Happy Mac n Cheese Day! When we realized that was today, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity! We love mac n cheese around here – from the classic Kraft blue box to the most upscale restaurant variation. The dish we made tonight falls somewhere in the middle. The pasta did come from a box – sorry, way too hot and pregnant to make my own pasta tonight – but cacio e pepe always seems a little fancier than American mac n cheese, just by virtue of its non-English name! In reality, Cacio e pepe is just as simple and homey to Italians as our American mac n cheese is to us, but we can always pretend to be fancy! (PS: you can check out our other mac n cheese creations too on this important day of celebration – Summer Mac n Cheese and Goat Mac). This recipe is courtesy of Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, one of Selim’s favorite blogs, who now has a column in our favorite magazine, Bon Appetit! This variation adds corn for a sweet, summery update. If you check out our previous attempt at a classic Cacio e Pepe, we followed some very specific instructions to make our cacio e pepe not fall victim to clumpiness, which worked beautifully. Deb’s recipe is simpler, without additional fat of butter and/or oil, so we decided to try her way this time. It’s not quite as silky as our other recipe, but definitely wouldn’t call it clumpy! Happy with the result and the saving of a few calories. Our only change from her recipe was to add a little Aleppo pepper, which I really enjoyed.
There are some dishes that just scream a certain season to me. A big pot of chili or anything involving a gourd in the fall. Hearty, meat-heavy dishes that are roasted or stewed or crockpot-ed in the winter. But summer… Probably the most seasonally iconic dishes are summer ones! There are just so many – burgers on the grill, corn on the cob, popsicles, salads topped with fruit, triangles of juicy watermelon, and a newspaper-covered picnic table with Old Bay seasoned whole crabs piled on top! Right up there at the top of the summer food list is caprese salad. Fresh, cool, and best with ripe summer tomatoes, caprese salad is definitely quintessential summer fare. So today when coming up with this dish, I thought that the mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil of a caprese salad would make for an interesting summery twist on Mac n cheese!
We have a caveat to our post today though. Neither of us actually ate this dish. I made it for our friends who just had a new baby! They swear it was good, so we’ll just have to take their word for it. Relatedly, the base Mac & cheese recipe here (also the base for Goat Mac), is a great option if you want to make something ahead to bring to someone! You can make it up until the last baking part and then whomever you bring it to can bake it for the appropriate length of time later (which you may need to increase by 10 minutes or so from the immediate baking time as below).
Summer Mac n Cheese
3 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup AP flour
5 cups dry small pasta (penne, farfalle, elbows, etc)
16oz mozzarella cheese
Salt & pepper
~10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Pre-heat the oven 400 degrees.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat until very lightly simmering. Meanwhile, bring a large pot over water to a boil.
Once the large pot of water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
In another saucepan, melt the butter over low-medium heat. When the butter has melted, begin to slowly whisk in the flour. When the flour is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat.
Meanwhile, place the grape tomatoes in a bowl and toss them with the olive oil, 3 chopped basil leaves, and salt & pepper.
Roast them on a small sheet pan for ~15 minutes, until they are just starting to wrinkle and split. Remove from the oven.
Moving back to the stove, slowly whisk all of the milk into the mixture. (It will initially get incredibly thick, then begin to thin out.)
When all of the milk has been added, return the pot to medium heat and whisk continuously for ~3 minutes.
Now add in the cheese and continue whisking.
When sauce has come together, combine the sauce with the pasta and place in baking dish. Top with the tomatoes and remaining basil.
Bake for just an additional 10 minutes, so it all firms up.
I, like most other people I know, love a juicy summer watermelon. It is just so refreshing and delicious! I remember that my grandfather always used to (and probably still does) put salt on his watermelon, which I thought was absolutely crazy. I thought that salt would ruin the sweet taste. Through the years, I’ve come to realize that a lot of people like salty touch with their watermelon. If so many people like salted watermelon, there’s got to be something to it right? And then I realized that the salty watermelon thing was taken to the next step with feta and watermelon salads. This combination is all over Pinterest and summer restaurant menus. And logically, I understand that salt balances sweet and brings out brighter flavors. Yet for some reason, I still never tried it. Well that mistake is over. I didn’t know what I was missing.
