dinner in

this may be my newest favorite weeknight meal. after eating so much steak, i was in the mood for a really good pasta dish, something with the bite of al dente noodles smothered in something richly tomato-y. i usually come upon recipes haphazardly – a food blog post or food network episode that strikes my fancy, an article in the morning paper that has me reaching for the scissors – but this time i was deliberate, heading over to epicurious and typing in every keyword i was craving. this winner came up.

if those steaks au poivre are something to bring to a candlelit table set for two, then this pasta recipe is a time to tag-team it in the kitchen, bumping elbows while you take turns stirring and chopping and scooching in close at the stovetop, and then mixing up a big bowl to spoon servings from before settling down to watch the week’s netflix pick. a cozy, casual dinner in – at its delicious best.

Pasta with Spicy Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce
adapted fromBon Appétit, October 2000
Makes 4 main-course servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 8-oz. jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
½ cup whipping cream
1 12-oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup milk
1 lb. penne pasta
about ½ cup fresh basil, c
hopped or chiffonade, for garnish

  1. Make sauce: Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes, cream, red peppers and crushed red pepper; simmer over medium heat 2 minutes. Stir in ½ cup basil and simmer 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and add cheese and ½ cup milk and stir until incorporated; add more milk as needed to reach desired consistency.
  2. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving ¾ cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot. Add sauce, and toss to coat. Add enough reserved cooking liquid to pasta to moisten if dry. Season with salt and pepper. Top with more basil to serve.

spicy tomato soup

i could have this soup year-round really, but it’s especially good for these balmy fall days we’ve been having around here.

i realize it’s the beginning of december now, and in most parts of the country the air isn’t so much “balmy” as it is biting, and it’d be silly to call this season fall. but down the lane where i live, the leaves on the trees have finally flared up in their most vivid reds and yellows and the leaves on the ground are crunchy as chips, all clustered in the gutters.

and except for the blustery currents of rain coming down yesterday, the wind these days is dry but soft – carrying with it a lingering warmth from our strong-armed california summers, i’d like to think.

so the scene is set for a no-fuss meal like this one: your traditional tomato soup, but tricked out with blue cheese and sriracha sauce. ladle some out on a brisk and golden afternoon, and you’ve got yourself a bowl of lunch that will keep your hands warm and leave some heat on your tongue. with a piece of crispy, butter-browned bread to sop up the smooth-as-velvet soup, nothing matches this weather better.

Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup
from Michael Symon’s Live to Cook by Michael Symon, via the Amateur Gourmet
(adapted slightly for the ingredients I had on hand)
Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 28-oz. can whole plum tomatoes, with their juice
1 ½ cups chicken stock
¾ cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
½ cup creamy blue cheese {I used one from Trader Joe’s called Stagnola Blu}

  1. Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and a pinch of salt and sweat for 2 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sweat for 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice and the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the cream and sriracha sauce and simmer for 45 minutes.
  2. Pour the soup into a blender, add the blue cheese, and blend until smooth, working in batches if needed.
  3. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean pot. (How smooth the soup’s final texture is will depend on how much of the solids you push through at this point.) Taste, adjust the seasoning if necessary (I added another ½ teaspoon of salt here), and reheat to serve. The soup will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for a few days.