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Radicchio, by Ana Petrak.

Recipe below: Rigatoni with Radicchio di Treviso, Gorgonzola, Rosemary, and Walnuts

I have a chest cold at the moment. It makes me feel all different inside, and not entirely in a bad way. Sort of insular but not sad, and just wanting to be indoors. The heat has gone on, drying the apartment air. The vomit-smelling gingko berries are smashed all over the sidewalk, one of the first signs of fall on my block. A few Chinese ladies were here this morning gathering them up. I saw them out the window while I choked down a few Mucinex. And then I got back under the covers and thought about autumn food, particularly tastes that might blast this cold out of my head. Gorgonzola came to mind.

There’s a pasta dish that has always intrigued me but I’ve hardly ever cooked. It contains gorgonzola and radicchio. Excellent ingredients both, decidedly northern. With the passing of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, fall brings Northern Italian flavors into my kitchen. Very cozy. I’ve added walnuts and a touch of rosemary to this pasta. It should do wonders for my head.

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Rigatoni with Radicchio di Treviso, Gorgonzola, Rosemary, and Walnuts

(Serves 5)

Salt
1 pound rigatoni or penne
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly smashed
2 large heads of radicchio di Treviso, sliced into rounds and then pulled apart into ribbons
1 big sprig of rosemary, the leaves chopped
A few scrapings of nutmeg
½ pound gorgonzola dolce, cut into little bits
A big handful of walnut halves, lightly toasted and lightly chopped
Coarsely ground black pepper
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly chopped
A chunk of grana Padano cheese

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add a good amount of salt, and drop in the rigatoni.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat half of the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Add the garlic clove, and sauté until it’s fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add the radicchio, the rosemary, and the nutmeg, and season with a little salt. Sauté, stirring the radicchio around, just until it starts to wilt, about a minute or so. Pull the skillet off the heat and add the gorgonzola and the walnuts, stirring in the cheese so it melts.

When the rigatone is al dente, drain it, saving about a cup of the cooking water, and pour the pasta into a warmed serving bowl. Add the rest of the butter, and toss. Add a little of the cooking water to the skillet, to loosen the sauce, and then pour the sauce over the pasta, removing the garlic. Add the parsley and a generous amount of black pepper, and toss again, adding more cooking water if you need it to get a creamy texture. Serve hot, bringing the grana Padano to the table for grating.

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Recipe below: Bucatini with Mussels, Yellow Tomatoes, Butter, and Thyme

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m really dragging out the tomato season this year. I can’t help it. They’re still in the market. Big gorgeous heirlooms. Lots of them. I like going to Union Square Greenmarket around 6 p.m. to take advantage of the big bags of seconds that farmers lay out for almost free. I grabbed a bag of slightly bruised yellow tomatoes, not sure what variety, and when I got them home I was reminded of why I don’t always like yellow tomatoes. They tend to be a little mealy, low acid, and low sugar, which translates into sort of tasteless. But I had to use them for something, so into my mussel sauce they went. Wine, a touch of sugar, and a few drops of rice wine vinegar corrected their shortcomings. I didn’t really cook them, just threw them in at the end to heat through. Better that way.

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Bucatini with Mussels, Yellow Tomatoes, Butter, and Thyme

(Serves 4)

Salt
1 pound bucatini
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, well chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon ground allspice
10 big thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
2 pounds really fresh mussels, small ones if possible, well cleaned
Black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
3 big yellow tomatoes, seeded and chopped, about 3 cups (drain them briefly if they’re juicy, but mine weren’t and most yellow varieties aren’t)
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Aleppo pepper
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly chopped

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the bucatini.

Set up a very large skillet or stew pot over medium high heat. Add half the butter, the shallots, garlic, thyme, and allspice, and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the mussels and the white wine. Season with a little salt and black pepper and cook, stirring   occasionally, until the mussels open.  Add the tomatoes, and let cook for about a minute longer. Turn off the heat, and add the sugar and rice wine vinegar.

When the bucatini is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a big wide serving bowl. Add the rest of the butter and the parsley, and stir everything around. Add the mussels and broth and some Aleppo. Toss gently and serve hot.

