Cooking Smart –A Delicious Soup to Make Ahead

Tomato, Fennel, and Italian Sausage Soup 1 A 3254x2432This fall has seen the coincidental publication of my Sunday Casseroles and When Paris Went Dark—The City of Light During the German Occupation, my husband’s new book. As a consequence, the past two months have been a blur of travel for us. I’ve been to Maine, Boston, and Ohio for book events, and tagged along with my spouse to New York, Washington, and Connecticut for his talks and signings. This chaotic schedule has meant that I’ve had to cook smart, and make plenty of dishes in advance. Soups, it turns out, have been my salvation since they are so easy to do ahead. One of my favorites has been a comforting Italian –style zuppa of tomatoes, fennel, and sausage.

This hearty soup is made by sautéing slices of sweet, fennel-scented Italian sausage along with leeks and then gently simmering the duo in chicken stock and tomatoes. Simple seasonings of basil, red pepper flakes, and garlic round out the robust flavors, while a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano provides a fitting garnish.

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A Great Make-Ahead Side Dish for Thanksgiving

Roasted Butternut Squash and Pears 1There would be a rebellion in our family if our Thanksgiving menu did not include certain dishes. Everyone expects herb-roasted turkey with shallot pan gravy and cornbread dressing prepared with leeks, onions, and sweet peppers. My spouse adores the glistening cranberry chutney I’ve made for close to two decades, and our grandkids look forward to decadent pies and other sweets to end our feast.

When it comes to side dishes, though, I can vary the offerings without a major protest. This year there will be tender green beans sprinkled with crispy bacon, green onions, and parsley along with buttermilk mashed potatoes with grainy mustard. I’m also adding roasted butternut squash and pears with blue cheese and walnuts, a glorious fall dish that bursts with vibrant fall colors and tastes. Continue reading

Swiss Chard – A Great Side Dish for Fall

asTurnip greens and collards were familiar staples at our table when I was growing up in the South, but Swiss chard, another nutrient-packed green, was never on the menu. Not until many years later, did I discover this delicious, leafy vegetable. Chard comes in green, red, and yellow varieties and is available throughout the year, but right now it’s at its peak in my farmers’ markets and local groceries.

Mediterranean cooks have long used chard imaginatively, but I only recently started cooking with this vegetable that ranks as one of the healthiest in the world. Like spinach, it can be sautéed with garlic, added to vegetable soups, or baked in a casserole with a creamy sauce, all with tempting results. Continue reading

A Fabulous Holiday Brunch Dish

One of the challenges for many cooks (myself included!) during the Christmas holidays is figuring out what to serve overnight company for breakfast or brunch. A dish that is simple to prepare, that can be mostly assembled in advance, and that delivers a bit of dazzle is what we all want. This casserole of baked French toast topped with a glorious mélange of fresh and dried fruits will definitely fit the bill.

All you have to do is to arrange slices from a good peasant or country loaf in a baking dish, cover them with purchased eggnog, then refrigerate overnight. At baking time, you spoon apple wedges, diced dried apricots, and dried cherries that have been sautéed in butter and brown sugar atop the soaked bread, and add a sprinkle of walnuts. Then this breakfast gratin goes into the oven to bake unattended for about 40 minutes. Oh, did I mention that the fruits can be sautéed a day ahead? Continue reading