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The Very Best! (April 27, 2006)

Stop clipping all those newspaper and magazine recipes... the answer is here! Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens, two venerable food writers and editors, have put together under one cover The Best American Recipes, 2005–2006.

They did all the work for us, testing hundreds of recipes from sources as diverse as the season's most illustrious cookbook and the back of an herb packet, often trying dozens of possibilities to winnow out all but the very best. Coveted dishes and kitchen secrets are listed from an incredibly wide range of food writers and luminaries, from three-starred Michelin Chef Guy Savoy to Alice Waters to Marcella Hazan, and their helpful test kitchen notes follow most recipes. So put away the scissors, everyone, and open this delicious new collection!

On today's menu:

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (76 KB)


Spaghetti with Slow-roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Jody Adams, the award-winning chef-owner of the Rialto restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the author of In the Hands of a Chef, is best known for her bold interpretations of traditional Mediterranean dishes. In the summer months, when local cherry tomatoes are at their peak, there's no better way to do them justice than slow-roasting them to concentrate their natural sweetness and caramelize their fresh juices. In the off-season, when all we can find are the ordinary supermarket varieties, this technique transforms them into a rich-tasting, sweet tomato "sauce." Spaghetti and red sauce never looked or tasted so good!

Serves 4

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus about ¼ cup for roasting
  • 1 large white onion, cut into ½-inch dice
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 18 fresh basil leaves, plus ¼ cup cut into thin ribbons (see note)
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 48 ripe cherry or grape tomatoes rinsed and dried (see note)
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 2 cups lightly packed arugula (see note)
  • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 250°F.

Heat ¼ cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the whole basil leaves and red pepper flakes and stir well.

Toss the tomatoes with 1 tsp of the salt and sugar and place in a roasting pan (see note). The pan should be large enough to hold them in a single layer. If they won't fit, use another roasting pan and more oil. Spoon the onion mixture over the tomatoes. Add enough oil to come halfway up the tomatoes.

Roast until the tomatoes are tender but not falling apart, about 3 hours. Stir once, gently, during the roasting. You can roast the tomatoes up to 6 hours ahead of time.

Bring a large pot of water with the remaining 2 tsp salt to a boil. Add the spaghetti and stir constantly until the water returns to a boil. Cook until the pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile heat the tomatoes with the onions and oil in a large saucepan over low heat. When the pasta is done, drain it and transfer to the saucepan with the tomatoes. Add the arugula. Toss well. Add the basil ribbons and toss again.

Serve immediately in warm, shallow bowls with Parmesan sprinkled over the top.

Notes from the test kitchen:

  • t's best to wait to cut the basil into thin ribbons until just before you're ready to add it to the sauce. Cut up in advance, the basil will darken. See the tip below.
  • If you haven't bought a fresh jar of crushed red pepper flakes in a while, add an extra pinch – the heat mellows over time.
  • You may have tomatoes that are smaller than the ones called for here. An easier way to measure is by volume: figure 2 heaping pints of tomatoes.
  • If you can't find any good-tasting arugula, substitute baby spinach.
  • Ideally the roasting pan should accommodate the tomatoes in a relatively snug single layer; if they are spread too far apart, you'll need to add too much oil to come halfway up the sides of the tomatoes.

According to Anne Willan in The Good Cook, thin slicing is better than chopping for leaves like basil, arugula and lettuce, because it's less likely to bruise them. Begin by separating he leaves from the stem (or from the head in the case of lettuce). Wash and dry them thoroughly. Then stack the leaves neatly and roll the pile tightly – imagine rolling up a big fat cigar. Using a large chef's knife, slice across the roll to make fine or coarse strips.

Tony's wine recommendation:
A medium-bodied, dry red – Chianti Classico Riserva, Barbaresco, Rioja red, Ontario Cabernet Franc.


Overnight Macaroni and Cheese

Trust the French to take this American classic and make it all the more wonderful. The eponymous Guy Savoy, whose famous Paris restaurant is a must for globe-trotting gourmands, is always asked for uncomplicated recipes for home cooks and, unlike most great chefs, really does cook this way.

In Savoy's recipe, there's no cream sauce, nutty Gruyère replaces cheddar, the pasta is presented in a thin layer, and the top is gloriously crisp. All this is accomplished by simplifying the recipe and giving the pasta an overnight soak in cream and milk. You spend 10 minutes putting it together and bake it when you're ready to serve. It's elegant and sophisticated... still mac and cheese but luxurious, with a delicate texture!

Serves 4

  • Salt
  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1¼ cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated Gruyère or Emmental cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper

The day before you plan to serve the gratin, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook for 4 minutes, or until very al dente. Drain and cool under cold running water.

Combine the milk, the cream and ½ cup of the cheese in a large bowl. Toss in the pasta and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. The pasta will absorb the milk mixture and expand.

