, this chewy, spicy, wonderful kimchi pancake was a bright light in this shit basket of a week. I made it on Shrove Tuesday, the same day that I attempted a software update on my laptop without backing it up first. Cardinal sin, I know, I am aware! I have wrapped myself up so tightly in the shroud of my mistake that I am completely numb!

The recipe comes from Samin Nosrat's favorite Korean restaurant, a restaurant in Oakland called Pyeong Chang Tofu House and it is perfect perfect perfect. I followed the recipe almost exactly (substituting a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for the all-purpose flour), using a 12-inch non-stick skillet so that I could just make one enormous pancake instead of two slightly smaller ones. The kimchi I used comes from Korea and was a particularly pungent batch, almost too pungent for our straight-up consumption. But in this pancake, the other ingredients smoothed out some of the kimchi's aggressive bite and made it delectable.

I made a batch of English pancakes for the boys, whipped the kimchijeon up as they ate their pancakes with applesauce and cinnamon sugar, and then the two of us demolished the kimchi pancake all by ourselves. We loved the crisp edges, the funky flavor, and especially the gorgeous chew punctuated by the crackling sesame seeds in the dipping sauce.

To sum up my week, I have lost six years of photos and the revisions of my manuscript that I worked on this summer, as well as untold other things that I can't allow myself to list here, but I also learned how to make delicious kimchijeon at home, so really, what's there to complain about?

(Sob.)

Kimchi Pancake (Kimchijeon)
Makes one 12-inch pancake
Print this recipe!

For the dipping sauce:
¼ cup citrus ponzu sauce
1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds
1 scallion, thinly sliced

For the batter:
½ cup potato starch
½ cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
1 heaping cup kimchi (about 10 ounces), plus 1/4 cup kimchi juice
2 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons gochujang
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola

1. Make the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, combine ponzu sauce, sesame seeds and scallion. Set aside.

2. Prepare the batter: In a large bowl, whisk together potato starch, flour, garlic powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. Dice kimchi into 1/2-inch pieces. In a medium bowl, stir together kimchi and kimchi juice, scallions, gochujang, sugar, fish sauce and 1/2 cup water. Add kimchi mixture to flour mixture, and stir to combine.

4. Set a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil. When the oil shimmers, add the batter and spread it from the center out to the edges of the pan. After a minute or two, when the pancake is setting, shake the pan a little to make sure the pancake isn't sticking. When the bottom of the pancake is brown and the top fades from glossy to matte, after another 30 to 60 seconds, carefully flip the pancake or slide the pancake onto a rimless plate and flip it back into the pan. Continue cooking for another 60 to 90 seconds on second side until set, then carefully slide pancake onto a plate.

5. Cut into wedges, and serve hot with dipping sauce.


Focaccia ai Quattro Sapori

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I am in Italy at my mother's house for three weeks. It is beautiful here, and hot, and I am stuck indoors most of the time, writing recipe headnotes for the German baking book, which is due to the publisher on October 1st.

Gulp.

The good thing is that this means that soon - soon! - we shall have a title. Maybe even a subtitle. I am so ready to give this baby a name. Also to stop baking cake every other day, but that is a story for another time.

Back to Italy: As I have mentioned too many times to count, my mother is not a big fan of, um, cooking. She mostly just endures it, though a few recipes have managed to rouse some enthusiasm out of her, like Deb's carrot-harissa salad that I think she makes at least once a month. With gusto! Go figure.

Since we are here for three whole weeks and both Max and Hugo require more at mealtimes than a green salad snipped from the garden and the closest grocery store is a 15-minute car ride and every time one of us mentions having to leave the inflatable kiddie pool because we need more groceries another certain someone starts screeching and yelping like some sort of mortally wounded small mammal and it's just easier for everyone to keep that kind of nonsense to a minimum, I started meal planning when we got here. I work 4 to 5 days in advance. We're not talking complicated stuff here - oftentimes meals are just pasta with a sauce (spaghetti with clams, or gnocchi with butter and sage, for example) and a boiled vegetable, but it helps so much to have it written all down and shopped for. In fact, I'm not sure who's more pleased with this development, me or my mother.

To fill in a few holes here and there in the menu planning (we can't, after all, eat pasta every day, though my husband and child would be thrilled if we did), I went through a few of my mother's random recipe booklets that she tucks inside a cupboard. In one of them, I found a very promising recipe for something called Focaccia ai quattro sapori. I promised the good people on Instagram that if it turned out to be any good that I'd blog about it. And guess what.

