Weekly Winner:  Picture Perfect Pasta (made better with Pork!)

As I continue my quest to find different twists on the typical basil-pine nut pesto, I came across this dish. First of all, it was the magazine photo that got me. I was sold before I even knew it was a pesto. I mean this is one seriously pretty dish, isn’t it?? Then come to find out that this spaghetti is tossed with a tomato and walnut pesto. Now you’ve got me hook, line and sinker. Seriously? Is there anyway this could get better? Well, yes — add Italian Sausage!

While the original recipe from Bon Appetit for Spaghetti with Tomato and Walnut Pesto is totally vegetarian, I’ve got a hubby who’s coaching marathon training and needs meat! At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. This had nothing to do with the fact that I am constantly looking for reason to add pork products to any dish!  It was all for him, I swear!

So while deciding to try this luscious pasta last Friday, I decided to call an audible on two points: first (and most importantly) was the addition of Italian sausage. Second, I always have a huge selection of various pastas in my pantry and really love fettuccine, so that got swapped for the spaghetti.  The end result (regardless of what pasta you use) is, gorgeous, creamy, pasta perfection – with pork!

Spaghetti with Tomato and Walnut Pesto

Serves 4

Ingredients

⅔ cup walnuts

2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Kosher salt

6 oil-packed anchovies, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 ounces spaghetti [or fettuccine]

½ cup (packed) basil leaves

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage — my addition

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.

Heat broiler. Toss tomatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Broil, tossing once, until tomatoes are blistered and have released some of their liquid, 5–7 minutes. Let cool.

Pulse anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and ½ oz. Parmesan in a food processor until finely ground. Add walnuts and half of tomatoes, then, with motor running, stream in ⅓ cup oil; process just until combined. Season with salt. Transfer pesto to a large bowl and stir in black pepper.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.

[Meanwhile, sauté Italian sausage in a bit of olive oil until well browned.]

Transfer pasta and sausage to bowl with pesto and add a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Add basil and remaining tomatoes.

Divide among bowls; top with more Parmesan and black pepper and drizzle with oil.

Weekly Winner: A luscious creamy pasta rediscovered, revamped, and improved, with pork of course!

I have a huge stack of recipes that I’ve made once or twice and really liked.  But then others come along and take their place and the original recipes are forgotten – moved to the bottom of the stack.  Out of sight, out of mind.  That is until I get tired of making the new, “currently in favor” recipes and start to dig down to the bottom of said stack.  This usually results in comments like “oh yeah….that was really good, I think”. It has to have been good because if it was simply “OK”, it would not have remained in my stack. I don’t have time for simply “OK”.

This is exactly what happened recently when I rediscovered (aka unearthed) Fettuccine  with Tomato-Cream Sauce.  I was looking for a Friday night pasta dish for me and hubby but we’ve been super busy and I wanted it to be quick, easy, and relatively light.  (Note the emphasis on “relatively”). I remember when I first made this dish that it was better than it should be with how easy it was and how few ingredients were required.  I was also looking for a chance to use up some fabulous Italian sausage I had in my fridge.  Voilà!  Add sausage to this pasta.  Pork of any kind + pasta = perfection in my book.  Turns out, I was right.

The original (sans sausage) recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine.  Yes, adding the sausage ups the calorie and fat content a bit, but it is so worth it.  Having said that the non-pork version is great.  Just not quite as great as it is with pork.  Just sayin’!

Fettuccine with Tomato-Cream Sauce (with Italian Sausage)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

8 oz fettuccine

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 Tbs olive oil

3 Tbsp chopped garlic

1/4 lb sweet Italian sausage

1 (28oz) can whole, peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed

3oz reduced fat cream cheese

1/4 cup oil-cured olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup small fresh basil leaves

1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved

Procedure:

  1. Cook pasta in boiling water with 1/4 tsp salt until almost al dente. Drain pasta reserving 1-1/3 cup pasta cooking water.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes or until fragrant and tender, stirring occasionally. Add sausage and stir while crumbling until brown, about 4 minutes
  3. Stir in remaining 1/4 tsp salt and tomatoes; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in remaining 1-1/3 cups pasta water; bring to a boil. Add cream cheese; stir until smooth. Add pasta, olives and red pepper; cook 3 minutes or until pasta is done, tossing to coat.
  4. Divide pasta mixture among 4 shallow bowls; top each serving with 1 Tbsp basil. Divide Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly among servings.

Weekly Winner: The Perfect Risotto

photoRisotto.  Creamy, luscious, warm, soothing, and gooey.  Really, what’s not to like?  And I do love risotto and always thought I was a bit of a purist about it until I discovered this recipe years ago.  I still make it regularly and I still consider it my favorite.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m still willing to try any and most recipes out there for risotto — but I always seem to come back to this one.  The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine.

Just a note here, almost every risotto recipe says that the whole adding broth and stirring process only takes 20 minutes and that risotto can be completed in 23 minutes.  LIES!  I have never had a risotto that didn’t take at least 45 minutes — and that’s just for the rice.  It is a bit of a labor of love but really, stirring isn’t that hard and you had to open wine for the recipe, so sip, stir and savor.  It will be worth it!

Risotto with Italian Sausage, Caramelized Onions, and Bitter Greens

Ingredients

4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cups chopped onion (about 1 large)

2 teaspoons sugar

8 ounces sweet turkey Italian sausage

1/4 cup chopped shallots

1 cup Arborio rice or other medium-grain rice

1/3 cup white wine

2 cups arugula leaves

3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Preparation

 1. Bring broth and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a medium saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.

2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and sugar to pan; sauté 7 minutes or until onion is golden. Place onion mixture in a small bowl; set aside.

3. Removing casings from sausage. Add sausage to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add chopped shallots; sauté 2 minutes. Add Arborio rice; sauté 30 seconds. Stir in white wine; cook 45 seconds or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Stir in 1 cup hot broth; cook 2 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 20 minutes total). Remove from heat; stir in reserved onion, arugula, and remaining ingredients.