cremini mushrooms

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash

I know that Valentine’s Day has come and gone already this year, but I thought I might share a little story about the first (and last) time I went out to a swanky restaurant for a Valentine’s Day date night.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

This was before I met Russell, so it must have been about 7 or 8 years ago now. It was one of the first times that I actually had a boyfriend on Valentine’s day so I tried to make a sort of big deal about it. I booked a table at some fancy place in Williamsburg, not really realizing that every other young couple in Brooklyn would be celebrating at the very same restaurant .

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

We arrived a bit early and were greeted at the front door by a harried hostess who looked like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. One look over her shoulder revealed the reason she was looking so frazzled. I’d been to this restaurant before, but on this night it appeared that they’d done some redecorating. All of the large tables for six or eight had been broken up into “romantic” tables for two, and all the couples at these tables were practically sitting in the laps of the couples next to them.

I couldn’t believe it was even possible to pack that many couples into one tiny dining room, and had no clue where they thought they were going to squeeze my fat ass into all this madness.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

That was when the hostess said we could follow her “out back”.

I knew the restaurant had a back patio that they used in the summer, but to the best of my knowledge it was closed during New York’s chilly winter months, you know, like the month of February. We walked through the door and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The entire patio had been covered with a temporary fabric “ceiling” and filled with large propane patio heaters. The intimate space had been completely transformed into a mess hall, with rows and rows of “cute” little tables for two, all with about 4 centimeters of space between them. There had to have been at least 30 other couples sitting out there.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

Of course, with the restaurant filled to capacity (or more likely over capacity), and with every table choosing a three course prix fix menu, the kitchen was completely swamped. Luckily the couple sitting next to us (our thighs were practically touching) was having a fascinating (and very loud) conversation, so there was no lack of atmosphere or entertainment for me and my date while we waited.

The food, when it came, was mediocre at best. This restaurant was usually very good, but in anticipation of the romantic stampede many of the evening’s dishes had been (at least partially) prepared and plated ahead. Even with the ready made meals, we still ended up waiting forever for our food and subsequently drank way too much to fill the time. I think we were hoping the hooch would help us forget what a crappy time we were having. It didn’t really occur to us how quickly all those cocktails and glasses of wine could add up, at least not until the bill came.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

Then the headaches set in. I’m not sure if it was the propane heaters, or the crumby food, or the din of 30+ couples talking all at once in a small enclosed patio, or maybe, just maybe, it had something to do with all the drinks. (It was definitely all the drinks.)

Either way, we went home grumpy and broke, both of us with headaches, and neither of us feeling even remotely romantic.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I started dating Russell I made it a point to make staying in on Valentine’s day a new romantic tradition. Every year we spend quality time at home alone with a fancy home-cooked meal and an even fancier home-cooked dessert. I usually make chocolate mousse. Russell LOVES chocolate mousse.

Most years I make a nice roast chicken or some kind of elegant wine braised something or other, but this year I wanted to do something different. We’ve been trying to be better about knowing where our meat comes from lately, and just eating a bit less meat in general, so I thought I’d make a romantical vegetarian pasta dinner with all sorts of good stuff swimming in it. When I noticed some beautiful butternut squash at the store I knew I had to use it. I don’t really think of butternut squash as a vegetable that goes with pasta, but I figured there was no time like the present to give it a shot.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

To make sure the squash didn’t get too soft and turn to mush in the pan, I decided to chop it up and roast it in the oven so it would get tender inside but maintain it’s shape. I figured since the oven was on already I may as well roast my mushrooms too to save an extra step on the stovetop.

While the squash and mushrooms were getting all roasty and toasty, I set to work on some onions. Caramelizing onions, when done right, takes FOREVER. It just does. If you’re patient though, and avoid turning the heat up, they brown suuuper slowly and get so soft they’re practically creamy. I didn’t take them to french onion soup level caramelization, just a light golden brown that took about 45 minutes but offered a rich and subtly sweet punch of flavor. Building flavors is important in vegetarian cooking, so after the onions were ready I added some garlic and reduced some wine and stock down to almost nothing to concentrate their flavors too.

I thought broccoli rabe would be just the ticket to counter the sweetness of the onions and squash. If you’ve never had it, broccoli rabe has small florets similar to broccoli, but it’s mostly made up of thick leaves that wilt like chard when cooked. It has a deeply green bitter flavor that can sometimes even border on horseradish. It could not have been a better compliment to the sweeter elements in this dish. I tossed it all with al dente farfalle (bow ties – so much fun) and some fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese.

All together this seems like a lot of steps to make some pasta, but it doesn’t take too too long if you time everything right and work efficiently. In the end all the extra work to build flavor really paid off and this was the perfect date night dinner, with plenty of leftovers.

farfalle with broccoli rabe, roasted mushrooms & butternut squash | Brooklyn Homemaker

Farfalle with Broccoli Rabe, Roasted Mushrooms & Butternut Squash

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
2 to 3 large onions, thinly sliced into strips (about 4 cups sliced)
1 small to medium butternut squash
2 pints cremini mushrooms
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup low sodium stock (chicken or vegetable), divided
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed.
1 large bunch broccoli rabe
1 pound farfalle (bowtie) pasta
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425. .

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add thinly sliced onions and season with salt and pepper. Once the onions begin to soften turn the heat down to medium low and let them caramelize slowly, stirring occasionally, for about 3o to 45 minutes. This takes a long while but you want the onions to brown very slowly to bring out their sugars and intensify their flavor.

Use this time to prepare the rest of your vegetables. Peel and seed the butternut squash, and cut into small (about 1/2″ to 1″) cubes. Slice the mushrooms. Cut the dry ends off of the broccoli rabe and discard. Roughly chop the broccoli rabe, and try to slice the thicker stems smaller than the leafy tops (this way they’ll all cook through at the same time).

