The Top Ten Dishes That I Cooked in 2021 (with Recipes!)
Hey there Thursday friends,
Every year I like to do these round-ups of the best things that I cooked in a given year, both for me and for you. For me because it’s fun to go back over the past year and look at everything that I made to decide what I liked the best. And for you because once I decide that, you have a highly curated list of terrific recipes to make.
So let’s not waste any time: here are the Top Ten Dishes That I Cooked in 2021* (*excluding the ones that I made for my next cookbook which you’ll get to experience in Fall 2022, when the book comes out).
1. Perfect Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
2021 was my year of pie. It was the year where I finally understood that to make an excellent, flaky pie crust you keep the butter very cold and in big chunky pieces, that it’s best to incorporate with your fingers because then you don’t break the butter up too much. I made a lot of pie this year (including an apple pie for Craig’s birthday, plus Melissa Clark’s cook-the-apples-first apple pie at Thanksgiving) but this strawberry rhubarb pie dazzled everyone who tried it. It positively sang of spring. Here’s the recipe (it uses the food processor because this was before my pie-by-hand Renaissance; you can do it either way), but wait until rhubarb and strawberries are back in season to make it.
For the pie dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks very cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 – 3/4 cups ice water
For the filling:
1 1/4 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
5 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Pinch kosher salt
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon Turbinado sugar
To make the pie dough: place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the cold, cubed butter, toss with your fingers in the flour, then, with the lid on, pulse a few more times until the butter pieces are the size of large peas. Now, add some of the cold water, pulse twice; check the texture. It should look like wet sand and hold together easily when you pinch a clump. If not, keeping adding the ice water and pulsing until it does. (Better to err on the side of a little wetter than too dry, IMO.)
Pour the mixture on to a well floured board. I like to work the dough a tiny bit here: press down with the heel of your hand, fold over with a bench scraper, and do it a few more times — being sure not to warm up the butter — until the dough holds together neatly. Cut in half and shape each half into a disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.
Heat the oven to 425 and make your filling. In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, brown sugar, corn starch, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt.
To assemble your pie, place a 9-inch pie dish on a cookie sheet lined with foil (this will help with leakage). Place one disc of dough on a well-floured board and smack with a well-floured rolling pin, rotating as you do. Begin rolling out from the middle, rotating counter-clockwise a tiny bit each time and sprinkling with more flour if it gets at all sticky. When you've rolled it out to a big circle, bigger than your pie dish (10 inches or more), drape over the pie dish and roll out the other disc of pie dough. Add your filling to the pie in the dish and drape the other dough on top.
Pinch the two overhangs of dough together and then use a scissor to cut around, leaving about an inch of overhang. Pinch together again, then fold over towards the pie dish. Crimp using your thumb and pointer finger from both hands (I bet there's a YouTube video you can watch about that). Beat the egg in a small bowl, brush on to the pie, and sprinkle with the sugar. Cut three slits at the top outward from the middle.
Place the pie on the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 375 and continue cooking until deep golden brown and the juices are thick and bubbling, about 75 – 90 minutes longer.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least four hours so the pie sets up. Serve by itself or with vanilla ice cream.
2. Ottolenghi’s Black Lime Tofu with Spinach
In April, I finally had my eyes opened to the wonders of tofu. It wasn’t that I’d never eaten tofu before — we enjoyed it fresh in Japan — but I’d never really cooked with it. Talk about starting with a bang: Ottolenghi’s recipe (from his new cookbook Flavor) is so packed with, well, flavor — mostly from spices like cumin and, most importantly, black lime — it does to tofu’s reputation what the leather jacket does to Sandy’s reputation in Grease. It also helps that the tofu gets fried before getting mixed with the sauce: think General Tso’s Chicken, only slightly healthier.
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into rounds on a mandoline
2 1/2 cups sunflower oil or other neutral oil (I used Canola)
2 blocks extra firm tofu (1 pound), patted dry and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, roughly crushed
2 - 3 dried black limes, blitzed in a spice grinder to get 2 tablespoons (I used Burlap and Barrel’s ground black lime)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 2/3 cups water
1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
6 cups baby spinach
Put the vinegar 1 teaspoon of the sugar, the red onion, and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt in a small bowl and mix well to combine. Set aside to pickle.
Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels. Heat the sunflower oil (or other neutral oil) in a medium, high-sided sauté pan on medium-high heat. Once hot, toss the tofu in a bowl with the cornstarch until well coated. In two batches, fry the tofu until crispy and lightly browned, about 6 minutes per batch, then transfer to the prepared plate and set aside.
While the tofu is frying, put the yellow onions and garlic into a food processor and pulse a few times until very finely minced but not pureed. Put the olive oil into a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. Add the onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin seeds, black lime powder, and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute more. Add the water, remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and a generous grind of pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and rich. Add the crispy tofu, parsley, and another grind of pepper and stir to coat. Add the spinach in increments, stirring until just wilted, about 3 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a shallow serving platter and top with the pickled red onion; or serve straight from the pan.
3. Strozzapreti with Bacon, Garlic, Radicchio, Balsamic, and Parmesan
I made a LOT of pasta this year, as you know, because I tell you all about it. My staples were the classic cavatappi with sun-dried tomatoes and cannellini beans which you’ve heard too much about at this point; I also made lots of cacio e Pepe for my friends Ryan and Jonathan, who adore it. But this pasta, that I made for my friends Stephen and Stefan, is the one that blew me away the most. With just a few ingredients, there’s so much going on: the smokiness of the bacon, the bitterness of the radicchio, the sweetness of the Balsamic, and then the umami of the Parmesan. Plus, the shape that I used — strozzapreti — made it extra special, with its fun twists and turns. You can make this with any small twisty pasta, but if you can find strozzapreti, I highly recommend.
4 strips of smoked bacon (I use Neuske’s applewood smoked), sliced into 1/4-inch lardons
Extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch red chili flakes (or more if you like it spicy)
2 heads of radicchio, cored and thinly sliced (about two cups)
1 pound strozzapreti (or other corkscrewy pasta; cavatappi’s a good second choice)
Splash Balsamic vinegar
At least 1/2 a cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more as needed
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with enough kosher salt so that it tastes like good broth (not salty like that the sea, that’s too salty).
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, place your bacon lardons and a splash of olive oil to help them render. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook the bacon until starting to turn brown, but not crispy. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant and takes on a little color. Add a pinch of red chili flakes and the radicchio, plus a pinch of salt, and stir all around. Allow the radicchio to wilt, and lower the heat to standby for the pasta.
Drop your pasta in the salted water. Cook one minute less than package instructions and then lift into the pan with the radicchio, along with a ladleful of pasta water. Turn up the heat and cook, stirring all around, until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is just al dente.
To finish, off the heat, add a splash of Balsamic vinegar and the half cup of Parmesan. Stir all around and taste taste taste. Does it need more acidity? Add more Balsamic. Need more salt/umami? Add more Parmesan. Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil on top and a sprinkling of more chili flakes and Parmesan.