The watermelon is still the star of this salad, but it doesn’t taste like just a fruit salad with some feta on top. It’s a little more savory than expected. The mint flavor is strong and makes it nice and herbaceous. Don’t worry about the vinegar on the cucumbers either – it’s not overwhelming at all. Overall a great salad for summer! 😎
Minty Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad
~1/4 cup white wine vinegar
5 cups watermelon, chopped
3/4 cups feta cheese, diced
~10 leaves fresh mint, chopped
Peel the cucumber, then slice it length-wise. Scoop out the seeds. Slice into half-moons.
Marinate the cucumbers in the white wine vinegar, topped with a few turns of fresh ground black pepper, for at least an hour.
Chop the watermelon into bite-sized chunks. Chop the feta a little smaller, more of a dice (can you dice something that’s not a vegetable??). Tear or chop the mint leaves. Combine all of these in a large bowl.
Drain the vinegar from the cucumbers. Add the cucumbers in with the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine.
As promised, here’s the recipe for the gorgeous salad hidden in the corner of one of our pictures from Saturday night’s Patatas Bravas with Super Garlic Aioli! Ally’s cousin Emily is responsible for this dish, and we’re hoping this is the first of many of her creations we’ll share on here (you should see some of the incredible desserts she makes). This salad is beautiful for your eyes and your taste buds – I mean, you can’t really go wrong with cheese, summer peaches, and prosciutto! The ingredient amounts are easily adjustable for different numbers or preferences of diners. Basically framework for a beautiful summer dish! Emily mentally combined a few recipes she’d come across to yield the final result of this one – inspiration from here, here, and here.
This salad came together, in part because of the THREE MASSIVE BAGS of fresh, juicy summer peaches that my aunt/Emily’s mom brought home from Saunders Brothers. August is National Peach Month, and we definitely know why! ❤ ❤
Peach & Burrata Salad
3-5 peaches, peeled & sliced
2-4 balls of burrata, cut into chunks
6-8 slices of prosciutto, torn into bite-sized pieces
Fresh mint, chopped
Balsamic glaze (homemade or store-bought*)
*If making your own balsamic glaze, reduce balsamic vinegar with brown sugar in a 4:1 ratio (ie: 1 cup vinegar to a 1/4 cup sugar) at a simmer until thickened and syrupy.
Assemble salad by placing mixed greens on a platter or in a large bowl. Top with the remaining ingredients.
Holy *^%$ yall! We made fried chicken! We took advantage of this gorgeous summer day and went on ahead and conquered another culinary fear… homemade fried chicken. Prior to making this tonight, I typed out: “I’m 99.999% certain that we can’t best KFC or any southern back road gas station’s fried chicken, but we’re going to try!” Well, we succeeded! I’m a little shocked actually… It even looks like the gorgeous, crispy-skinned chicken you might see when you’re out picking up a bucket!
After we decided to do this, I thought, who better to help us than Paula Deen…? If you google “southern fried chicken,” her recipe is the first recipe that shows up. I’m not going to lie… I don’t know that I’ve ever cooked Paula Deen before… her devotion to butter is slightly overwhelming. But it just seemed to be the right thing to do when learning to fry chicken. (Confirming our decision to try the Queen of Southern Cooking’s recipe was an article from Food52, where they tested the recipe.) We did tweak her recipe in a few places, which luckily worked out well. The main difference between our recipe and hers is the brine. We’ve been convinced by our reading to brine chicken prior to frying. I definitely think it helped to keep our chicken moist and flavorful!