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Still Life with Lobster, by Antoine Vollan.

Recipe below: Bucatini with Lobster, Late Season Tomatoes, Orange, and Olives

We had the heat on last night. Summer is now officially done. But we’ve still got tomatoes. New York is interesting that way. In September to mid-October you still get some of high summer—warm afternoon sun, eggplants, peppers of all types, lots of tomatoes, herbs. I’ve got healthy basil in my little garden. I do get anxious trying to hold on to all these things, dreading the long stretch of potatoes and turnips ahead. It’s time to celebrate the remaining warm days and nights by preparing something special. Lobster with tomatoes is a gorgeous pairing, and if you add pasta it’s not even such an extravagance. One medium lobster easily serves two.

I love the ritual of blanching tomatoes and slipping off their skins, and then chopping and draining the tomatoes, catching their water to add to my sauce, if needed, or to mix with a little vodka for a chef’s reward Bloody Mary. I can still do that for a couple more weeks. Late season tomato cooking is a good time to play around with flavors, too. Have you ever added orange to a tomato sauce? It’s excellent, especially when you’re incorporating seafood, as I do here. Check it out.

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Bucatini with Lobster, Late Season Tomatoes, Orange, and Olives

(Serves 2)

1 medium lobster (about 2 pounds)
3 big round local tomatoes (about 1½ pounds)
Salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, cut into small dice
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
The grated zest from 1 large orange, plus a big squeeze of its juice
A fresh medium-hot red chili, seeded and minced
About 6 large sprigs of thyme, the leaves chopped
A splash of white Lillet aperitif or vermouth
1 teaspoon soy sauce
⅔ pound bucatini or spaghetti
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
A palmful of black or brown olives ( I used Taggiasca, from Liguria), pitted and cut in half
A dozen basil leaves, lightly chopped

Set up a large pot of water, add a good amount of salt, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the lobster, cover the pot, and boil until it’s about half way cooked, about 5 minutes. Pull the lobster from the pot, and let it cool.

With the water still boiling, drop in the tomatoes, and boil them, uncovered, until their skins start to crack, about 2 minutes or so. Using a strainer spoon, scoop them from the water into a colander, saving the cooking water. Run a little cool water over them, and peel off their skins, which should slip away easily. Now chop the tomatoes, and put them back in the colander, sprinkling them with a little salt. Stick a bowl underneath the colander so you can catch their juice. Let them sit for about 15 minutes.

Now you can either pull the meat from the lobster, cutting it into chunks, or, as I prefer, hack the thing into pieces right through the shell.  Simmering the pieces in the shell gives the sauce more flavor and also makes for a pretty presentation. I do it with a regular chef’s knife, but you can use a cleaver if you want. However you do it, make sure you put the lobster pieces in a bowl or something to collect any juices, so you can add that to the sauce.

Bring the water back to a boil.

Get out a big skillet, and melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot, and let it soften for a minute. Now add the garlic, orange zest, hot chili, and thyme, and sauté a minute or so longer to release all their flavors. Add the Lillet or vermouth, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Add the tomatoes, the orange juice, the soy, and a little salt.

Drop the bucatini in the water.

Let the tomatoes simmer, uncovered, for about 3 minutes. I don’t cook them long, preferring to keep their freshness and bright color. They should start giving off juice after a minute or so, but if the sauce seems thick, add some of the reserved tomato water. Now add the lobster and any juices it has given off. Turn the heat to low, and simmer, partially covered, about a minute or so, just to finish cooking the lobster. Turn off the heat.

When the bucatini is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a wide serving bowl. Add a drizzle of olive oil, the olives, and the basil. Toss. Add the lobster sauce, and toss again. Serve right away. This pasta is great with a deep pink rosato Cerasuolo from Abruzzo. And if you follow up with an escarole salad and a piece of fontina Val d’Aosta cheese, you’ll have a very special early fall meal.

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A still life with vodka and Peeps.

