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From Mac 'N' Cheese To Mashed Potatoes, 4 Comfort Food Recipes To Welcome Fall

With the coming of fall and cooler weather, comfort foods are onHere & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst‘s mind. Kathy bringsHere & Now ‘s Jeremy Hobson and Robin Young her takes on their favorites — coq au vin and mashed potatoes — as well as macaroni and cheese and her recipe for summer tomato soup that tastes just as good in fall.

Coq Au Vin With Cippoline Onions

There are few stews that satisfy like a good coq au vin. This was Jeremy Hobson’s choice for No. 1 comfort food. I think you’ll agree that this version — chicken browned in bacon fat, simmered with a whole bottle of red wine, sweet cippoline onions, carrots, button mushrooms and fresh parsley — is about as good as it gets.

The stew can be made a day ahead of time (in fact, like most stews, the flavors come together beautifully as it sits) and reheated just before serving. Serve with ultimate mashed potatoes ( see recipe below). Serves 4 to 6.


  • 4 strips bacon
  • 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • One 4- to 5-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • About 1 tablespoon safflower or other vegetable oil (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound cippoline or baby or pearl onions, peeled and left whole
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole and 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 bottle red wine*
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 10 ounces button mushrooms, or shiitake or crimini, quartered
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

* Since wine is such a key ingredient in this stew, it’s worth it to find something better than your plain old cooking wine. I made this with a nice, full-bodied Côtes du Rhône and it was perfect. You might want to cook the stew with the same wine you will be drinking.


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a large ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid, cook the bacon on the stove over low heat until mostly crisp on both sides, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels, leaving about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the pan; discard the rest.
  3. Cut the bacon into 1-inch pieces and reserve.
  4. Place the cup of the flour on a large plate or in a plastic bag, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces on all sides in the seasoned flour.
  5. Heat the bacon fat in the pan over moderately high heat and brown the chicken pieces, a few at a time, until golden brown on all sides, about five minutes. Remove from the pot, and repeat with the remaining chicken. If you need additional fat for browning the chicken, add the tablespoon of safflower oil. Use paper towel to remove any excess grease clinging to the chicken.
  6. Using a paper towel, clean out the bottom of the pot. Add the olive oil and heat over low heat. Add the onions, carrots, whole and chopped garlic and half the thyme and cook, stirring, for about three to four minutes, or until the onions just begin to turn golden brown. Add salt and pepper and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour to coat all the vegetables. Cook three minutes, stirring frequently. Raise the heat to high and add the wine, letting it come to a boil.
  7. Reduce the heat to low, add the bay leaf and whisk in the tomato paste, making sure to incorporate it into the sauce. Add the browned chicken pieces and gently spoon some of the vegetables and wine over the meat. Cover and place the stew on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for one hour.
  8. After the stew has cooked for an hour, stir in the mushrooms, remaining thyme and reserved bacon. Cover and place back in the oven and cook another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is quite tender; it should be almost falling off the bone.
  9. Sprinkle in the parsley and serve hot.

Ultimate Mashed Potatoes

This is Robin Young’s No. 1 comfort food and many, many others share her passion.

Mashed potatoes should win some sort of award for withstanding every culinary trend that has passed through the decades. This recipe is for the rich, classic, creamy, buttery kind of mashed potatoes — the ultimate comfort food that goes with nearly everything.

You’ll notice the amounts of butter, milk and cream in this recipe vary. The amount you add will depend on exactly how creamy and decadent you like your potatoes to be. Start with the low amounts, taste and then add more. Serves 6.


  • 3 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in half
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the potatoes feel tender when tested in the center with a small, sharp knife. Drain the potatoes thoroughly.
  2. Place the potatoes back into the pot over very low heat. Add the butter and, using a potato masher, mash the potatoes working in the butter. Alternatively, use a ricer to puree the potatoes, place them back into the pot and then add the butter.
  3. Slowly add 1 cup of the milk and 1/2 cup of the cream, mashing and stirring. I believe that mashed potatoes should have some lumps; mash until almost smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and additional milk and cream as needed.

Macaroni And Cheese With A Thyme-Parmesan Crust

Trust me, this is not your ordinary mac ‘n’ cheese.

When you make a super creamy, cheesy sauce and mix it with pasta and then top it all off with a crust of fresh thyme, Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs, something magical and comforting takes over. You can make the dish in one large skillet or baking dish, or make it in individual ramekins, but you’ll need to reduce the baking time.

The dish can be assembled up to two hours ahead of time and baked just before serving. Serves 6 to 8.


  • 1 pound short, textured pasta (macaroni, cavatappi, ziti rigate or penne rigate)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk, warmed, or 2 cups milk and 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated Gruyere, sharp cheddar or Emmenthaler (or your favorite hard cheese)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup plain dry breadcrumbs


  1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until barely al dente, about seven to nine minutes. Drain, return to the pot and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the butter in a medium pot over low heat. When the butter has melted completely and begins to sizzle, add the flour and whisk until combined. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble, about one minute. Add half the warm milk in a slow, steady stream, whisking until the mixture is smooth and begins to thicken, about two minutes. Add the remaining milk, whisk again until smooth and increase the heat to medium-high, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens; it should coat a spoon. Remove the sauce from the heat and add half the mozzarella, half the Parmesan and all of the cheddar, whisking constantly to prevent the cheese from becoming lumpy. When the sauce is completely smooth, add salt and pepper to taste and 2 tablespoons of the thyme.
  4. Pour the sauce over the pasta in the pot and stir to combine completely. Spoon half the pasta into a large ovenproof skillet, or a roughly 9-by-12-inch baking dish or several smaller dishes — ramekins work really well — and arrange the remaining mozzarella evenly over the pasta. Pour the remaining pasta over the cheese layer and spread evenly.
  5. Mix the remaining Parmesan cheese, the remaining 2 teaspoons thyme and the breadcrumbs together in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the pasta. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil evenly over the crust.
  6. Bake the pasta for 30 to 40 minutes (smaller dishes will bake in 15 to 20 minutes), or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Serve hot.

Summer Tomato And Basil Soup

Use the very freshest, ripest, plumpest, bursting-with-flavor tomatoes you can find — preferably ones from your, your neighbor’s or a local farmer’s garden.

Fresh basil and basil oil adds an herb-filled summer flavor to this soup. Serve it chilled or hot, with or without the basil cream. A swirl or a few drops of basil oil is delicious on top of the soup. The soup can be made a day ahead of time, or frozen for several months. Serves 8 to 10; makes 10 cups.


  • 4 pounds tomatoes (about 6 medium), cored
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound yellow or Vidalia onions (about 3 medium), sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup packed, coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves, plus extra whole leaves for garnish
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • A few fresh basil leaves, for garnish


  1. Make the soup: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Gently drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and cook for about 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and immediately place in the bowl of ice water. Using your fingers or a small, sharp knife, peel the tomatoes. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and set aside.
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil over low heat. Add the onions, salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for two to three minutes, stirring well. Add half of the chopped basil and raise the heat to high. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside for five minutes.
  3. Add the remaining chopped basil to the soup and, working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. Taste for seasoning.
  4. If serving hot, return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Alternatively, the soup can be refrigerated and served chilled. Swirl about a tablespoon of the basil cream into the soup, or the basil oil, and garnish with the basil leaves.

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Kathy's coq au vain. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)
Kathy's coq au vain. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)

Kathy's ultimate mashed potatoes. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)
Kathy's ultimate mashed potatoes. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)

Kathy's coq au vin. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Kathy's coq au vin. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)