Dutch Oven Focaccia Boule

Last week I braved a bit of a Dutch oven bread experiment.  Starting with my recipe for High Rise Focaccia posted here some time ago, I adapted it for baking as a boule in my dutch oven.  My plan was to let the very wet dough rise for two hours, then to shape it as a boule and let it rest for 20 minutes while preheating the oven to 450º with the 4-quart Dutch oven inside.

But I got diverted off-task by an impromptu invitation from my husband to go out for lunch, so the rise was actually between 3-4 hours.  As it turned out, that was terrific.  The longer rise helped the dough develop just the light, airy texture I wanted, so I’ll do it that way again.

Very pleased with the outcome – a light, crunchy crust and a soft, airy, chewy interior.

Like almost every bread I’ve baked this way, it was another simple way to produce superb bread in your own kitchen.  Haven’t purchased a store-bought loaf in over a year!



1-1/2 cups lukewarm water

7 grams SAF instant yeast (or 1 envelope other quick yeast)

3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour

1-1/2 tsp kosher salt

2-3 tbsp grated pecorino romano

2-3 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


In large mixing bowl, stir yeast into the water to dissolve.  Add 2 cups of the flour, rosemary, cheese, and salt and stir briskly until smooth. Add remaining 1 cup flour and the olive oil, stir again until well incorporated and dough pulls away from sides of bowl.  Cover with plastic and let rise at least two hours, preferably 3-4.

Pour out dough onto lightly flour bread board and use a dough scraper to coax it into a boule shape.  The dough will be very soft and sticky, so sprinkle a bit more flour to help shape it but do not incorporate that into the dough.  Place the boule on a sheet of parchment and place that back in the cleaned bowl.  Cover with towel or plastic and let rest 15-20 minutes while you preheat a 4-6 quart Dutch oven in a 450º oven.

Make three slashes across the top of the boule and sprinkle with a bit more flour.  Take the hot Dutch oven out and very carefully place the boule in its parchment sling into it.  Baking it in the parchment will assure that nothing sticks.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove lid and bake for another 12 minutes.

Use oven mitts to take the bread out of the pot and let cool on a rack at least one hour.


It’s finally feeling like a real New England winter here in Boston as temperatures have fallen into the teens and twenties.  That inspired me yesterday to pick up a container of ricotta and a box of Italian No-Bake Lasagne Noodles from Trader Joe’s in order to assemble a comforting Lasagne Bolognese for dinner tonight, with leftovers for sure.

I had 3 freezer bags full of my Bolognese Giordano from efforts a few weeks ago, and had already purchased a 12-ounce package of TJ’s shredded Quattro Formaggio, so quick prep of a ricotta/milk bechamel and the assembly was all the work required to get this ready for dinner tonight.

I like an assertive lasagne bursting with flavor, and tender noodles that define each layer.  That’s why I prefer the 4-cheese blend over mozzarella, and the no-bake noodles imported from Italy that I’m hard-pressed to differentiate from fresh lasagne sheets.

Here’s the recipe.  I haven’t tasted it yet but all my instincts and previous lasagne  experience tell me it’s gonna be great!



assembled and ready for oven



16 No-Bake Italian Lasagne Noodles, preferably from Trader Joe’s (best value) softened in hot water for about 10 minutes and  laid out on  tea towels to absorb  excess water.

5 cups Bolognese Giordano or your favorite Bolognese sauce

12-ounce package Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio shredded cheese

3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano

For Ricotta-Bechamel Filling

4 tbsp unsalted butter

4 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole milk (or add a bit of half & half to low-fat or fat-free milk)

1 cup whole milk ricotta

Pinch of salt

A couple grinds of black pepper


Make the bechamel…

In a medium sauce pan melt the butter over low heat and whisk in the flour until it’s incorporated.  Slowly add the milk, whisking, until the mixture is thick and smooth.  Remove from heat, add the ricotta, salt & pepper, and allow to cool in fridge about 15 minutes.

Use a 9 x 13 or similar size 3″ deep baking dish for this.  My Emile Henry baker is slightly smaller, about 8-1/2 x 12, but it worked out perfectly.

Spread 1 cup of sauce over bottom of baking dish.  Lay 4 noodles over this, slightly overlapping.  Spread 1/3 of the bechamel evenly over the noodles, then spread another cup of the sauce, sprinkle with 1/4 of the shredded cheese (3 ounces), and 1/4 cup of the grated cheese.

Make two more layers using 4 noodles, 1/3 of bechamel, sauce, 1/4 of shredded cheese, and 1/4 cup grated cheese.  Then finish with final layer of noodles topped with remaining 1 cup sauce and remaining 3 ounces of shredded cheese.

If baking right away, cover with foil and bake at 375º for one hour.  remove foil and bake a little longer until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.  Let sit 15 minutes before slicing and serving.


and done!