IT'S REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

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What it is is a big square piece of plain dough topped with sautéed Swiss chard, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced mozzarella and anchovies. It helps, of course, that the chard came from the garden and the tomatoes taste like candy and the mozzarella is soft and funky and the anchovies rich and meaty, but something tells me that even with less-than stellar ingredients, this will still taste pretty darn good.

So here you go, no more dilly-dallying:

Focaccia ai quattro sapori
Serves 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a meal with a salad

1 batch pizza dough*
Olive oil
Salt
2 big handfuls Swiss chard (unless the stalks are quite thin, strip the leaves from the stalks and use the stalks for something else)
1 ball of mozzarella, halved and sliced
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
4-5 anchovies in oil, halved

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pat and pull the prepared dough out onto the sheet until relatively even and thin. I made a crust, but next time I wouldn't. Do as you like.

2. Heat the oil in a small sauté pan and sauté the Swiss chard leaves until dark and wilted, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt.

3. Distribute the sautéed chard evenly over the crust. Distribute the mozzarella evenly over the chard. Distribute the cherry tomatoes and then the anchovies evenly over the pizza. Drizzle with a little extra olive and sprinkle with two small pinches of salt. Set aside while you preheat the oven to 190C/375 F.

4. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and let cool at least 5 minutes before slicing into squares and serving. My mother and I liked this best as an aperitivo before dinner and ate a couple squares apiece. My husband liked it best as dinner and basically housed the rest.

*If you are lucky enough to live near a pizzeria or store that sells freshly made pizza dough, just buy that. Otherwise, make your favorite pizza dough. If you don't have a favorite pizza dough, try this: Measure out 300 grams of flour (about 2 1/2 cups) and put in a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon instant yeast (not active dry!). And about a 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Then add about 2/3 cup of water (160 ml) and stir with your fingers. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil and keep stirring. You may need a little more flour or a little more water, it sort of depends on where you are. When the dough is shaggy but holding together, dump it out onto your work surface and knead. You can use some flour to keep the dough from sticking too much as you knead, but try not to add too much, which will make the dough stiff. It's always best to make a slightly looser dough than a too-tight one. When the dough is no longer sticky and is nicely smooth, put a drop of oil in the bowl, return the dough to the bowl, rub with a little more oil and cover with a cloth. Set it aside in a warm, draft-free spot for an hour. Then proceed with the recipe above.


This, That and The Other Thing

Imagine, if you will, your heroine (may I be so bold?) going on the 10th day of a sinus infection that surely originated in the nether regions of hell. Her husband and young son have decamped to the family seat in the east of the country to allow her to recover in peace. She wanders from room to room in search of a clean tissue, forgetting the ones stuffed into her pyjama pockets and sweater sleeves earlier, and burning her tongue repeatedly on hot herbal tea (for everyone from the doctor to her husband has impressed upon her the importance of the tea being HOT HOT HOT if it is going to do ANYTHING at ALL to relieve her symptoms). Bathing has become, in the parlance of the day, optional. Her mind is a foggy swamp. Her blog, a neglected lot overgrown with kudzu.

However! There are a few things of note.

1. The baking book is coming along swimmingly (more photographic evidence of such available on Instagram), although the author is very happy indeed that plum season in Germany is over because one more Pflaumenkuchen and she was going to throw the damn thing straight out the window.

Marcella Hazan's stuffed eggs

2. If you are in need of a delicious hors d'oeuvres that does not involve bread of some kind (toasted, dipped, spread, etc), Marcella Hazan's "Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce" (on page 52 of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, if you own it) are very fine indeed. You boil, cool, shell and halve six eggs, then mash the yolks with an approximated salsa verde (2-3 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tbsp capers, 1 tbsp minced parsley, 3 anchovies fillets, 1/4 tsp chopped garlic, 1/4 tsp mustard and some salt) and spoon this savory, salty, creamy mess back into the halved egg whites. One would not be remiss in renaming these Italian Deviled Eggs, but one should do as one pleases.

Popeye pie

3. Jim Lahey's (he of no-knead fame) pizza topped with an unorthodox mix of spinach, garlic, Gruyère, pecorino and mozzarella cheese, also called the Popeye Pie, is probably the best way to use up that bag of spinach currently rotting in your crisper. It shall be noted that the pizza, reheated, also makes an excellent breakfast in a pinch, even if you are not usually the type to eat pizza for breakfast and in fact find it slightly barbaric.

