Weekly Winner: Parcels of Porky Pasta Perfection

Who doesn’t love stuffed shells? I mean, it’s pasta….. stuffed with…stuff! Usually cheese, sometimes ground beef, but wait… pork?? Yes please!’

Pork Stuffed Shells is a surprisingly elegant-tasting dish. The pork and bechamel (or in this case, the Italian term “Balsamella” sauce combine to make a luxurious filling for your standard-issue large pasta shells. Set them on a bed of homemade roasted tomato sauce and you’re in for quite a tasty treat.

The recipe, which comes from Cuisine at Home is not difficult but it is a bit time-consuming. Worth every minute, if you ask me. Technically you certainly could use jarred tomato sauce but really, if you’ve got the time, you can definitely manage this recipe.  Besides, the garlicky, roasted tomato sauce is the perfect bed to nestle these porky parcels into before tucking them in with a nice blanket of cheese.

Pork Stuffed Shells

Serves 6 (the recipe says it serves 8, but seriously?? These things are tasty… you will eat more than three per person!)

Ingredients:

24 large pasta shells (conchiglioni)

1 cup diced onions

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp minced fresh garlic

1 lb ground pork

1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 cup dry sherry

Salt and red pepper flakes to taste

1 recipe Balsamella (recipe below)

1 recipe Roasted Tomato Sauce, divided (recipe below)

1 cup shredded Romano

1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Roasted Tomato Sauce:

2-1/2 lbs Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, smashed

3 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 450F. Toss tomatoes, onion, and garlic with oil; season with salt and pepper flakes. Transfer mixture to a baking dish; roast until tomatoes blister, 35-40 minutes. Puree mixture in a food processor or with a handheld blender.

Balsamella Sauce

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2-1/4 cups whole milk

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Salt & white pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in milk and nutmeg, bring sauce to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook until thick, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Season Balsamella with salt and white pepper.

Procedure:

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Parboil shells in a pot of boiling salted water until pliable, 7 minutes; drain, rinse with cold water, then drain again.
  • Cook onion in oil in a skillet over medium heat until softened, 4 minutes. Add garlic; cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add pork and rosemary; cook until browned, crushing pork with a potato masher until fine, 8-10 minutes.
  • Stir in sherry and cook until nearly evaporated, 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper flakes, let cool completely, then stir in Balsamella.
  • Spread 3 cups tomato sauce in the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish. Divide pork mixture among shells, arrange on top of sauce, cover with foil, and bake 15 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle shells with Romano, and bake until cheese is golden, 15 minutes; let rest 5 minutes, then garnish with basil and serve with remaining 1 cup tomato sauce.
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Weekly Winner: Fall Harvest in a Bowl

As the weather gets cooler, my craving for soup increases. There is something just so incredibly comforting about tucking in to a big bowl of luscious, creamy soup. And if said soup happens to have some crispy, crunchy topping on in — all the better! The problem with all this, is that most of the time a big bowl of creamy soup with crunchy toppings is not always the healthiest choice — usually that means loads of cream, cheese, fried toppings and (if you’re lucky) even bacon! What’s a creamy, comforting soup-lover to do?? The answer? Make this beautiful Carrot-Ginger Soup with Roasted Vegetables.

Not only is this soup gorgeous – its healthy and incredibly satisfying. The puréed white beans thicken the soup and make it very creamy all while boosting the fiber and making this soup stick with you for a while.

The recipe comes from Food Network Magazine and while it may not be the quickest, easiest soup you’ll ever make, its beauty and taste more than make up for it.

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Roasted Vegetables

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 scallions, sliced (white and green parts separated)

2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, smashed

5 carrots, chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 14-ounce can light coconut milk

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, undrained

1/2 acorn squash, seeded and chopped into 3/4-inch pieces

3 cups broccoli florets roughly chopped

3 cups roughly chopped broccoli florets and tender stems (about 1 head)

2 slices crusty bread cut into 1-inch pieces

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large wide pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the scallion whites, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the carrots and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the coconut milk, beans with their liquid and 3 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are very tender, 18 to 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, toss the squash, broccoli and bread with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and browned and the bread is toasted, about 15 minutes.
  3. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or transfer to a regular blender in batches and puree); season with salt and pepper. Divide the soup among bowls. Drizzle with olive oil and top with the vegetable-crouton mixture and scallion greens.