(prep can be done early in the day, refrigerated, and baked later after letting it sit at room temperature for about an hour)







In Praise of the Well-Made Donut


OK, I know my motto is “Anything worth eating is worth learning to cook,” but when it comes to donuts, I actually do leave that to the experts.

There was a time about six years ago when I had a serious donut addiction, which all started one night when my friend Deb and I were on our way home from a very late Red Sox game.  My husband picked us up at the MBTA station in Braintree, MA, where the aroma of freshly baking donuts was emanating from a Dunkin Donuts nearby.  There was also a time when Dunkin was open 24/7, but by that time they were already closing around 10-11pm.

Driven wild by the sweet smell, we searched for any donut shop on the 12 mile drive home that might still be keeping late hours, but alas they were all closed.  Deb and I made my husband promise us donuts for breakfast the next morning, which he gladly provided from a Dunkin Donuts in our home town – where there are no fewer than three.

The next few months were a marathon of donut consumption, where I had to have one every evening after dinner, every morning with my coffee.  It finally came to an end when I was compelled, on a torentially rainy night, to venture out at 10pm for donuts that might still be fresh, only to see the last palatable few go to the one customer ahead of me in line.  It was a sad wake-up call as I left with two dry crullers.

I went cold turkey and soon lost the five pounds of donut weight around my muffin top.

Flash forward to yesterday when I watched the episode of The Great British Baking Show, where the challenge was to bake ‘jam-filled donuts.’  Oh no!  My mother’s favorite.  The jelly donuts she insisted I include in her weekly shopping order every Sunday once I became her caregiver.  The craving was instant and persistent, augmented by the notalgia for my mother’s favorite sweet.  I called my husband and asked him to stop at Dunkin for a few jelly donuts, and explained why.  He accepted the mission, saying he’d also get some lemon-filled for himself.

He came home with a rumpled little bag containing four of the saddest excuses for jelly donuts I’ve seen since the #7 contestant’s failed effort on GBBS.  Small, flat, sugar coating melted into the dough, and maybe a scant teaspoon of jelly filling inside.  We concurred, the worst we’d ever had.  Even the supermarket provides a better product.

This morning I was on a mission to satisfy that hunger, and researched Yelp reviews for other non-Dunkin shops in the area.  Aha – rave reviews for Honeydew Donuts in Rockland, just a few miles down the road, in a location formerly occupied by Viola’s Donut Shop in the ’80’s.  Viola’s, I recalled,  were so big that only six could fit in a dozen-sized box.

Success!  I am now the proud hoarder of six magnficently plump filled donuts weighing a total of 33 ounces in their box.   That’s about 5.5 ounces of donut heaven apiece.  Look at these beauties!  From left to right – lemon-filled, jelly, and apple.

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Now look at how one of these jelly beauties stacks up next to the pitiful thing from DD.

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Need I say more?  Yes – if you love donuts and are still getting yours from Dunkin, you don’t know what you’ve been missing.




This barbecue sauce is something I created many years ago as alternative to store-bought varieties that were either too tame or laden with high fructose corn syrup, or both.  I stopped making it for a few years when I discovered the excellent Trader Joe’s Bold & Smoky Kansas City Style Barbecue Sauce.  It was full of flavor, not overly sweet, just spicy enough, and absent anything that ever came from an ear of corn.  It was the only bottled sauce that met my ingredient and flavor requirements, and I always had it on hand to spike up the flavor of baked beans or to slather onto baby back ribs after they’d slow-baked in a dry spice rub.

Alas, as it goes with so much of what we love from TJ’s, they’ve discontinued it.  So it’s back to making my own.  No problem – this is an outstanding sauce with both kick and complexity, and comes together pretty quickly.

This recipe makes about 3-1/2 cups, and it keeps in the fridge forever.  I use 3 different sweeteners – molasses, light brown sugar, and maple syrup – and three kinds of hots – chili sauce, ground chipotle powder, and a dash of Tabasco.  After sautéing the onions and garlic in the vegetable oil, simply add everything else and let it simmer, stirring now and then, for about 45 minutes.  I store mine in a liter-sized mason jar; any similar-sized jar will do.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 tbsp vegetable oil (not olive oil)

1 large onion and one garlic clove very finely chopped

1-1/2 cups organic ketchup

6 tbsp unsulphured molasses

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup (now called dark robust)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tbsp chili sauce

1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp ground chipotle powder

A dash of Tabasco




Caponata Agrodolce

The French can have their ratatouille, which in my opinion is often too mushy.  For me, the best thing to do with eggplant is caponata – in this case, caponata tossed with a balsamic reduction that heightens its flavor profile and becomes something I crave by itself as a light lunch.