Recipe below: Penne alla Vodka with Late Season Tomatoes

I still don’t understand why pasta alla vodka tastes so special. You would think that adding vodka, pretty much tasteless, to a tomato sauce wouldn’t contribute much, but it somehow adds enough to make the dish unique. I first learned of penne alla vodka in the early 1970s, when it became a thing. My mother made it a lot. Psychologically it seemed to taste of vodka, which made it appear fancy, late-night, and a bit risqué. Palatewise, maybe I could really only detect tomato, cream, and a bit of hot chili. Magical thinking.

I love a pasta that feels lovely by design, where a few ingredients pull together to create a sum greater than the parts. This odd dish is one of those. And it’s wonderful on another level, since, for me, it’s usually made without much planning, out the necessity of getting dinner on the table fast. Last week, for instance, my husband was worn out and on the verge of what seemed like a complete freak from a particularly stressful work day. He came home depleted and fell asleep. When he woke up, at around nine, it was just the type of situation where alla vodka pasta goes into motion in my kitchen. I had farm stand tomatoes and basil from my garden. Everything else was pantry.

There are two ways to make this sauce. You either add a good amount of vodka at the beginning and let it reduce, or you drizzle in a small amount toward the end of cooking and leave it kind of raw. I’ve tried both and have come to prefer the first method.

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Penne alla Vodka with Late Season Tomatoes

(Serves 6 as a first course or 3 or 4 as a main)

6 or 7 medium-size round, ripe summer tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
Salt
1 pound penne
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, cut into small dice
1 fresh red peperoncino, well chopped
A big pinch of sugar
About 5 or 6 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
⅓ cup vodka
1 heaping tablespoon crème fraîche
A dozen or so basil leaves, lightly chopped
Grana Padano cheese for serving

Set up a big pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Add a good amount of salt. When it boils, drop in the tomatoes, and let them bubble until you notice their skins just starting to crack, probably about 3 minutes, but depending on their ripeness. Lift them from the water with a strainer spoon into a colander. Save the cooking water. Run a little cold water over them, and let them sit until they’re cool enough to handle. Now pull off their skins, which should slip off easily. Chop the tomatoes into medium dice, and stick them back in the colander over a bowl. Toss them with a little salt, and let them drain for about 20 minutes, saving the tomato water.

Bring the pot of water back to a boil, and drop in the penne.

Get out a big skillet, and set it over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the butter, and let it heat through. Add the shallots, the peperoncino, and the thyme, and sauté until everything is soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the sugar and a little salt. Add the vodka, and let it boil for a minute or so (you want it not completely boiled away but just cooked down enough to take the boozy edge off). Add the tomatoes, and turn the heat up to medium high. Let it bubble until the tomato pieces start breaking down and giving off juice, about 5 minutes. The sauce should be a bit liquidy. If it looks too dry, add some of the reserved tomato water. Add the crème fraîche, stirring it in. Turn off the heat.

When the penne is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a serving bowl. Add the last tablespoon of butter, and stir it around. Pour on the tomato sauce, add the basil, and toss. Taste for seasoning. Grate on grana Padano at the table.

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Recipe below: Tomato Tora with Rosemary and Goat Cheese

It’s getting to be that sad time of year when those smelly pots of ugly rust-colored flowers get trotted out and distributed to stoops and porches around New York, a signal that summer has come to a close. Yes, I’m talking about mums. I dislike no flower except them. When the mums come out, I feel sick at heart, and maybe a little sick in the head, too. Luckily we still have tomatoes. The best ones of the season are happening now. In fact, I’ve still got a deck full of big green Calabrian beefsteaks. I mean really green. They might be ready by Christmas.

Even though my personal tomatoes are stupidly late this year, I can still go to Migliorelli Farm and get beautiful heirlooms in many varieties. This year they’ve grown spooky black cherry tomatoes with a good balance of sweet and acid. They also have San Marzano and Roma plums.

I’ve made several tomato torte this summer, and I wanted to fit in a few more before the season truly wound down. The problem with using fresh local tomatoes for a tart is that they can give off a lot of liquid, possibly making the crust soggy, which is no good. But if you go for a plum variety, which is more meaty than watery, that won’t happen. I went with the Migliorelli Roma, and it worked well. I kept the torta simple, adding only goat cheese and a little rosemary. Super good. It’s still summer around here.

