19 iconic Tucson dishes and recipes to cook at home
In this time of great uncertainty, it's best to ask yourself: "WWJCD? What would Julia Child do?" And I think we all know the answer to that question. She'd cook up some coq au vin and she'd have some laughs and she'd cook up some more, until all our worries were nibbled away.
In Julia's spirit, we'd like to offer you this evolving collection of local recipes, submitted by Tucson chefs, writers and home cooks. While their restaurants may be closed or you might not be able to share a meal in person, they've generously brought their table to yours.
We've included recipes for classic Tucson patty tacos, Rocco's first-ever stuffed Chicago pizza, even a vegan kugel to celebrate a belated Passover. We even received submissions from beloved Tucson businesses that have closed their doors, like Gordo's Mexicateria and The Fix macaroni and cheese restaurant at Main Gate Square.
Of course, this isn't a complete cookbook in any sense of the word. But we hope that this compilation is just the beginning. Everyone, please send me some more of your favorite recipes to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to keep it going! Like Julia would say, "Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it." Cheers!
ð§ Gordo's Caldo de Queso
Marguerite Brown, Gordo's Mexicateria
This simple Sonoran cheese soup was a specialty of Brown's grandmother, who used to serve the dish at their family restaurant Gordo's Mexicateria. Serves 4-6 people.
Fill soup pot with 6 cups of water and add diced potatoes and onion. Bring to a boil and boil until potatoes are soft. Add green chiles, cheese, tomato sauce and salt and pepper. Serve with added cheese for topping.
ð¥© Mateo's ribeye guacamole
Chef Mateo is always cooking up delicious-looking things on his Instagram page, and since Rollies is closed until at least April 16, he agreed to send us one of his home recipes to hold us over.
Screenshot of Rollies' Instagram guacamole recipeRollies Mexican Patio Instagram
Add diced serranos, tomatoes, onion, cilantro together with lime to make a pico. Smash the avocado and mix it into the pico. Add salt to taste. Garnish with ribeye steak.
ð¶ï¸ Chad's smokey chiltepin cheese
This local spicemaster makes his own cheese by mixing yogurt with various spices and letting it mature in the fridge for a couple days. If you're worried about heat, he says you can use chile powder or paprika instead of the spicy chiltepin pepper. The key to this recipe is making sure you use sea salt and full-fat yogurt.
Chad's spicy chiltepin cheeseCourtesy of Chad Borseth
In a bowl, blend the yogurt, spices and salt. Mix until well incorporated. Pour this mixture into a colander lined with a clean tea towel or cheesecloth. Let this sit in a larger bowl to drain in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, you can ball up the cheese in the cloth and squeeze extra moisture out of it. The cheese has taken shape but the flavors spread out more on day two, about 48 hours from the start.
ð¥£ Spanish garlic soup
This local chef brings us her grandmother's recipe, from the wonderful world of EspaÃ±a. "It's a soup that was good to fight the flu, and it was because at that time food was hard to come by," she says.
Place olive oil in a deep frying pan and heat up to medium. Slice garlic into slivers and cook until just barely starting to brown. Add paprika and thyme and stir for 30 seconds. Pour in chicken broth.
Taste the soup and adjust for salt if needed. Add toasted cubes of bread and cook for 15 minutes. Add raw eggs on top and cover for another 10 minutes. Serve in a clay cazuela or bowl.
ð¥¦ Reilly's Brussels sprouts
The ugly delicious Brussels sprouts from Reilly Pizza have reached icon status at this point, and since Reilly is closed until at least the end of April, Chef Tyler Fenton agreed to share the recipe with us. Happy day!
Donât want to make brittle? Garnish the Brussels with raw sugar or brown sugar instead
Home sherry vinaigrette
(Editor's) cheater note: Use bottled balsamic vinaigrette if you don't feel like making the sherry vinaigrette yourself.
Cheater note: Donât want to make anything yourself? Hot sauce + lemon juice or splash of any vinegar + raw sugar. It wonât be the same ... but it may be passable.
Start by making the pecan brittle: Combine sugar, water and honey in a pan over medium heat and bring it to 300 degrees. The liquid should be deep caramel in color and almost starting to smoke. Take the pan off the heat and add the nuts, stirring them in. Then add the baking soda and give it a quick few stirs. You donât want to over stir at this point or you will negate the effect of the baking soda. The color will lighten. Spread out nuts on an oiled baking sheet and season fairly aggressively with salt. Allow to cool completely.
To prepare the sherry vinaigrette: Put all ingredients in a mason jar and shake that bad boy real hard for like a minute.
To prepare the hot sauce: In a blender, blend the chiles with 2x their volume in vinegar. Once smooth, stream in the half that amount in oil. Season to taste with salt. Blend those ingredients, adjusting amounts until they taste good to you.
