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Off the Menu: Cathy Whims

The chef/owner of Portland's popular Nostrana dishes about shopping, cooking, and a favorite fall recipe: Autumn Ragout.
WebMD Magazine
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

"I'm not Italian, but I feel like I've chosen a great cuisine," says Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Portland's acclaimed Nostrana restaurant. "It's very healthy and seasonal and rewarding," adds the four-time nominee for best chef in the Northwest by the James Beard Foundation.

When she's not at Nostrana or her other restaurant, Oven and Shaker, Whims, 55, shops for her menus at the Sunday Hillsdale Farmers' Market in southwest Portland. And when she's at home, "I reach for some fresh eggs and whatever vegetables I have on hand. I love baked asparagus with a poached egg and Parmesan cheese on top. In Italy, especially southern Italy, they call this type of cooking cucina povera, or the cooking of the poor," she says. "It's very economical -- a lot of vegetables and leftovers, and staples like grains and greens, with just a little meat."

Whims' Food Wisdom

Her go-to comfort food: "Spaghettini with a simple clam sauce. More than the sum of its parts, it reminds me of being on the seaside in Italy."

What she eats when she wants to lose 5 pounds: "One or two appetizer-size salads for dinner, and the next day I feel thinner."

Where she gets her best menu ideas: "A lot of things inspire me, primarily the seasons and what's available from the farmers markets that supply the restaurant."

The one lesson every home cook should learn: "Don't be afraid of a little salt. Add salt to the pasta water. If you add a perfectly seasoned sauce to unseasoned pasta, you will lose so much of the flavor you've worked for."

Autumn Ragout With Poached Eggs

This fall, you can try one of the simple yet satisfying stews that simmer on Whims' stovetop at home. Eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic come together in a basil-scented dish that celebrates the season and its star vegetables.

Makes 4 servings


3  tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, sliced 

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 Japanese eggplant, cut into half-inch cubes

1 small zucchini, cut into half-inch cubes

1 red or yellow bell ­pepper, cubed

2 heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced

salt and pepper to taste

8 fresh basil leaves, torn

4 farm-fresh eggs

⅓ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated



1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.

2. Sauté onion until translucent, about 6 minutes.

3. Add garlic and sauté about 3 minutes.

4. Add eggplant and zucchini and sauté until wilted.

5. Add bell pepper and sauté a couple more minutes.

6. Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover pan, and reduce heat, simmering about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in basil.

7. With the back of a wooden spoon, make four evenly spaced indentations in the vegetables, each large enough to hold an egg.

8. Break 1 egg into each indentation, cover pan, and simmer until eggs are just set.

9. Top with grated cheese and serve immediately.


Per serving:

270 calories, 12 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 18 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 193 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 236 mg sodium.

Calories from fat: 60%


Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD the Magazine." 

Reviewed on July 15, 2012

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