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Still Life with Tomatoes, by Ako Lamble.

Tomato Torta with Rosemary and Goat Cheese

(Serves 6 as an appetizer)

For the crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup dry white wine, or possibly a little more

For the rest:

6 or 7 summer plum tomatoes, depending on their size
Salt
3 ounces soft goat cheese, at room temperature
½ cup half and half
1 egg
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
½ teaspoon allspice
Black pepper to taste
A few large sprigs of thyme, the leaves chopped
2 large sprigs of rosemary, the leaves chopped

To make the crust, put the flour in a medium-size bowl. Add the allspice, salt, and sugar, and stir everything around. Drizzle on the olive oil and the wine, and mix it all around with a wooden spoon until you have a bowl of crumbly, moist clumps. If the clumps seem dry, drizzle on a tiny bit more wine. Now dump it all out onto a work space, and press the clumps together, kneading a few times, until they come together in a ball. Wrap the ball in plastic, and let it rest, unrefrigerated, for at least an hour.

Slice the tomatoes into not-too-thin rounds, sprinkle them with salt, and lay them out on a paper towel to soak up any excess liquid. I’ve chosen plum tomatoes for this tart because they tend to be less liquidy than other varieties, but they can still be moist, so it’s best not to skip this step. Let them sit for about 20 minutes.

In the bowl of a food processor combine the goat cheese, half and half, egg, garlic, sugar, allspice, black pepper, some salt, and the rosemary and thyme. Pulse a few times, just until you have a smooth custard. If it’s too thick, add a little more half and half or some milk.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly oil a 9-inch tart pan. Roll out the dough, and drape it into the pan. Trim off excess dough. I like to build it up a little at the edges to accommodate shrinkage. Layer the tomatoes in the pan in a slightly overlapping circular pattern, ending with one in the middle. Pour on the custard. This is not a heavy, custardy tart; it gets just enough custard to hold the thing together, and not enough to cover the tomatoes entirely. Drizzle the top with a stream of olive oil, and grind on a little extra pepper, if you like.

Bake until the crust is lightly browned and the custard is just set, about 35 minutes.

Let sit for about ½ hour before cutting, so it can firm up.

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Red Mullets, by Claude Monet.

Recipe below: Pan-Seared Triglie with Rosemary, Fennel Pollen, and Lemon

If you’re not yet comfortable cooking a whole fish, just go out and buy one. Then you’ll be stuck with it. And if you choose something pretty and small, like triglie, it will be much less intimidating. And, anyway, I’m going to talk you through this.

You may know this fish by its French name, rouget, or as red mullet, which is what it’s called here, but whatever you call it, it’s pink and delicious. There are a few good ways to cook it. Grilling is fine, but my favorite way is a hot pan sauté in a mix of good olive oil and bubbling butter—the butter helps brown and crisp the skin and infuse the flesh with fat and flavor.

I first began eating triglie regularly at the Greek fish restaurants in Astoria that I started frequenting in the mid-1970s. I was drawn to it by its orangey-pink skin. I’d pick my fish from the ice case, and the cook would then just throw it on a gas grill. Not the best for flavor, but despite that crass treatment, I loved the fish’s firm texture and mild taste, and I became fixated on it. I’d order two rougets, or even three, if they were really small, and season them only with salt and lemon. Those lovely fish with a side of Greek fries and a few glasses of retsina made a feast night for me. They’d have a fair number of little bones to deal with, but I’ve always just crunched most of them down with a little extra wine. You can also work around them. Totally worth it.

Now when I see nice-looking triglie in the market, which is not that often, I buy it. Its flavor really comes through with this quick pan sauté.

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Pan-Seared Triglie with Rosemary, Fennel Pollen, and Lemon

For two servings, get your hands on four medium-small red mullets. Scale and gut them, but leave their heads and tails on. Season them inside and out with salt, black pepper, fennel pollen (or ground fennel seed), and a little Aleppo. Stuff their insides with branches of rosemary, and slip in half-moon slices of lemon, a few slivers of garlic, and/or a scallion piece. Don’t worry if some of the stuffing looks like it’s going to fall out. It’s fine if it does, or even better, since it will just become even more flavorful when it hits the hot cooking oils.