To make the Brussels: Cut Brussels sprouts in half. Cook your preferred method ... at the restaurant we fry them, which is not highly recommended to do at home. Iâd suggest pan roasting them in a cast iron, cooking them until they are deeply charred on the cut side and then flipping and getting a nice char on the other side as well. You could also roast them in a hot oven, whatever you are comfortable with. Once you have the cooked Brussels, dress them in equal parts sherry vinaigrette and the hot sauce. Garnish with chopped up pecan brittle.
ð® Tucson-style ground beef patty tacos
Jackie Alpers, cookbook author
This recipe is an outtake from Jackie's upcoming book "Taste of Tucson: Sonoran-Style Recipes Inspired by the Rich Culture of Southern Arizona" which comes out April 21 through West Margin Press. These classic beef patty tacos were inspired by Teresa Matias of Teresaâs Mosaic Cafe, who would cook up patty tacos in a pinch to feed her kids.
This recipe for beef patty tacos was left out of Jackie's latest book "Taste of Tucson." But here they are!Courtesy of Jackie Alpers
For each taco you will need:
Spread a thin layer of ground beef over half of each corn tortilla so that the meat is about 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle the beef with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Using tongs, carefully lay the open-faced tortilla meat-side-up in the oil. Fold the other side of the tortilla over the meat and gently press down.
Fry for about 2 minutes, then flip the taco with the tongs and cook until until the tortilla is crispy and the meat is cooked, about two minutes longer. Remove the taco from the oil, turning it on its side over the oil to drain. Transfer to a paper towel. Top with shredded cheese, lettuce and diced tomatoes.
ð Beer battered fish tacos
Resort chef Danny Perez is currently on his "retirement practice plan," and made these simple fish tacos last week. "I miss my team and resort but hope to be back soon!" he says.
Lightly toss the fish in corn starch, then dip in batter and fry in canola oil until golden brown. Mix yogurt and chipotle together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, toss cabbage, onion, cilantro and apples with lime juice and salt and pepper.
Lightly fry the corn tortilla in oil. Then build the tacos with three strips of cod each, and then top with slaw and chipotle yogurt mix. And serve.
â¡ï¸ Passover pantry kugel (AKA Quarantine Kugel)
Lori Riegel, PhD with a specialty in Jewish Education
Kugel is a traditional holiday staple during Passover, and this savory potato kugel is 100 percent vegan. "I was determined to create a dish that did not involve a trip to the grocery store, hence the use of cashews as a binding agent. Most of the vegan recipes I consulted called for potato starch as a binder, which I did not have on hand. I looked through my pantry, and thought through what I use for other dishes. Soaked cashews are a vegan go-to for thickening sauces. The cashews worked perfectly!" she says.
Soak cashews in hot or boiling water for two to three hours. When ready to assemble recipe, pour water off, leaving two tablespoons. of the soaking water in the softened cashews. Puree cashews and remaining water in food processor or blender until consistency of thick tahini or apple sauce.
Preheat oven to 375. Heat oil and coconut oil. Heat sliced onions over low to medium heat to caramelize, for about 15 minutes. Remove from pan.
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir well for a uniform mixture. Season with salt and pepper, generously. Pour the mixture into a greased 9 x 12 glass baking dish, or six small individual baking tins. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until firm and golden on top.
NOTE: I generally do not peel potatoes before grating, but feel free to. Leaving the peel on results in a darker brown finished product.
ð Giappo's stuffed pan pizza
His restaurant is temporarily closed, but Rocco is using the time to try other people's Chicago pizza recipes. He adapted this recipe from the former Giappo's, "the ONLY pizzeria that actually sold pan pizza in my South Side neighborhood," he says. "This was the first stuffed pizza I ever ate, and it's as good as any of the other storied places, for sure. It tastes and smells just right. I'm eating a piece right now!"
To make the dough: Add one teaspoon of sugar to 1 1/2 cups warm water. Then add dry yeast and let set for a half an hour. When yeast is active, combine all other ingredients for the dough. Let dough rise. Then punch to let air out and let dough rise a second time.
To make the pizza: Reserve a third of the dough for the top. Roll out the other two thirds. This will be used for the bottom. Butter a 12" cake pan and press the dough into bottom and side of the pan, making sure there are no air pockets. Add sauce (save some sauce for the top) and any other ingredients (sausage, mushrooms, etc.). Add cheese to your liking. Roll out the last third of the dough and place on top, then add the rest of the sauce. Cook in a preheated 375-degree oven for about 40 minutes, till the center cheese is melted.
