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

When she's not at Nostrana or her other restaurant, Oven and Shaker, Whims is cooking up easy yet delicious meals at home.

“I love baked asparagus with a poached egg and Parmesan cheese on top,” she says. “In Italy, especially southern Italy, they call this type of cooking cucina povera, or the cooking of the poor. It's very economical -- a lot of vegetables and leftovers, and staples like grains and greens, with just a little meat."

Her favorite 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."

Her Go-To Recipe: Autumn Ragout With Poached Eggs

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 fresh eggs

1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated


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

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