I found the basic recipe years ago – one that made a massive amount for a crowd – and modified it enough to make it my own.  And now, thanks to the Balsamic Glaze available at TJ’s, it’s not necessary to boil down your own balsamic vinegar and sugar for the agrodolce…much easier to just use the prepared stuff for that final crucial step:


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INGREDIENTS: 4-6 tbsp EVOO; 1 medium eggplant cut into 1/4″ dice, about 1 lb; 2 small zucchini quarters and then cut into 1/4″ pieces; 1 medium sweet onion chopped into 1/4″ pieces; 2 ribs celery cut into 1/4″ slices; 1 very plump garlic clove thinly sliced; 1/3 cup thinly sliced roasted rep peppers; 1/3 cup drained capers; 1/3 cup chopped Kalamata olives; 1/3 cup golden raisins; S&P to taste; 2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley; 2 tbsp julienned fresh basil; 1/2 tsp dried oregano; 2/3 cup marinara sauce; 1/4 cup Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze (or make your own by reducing down 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar with 2 tbsp sugar until you have 1/4 cup)

TECHNIQUE:  in a large deep skillet or electric frypan, sauté the eggplant, zucchini and celery in most of the EVOO for about 10 minutes until softened completely.  Remove to a very large bowl.  Add a bit more oil to the skillet and sauté the onions and garlic until softened.  Add that to the others vegetables in the bowl,  and then combine with the olives, capers, roasted peppers, and raisins.  Add the balsamic glaze and toss to coat.  Add S&P to taste, then the parsley, oregano, basil, and marinara sauce and stir to combine.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.  The flavors truly come alive after a few hours in the fridge.

Primavera Pasta Salad

While combing through my thick binder of favorite saved recipes this morning, I came across the menu and guest list for my son’s first birthday party in 1985.  The menu was an ambitious buffet entirely from the original Silver Palate Cookbook, except for the clown birthday cake from Montilio’s Bakery.

Following the pre-luncheon nibbles, there was Chicken Marbella, Glazed Corned Beef,  New Potato Salad, Tossed Green Salad, and Pasta Primavera Gregory – a pasta dish originally wrtitten for fettuccine, but which I had undoubtedly adapted into a more fork-friendly pasta salad.

Thirty-three years later, the taste memory was sufficient to reimagine what I had done to put together this pasta salad bursting with color, flavor, and texture:


inspired by The Silver Palate



8 ounces good Italian rotini, cooked al dente

1/4  cup finely chopped red onion

2 Tbsp EVOO

6 ounces snap peas or snow peas, blanched, shocked, and sliced thinly on the diagonal

4 scallions sliced thinly on the diagonal (about 1/3 cup)

1/3 cup diced roasted red peppers or same amount fresh red bell pepper

1/2 cup seeded & chopped ripe tomato

6 ounces thinly sliced Boar’s Head Rosemary Ham, broken by hand into small pieces

1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives

2 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano

2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

1/2 tbsp dried oregano

Grated zest of one lemon

S&P to taste


Drain the pasta and toss it with the olive oil and chopped onion in a very large bowl.  Add the next six ingredients, toss again.  Add the cheese, vinegar, oregano and lemon zest, toss again.  Season to taste with S&P and serve immediately or chill.

This makes enough for 3-4 servings for a light lunch, or 6-8 as a side dish with dinner.  If chilled, take it out of the fridge about a half hour before serving to allow all the flavors to come through.




Emulsify, Reduce, and Slice on the Bias

UnknownNo recipes in this post, my friends, simply a few techniques which, if you’re not already employing, will surely elevate the results of your efforts in the kitchen.

Emulsify – put any thoughts of bottled salad dressing out of your mind forever, and learn how to simply emulsify the best dressings easily and from scratch.  Rule of thumb for a vinaigrette – 3 parts EVOO to 1 part vinegar, some minced shallot, Dijon mustard, touch of honey, S&P.  Whisk until emulsified.  You’ll know when, because the mixture will cease to look like a pool of oil and other stuff, and become a slightly thickened oneness.

Reduce – making anything with a sauce, be it a long-cooked stew, a braise, or a roasted chicken – remove the solids and reduce what’s left in the pot or pan while stirring or whisking over moderately high heat until it reaches a smooth, almost syrupy consistency.  No need to add flour or cornstarch to thicken – the reduction will be packed with flavor, and you’ll be tempted to eat it with a spoon.

Slice on the Bias when slicing vegetables, breads and meats, cutting on the bias exposes more surface area for both more exposed area of flavor and a lovelier presentation.  Even mundane vegetables like celery and carrots take on a restaurant-quality appearance when sliced on the extreme diagonal instead of chopped straight down.  A baguette of bread, too thin for a sandwich, yields sandwich-appropriate slices when cut this way.  Grilled boneless meats (and slow-cooked brisket) yield broader, more tender and flavor-packed slices when cut against the grain on the bias.

One more tip – keep those knives sharpened.  A dull knife will cut you more quickly than a sharp one when it slips off that onion or bagel you’re cutting.