Spaghetti with Crispy Chickpeas and Preserved Lemon

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Tom Colicchio’s always like “you didn’t develop any flavor” on Top Chef and most people are probably like “what’s he talking about?” My quick answer is: “He’s talking about making things brown.”

Generally speaking, when you’re cooking something, you want it to turn brown (or, to use a prettier word, you want it to “caramelize.”) What that really comes down to is taking things further than you might otherwise feel comfortable. The hard part is if you take them too far, there’s no going back. So you’ve gotta get in there, hover over the pan, but don’t hover too much–if you stare, you’ll be tempted to stir, and that stops the browning. It’s a delicate dance, developing flavor, but if you do it the right way you can create a dish that’s way more dynamic than it has any right to be–like this dish of spaghetti with crispy chickpeas and preserved lemon.

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Sponsored Post: The Dos Chinos Truck’s Garlic Shrimp Rice Bowl with Lime Crema

Sometimes you eat a dish that’s so good you have to have the exact recipe, to recreate it at home in such away that it’s indistinguishable from the original. Other times, you try a dish and love it so much that it inspires you to riff in a similar way; not to make that exact same thing, but to make something similar in your own style. The latter is pretty much what happened to me when I visited the Dos Chinos truck in Orange County. There, one of the owners, Viet demonstrated how to make their signature shrimp and rice bowl. It was a positive playground of textures and flavors and when I left, I set about to make something similar at home, but in my own unique Amateur Gourmet way.

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Penne with Bacon and Flageolet Beans

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What’s with me and pasta? No, seriously, I’m really asking: how can I eat so much of it and never get tired of it? Sometimes I think it’s my own personal Rosebud, because my earliest food-related memories involve sitting at a little yellow plastic table on a gray carpet in front of the big TV, eating fusilli with Prego on top. Am I trying to recreate the innocence of childhood? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just that pasta is so versatile and, more importantly, once you know the rules of how to make it–undercooking your pasta in well-salted water, then finishing it in the sauce, taking off the heat when almost all the liquid’s absorbed, and finishing with raw olive oil and grated cheese–it’s just one of the most impressive, delightful things you can make at home.

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Chicken Milanese

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A strange thing has happened to me recently. I’ve been working on a play (don’t ask any questions! it’s too soon) and also going to the gym five days a week so that, at the end of the day, I wander into Trader Joe’s (underneath my gym) in a sort of daze, eager to just grab some things to throw a tasty dinner together. In other words: by shifting my professional focus, I’ve actually gotten better at my profession because most people who read my blog wander into Trader Joe’s in a similar state at the end of the day and want to know how to put something tasty on the table. So it may come as a shock to you that I was able to make this, what seems like a highly involved dish, after arriving home at 6:30 in no mood to make a highly involved dish. It’s Chicken Milanese and it’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of a weeknight dinner.

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Pesto Trapanese

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[My friend Dara Bratt–an award-winning filmmaker and unabashed bon vivant–positively pounced when I mentioned “Sauce Week” and here’s her delightful contribution. Take it away, Dara!]

Recently, I had a girls’ night at a fairly new restaurant in Brooklyn called “Rucola”. The conversation was great, and the food equally impressive, the standout dish being the pasta, which my friend ordered; “Garganelli – Tomatoes – almond pesto, cherry tomatoes, zucchini.”

It was so light that the impact of flavor was shockingly impressive. A pesto with almonds at the core instead of pine nuts?! Cheaper? Healthier? Sold!

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Lemony Greens on Garlicky Beans

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Trader Joe’s has always been a mystery to me. People love the place, they start to cheer when one opens up in their neighborhood, but I’ve always been stumped by what to buy there. I’ve done well with trail mix (because it tastes more like candy), and it’s nice to get a decent bottle of wine for not a lot of money. But until yesterday, I’d never made a dinner from Trader Joe’s ingredients that I’d be eager to make again. Yet there I was–there’s one downstairs from my gym–and I wanted to make a healthy dinner so I bought a can of white beans (a pretty safe purchase), a bag of cruciferous vegetables (including kale), a lemon and a bottle of white wine. And the dinner that I made was so stupendous, I’ve just gotta tell you about it.

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Turkey Leg Confit (Fancy Dinner, Cheap Ingredient)

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America’s obsession with breasts goes far beyond the pages of Maxim magazine; it’s readily apparent in the poultry section. A large chicken breast for two now costs as much as a whole chicken. And a turkey breast can run as much as $15. America: stop your obsession with cleavage and lower your head a little. See those legs down there? They’re just as meaty, ten times more flavorful and very, very cheap. How cheap? Look how much I paid for these two enormous turkey legs.

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