Get out a skillet big enough to hold all the fish with a little room to spare. Put it over high heat. When it’s hot, add a generous pour of olive oil (you’ll want about ⅛ inch to coat the bottom). When that’s hot, add a few tablespoons of butter. Slip in the mullets, and let them cook without moving them around at all until you can see that they’re starting to get brown and crisp at the edges. This usually takes about 4 minutes. Now give the pan a shake to make sure the fishes move around easily, no longer sticking. Then you’ll know it’s time to flip them. Then give them a quick flip with a spatula. I guide them over by touching their uncooked sides with my fingertips so they don’t plop onto the pan, making hot oil splatter all over the place.

Scatter some extra chopped rosemary over the tops, just for extra flavor. Turn the heat down to medium, and brown the other sides, probably about another 4 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. These things cook fast. If you want to test, stick a skinny knife in along the backbone. If the flesh pulls away easily, you’re good.

Pull the red mullets from the skillet and onto serving plates. Squeeze on extra lemon juice, and eat. This time I served mine with a corn, tomato, and basil salad, and it felt right.

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Recipe below: Casarecce with Chanterelles, Grilled Prosciutto, and Sage

If you ask someone in the Hudson Valley where their favorite chanterelle foraging spot is, you won’t get far. They’ll look at you with that screwed up face that says, “Are you joking?,” or they’ll act like they didn’t hear you. My efforts in hunting for these beautiful mushrooms have so far failed, so when the nice lady at Migliorelli Farm said her longtime forager had just dropped off a bag of fresh picked chanterelles, I bought most of them. They are my favorite mushroom. There’s something light in their flavor, unlike porcini or morels, which both are amazing but with more strident tastes. Chanterelles, to my palate, are complex, sweet, damp, black peppery, and almost fruity up front. I’m thinking apricot fruity, but that might just be because of their somewhat apricot color, a sort of bleached-out apricot. Their texture, thick, velvety, with a touch of slippery, is also a big part of their appeal for me. And their shape, a trumpet, a funnel, a lily, is truly lovely.

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Casarecce with Chanterelles, Grilled Prosciutto, and Sage

(Serves 2)

½ pound casarecce pasta (trofie, fusilli, or any other type of stubby, twisted pasta would also be great)
Salt
3 thin slices prosciutto di Parma or San Daniele
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
A big handful of chanterelle mushrooms, brushed clean and cut in half lengthwise if large
Black pepper
A few big scrapings of nutmeg
About 5 long thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
A big splash of dry white wine
½ cup homemade chicken broth
A few drops of rice wine vinegar
About 6 sage leaves, cut into chiffonade
A chunk of grana Padano cheese

Set up a pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil. Add salt.

While the water is coming to a boil, get out a stovetop grill plate, and get it hot over high heat. Brush a little olive oil onto the prosciutto slices, and place them on the grill. Cook quickly, just until they tighten up and get crisp. You don’t want them to take on any char. Give the prosciutto a flip, and cook a few seconds on the other side. Grab them from the grill, and set them aside.

Get out a big skillet, and set it over medium heat. Add the butter and a big drizzle of olive oil. Add the onion, and let it soften for a minute or so. Add the chanterelles, and season them with salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and the thyme. Sauté until the mushrooms and onion are fragrant and tender, about 4 minutes.

Drop the casarecce into the water.

Add the white wine to the skillet, and let it boil away. Add the chicken broth, and let it simmer for a minute or so. Add a drop or two of rice wine vinegar, only enough to bring up the flavor. You don’t want it tasting obviously vinegary.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it, and add it to the skillet, giving everything a few quick tosses over medium heat.

Pour the pasta into a serving bowl. Add about a tablespoon or so of grated grana Padano and the sage. Toss quickly. Taste for seasoning. Chop the prosciutto, and scatter it over the top. Bring the bowl the table, along with the rest of the cheese.

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