sponsored video: swooning over paola navone’s crate & barrel collection

When I grow up I want to be like Paola Navone. The renowned artist and designer exudes warmth and a love a life that is evident in all her work, whether it be Anthropologie’s vibrant color-pop bedding, overly-tufted, welcoming sofas or her new vibrant and playful pieces at Crate & Barrel. She’s also a not-to-be overlooked Italian who gained prominence in the male-dominated design space, and displays a short hairstyle and a prominent nose that I can’t help but identify with. If I can’t grow up to be like her, perhaps we could have dinner one day?

I’m not sure how or when that may happen, but in the meantime I am going to take some inspiration from Crate & Barrel and channel a little Paola for my gatherings this fall. She’s created three collections all centered around entertaining.

The Como collection features bold blue on white designs with organic swirls and patterns. It reminds me of dining al fresco in Sicily, with smells of almond pastries mixing with Mediterranean breezes. Splashes of red wake you up.

The Mallorca collection is more calming, with white on white ceramics that have delicate, feminine edges. Aluminum trays with gentle dimples appear ready to elevate any dish.

And the Riveria collection focuses white pieces with scalloped edges that meet sea green glasses and bamboo serving pieces.

All three themes bring a worldly sophistication to the table, without being stuffy or too precious. As the holidays encroach it’s easy to get drawn towards Northernly designs, but a few Navone bits sprinkled about will make sure your dinners always have a sunny disposition. Here’s a little peak at the artistry behind the work.

As if her new designs weren’t enough to inspire some noteworthy dinners of our own, Crate & Barrel even offers up a few recipes from the master herself. This one below, pasta with zucchini, in an interesting take on one of my favorites. I would add a sprinkle of crushed pastachios before serving, to give it a final hint of richness.

Pasta with Zucchini by Paola Navone

What You Need:

2 lbs. baby zucchini; no more than 1¼’ in diameter
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup fresh mint (smallest leaves only), thyme, rosemary
Saffron threads, a pinch
Fresh cracked pepper
Ground red pepper
Coarse sea salt
1 lb. uncooked dried mezzi rigatoni – shorter, ridged rigatoni
1/4 cup coarse sea salt to season pasta cooking water
To pass at the table:ricotta di bufala *
** Buffalo milk ricotta is less sweet than cow’s milk ricotta.

How To Make:
1. Wash and drain the zucchini. Slice into ¼-inch-thick “coins” and set aside. If using larger zucchini, slice lengthwise, core out the seeds, then slice.

2. Place a large, nonstick sauté pan over low to medium-low heat. Glaze the pan with olive oil. Add crushed garlic, herbs and saffron to the pan to flavor the oil. (Reserve a small handful of the herbs for garnish.) Stir and cook until the garlic just starts to color and become fragrant. Do not let the garlic burn. Remove garlic.

3. Add the zucchini to the pan and season with ground pepper and sea salt. Sear the zucchini until slightly soft and the zucchini begins to brown and caramelize. Remove from heat.

4. Remove ½ of the zucchini mixture; place in a food processor and puree.

5. Add a small drizzle of olive oil to the sliced zucchini still in the pan; gently fold in pureed zucchini. Add more olive oil to taste, but sparingly. The consistency of the sauce should be creamy, not thick.

6. Fill a large pasta pot ¾ full with cold water and place over high heat. Add ¼ cup** of course sea salt to water and bring to a rolling boil. Add dried pasta and cook according to package directions for al dente.

7. Drain pasta (reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water) and place in large serving bowl. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil.

8. If needed, thin zucchini sauce with a bit of the pasta cooking water. Add zucchini sauce to pasta and toss gently. Garnish with fresh mint and serve immediately. Pass ricotta di bufala for guests to stir into their pasta, to taste.

Note: This post is sponsored by Crate & Barrel.

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real life test kitchen: moosewood’s ‘our best chili’

Suddenly there’s a chill in the air — and the farmer’s markets are still brimming with late summer veggies. Seems like a good excuse to make a chili, even though that’s usually wintertime feast in our house. I recently received the new Moosewood Restaurant Favorites cookbook, and if there’s one thing I know about Moosewood, the veggie mecca in upstate New York, it’s that they do amazing chili. So last weekend I picked up some gorgeous end-of-season peppers and set off to make this 30-minute chili. I served it with Greek yogurt, scallions and shredded cheddar. I will most definitely make again, though next time I’m gonna add one more hot pepper for a bit more heat.

Here’s my take on: Moosewood’s “Our Best Chili’

What You Need:
2 tbls vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
3 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp salt
1 cup diced carrots
2 cups seeded and chopped bell peppers
1 fresh hot pepper, seeded and minced
1 1/2 tbls cumin
1 tbls coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup corn kernals
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can of kidney beans, rinsed
1 15 oz can of black beans, rinsed

How to Make
1. Heat the oil in a soup pot on low flame. Add the onion, garlic and salt, and cook until soft — about ten minutes.
2. Add the carrots and bell peppers, turning up the heat to medium-high. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
3. Add in minced hot peppers and spices and cook for 5 minutes more, still stirring.
4. Add corn, tomatoes and both beans. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low.
5. Simmer for 30 minutes.
6. Serve hot with Greek yogurt or sour cream, cheese and scallions. Corn bread won’t be unappreciated either!

