Cookbook Review: My Year in Meals, by Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray's new cookbook is full of pasta recipes and plenty more. Her pasta with homemade sausage and kale in roasted garlic sauce was simple enough for a weeknight meal, and delicious enough for a weekend dinner party.

By , Contributor

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    Rachael Ray's pasta with sausage and kale in roasted garlic sauce, from her new cookbook 'My Year in Meals,' is a simple recipe. Even the homemade pork sausage was a breeze.
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I love cookbooks that are organized by month. Flipping through one quickly I get excited for all the cooking ahead of me, spring with fresh asparagus and arugula, summer with berries and watermelon and tomatoes, and fall's pumpkins and squashes. Rachael Ray's My Year in Meals, takes the act of marking the calendar by what you eat to a whole new level.

Ms. Ray is a celebrity chef, author and TV personality. She's the host of the daytime talk show, "The Rachael Ray Show" and "Rachel Ray's Week in a Day" on the Cooking Chanel. She has also written more than 20 cookbooks, and has her own magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray

The book is meant to show what Ray cooks at home, for her own family, every day. Organized like a diary, each recipe is labeled with the date Ray made and ate the dish, as well as personal notes about how often she makes certain foods, and why she chose each dish. Some days include one or two meals, like breakfast and dinner, and three or four recipes, depending on how complicated the meals were.

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The format makes the book a bit complicated, and the design, with a mix of regular printed entries, and entries made to look like sticky notes or notebook paper keeps the book from being easy to flip through for inspiration. But a calendar at the beginning of each chapter lists all of Ray's meals for each month, making it easy to find new recipes at a glance.

Some readers may be interested to know the book also features a section in the back by Ray's husband, John Cusimano called, "My Year in Cocktails." Cusimano shares dozens of drink recipes; some are simple while others require special trips to the store. Despite the title, the drinks section of the book is not organized by month.

Being a book about the home cooking and eating habits of such a high-profile celebrity chef I was slightly disappointed not to find more dramatic revelations, like what Ray does when a sauce just won't thicken, or half her tomatoes are mealy, or the ethics of serving your family pasta you accidentally dropped on the floor. Alas, she seems as put-together in her own kitchen as on TV, and far less likely than me to encounter kitchen mishaps.

However, I did discover Rachael Ray eats a lot of pasta, a whole lot of pasta. Any given month was sure to contain at couple pasta recipes every other page, tossed with almost every kind of meat, veggie, and sauce you can think of. It seemed only fitting that I try one of her pasta recipes for myself.

I picked pasta with sausage and kale in roasted garlic sauce, which Ray created on Jan. 31, after finding inspiration at a "fabulous" New York restaurant. I only modified it a little bit, leaving out the white wine because I didn't have any on hand, cutting back on the onion a bit, and adding extra kale because I wanted plenty of veggies. I even made the homemade sausage, which was ridiculously easy, and almost made me feel like one of the pros.

Rachael Ray's pasta with sausage and kale in roasted garlic sauce
Serves 4 to 6

1 head garlic, top cut off to expose the cloves, plus 3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), plus more for drizzling

salt and pepper

1 bunch, about 1/2 pound kale, stemmed and thinly sliced (Ray calls for lacinato kale, though I'm sure any type of greens, or even broccoli or peas would work great in this dish.) 

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

2 large onions, thinly sliced

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup dry white wine (may substitute cooking wine)

1-1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 pound rigatoni pasta

homemade pork sausage (recipe follows)

freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, for topping

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Drizzle the head of garlic with some EVOO and season with salt and pepper. Wrap in foil and roast until tender and caramel in color, about 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a pot of boiling salted water, cook the kale for a few minutes to take the bitterness out. Drain it and wring it out in a kitchen towel so it's perfectly dry. Set aside.

3. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramel in color, very soft, and sweet, about 30 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine and discard the bay leaf. 

4. In a food processor, combine the roasted garlic (squeezed out of the skins), the onions, and enough stock to smoothly purée the sauce. Transfer to a saucepan and stir in the cream. Cook to reduce and thicken while the pasta cooks.

5. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and cook the pasta to al dente (about 11 minutes).

6. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons EVOO (2 turns of the pan) over medium high heat. Add the sausage, breaking it up into crumbles as it browns.

7. Combine the sausage, kale, and creamy sauce. Adjust the salt and pepper, and add nutmeg to taste. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve topped with grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese.

Homemade Pork Sausage
Makes 1 pound 

1 pound ground pork

1 teaspoon ground sage

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper (Ray gets hers at an Italian market, I got mine at the regular grocery store)

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1/2 teaspoon fennel pollen, fennel flour, or ground fennel

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

Mix everything together and let it hang out all day in the fridge so that the flavors in the sausage combine. Or you can even make it a day or two ahead.

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