During our years living in Columbia, we loved going to the Soda City Market on Main Street in downtown Columbia. Now that we live in Richmond, we’ve turned to the South of the James market for our Saturday morning perusing. For better or for worse, Soda City Market isn’t exactly a farmers market in our opinion. There are a handful of farmers with fresh goods, but they are definitely outnumbered by food vendors and artisans. South of the James is more of a true farmers market, with quite a few farms and farmers in attendance, in addition to some other vendors. Pro: there are way more options of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats from which to choose! Con: there are not as many brunch-while-strolling-the-market options, though there are several.
This is in fact relevant to our recipe today and our goals of having this blog. While we were browsing through the produce at one stand, one of the proprietors was popping open these little tomatillos for people to taste. He told us these were “pineapple tomatillos” and would you believe it, they really do taste like a combination of a tangy, sweet pineapple and a sharply earthy green tomato. We bought a carton without a second thought. We’re certainly not tomatillo connoisseurs, but we’d never heard of these little guys. We also acquired some pretty purple beans, a few bell peppers and onions (which are also making their appearance in this salsa), and delicious plump blackberries that we finished before we even got to the car! Overall a successful trip 🙌🏼 Soooo… hopefully no one clicked on this link looking for a pineapple AND tomatillo salsa, because that’s not what we’re making tonight!
With a little research, we learned that tomatillos generally belong to two species of the same genus (Physalis philadelphica and Physalis ixocarpa), but that there are dozens of varieties. Tomatillos are native to Mexico and Central America, but are generally cultivated all over the Americas today outside of the coldest reaches to the north and south. The largest natural and cultivated variety of tomatillos grow in Mexico. Our pineapple tomatillos are one of those many varietals! Another interesting tidbit: the modern Spanish word tomatillo is derived from the Native American/Aztec word for the same plant and ingredient, tomatl.
I know these pineapple tomatillos aren’t exactly an ingredient everyone has on hand or can run out to the store and pick up, but if you come across them anywhere, get some! This salsa was refreshing – light and fresh! Everyone who ate it remarked that it tasted like a tropical fruit salsa, even though it obviously doesn’t contain any mangoes or pineapples or the like!
Every time we visit my cousin and her husband, we always come home with more than when we arrived. They live in a more rural county, have a HUGE backyard garden, and freezers full of hunting spoils. We were there this past weekend to visit with them and their brand new baby 😍😍😍 We cooked dinner for the new parents, so we brought a fair amount of ingredients with us. But still, our bag was more full when we went home! They sent us home with a bounty of cucumbers and squash from the garden, three whole trout, and a package of venison sausage links from last hunting season! Even a cucumber lover like me can’t eat all those cucumbers before they go bad, so I made some pickles!
If you take a quick glance at this recipe, you’re probably thinking that it’s a pretty standard dill pickle recipe. Vinegar, water, sugar, dill, garlic… they’re standard fair for dill pickles. Why then do ours look dark and why did we call them “midnight” pickles? For that, we have to thank Selim’s devotion to turbinado sugar, which turns liquid darker when dissolved, as compared to refined white sugar.
As we’ve mentioned with previous recipes (see: Red Quick Pickled Cauliflower and Radishes), these are not shelf-safe “real” pickles. They should not be left in pantry or cellar for eternity. They must stay refrigerated. Hence they’re called “quick pickles” or “refrigerator pickles.” We skipped the step of sterilizing the jar and lid that keeps you from getting botulism when canned goods are left on a shelf for months on end.
This recipes follows a 2 part vinegar / 1 part water / 1 part sugar pickling ratio by which we usually abide. Using that ratio, pickles can be infinitely adjusted for more or less produce, different vinegars, alternate sugars, and a variety of herbs & spices!
Midnight Quick Pickles
5-6 small pickling cucumbers
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dill
Slice the cucumbers and place in a large mason jar or similar.
Bring the remaining ingredients to a simmer in a saucepan. Stir and simmer until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
Remove from heat. Leave sitting out or refrigerate until cool.
Pour cool pickling liquid over the sliced cucumbers.
Refrigerate for several days. (They’re edible essentially immediately, but will have more flavor if you leave them be for 48+ hours.)