What else? A jumble of disparate thoughts and anxieties and to-do lists, stacks of cookbooks to work through, invoices to send, a little boy's toys to put away, a rumpled bed calling seductively, ten more gallons of herbal tea to burn a mouth on. For now, though, nothing more than that bed, some silence, a good book and rest.


Martha Stewart's Hot Crab Dip

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Thank you, darlings, for all your lovely comments and well wishes. It did me good to crawl off and act like a wounded animal for a bit. I took lots of hot baths, baked a bunch of delicious, comforting things and read all the back issues of the New Yorker I had lying around the house. It was very restorative and I'm happy to say that besides a sore chin and a few remaining issues with my jaw, I'm feeling back to normal.

As for the delicious baked things, I will tell you about all of them, I promise, but first things first: This hot crab dip, which comes from the pages of Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook, was the Number One Most Delicious Thing I made over the holidays (we had it for our Christmas Eve appetizer) and while I realize it may be snooze-y for you to read the words "Christmas" and "holidays" in February, please trust me. You need to have this in your repertoire.

Hot crab dip was one of those things I'd vaguely heard about but had never actually seen in the flesh. I always assumed it had been very trendy and hip mid-century, but had gone the way of the three-martini lunch as the decades passed. When I was trying to think of what to serve to our guests on Christmas Eve (we always do a pretty simple fish-based meal that evening), I pulled down the Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook for inspiration. While much of the book's recipes are for much fussier (and more elegant) things than I'd ever have the energy to recreate, there are so many fantastic ideas for entertaining a crowd packed within its pages. Case in point, this hot crab dip.

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It's a silly-easy recipe and can be made in advance of serving, both big pluses for cooking for a crowd. You can make it with frozen crab meat as well as fresh, which is a boon to those of us who live in countries where fresh crabmeat is unheard of. (Berliners, I bought mine here.) And most importantly, of course, it is drop-dead delicious.

This is not diet food or temple food or whatever you're going to call it. It's rich with butter and cream and cheese, but a little goes a long way and it is guaranteed to please the people you're feeding. I'd go so far as to say that as long as the days are short and the weather biting, you owe it to your friends to make them hot crab dip. Not to overstate things, but it's the kind of food that make you feel all is right with the world as you eat it. The rich savoriness will warm your bones and the conviviality of scooping and dipping bits of toasted bread into it while clustered around a table together will warm your soul. Just the thing to keep us going through this next gray month.

(The Amazon links are affiliate.)

Martha Stewart's Hot Crab Dip
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook
Serves 8 as an hors d'oeuvres

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
3/4 cup half-and-half
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 3/4 cups)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
10 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Toast points, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon water and simmer for 30 seconds. Stir in the cayenne, Old Bay, and dry mustard until well combined. Pour half-and-half into saucepan and bring to a simmer. Slowly whisk in the cream cheese, a few pieces at a time. When the cream cheese is fully incorporated, whisk in the cheddar cheese, a handful at a time. Stir the mixture for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce; stir to combine. Stir in crabmeat and half of the parsley.

2. Transfer mixture to an ovenproof baking dish and sprinkle with bread pieces. Dot top of bread pieces with remaining tablespoons butter; sprinkle with paprika. Bake until bread pieces are golden and dip is hot, 18 to 22 minutes. Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup parsley and serve with toast points.


Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Squash Toast

Squash toast

A little update on the state of affairs over here: I am sick, felled by the flu. Hugo is in the full throes of cranky, screamy toddlerhood (so soon? help!). It is my birthday, but because of the aforementioned germs I had to cancel every fun thing I had planned for the day. And I am up to my eyeballs in unanswered emails and stacks of work and to-do lists and backlogged posts and every time I think about all that stuff, my stomach does this ugly little flip, it's very disconcerting, and then to make it stop I have to burrow my face into my sick bed and breathe deep and tell myself to stop worrying, which of course does absolutely nothing to stop me from worrying, and anyway, it's all rather unpleasant.

And yet!

Despite this pathetic litany of complaints, I am in pretty good spirits. It is December, which is one of my favorite months. I just bought How The Grinch Stole Christmas to give Hugo on Christmas. Our Christmas Eve menu is coming together in my head. (Salt-baked whole fish? Chocolate soufflé? What do you think?) We have a roof over our heads and food in the pantry and I have a mother who drops everything to take care of my kid while I recuperate, even at 6:00 in the morning. Honestly, the only thing I wish I had right now were a few more hours in each day - say, three? I'm not greedy! - to get things done. Who's with me?