Toss the cubed squash in 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer over a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until cooked through, and browned on the bottom side, about 30 minutes. For more even browning you could toss the squash halfway through, but I didn’t find this step necessary.

Toss sliced mushrooms in remaining tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a thin even layer over another parchment lined baking sheet and roast in the same oven as the squash. The mushrooms should only take about 20 to 25 minutes to cook through, so either put them in after the squash, or start checking on them first.

Once the onions are super soft and begin to take on a light golden color, add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the white wine, turn heat up to high, and reduce to almost dry. Add the stock and repeat, reducing by at least half or a little more.

Cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Just before draining, transfer about 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water to the pan with the caramelized onions and reduced wine and stock. Drain pasta and set aside. Bring pasta water to a boil and add broccoli rabe. Cook for about 5 minutes or until deep green and wilted.

Transfer everything, including parsley and parmesan, to the pasta pot and toss toss toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately with a few shavings of extra parmesan cheese.

classic coq au vin

Since Christmas is coming soon, and I’ve been a very good boy, I decided to buy myself a little present.

classic coq au vin | Brooklyn Homemaker

I went ahead and bought myself a fancy pants French braising pan. I’ve had my eye on one for years so I decided that I deserved to treat myself this year. I justified the cost (to myself) with the knowledge that I love braising, especially in cooler months, and this pan is so sturdy and solid that it should last a life time if I take care of it.

And it’s pretty.

classic coq au vin | Brooklyn Homemaker

I knew before I even got it home that I wanted Coq au Vin to be the first meal I prepared in my new favorite toy. I’ve made countless variations on chicken braised in wine, but I’ve actually never made a classic coq au vin before and I knew that that had to change.

classic coq au vin | Brooklyn Homemaker

We had a lot of red wine left over from our Thanksgiving celebration, so the timing couldn’t have been better. I really don’t know how this happened, by the way. I’m more than a little disappointed in myself and my dinner guests for not sucking down every last drop of booze that night.

classic coq au vin | Brooklyn Homemaker

I don’t own a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (for shame, I know), so instead I looked to the modern queen of classic cooking, Ina Garten. As it turns out, her recipe is reaaaallly similar to Julia’s anyway. I made just a few tiny tweaks to make her recipe my own, and to thicken up the sauce just a wee bit.

classic coq au vin | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m going to channel my inner Ina and tell you that if you’re going to make this recipe, it pays to splurge on good ingredients. Use good wine, fresh thyme, and nice plump fresh mushrooms. If you can, get a nice thick whole chunk of bacon and dice it into thick lardons yourself. The size and texture just stands up better to low and slow cooking. If you can’t though, don’t let the bacon stop you. Seriously.

And, if you can, get a really really good chicken. If you can find an organic air-chilled chicken, go for it. They’re a little bit pricier but they have a much better flavor and the fat renders out of the skin better since the chicken hasn’t soaked in (and absorbed) water during processing. I won’t get into the specifics of chicken processing, but rest assured that (for many reasons) it’s worth your while to look for chicken that says “air chilled” on the package.

classic coq au vin | Brooklyn Homemaker

I was looking forward to butchering the chicken myself and showing you the process, but my market was out of whole air-chilled chickens but did have them pre-butchered for the same price. Sorry guys! Some other time.

If you don’t want to butcher your own chicken, your butcher will probably do it for you. Ask them to split the breasts. If you don’t want to use all the parts of the chicken, you can also do this with a mix of breast and thighs, or all thighs, or all breasts. It is important for flavor though, that everything is still on the bone with skin, and for even cooking you’ll need to have all the breasts cut in half.

classic coq au vin | Brooklyn Homemaker

This recipe is definitely worth all the hype. It’s rustic and homey and rich and sublimely satisfying.

I know that people always assume that all French food is fussy and stuffy and unattainable, but it’s not (always) true! French country dishes like Coq au Vin or Boeuf Bourguignon are actually really simple, comforting and filling. If you’re completely unfamiliar, Coq au Vin is a country chicken stew made with carrots, bacon, red wine, and mushrooms. It’s incredibly hearty and earthy, like some of the best comfort food you could ever want; like a warm cozy blanket made of chicken braised in red wine. The chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender and bursting with the rich bold flavors of the wine and thyme and mushrooms, and the sweet tender carrots and pearl onions balance the richness perfectly.

Just make sure you have enough wine to last you while you’re cooking and still have some left for serving!

classic coq au vin | Brooklyn Homemaker

Classic Coq Au Vin

  • Servings: 4 to 6-ish
  • Print
adapted from Ina Garten for Food Network

4 ounces thick cut bacon or pancetta, diced
1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces (breasts sliced in halves)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound carrots, cut into thick rustic pieces
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup Cognac
2 cups good dry red wine (preferably Burgundy)
1 cup chicken stock (homemade if possible)
10 fresh thyme sprigs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 pound frozen pearl onions
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season liberally on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat a large heavy-bottom Dutch oven or braising pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon. If you have more than a tablespoon or two of bacon fat in the pan, pour off and reserve to use later in place of the butter.

When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Don’t crowd the chicken, just do two batches. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.

Add the carrots and sliced onions to the pan with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate back into the pot along with the wine, chicken stock, and thyme. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop, cover the pot with a tight fitting lid, and place in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is just done. Remove from the oven and move back to the stovetop.

Mash 4 tablespoons of butter (or reserved bacon fat) and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions and bring the stew back up to a very low simmer. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter (or bacon fat) to a separate medium saute pan, and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned and liquid cooks off. Stir the mushrooms into the stew and simmer for another 10 minutes. Season to taste.

Serve over mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, or cous cous.