Don’t worry, I’m not calling these tortas

It is so late in the week that I can’t remember why I decided to make non-tortas for lunch this week. I think it was because I found this bread I really like at my supermarket but have run out of things I want to put on it. (One week of turkey is really all I can handle.) So I decided to use them to make totally inauthentic tortas. Or cemitas. I don’t know the difference; I’m very sorry. (You know what’s weird? This is not the first time I’ve looked at that link.)

So I think the main quality of cemitas and tortas is the bread they’re made with, so I completely failed from the start. It occurred to me later that I probably could have done it right—there is an amazing-smelling Mexican bread store literally right next door—but I went the whole-wheat route because I suffer from extreme, constant hunger.

Anyway. These are sandwiches inspired by tortas. I used Goya refried beans, because I was lazy, and mozzarella cheese, because I had a lot left and didn’t think I would be able to get through a whole ball of Oaxaca cheese before it went moldy. (They taste and feel very similar to me—or at least they do when you buy the inauthentic, un-fresh kind you get in supermarkets—so I didn’t worry about it too much. But now I feel like if they are really that similar, I should have just bought Oaxaca cheese and used the leftover for baked ziti. Would that have been weird? I have a feeling I will find out at some point.) I used a quick recipe to make pickled jalapeños rather than Pati Jinich’s recipe, because by the time I realized they would be sitting in the fridge all night anyway it was too late and I had none of the ingredients for Pati’s (probably better) version. Or I didn’t want to scale down a recipe that called for three pounds of jalapeños into one that used no more than six jalapeños.

Pickling. Don’t breathe.

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Baked orzo with chard

This post could also be titled: how I planned to follow a cool recipe and then decided just to make something that tasted like my favorite baked ziti and was way better than the original plan. The recipe had leeks, dill, and feta cheese, and I spent all day convincing myself that I wanted to eat these things, but I absolutely did not; I went home and made it with onions, some basil pesto from the freezer, and mozzarella. It is pretty much my ideal food, but if you don’t like pasta with tomato sauce and cheese you shouldn’t bother making it.

I will also do a tutorial on Swiss chard, since there have been questions. I love Swiss chard—it’s my favorite leafy green—but it has a very distinct and slightly weird taste, so you probably shouldn’t make it the centerpiece of your meal unless you’ve tried it. I really like it sauteed until entirely wilted and silky, with lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. So you should try this.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of Swiss chard (regular, not rainbow—rainbow is prettier, but I don’t think there’s any other difference. Oh, Wikipedia says rainbow isn’t even a breed, just a bunch of different colors put together…).

The stems don’t look great—most recipes tell you to throw them out, but this one uses them, which I like. But you still have to separate them, since the stems take much longer to cook than do the leaves. You fold the leaves together behind the stem and grip the leaves in one hand, near the stem; then you just use the other hand to pull the stem out. It’s easier than it sounds. I can’t describe it properly. It’s also not an exact science.

Then you chop it.

This is maybe an excessive number of pictures of chard.

Then you combine it with onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes. For some reason, this smelled AMAZING. I mean, I thought it would smell good, but it just smelled ridiculously great. It was weird.

Oh, also, you should be listening to the MOTH Story Slam while you do all this. This episode was on. In all sincerity you need to listen to the second one, “Franny’s Last Ride.” I have somehow heard it twice and may or may not have cried both times.

Anyway. Add your chard leaves after a few minutes, then your tomato paste (TIP: You will never ever use a whole can of tomato paste before it goes moldy; stick it in the freezer) and then crushed tomatoes. I also added a few frozen tablespoons of pesto at this point, as a sort of substitute for the dill. I had added less oil than was called for at the beginning (possibly), so I figured the extra oil was OK at this point. Then orzo, cheese, etc., bake.

I baked it for only twenty minutes and it was perfect and finished and bubbly and melty.

This will not in any way serve six. Unless you and/or your friends and relatives eat far less pasta than you should.

Baked Orzo with Chard, Mozzarella and Pesto
(adapted from Serious Eats)

2 tbsp olive oil (less if you plan to use pesto, or the same amount if you don’t care how much oil you eat, which is proper and correct)
1 small-to-medium onion (depending on how oniony you want your pasta), diced
1 large bunch chard, rinsed well, leaves and stems divided; stems cut in ribbons, stems diced
2 medium cloves garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Basil, chopped, or pesto
1 c (5 oz) uncooked orzo
4 oz mozzarella, cubed

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a two-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray (or not. I cooked it on the stove in my Dutch oven and then just transferred the Dutch oven to the oven).

Heat olive oil until shimmering. Add onion, chard stems, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook about four minutes, until not quite brown. (I don’t even know what that means. It’s not in the recipe.) Add tomato paste and cook for another minute; add chard leaves and cook until wilted. Add crushed tomatoes and orzo and bring to a boil. If you’re using frozen pesto, you might as well add it now so it can defrost and become incorporated. Stir well and remove from heat. Add mozzarella cheese (and fresh basil, if using. I can’t comment on what happens to basil when you bake it but I assume it’s fine. Basil rules).

At this point I just covered the Dutch oven with its lid and stuck it in the oven for twenty minutes; if you’re Dutch-oven-less, put a piece of aluminum foil over your baking dish and cover tightly. If you wish, uncover after twenty minutes and bake for an additional twenty. My orzo was cooked after twenty and I was OK with the level of browning so I didn’t bother.

 

Something amazing recently happened to Fitzpatrick: he is now a unicorn.