Weekly Winner: Pistachio-Pesto Pappardelle Perfection (with poultry)

I am not easily surprised by pasta. I think that’s because, while I dearly love pasta, I find it difficult to do something surprising with it. There’s not much I don’t like in my pasta but you always kind of know what you’re getting into and what it’s going to taste like. Until last night.

I decided to try Pappardelle with Chicken and Pistachio-Mint Pesto simply because it looked, well… different. I love pistachios and am always anxious to try out a new pesto. Pappardelle is one of my favorite pasta types and you can’t go wrong with chicken and tomatoes. It seemed like a no-brainer.  The zucchini and yellow squash were really the only wild cards here because, while I don’t mind them, I don’t generally seek out recipes with them. If I do eat them, I prefer them raw, which is exactly how they are served in this pasta.

In a word, this dish was amazing! So easy to make and so different from anything else I make on a regular basis. It was bright and hearty yet tasted like you were eating something healthy and nourishing because, well… it is healthy and nourishing. The recipe comes from Food & Wine magazine and is the perfect quick, guilt-free pasta for a satisfying weeknight meal.

Pappardelle with Chicken and Pistachio-Mint Pesto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups lightly packed mint leaves

1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (I️ used lightly salted)

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

8 oz pappardelle pasta

12 oz shredded rotisserie chicken (3 cups)

1 small zucchini, very thinly sliced or shaved

1 small yellow squash, very thinly sliced or shaved

1-1/2 cups mixed cherry tomatoes, halved, or quartered if large

Procedure:

1. In a food processor, combine the mint with the pistachios and lemon juice and pulse until finely chopped. With the machine on, gradually add the olive oil until incorporated and the pesto is nearly smooth. Scrape into a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain well, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta, chicken,zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and reserved cooking water to the pesto and toss well. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss again.

Weekly Winner:  Guilt-Free Cheesy Goodness

This is the time for comfort food.  The weather is cooling off, its getting dark earlier and earlier, holiday planning has begun and when it all gets a bit overwhelming, it’s nice to dive into a big bowl of comfort.  I don’t know about you, but when I think “comfort food” two things instantly come to mind: Cheese and Pasta.  The good news is both of those can easily be had with mac-n-cheese.  The bad news is you never feel good about diving into a big bowl of mac-n-cheese. That is, perhaps, until now.

Roasted Veggie Mac and Cheese takes the regret out of cheesy mac-n-cheese. And, if you’re like me and truly love roasted vegetables, it doesn’t even seem like you’re making a sacrifice to “healthy-up” a bowl of pasta and cheese.  The vegetables take up a lot of valuable “real estate” in your bowl, so you wind up using and eating a lot less pasta.  Also the veggies fill you up and keep you satisfied longer than a vat of pasta.  It’s a win-win-win kind of situation.

The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine, and the only concession I made was to use regular pasta instead of whole-grain. I still can’t go the whole-wheat route with pasta.  I’m getting enough fiber from all these tasty veggies so I can enjoy my good old-fashioned pasta without feeling bad. I did swap out the boring elbow macaroni for the more interesting and fun wagon wheel shape.  They seemed to better fit the size of the veggies. What? Don’t you match up your pasta to what else is in the recipe?

So the next time you need to curl up on the couch with some serious comfort food, try this mac-n-cheese and come away feeling a bit better about yourself!