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want it now: leather tangram coasters

It’s hard to imagine getting excited about coasters, but these gorgeous metallic leather coasters from Of A Kind bring entertaining to a whole new level. They are insanely chic and on trend for fall. And, yes, you can use the seven geometric shapes to create different shapes, like a horse or a sailboat, while you wait for guests to arrive. Made in Los Angeles from cowhide. $65 for a set of seven at

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real life test kitchen: chocolate chip chocolate zucchini muffins

The other day I noticed we had a lot of zucchini in the kitchen. It’s that time of year. It’s been ages since I made zucchini bread so I thought I’d grate a few of them and put them to good use. I began seplaceing for a recipe, and steered toward the chocolate ones. Then I steered a little more chocolatey and went with ones that had chocolate chips. Then I realized I didn’t have buttermilk in the house and was too lazy to head back out. That left this recipe from Chez Chloe, which was inspired of course by one of the all time great food blogs itself, Chocolate & Zucchini. The wonder of this recipe is that it calls for FOUR cups of shredded zucchini — most only use two. This makes it extra dense but still so delicious even our fussy five year old gobbled them up. I brought a pile into work for an early morning meeting and I could see that they they helped me win both hearts and minds. Here’s my take ….

Chocolate Chip Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

What You Need:

4 cups grated zucchini
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
a shake of ground nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted butter (12T or 1 and ½ sticks), melted
1 cup chocolate chips (I used ½ semi-sweet and ½ bittersweet)

How To Make:
1. Preheat over to 350°F. Grease and flour muffin tins. Grate the zucchini — leaving skin on! — I used a food processor. Place it in a sieve to drain excess water. Press down with a paper towel to help make that happen.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

3. In an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until smooth, about a minute. Add the melted butter and vanilla, beat until smooth. Fold in shredded zucchini. Add the flour to the mixture in three additions, stirring to combine after each addition. Finally, fold in the chips, stirring by hand.

4. Divide batter into into tins. I filled them up almost entirely, and make a dozen and a half muffins. Use less batter per tin if you want more.

5. Bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes, or or until toothpick comes out clean.

6. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Flip onto a plate and late cool before serving — if you can wait!

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real life test kitchen: deconstructed eggplant parmesan

On Saturday a trip to a local farmer’s market yielded a beautiful assortment of eggplant: pink, striped and deep, deep purple. Eggplant can be versatile but nothing tastes so good as when it’s fried with a little mozzarella and tomato sauce on top. If you’ve ever made Eggplant Parmesan, you know it is a labor of love. Not only do you have to bread and then fry up all the eggplant, but you also need to heat up your kitchen baking it in the oven for an hour or so. This New York Times recipe for Eggplant Deconstructed is my favorite late summer alternative to that Italian American classic. You still need to spend some time preparing, but assembled just before serving at room temperature, it has a casualness worthy of an outdoor meal. Be sure to allow time to let the eggplant drain in colander before cooking. Removing its excess water is crucial to keeping the dish on the light side. Here’s my take…

Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan

What You Need
1 large eggplant sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds — I actually used three small ones with the intention of creating leftovers
3/4 tsp salt
Black pepper
3/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 to 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
4 sprigs fresh oregano
3 sprigs fresh basil, plus torn leaves for serving
5 tbs Parmesan
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup ricotta
2 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into small slices

How To Make
1. Place the eggplant slices in a colander over a bowl. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand about 20 minutes. Drain and pat slices dry with a paper towel. Season with pepper.

2. Working in batches, heat some of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add as much eggplant as you can fit in a single layer in the skillet. Cook about 4 minutes until bottom is dark golden, then lip and cook 3 to 4 minutes more. Move to paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining oil and eggplant. You’ll need to keep adding oil with each batch of eggplant. It took me four batches.

3. Let the skillet cool a bit. Heat 3 tbs oil. Add 4 garlic cloves. Cook about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano. Cook, smashing the tomatoes with a spoon as you can, until tomatoes start to form a sauce, about 15 minutes. Add the basil sprigs and 4 tbs Parmesan; simmer 5 more minutes.

4. While the sauce simmers, warm 1 tbs olive oil in a small skillet to medium heat. Mince 1 remaining garlic clove and add to the skillet with the bread crumbs. Toast until bread crumbs are just turning golden. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon Parmesan.

5. Arrange eggplant on a serving platter. Spoon drops of ricotta over the eggplant and top with sauce. Scatter bread crumbs over sauce. Top with mozzarella and sprinkle on torn basil leaves. Drizzle with oil and serve.

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