Weekly Winner:  Parsley Pesto Pasta Packs a Perfect Punch

Oh alliteration, how I’ve missed you!  But you are back – which makes me very happy and my blog posts that much easier to write. But wait… This entry isn’t about my journalistic quirks, it’s about the food!  So without further ado, I present Bucatini with Walnut-Parsley Pesto. (See?  Don’t you think my headline is better?)

The recipe is from Bon Appetit Magazine and caught my attention because it hits on some of my all-time favorite things.  Bucatini has to be my favorite pasta shape.  It’s substantial and chewy.  Walnuts definitely top my list of favorite nuts (along with cashews) and I’m a big fan of pesto made from non-traditional ingredients.  I also tend to lean toward pasta dishes that have relatively few ingredients.  Simplicity is the key for me and in this dish, it just about reigns supreme.

One more fun fact about this dish.  When I decided to make it I realized that, although I’ve wanted shallow pasta bowls forever, I’ve never bought them.  There is no excuse for this but every time I made a new dish, I regretted the fact that I didn’t have the perfect vessel to show it off.  So last Friday I bit the bullet and before I shopped for groceries, I went to my favorite home furnishings store and picked these up.  My pastas finally have a welcoming new home.

Bucatini with Walnut-Parsley Pesto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup walnuts

6 pickled Calabrian chiles or 1 Fresno chile

1 small garlic clove, finely grated

1-1/2 oz Parmesan, finely grated (about 1-1/2 cups)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for serving

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

3/4 pound Bucatini

Procedure:

  • Preheat oven to 350F.  Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and slightly darkened, 8-10 minutes.  Let cool.
  • Pulse 3/4 cup walnuts in a food processor until very finely chopped (but not pasty). Reserve remaining walnuts for serving.  Remove stems from chiles, add to food processor.  Pulse until finely chopped.  Transfer walnut mixture to a medium bowl and stir in garlic, Parmesan, oil and 1 cup parsley.  Season pesto with salt and pepper
  • Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.  Return pasta to pot and add pesto along with 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid.  Toss, adding splashes of cooking liquid as needed, until pesto coats pasta and sauce is glossy.
  • Crush reserved walnuts with the flat side of a knife.  Divide pasta among bowls and top with walnuts and more parsley.
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Weekly Winner:  Marvelous, Mellow Marsala – Modernized

Most of us have had a version of Chicken or Veal Marsala and it’s always good.  Pieces of meat in a mellow sauce of garlic, mushrooms, Marsala wine … What’s not to like? It’s never overpowering, the flavors meld nicely and makes for a comforting, familiar dish.

So what happens when Chicken Marsala decides to become a hipster and reinvent itself into the popular, seemingly ubiquitous “grain bowl” that seems to be popping up everywhere?  It morphs into this, a Mushroom and Chicken Marsala Bowl which finds the familiar Chicken Marsala amped up with spinach and nestled atop a bed of quinoa.  Still mellow, still satisfying and savory, just a bit more modern. Having said that, I think this would be even more awesome on top of a mound of creamy mashed potatoes, but I’m old-school like that.

This recipe, not surprisingly, comes from Cooking Light Magazine.  It’s quick, yummy and well worth a try.

Mushroom and Chicken Marsala Bowls

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock, divided

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach

1 pound mushrooms, quartered

8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/4 cup minced shallots

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 cup dry Marsala wine

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Procedure:

1. Melt 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add quinoa to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Add 1 1/4 cups stock; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 12 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add spinach; cook 1 1/2 minutes or until beginning to wilt. Remove spinach from pan.

3. Melt 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in pan. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; swirl to coat. Add mushrooms; cook 8 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove mushroom mixture from pan.

4. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chicken to pan; sauté 4 minutes, browning on all sides. Add shallots, thyme, and garlic; sauté 1 1/2 minutes. Add wine and remaining 1/4 cup stock, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 2 minutes or until liquid is reduced by two-thirds and becomes slightly syrupy. Remove from heat. Add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, mustard, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring constantly until butter melts. Stir in mushrooms and spinach. Serve over quinoa.

 

Weekly Winner:  Great Big Balls of Comfort

Things always seem to get crazy for the first few months of the year.  Always for different reasons, yet always hectic.  I always fall under the false assumption that once the holidays are over things will slow down and my beloved routine will return.  It just never seems to happen.

So when I do have some time to “play” in the kitchen and try new things — I am always looking for comfort.  Something I can curl up on the couch with and escape into.  These Curried Meatballs are just the salve I was looking for.  Meaty, spicy, warm and cozy.

The recipe comes from Bon Appetit and while the list of ingredients may seem a bit long and daunting, at least in my case, I had everything on hand.  Make this dish on the night you seriously need some soul-satisfying, heart-warming fare.  Pajamas optional (but highly recommended). Also you will notice the forbidden cilantro on top.  This was hubby’s dish.  The recipe calls for it but I have omitted it as I always do.  Do what you feel is right.

Curried Meatballs

Serves 8

Ingredients:

Meatballs

Olive oil

6 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 jalapeños, seeds removed if desired

6 garlic cloves

1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 pounds ground beef (20% fat)

1 large egg, beaten to blend

3 tablespoons plain yogurt (plus more for serving)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Curry Sauce:
¼ cup olive oil

4 medium onions, chopped

10 garlic cloves, crushed

1 1½-inch piece ginger, peeled, chopped

3 dried chiles de árbol

4 teaspoons curry powder

4 teaspoons ground cumin

4 teaspoons ground turmeric

3 tablespoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Procedure:

Meatballs

Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly brush a rimmed baking sheet with oil. Purée scallions, jalapeños, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, garam masala, coriander, cumin, and cayenne in a blender until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add beef, egg, yogurt, and salt. Mix with your hands until mixture is homogenous and starts to become very sticky like sausage meat, about 1 minute. Roll beef mixture into golf ball–size portions and place on baking sheet, spacing 1″ apart (you should have about 24). Drizzle meatballs with more oil and bake until browned on top and cooked through, 20–25 minutes.

Curry Sauce

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring often,  are translucent and starting to brown, 8–10 minutes. Stir in chiles, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, coriander, and peppercorns. Cook, stirring often, until mixture is very fragrant and spices begin to stick to the pot, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, stirring and scraping bottom of pot, and bring to a boil. Add bay leaf, 1 Tbsp. salt, and 2 cups water; return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until flavors have melded, 25–30 minutes.

Let curry sauce cool slightly, then transfer to a blender; blend until very smooth. Wipe out any bits remaining in pot and transfer curry sauce back to pot. Stir in lemon juice and cayenne; taste sauce and season with more salt if needed.

Gently nestle cooked meatballs into sauce, bring to a simmer, and cook until meatballs are heated all the way through, 10–15 minutes. Serve topped with dollop of yogurt.