If things seem a little quiet around here this summer, do know that it’s less because I’m out having a hot vax summer and more because I’m in my own personal quarantine-for-a-good-cause: finishing up my third cookbook, which will be out next fall. Although I’m somewhat (“somewhat”) panicked by the vanishing weeks between now and the deadline, I am so excited about this book and I can’t wait to tell you more about it, you know, should I survive the photoshoot and edits. (If you’ve spent some time on this site, you know what a forbidding task the copyeditor has ahead.)
But I can’t let another week go by without telling you about the most delicious, pinnacle-of-summer baked grain dish that has ever existed in my kitchen. The origin of this recipe is pasta bake that a favorite* reader named Marcia sent me several years ago from a Williams-Sonoma catalogue. It’s a summer staple for her and she thinks it’s fantastic because all of the ingredients are easy for her to get fresh and local. If you have a CSA or garden or farmers market access right now, boy, would they like to sell some corn, tomatoes, and zucchini! The first time I made it I used penne, as the recipe recommends and it was spectacularly delicious. So why do I use farro instead here? Because the sauce is so good, it doesn’t want to share the spotlight with big pieces of pasta. Farro, small, nutty and slightly chewy, is a fantastic supporting cast member, while adding a heft that makes it clearly dinner-y.
I will never find it again [Update: It’s been found!], but a few weeks ago a TikTok* went through my feed in which a woman is invited to eat half a dozen eggs and she says “Oh no, that’s too much.” “But what if I scoop them out, mash it with mayo, and stuff it back together?” “Thanks, I’ll have the whole tray!”
Of course, violins are not made small enough to express the woe that is ordering a sub-par drink at the kind of resort with palm trees, beaches, and a daily agenda of luxuriating as lazily as possible. But, have you ever ordered a good strawberry daiquiri at a bar? I have not. As neither the holiday weekend nor strawberry season are over yet, this seems as good a time as any to make it right.
I am a little bit obsessed with this spaghetti. If we’ve spoken recently, I didn’t let you not asking me about it keep me from going on about its simple summer dinner bliss. I have been fixating on the idea of this spaghetti for two delicious summers and I am almost sad that the recipe is done, as it now transfers into the category of Things I Already Know How To Make, which always gets bumped when there are so many Recipes That Aren’t Done Yet for a little manuscript due at the end of this summer.
In 2006, mere weeks into launching this internet food blog presence, I shared a recipe for ice cream sandwich cookies that I’d made for a friend’s rooftop birthday party. Oversized, utterly delicious cookies plus a scoop of ice cream on a hot summer day, what could go wrong? Alas, several things. First, regular cookies in the freezer become tooth-breakingly hard. Second, assembled ice cream sandwiches that are not returned to the freezer for several hours after filling melt way too fast, mostly down your arm, delighting the bugs around you but perhaps nobody else. Do know that none went to waste, but I think we all agreed it was all just too much, both massive cookies and massive messes of ice cream. Not learning my lesson, I tried again several years later with a slightly softer, but still not soft enough, cookie, yet it was still enough work that I’ve not made them since. I’ve also tried them with brownies (better) and salted caramel crackers (wildly delicious) but I still wanted to get the classic American ice cream sandwich right at home.
Here is my almost-summer wish for us: I think we should bring a pan of freshly-baked, thick, buttery, crisp on top, and plush with a flavor that absolutely reverberates with corn underneath, to your next park/picnic/potluck. It goes so well with summer salads and snacky things. And when cornbread is good, really good, it feels criminal not to share. This is.
When I was in high school and we were finally allowed to go off-grounds for lunch, we often went to a local deli where my friends would get various sandwiches with turkey, salami, ham, or all of the above, plus, lettuce, tomato, onions, vinegar and oil and I, a vegetarian in a place baffled by this, would get a the same but with cheese instead. I have thought about this sandwich and what it did well — salt, pepper, vinegar, oil, crunch — and what it did poorly — a stack of tasteless sliced deli cheese as filler — for way too long in the years (and decades, sigh) since because I still love a sandwich full of vegetables, but find most vegetable sandwiches very disappointing, either heavy with cheese (and I love cheese, but not, like, an inch of it) or overcooked, under-seasoned vegetables. Why not avocado and crispy kale? Why not hummus, marinated cucumbers and carrots? Why not… make it for yourself, Deb? Which brings us, as ever, back here today.
It’s a gorgeous spring week in New York City, the windows are wide open, and before I find it impossible to resist the siren call of a full shift to picnic–summer-beach-fresh-everything mode (with some ice cream/pie/cookie breaks, naturally) I wanted to tell you about one last easy weeknight pandemic-era favorite: a soy sauce-basted chicken that my family would be happy if I made once a week forever.
Cinnamon buns are perfect — they don’t need disruption, nobody needs a fresh new take on them, and they don’t need refining. I suspect that for most of us, our only grievance is that nobody makes them often enough. Have you ever woken up to the smell of fresh cinnamon buns baking in the oven? Yeah, me neither, but boy does my family have good things to say about it.
I had a very good reason for making this, in fact, the very best reason, the only reason I ever really want to cook anything on busy weeks with no other gravitas-adding forces at play: I wanted it. Last week I had an intense craving for the kind of salsa you get in a jar, that we went through buckets of when I was in college, the kind of salsa that you’d get on a table at a Mexican restaurant that may or may not sell margaritas in cactus-stem glasses and I wondered why I didn’t have a go-to recipe for making it at home. Isn’t that, like, my purpose here? Isn’t that what I do here, week after week for nearly 15 years, share recipes I hope will become your go-tos as much as they’ve become mine? Where was my seasonless* salsa recipe?