ð Pasta e Fagioli
In addition to the Brussels sprouts, Tyler also shared a simple Italian recipe for pasta and beans. "This isnât so much a recipe as a guideline," he says. "This is a classic peasant dish, which makes it a perfect fit for these quarantine times. Amounts are not given because it depends on what youâve got. Donât have greens? Donât sweat it. Only have dried herbs? Totally fine. The only two things you 100 percent need are pasta and beans. That is the name of the dish after all."
For the beans: If you are using dry beans, soak them overnight, drain and put in a pot and cover with water. Add some onion, garlic, herbs if youâve got it. If not, no worries. Cook until theyâre tender.
For the pasta: In a pot, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sautÃ© until softened. Increase heat to medium high. If using greens, add them now. You want them to wilt and slightly char. Now add about a teaspoon of miso, if using, and some herbs to lightly bloom. If using tomato paste, add now and stir and toast until itâs more of a brick red rather than bright red. If using canned tomato or tomato sauce, first add a splash of wine or wine vinegar to deglaze the pan and reduce slightly.
Allow to reduce for a few minutes and then add some water to make it brothy. If you used tomato paste it will take more water than if you used sauce. Add your beans, if using canned drain and rinse first. Allow to simmer together for 20 minutes or longer if youâve got time. Taste and season accordingly.
Cook your pasta for two to three minutes less than the package. Transfer pasta to brothy sauce, adding pasta water to keep it brothy as it reduces together. Now you get to decide how thin/thick you want your dish to be. I like mine almost like risotto, so somewhere between loose pasta and a tight soup. But you can go full soup or full pasta vibes, up to you. Once your pasta is nicely cooked, kill the heat and stir in a nice glug of extra virgin olive oil, some freshly grated cheese and a bunch of black pepper. Stir to emulsify that all in. Taste for final seasoning adjustments. Plate it up and garnish with some more oil, cheese and pepper. Enjoy.
ðº Chelada beer cocktail
Jackie Alpers, cookbook author
Another outtake from Alpers' book "Taste of Tucson," this simple chelada recipe is perfect for a pool party of one (or two or three, depending on how big your family is.) "Itâs kinda like a beer margarita. I love it because itâs a big drink that lasts a long time and it has considerably less sugar and calories than a margarita," she says.
Jackie Alpers' chelada recipeJackie Alpers
Wash the lime, cut it in half, squeeze some of the juice onto a plate, then dunk the rim of the glass into the lime juice and swirl to coat. Pour about a tablespoon of salt or TajÃn or salt onto a small plate then swirl the wet rim of the glass in the salt to coat.
Fill the glass with ice. Squeeze the remaining lime into the glass and pour in the Rosaâs lime juice. Garnish with the lime slice with the slit in it that you used to wet the rim of the glass. You can also garnish with a jalapeÃ±o slice. Pour in the beer and enjoy.
ð¹ The Government's Teat cocktail
His bar may be closed, but local mixologist Ryne Hoffman has been showcasing his talents on Facebook in a series of weekly QuarenTIKI videos. They're fun to watch, mostly because of his dry humor and deadpan delivery. This cocktail is made with strawberry jelly and topped with "government cheese," aka shredded coconut. "I liked this one a lot, tasted like a strawberry jelly doughnut," he says.
Shake all together in a tin with ice, then dump into closest vessel of choice. Top with shredded coconut
Breakast foods and drinks:
ð³ Ghini's Eggs Provencale
Her popular French cafe is remaining open for takeout and grocery needs, but Chef Ghini kindly gave us her Eggs Provencale recipe, her signature dish. "This dish originated in my mother and grandmotherâs kitchen, but it was made in the oven, baked slowly with the garlic & thyme at the end," she says. "Of course that is not practical in the fast-paced breakfast atmosphere at the restaurant, so we gave it a little twist and put it in a saute pan. ... Eat this dish with caution; it is very addictive."
Take your favorite kind of tomato, ripe, and slice off both ends. Slice your tomato once in half and place the cut sides down in your saute pan. Salt, pepper and olive oil lightly your tomatoes and start to cook them on medium heat, covered with a lid. Cook for 5 minutes or until softened, flip the tomatoes over and add fresh garlic between the tomatoes. Let the garlic cook for about half a minute and add two eggs any way you like them.
Add thyme to the top of the entire dish and continue to cook until the eggs are cooked to your liking. Serve with a nice crusty baguette from La Baguette Bakery.
ð Helene Berlin's ham and eggs
Andi Berlin, food writer
My mom is an outstanding cook, but all this alone time makes me crave comfort food. So I've been making one of her simpler recipes, ham and eggs, several times a week. Growing up, she would always make sure we had breakfast on the table before school, and I loved most of all when she made us a scramble. I can't wait until this quarantine is over and I can hang out with my mom and cook some eggs together.