(Which leads me to a quick interlude: Dearest readers - sometimes, when I'm forced to lie in bed and think about thrilling things like organization and staying on top of things and other areas in which I find myself, at times, failing miserably, I wish there was some kind of textbook or curriculum on how to organize your life that could be passed around once you have a child and then go back to work. I'm not talking about having it all or balance or any of that, at least I don't think I am. It's more that I find myself wondering what little tips and secrets there are to running a household, working and parenting and staying marginally sane throughout. Then it occurred to me that I could just ask you wise people, because you've always come through in the clutch for me before. Right? So, tell me, give it to me straight: what is one piece of advice you'd give a frazzled lady such as myself if you could? You know, like, only buy socks in one color so you never have to worry if you lose one in the washing machine! Or...cook all your vegetables on Sunday and then use them up over the week! You know what I mean? Go!)

Raw squash

In return, I will tell you about this roasted squash business, which I made for the first time a month ago and have cooked every week since then and have decided is my favorite food discovery of 2013, which is no faint praise when you think about all the delicious things I wrote about since the beginning of the year: Orange marmalade, broccoli soup, French chocolate cake, porridge, for Pete's sake, homemade saag and THE BEST ROASTED VEGETABLES EVER, to name just a few.

It comes from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, which should already tip you off somewhat, since that man is a cooking genius and one of the only chefs I know who can successfully translate his insane restaurant kitchen chops into doable home cooking. This particular recipe shows up on ABC Kitchen's menu as Squash Toast and you can see adorable Mr. Vongerichten himself cooking it with Mark Bittman right here (if that video doesn't make you want to get into the kitchen right this instant, then I don't know what to tell you). And the first time I made it, I followed it pretty precisely and had myself a fabulous little lunch - the spicy squash and the sweet-sour onions are fantastic layered with the cooling ricotta, the crunchy bread, and the mint. But it was just me for lunch, which meant that I had a good amount of the roast squash mixed with vinegary onion jam left over. I figured I'd eat the leftovers for lunch the next day, stuck them in the fridge and forgot about them.

Then, a few days later, my mother was over and we needed lunch, fast. I put water on to boil for pasta, rummaged around in the fridge and found the mashed spicy squash. I thinned it with some starchy pasta water, dressed the boiled pasta with it and topped it with a big mound of grated Parmesan cheese and, lo, it blew our minds. I've made the squash and onions and used it for pasta every week since then. No joke. Everyone who eats it (my mother, my husband, my friends) goes quiet and makes that wide-eyed face, you know which one I'm talking about, as they work their way through their plate. It's magical and delicious and perfect and I love it.

Roasted squash

Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Squash Toast
Adapted from the original recipe
Note: I usually use less oil than called for here, reducing the amount by a tablespoon here and there.

1 2 1/2- to 3-pound kabocha or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes, more to taste
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 slices country bread, 1-inch thick
1/2 cup ricotta
Coarse salt
4 tablespoons chopped mint

1. Heat the oven to 450. Combine the squash, 1/4 cup olive oil, chile flakes and 2 teaspoons of salt in a bowl and toss well. Transfer the mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook, stirring once, until tender and slightly colored, about 15 minutes or a little longer. Remove from the oven.

2. Meanwhile, heat another 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onions and remaining teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are well softened and darkening, about 10-15 minutes. Add the vinegar and syrup, stir and reduce over medium-low heat until syrupy and broken down, 10-15 minutes; the mixture should be jammy.

3. Combine squash and onions in a bowl and smash with a fork until combined. Taste for seasoning.

4. Add the remaining oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add bread and cook until just golden on both sides, less than 10 minutes total; drain on paper towels. Spread cheese on toasts, then top with the squash-onion mixture. Sprinkle with coarse salt and garnish with mint.

4a. Alternatively, boil penne or rigatoni in lightly salted water, setting aside 1-2 cups of starchy pasta water towards the end. Toss the cooked pasta with the squash-onion mixture, thinning it with pasta water until you get the desired thickness and top with grated Parmesan cheese. The amount of squash and onions above will make enough "sauce" for 4-6 portions. If you go the pasta route, you can leave off the ricotta and mint.