Roasted Veggie Mac and Cheese

Serves 8

Ingredients:

Olive oil cooking spray

10 ounce fresh broccoli florets, cut into 1-in. pieces

10 ounce cauliflower florets, cut into 1-in. pieces

10 ounce butternut squash, cut into 1/2-in. dice

10 ounce quartered Brussels sprouts

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

12 ounces whole-grain elbow pasta (or any small-shape regular pasta)

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup minced onion

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups fat-free milk

1 cup reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

5 ounces freshly grated white sharp cheddar cheese (about 1-1/4 cup)

4 ounces freshly grated creamy Havarti cheese (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Procedure:

  • Preheat oven to 425°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with aluminum foil, and coat with olive oil spray. Toss broccoli, cauliflower, squash, and Brussels sprouts with olive oil, and season with salt. Spread vegetables in an even layer on prepared baking sheets. Bake at 425°F for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring vegetables and rotating pans halfway through cooking time, until vegetables are soft and have begun to brown around the edges.
  • While vegetables roast, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting fat and salt. Drain, and set aside.
  • Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium. Add onion, and cook over low about 2 minutes. Add flour, and cook another minute or until the flour mixture is golden and well combined. Add milk and broth; whisk, increasing heat to medium-high until mixture comes to a boil. Cook about 3 to 4 minutes or until it thickens slightly, and then season with pepper.
  • Remove pan from heat; add cheeses, and mix well until cheeses are melted. Add cooked pasta, and mix well; fold in roasted vegetables.

 

Weekly Winner: Chasing the Chill with Comforting Basil Chicken

Last week it was near 80 here in Chicago.  These past few days it hasn’t hit 50.  You simply can’t adjust in that short of a time. I usually handle the cold very well, however this week I simply can’t warm up.  Last night’s dinner definitely helped.

Slow-Cooker Basil Chicken took care of all of that. It’s super easy to make – after searing the chicken all you need to do is dump the rest of the ingredients in the slow cooker and walk away.  The smell that wafts out of the kitchen as the day goes on is totally intoxicating.  It’s also different from most of my crock pot chicken recipes or, for that matter, any of my chicken recipes, regardless of preparation.  The recipe comes from the website 12 Tomatoes.  I usually don’t collect recipes from other blogs or websites (ironic, I know!), and I haven’t even read this site before. I got the link from some email that touted unique chicken recipes or something like that.  I guess I’ll be checking in on 12 Tomatoes a bit more, now. One addition I made on my own was the dollop of yogurt on top.  I was afraid it would be too spicy and that the yogurt would help. It was not too hot but had nice heat. I will keep the yogurt as it adds a nice creamy touch.

Slow Cooker Basil Chicken

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs

3 Tbsp olive oil

Kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste

2 (13.5 oz) cans coconut milk

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

2 Tbsp dried basil

1-1/2 Tbsp yellow curry powder

1 Tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp salt

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 cup fresh Thai basil, or basil, chopped as garnish

Whole milk yogurt for garnish

Naan, white rice or coconut rice for serving

Procedure:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and, once oil is shimmering, sear both sides of (seasoned) chicken thighs in batches, making sure to let oil heat up again before searing the next batch.
  2. Combine coconut milk, dried basil, curry powder, chili powder, and salt and pepper to the slow cooker, stir together to incorporate.
  3. Place seared chicken, red onions, jalapeños and garlic to the slow cooker, and stir everything together.
  4. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 6-8 hours, until chicken is cooked through
  5. Remove chicken and shred with two forks
  6. Create a slurry by whisking cornstarch with 2 Tbsp cold water in a small bowl or glass.  Pour slurry and fresh ginger into the slow cooker
  7. Return shredded chicken to the slow cooker, then stir everything together. Cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until mixture has thickened.
  8. Stir in fresh basil and cilantro (if using)
  9. Serve with naan or rice

Weekly Winner:  Peanuty Pasta and Poultry Pleases Perfectly

I’ve made no attempt to hide my deep and abiding love affair with peanut sauces.  It’s something I simply cannot pass up either in a restaurant or while flipping through recipes.  I’m also a huge fan of The Pioneer Woman.  So needless to say when the forces of the universe collide to bring me a peanut sauce recipe by The Pioneer Woman (who, by the way gets bonus points for including pasta!) you know I’m going to be one happy cook!

