by Elizabeth Vazquez
I love to cook, plain and simple. It’s a beautiful blend of artistry, science, and puzzle-solving. There’s the pressure of quick problem-solving, but also the fruitful completion of a dish and sharing it with loved ones. If it was offered as a conservatory here, I’d be making food nonstop.
Now that I’ve finished my first semester of senior year as a creative writer, and all the time that college applications, showcase preparation, and AP classes took up is suddenly freed up, I’m finding myself to returning to what I do best. Here’s a little collection of the top five recipes I’m planning to try this new year:
- Pesto (for your Besto)
Yes, there is Alfredo. Yes, there is marinara. But there’s something different about pesto; The bright flavor of fresh basil, the consistency that the cheese lends, the smoothness of the olive oil.
This recipe is from Italy, specifically the city of Genoa, where they sometimes add potatoes and green beans to make the sauce thicker. Gardeners typically freeze pesto from the summer — a.k.a. basil season — and save it for gloomy winter months. The Americanized version is even simpler, sans potatoes and beans: basil, olive oil, Pecorino Romano cheese, garlic, and pine nuts. No cooking over heat required!
Mix it all together in a mortar and pestle (or a food processor, if you’re feeling a little lazy), and you’re all good to go. Toss literally any type of pasta in this; from linguini to tortellini, it’s near impossible to mess up.
Here’s the New York Times baseline recipe.
2. Strawberry Shortcake
Everyone has heard of the character Strawberry Shortcake, but nobody pays much attention to the dessert that is her namesake. It’s extremely straightforward, especially in regards to the recipe of the shortcake itself. (If you really want to, you could use a boxed angel cake or even readily available pound cake.)
Imagine this: a light, fluffy cake with whipped cream and fresh strawberries or a reduced sweet preserve. It’s straightforward, but really brings together different corners of the dessert world.
You can credit this recipe to the English; According to Driscoll, a huge berry brand, one of the first appearances of this recipe came from an English cookbook in the mid 19th century. I’ve never really forayed into the cake world, especially when baking is seen as such an immaculate science; I feel like this would be a nice place to learn the ropes about the exactness required to make a good, solid cake.
Try this Food Network recipe to get started.
I personally rank sourdough up there with a nice baguette. It works great for sandwiches as it provides strong underlying flavor and general stability. Even just sourdough toast and butter is a wonderful snack. Its origins can be traced back all the way to the to the peak of the Fertile Crescent and Ancient Egypt, but most Americans associate a good sourdough with the San Francisco bay.
This is more of an undertaking to make, so you may want to save this for a weekend where you’re free. (It’s definitely not for those looking to satisfy an immediate desire to eat bread.) Instead of typical yeast, sourdough requires a starter of flour and water which will naturally create its own cultures to help the loaf rise.
People typically get intimidated by “feeding” the starter, which just means adding more water and more flour over time so the culture can continue to form and become bubbly. This will help your sourdough rise and give it both its signature strong flavor and balanced inner texture. Once you have a starter, which can typically take two or three days to cultivate, you’re good to go with bread flour and the like. Just make sure you’ve given it ample rising time before baking.
Here’s an article our journalism teacher wrote about sourdough for Bon Appetit, along with her go-to recipe.
4. Empanadas and Pastelitos
I put two recipes together because they fill the same niche of Latinx happiness in my heart: little parcels of meat and / or cheese that are either fried or baked to perfection in a crispy dough of corn or flour.
We Cubans have a variation of pastelitos where we fill a fluffy puff pastry-type dough with guava paste and cream cheese and eat it as a dessert. The savory variation can be served with mojo criollo, a creamy variation of its marinade counterpart, or typically with chimichurri, which is finally minced herbs in olive oil.
Really, it depends on what kind of Latinx country you’re eating from, since everybody does these a little bit differently or has some sort of variation on the recipe. Here’s an article that taps the surface of the differences between cultural versions.
The version I grew up with reminds me of my Puerto Rican aunt making greasy pastelitos with a soft dough, and filling them with a flavorful ground beef stuffing dotted with olives and red peppers. The end of 2019 has been huge for me venturing further into my culture by making landmark foods, including an eight-pound shoulder of lechon asado and a heaping mountain of maduros (ripe deep fried plantains). Empanadas / pastelitos are definitely next on my list.
5. Chicken n’ Dumplings
I have very fond memories of my grandmother making chicken and dumplings for me when she had leftover homemade chicken stock. I’d stand at her shoulder over the steaming pot, watching her hands adeptly tear off knots of dumpling dough and plop them in. We’d eat it with a thin layer of black pepper and a cold Pepsi before going off to watch whatever show from the ’60s was on MeTv. (Typically it was the Western “Bananza” or sometimes “Bewitched.”)
While my grandmother’s recipe was passed down from her Great Depression-savvy mother and had little fanfare, this soup-esque dish still has an extremely fond place in my heart. I want to redo it for her one day with all the aromatic vegetables (celery, onion, carrots) and give some life back to the memory.
Typically, this dish uses reduced chicken stock with the aforementioned veggies and chicken to make a thick soup, into which pieces of biscuit dough are dropped directly before it’s all cooked. If you really want, you can think of it as a deconstructed chicken pot pie.
There’re hundreds of different ways to approach the dish, especially since every Southern chef has a slightly different way to approach it; some add rice, others add peas to their collection of veggies. Other people omit veggies altogether! Like pesto for your besto, this is also another recipe that’s hard to screw up. The breakdown I mentioned earlier is typically the standard, as seen in this Delish recipe.