pandemic comfort food

It's hard to overstate the dramatic changes and challenges that people have faced over the past year, as the COVID19 global pandemic has raged. It has caused everyone to re-evaluate their everyday behaviors, make changes to the way that they interact with friends, family, and colleagues, and also adjust the way that they find and consume food. Our family is so blessed to have food security and access to local markets and restaurants where we can safely get food every week. But so many others are isolated and struggling.

This post of recipes is intended to offer some comfort during this difficult time. I know that I have craved the familiarity of comfort food - gooey cheese, rich pasta, hearty meats and breads. Being pregnant with my second baby, I also am experiencing the food cravings of an expecting mother - so you can blame the baby in the belly for these rich and loaded recipes!

With the transition to remote work, I have taken what was previously commute time in the morning to experiment with baked goods for breakfast. This Lemon Ricotta Poppy Seed Muffin recipe came from a desire to use up leftover ricotta in the refrigerator, and a few meyer lemons from the market. There is a satisfying blend of crunch from the toasted almonds and creamy cake on the inside.

The following two recipes are variations on "baked pasta," as there is nothing better than the browned crunchy cheesy top of a pasta casserole. This variation on a prior recipe of mine, Baked Spaghetti Squash Carbonara, starts with a whole baked spaghetti squash. You remove the stringy insides of the squash once softened in the oven, blend on the stovetop with more traditional carbonara ingredients including pancetta, cream, and parmesan, and return to the squash shells to broil in the oven with extra cheese. It is a gluten-free, lightened version of the traditional Italian dish - so you can feel good about eating the entire helping!

The second baked pasta dish is a Spanikopita-Inspired Baked Rigatoni. This dish incorporates multiple types of leafy greens and herbs - including spinach, arugula, parsley, and dill - to add color and contrast to the creamy cheese sauce, which is made from a mix of cream cheese, feta, and mozzarella. You finish the dish in the oven with extra shredded cheese and breadcrumbs on top for crunch.

I hope that these belly-warming dishes bring some comfort to you and your family this winter, as we all continue to hunker down indoors and away from our dearest family and friends. While we can't be together in large groups to celebrate the special moments in life, at least we can share food stories and memories with one another, and offer words of comfort, health and hope for a better 2021.