Grilled Peanut Chicken and Broccolini from The Pioneer Woman did not disappoint.  The broccolini provided some nice crunch and bitterness to the slightly sweet and spicy sauce which is used to marinate the chicken and coat the pasta.  This isn’t fancy, I’m pretty sure positive it’s not authentic (barbecue sauce in peanut sauce??) but it is definitely delicious and different and incredibly worthy of being a Weekly Winner. And it made this cook very, very happy!

Grilled Peanut Chicken and Broccolini

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Olive Oil, Plus More For Drizzling

1/4 cup Peanut Butter

1/4 cup Soy Sauce, Plus More For Serving

1/4 cup Honey

2 Tablespoons Barbecue Sauce

3 dashes Worcestershire Sauce

1 whole Lemon, Juiced (or 2-3 Limes)

3 cloves Garlic

1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

4 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

8 ounces, weight Broccolini

Salt And Pepper, to taste

1 whole Onion, Sliced Thick

8 ounces, weight Thin Spaghetti Or Angel Hair, Cooked And Drained

Procedure:

Make the marinade/sauce by whisking together olive oil, peanut butter, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, honey, Worcestershire, lemon juice, garlic, and cayenne. Taste and add more honey, soy, or lemon juice depending on your taste. Pour off 1/2 cup of the sauce and save in the fridge for later. Place the chicken in the bowl, cover with the sauce, and refrigerate for 2 hours to marinate.

When you’re ready to cook, toss the broccolini with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat a large grill pan (or an outdoor grill) over medium heat. Drizzle with olive oil, then place the chicken, broccolini, and onion slices on the surface. Cook until the chicken is done, about 5-7 minutes per side, being careful to turn the broccolini to keep it from burning. (If the chicken is thick, you’ll want to get it started before you add the broccolini to the grill.) You want the broccolini to get nice and brown/grilled but not char. Cook onions until they’re brown and softened.
Before serving, heat the reserved sauce in a small skillet until bubbly. Remove from the heat and toss with the noodles.
To serve, pile noodles on a plate with a chicken breast, some of the broccolini, and a grilled onion slice. Serve with extra soy sauce.

Weekly Winner:  Best Broccoli Soup By Far

I am a big fan of broccoli soups — cream of, puréed, heck, I’m just a fan of broccoli! There’s nothing that you can do to it that I don’t like and you actually don’t need to do anything to it for me to like it –I’ll happily eat it raw, baked, roasted, grilled, broiled… well, you get the idea.

Because of this love of broccoli, I have amassed quite a few recipes for the stuff, including several soups.  This new one – Smoked Gouda-Broccoli Soup has become my new favorite (to date).  It combines my favorite vegetable with my favorite cheese (although really any cheese could be considered my favorite), and tops it off with a bread I dearly love.  How could I not consider this the best thing I made last week?

The recipe comes from Eating Well Magazine and has become my justification for having  smoked Gouda and rye bread in the house at all times. Having the broccoli is never a problem.

Smoked Gouda-Broccoli Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1-1/2 lbs broccoli crowns (2 medium)

2 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 cup chopped sweet onion

2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp smoked paprika

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups cubed rye bread (1/2 inch pieces)

1 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese

2 tsp white-wine vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground white pepper

Procedure:

  1. Cut 1-1/2 cups bite-size broccoli florets and set aside.  Coarsely chop the remaining broccoli.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.  Add flour and paprika; stir to coat.  Add broth and the chopped broccoli.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make the croutons:  Toss bread with the remaining 1 Tbsp oil in a large skillet.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl.
  4. Puree the soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, or use an immersion blender. Return the soup to the pan over low heat.  Add cheese a little at a time, stirring constantly until it melts before adding more.  Stir in the reserved broccoli florets.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are bright green, 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir in vinegar, salt and white pepper.  Serve hot, topped with the croutons.

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