When ready to serve, bring the macaroni mixture to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place the pasta in a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup cheese ton top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden and crusty. Serve immediately.

Test kitchen notes:

  • Choose good imported pasta made of durum wheat, which will be less pasty and have more character.
  • The degree to which the macaroni absorbs the milk-and-cream bath varies greatly. If there seems to be a great deal of creamy milk the pasta mixture when you're ready to bake it, pour it off and measure it. You can return ½ cup to the pasta, but any more will make it too wet.

Tony's wine recommendation:
A full-bodied dry white or light fruit red – white Rhône, California Chardonnay, barrel-fermented Ontario Chardonnay.


Spanish Pork Loin Sandwiches with Alioli and Arugula

The Best American Recipes, 2005–2006 authors Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens said "Sandwiches were everywhere this year – grilled, pressed, double-decker, and so on – but these indescribably good ones topped our chart. This recipes comes from César, a great tapas place in Berkley, California, started by Chez Panisse alums and conveniently located right next door. They tell us that the roasted pork loin makes a great meal on its own, and we agree that it does, but it's the sandwiches that really rocked our world!"

Need more? No, neither did we.

While this recipe spreads out over a couple of days, it's worth every second!

Makes 6 to 8 sandwiches, with leftovers

  • 3 cups water
  • 2½ cups honey
  • 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 garlic head, halved crosswise
  • 1 bunch rosemary, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp mustard seeds
  • 2 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • 6 cups ice
  • 1 center-cut boneless pork loin (about 4 pounds)
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp Moruño Spice (recipe follows)
  • 3–4 baguettes
  • 2–3 garlic cloves, halved
  • Alioli (recipe follows)
  • Salt
  • 2 cups loosely packed arugula leaves

To brine the pork:

Combine all the ingredients except the ice in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and heat to dissolve the honey and infuse the spices. Place the ice in a large glass bowl. Pour the brine mixture over the ice. When the ice has melted, add the pork. Cover and cure in the refrigerator for 2 days.

To roast the pork, preheat the oven to 425°F. Mix together the oil and the Moruño Spice in a small bowl. Remove the pork from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the meat dry and rub it all over with ¼ cup of the oil mixture.

To cook the pork:

Preheat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Sear the meat for about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to the oven and roast until the internal temperature is 135°F, about 30 minutes. Remove the loin from the skillet and let rest for 20 minutes, then slice into thin medallions.

To assemble, cut the baguettes into 10-inch lengths and then slice them in half lengthwise, leaving a hinge. Rub the inside of the bread with the cut side of the garlic. Spread the alioli over the bread. Layer the pork medallions on the bread, drizzle with the remaining ¼ cup oil mixture, sprinkle with salt and top with arugula leaves. Serve!

Test kitchen notes:

  • You can also roast the pork in 1 to 2 days in advance, let it cool to room temperature, cover tightly, and refrigerate. To serve, let it sit at room temperature for a bit before slicing and making sandwiches.

Moruño Spice

This keeps for weeks in a covered jar. Use it as a spice rub for other meats and as a seasoning for stews and sautés.

Makes about 1¼ cups

  • ½ cup cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup coriander seeds
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup salt
  • ¼ cup Pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika, available at specialty shops)
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper

Toast the cumin and coriander in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder, grind them to a powder along with the peppercorns. Transfer to a small bowl, add the salt and remaining spices and mix well.


Alioli is the zesty garlic mayonnaise from the Catalonia region of Spain. Besides being a killer sandwich spread, it makes a fine dip for vegetables. Or add a dollop to fish and chicken off the grill. We love it spooned into fish soup, or topping hot crouton...

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • ½ tsp water
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup peanut oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ tsp red wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp sherry vinegar

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and salt together until it is a smooth, creamy paste. (See kitchen notes below.)

In a food processor or in a bowl using a whisk, process or beat together the egg yolks and water until smooth. With the processor running or while continuously whisking, slowly pour in the oils, a few drops at first until the mixture emulsifies, and then in a slow, steady stream. You can add more water if the mixture becomes too thick. Add the lemon juice and vinegars. Mix in the garlic paste until smooth. The alioli can be kept in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Notes from the test kitchen:

  • In place of a mortar and pestle, you can use a knife to smash the garlic and salt into a creamy paste. Start by mincing the garlic. Then add the salt and continue mincing and flattening the garlic with the broad side of your knife. The garlic will break down into a paste as you go.
  • In you don't have both red wine vinegar and sherry vinegar in your pantry, use all of one or the other.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Riesling Spätlese, Alsace Gewurztraminer, Viognier, off-dry Vouvray.


We wish to thank Thomas Allen and Sons, Toronto and Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, for permission to publish material and photographs from The Best American Recipes, 2005–2006, by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens. © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Foreword © 2005 by Mario Batali. Introduction © Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens. Photographs by Jim Scherer.


Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (76 KB)




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