Melt the butter in a pan. Add the bell peppers and cook until soft. Add the eggs. (I've been scrambling them in the pan, but if you're diligent you can get out a bowl.) Add the ham and the cheese and cook until done. Pair with toast and decaf coffee, yeah I'm old now ...
ð Truâs favorite banana bread
Irene McKisson, editor #ThisIsTucson
Irene's family favorite is based off of Mrs. Myers Banana Bread, which she found after searching on Pinterest. "My kids ate a lot of bananas as toddlers and that meant we always had some on their way south. Black and squishy, it always seems like a waste," she says. "I donât know Mrs. Myers but her banana bread is about perfect. My version has fewer eggs and more cinnamon and itâs the favorite food of my son, Truman. He requested it for his preschool birthday treat when he was 4 and now he helps me make it when weâve gathered enough black squishy bananas."
Preheat oven to 350. Generously grease two loaf pans. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla, buttermilk and bananas. It might curdle up a bit, itâs fine. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Divide batter between the two greased pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Remove from oven and turn loaves out onto cooling rack immediately. Let cool.
â Cold brew shaken with chocolate, vanilla and oat milk
This local roaster has been getting into its shaken coffee drinks lately, which it served during the latest Savor Food and Wine Festival at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. David recommends making this drink with Yellow Brick's Guatemala: Finca San Sur. And if it's one of THOSE DAYS, you can also substitute the oat milk with coconut milk and pour in some rum.
Shaking Yellow Brick's cold brewCourtesy of Yellow Brick Coffee
To make the cold brew: This is a 24-hour process, so prepare the day before. We prefer to use Yellow Brick's Guatemala. Make a simple syrup with honey. Dissolve 25 grams of honey in 100 ml of hot water. We use our coffee blossom honey, but any delicious honey works. Add vanilla extract to taste. Place in refrigerator to cool.
To make the final drink: Dilute dark chocolate syrup with hot water so that it becomes slightly watery but not runny. Place a couple of large ice cubes in a cocktail shaker and add cold brew, two tablespoons of chocolate sauce, one tablespoon of vanilla and a splash of oat milk or whichever milk you prefer. Shake vigorously for five seconds and pour through a cocktail strainer, over ice.
ð¥ Vietnamese peanut sauce
Jackie Tran, food writer
Tucson Foodie's main food writer gave us his go-to dip that he pairs with "... rice noodles, lettuce wraps, tofu skewers, chicken nuggets, a new car, whatever your heart desires." And yes, it's even vegan! "That addictive peanut sauce that comes with your Vietnamese take-out is actually one of the easiest sauces to make. All you need is five parts hoisin sauce and one part peanut butter, then thin it out to your liking," he says.
Lettuce wraps with rice noodles, mint, Thai basil and Vietnamese sausage, paired with Jackie's signature peanut sauce.Courtesy of Jackie Tran
Heat a small saucepan to low heat. Add garlic and oil immediately and stir until aromatic and barely golden brown. Stir in the peanut butter and let it melt, then stir in the hoisin sauce. Lastly, stir in coconut milk to reach your desired consistency.
ð The Fix's Alfredo sauce
This Main Gate Square mac and cheese joint may have closed up shop in 2019, but owner Michael Lanz was kind enough to share his devilish recipe for Alfredo Sauce. The Fix paired this sauce with macaroni creations like the Lobster Alfredo and the Pit Boss with pulled pork and hash browns. But if you're not that adventurous, just boil up some pasta and dig in!
Assemble utensils and all ingredients. Pour milk into pot and add butter and cream cheese. Bring contents to a boil; whisk frequently to prevent boiling over or scalding the milk. Once butter and cream cheese are melted and thoroughly mixed, add parmesan cheese and whisk until melted, creamy and lump free.
Turn off heat and add salt and pepper. Whisk until spices are evenly distributed.
ð Chef Maria's everything sauce
The culinary world has recognized Chef Maria's talent for sauces. While this James Beard-nominated chef waits to see if she makes it to the next round of voting, she's sharing her "everything sauce" with us all. "This sauce is good for all your cooking needs," she says. It's "in my pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, enchilada sauce, etc. etc. Like I said, everything with a Mexican twist."
In a large pot on medium heat, add the oil, tomatoes, Anaheim peppers and onion, sautÃ© them until they become a puree. Then add the liquids and the rest of the ingredients. I let it go for about two hours in a very low heat. I stir and add the salt during the 2 hours, little by little, because no one likes a salty sauce.
After all of this, I start blending all the ingredients. If you're in the mood, grab a strainer and strain for a smoother sauce. You can even add butter at the end or even goat cheese, but this is totally optional.