Weekly Winner: Herby, Nutty, Creamy Comfort. Almost Perfect Pasta

IMG_0533Pasta in any form makes me happy.   I’ll take plain with butter, extravagantly layered lasagnas or a luscious mac-n-cheese.  If it involves pasta, I’m in!

Rigatoni with Ricotta-Sage Pesto and Walnuts, which I found in a recent issue of Milk Street Magazine, has all my favorite things – cheese, nuts, and herbs — if it had bacon in it, it would be the perfect!.  Of course, there’s nothing stopping you (or me next time) from adding some bacon.  Note to self!

Rigatoni with Ricotta-Sage Pesto and Walnuts

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/2 cup fresh sage, chopped

6 Tbsp olive oil

3 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 oz grated Parmesan cheese

2 tsp grated lemon zest

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

1 tsp kosher salt

3/4 tsp black pepper

12 oz rigatoni or penne rigate

Chopped toasted walnuts, for garnish

Procedure:

  1. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the olive oil and sage.  Microwave on high just until hot and fragrant, about 1 minute but check after 30 seconds; it should not sizzle.  Cool to room temperature.
  2. In food processor, process the sage-oil mixture and parsley until finely chopped, about 15 seconds. Add parmesan and lemon zest and process until well incorporated, about 5 pulses.  Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Stir in ricotta, kosher salt and pepper.
  4. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil.  Add pasta and 2 tablespoons of salt; cook until the pasta is al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain.
  5. Toss the pasta with the ricotta pesto, then stir in the reserved cooking water; the pasta should be creamy.  Serve sprinkled with chopped toasted walnuts and additional parmesan.
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Weekly Winner: Mystified by Miso-Mozzarella Mashup

pastaThere are combinations I honestly have never envisioned – miso and cheese is one of them.  I love both, but would never think of putting them together in the same dish.  Until now, that is.

Pasta with Miso Cream Sauce intrigued me from the word go.  I’ve added miso to my repertoire with meat and veggies, but never with pasta.  And certainly, never combined with cheese.  But why not?  This dish is super easy and in a word, luscious.  Very subtle but very addictive.   The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine and has me thinking what other strange combinations I will discover next.

Pasta with Miso Cream Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces uncooked casarecce, fusilli or penne pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 tsp. white miso
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups multicolored grape tomatoes (about 10 oz.)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 (6-oz.) pkg. baby spinach
  • 2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, diced (about 1/2 cup) and divided

Procedure:

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.
Place 1/2 cup milk in a bowl; whisk in flour and miso until smooth. In a saucepan, bring stock and remaining 1 cup milk to a boil over high. Whisk in flour mixture, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add pepper.

Heat oil in a skillet over high. Add tomatoes, and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly blistered and beginning to pop, 2 to 3 minutes. Add thyme and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add spinach; cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cooked pasta, sauce, and half of cheese to skillet; toss to combine. Serve in shallow bowls, and top evenly with remaining cheese.

 

Weekly Winner: For St. Patrick’s Day – “Green” Pasta?

IMG_0416As much as I enjoy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day I am totally not a fan of the typical corned beef meal.  I’ll state it right here – I dislike Corned Beef!  So sue me.  Instead of going the traditional route, I decide to embrace the green.  Natural green that is, not food colored bread, beer or in the case of Friday night’s dinner pasta.  So what was for dinner?  Broccoli Bolognese with Orecchiette.

This dish actually makes broccoli feel decadent and luxurious.  Yes, there’s butter…. yes, there’s cheese…. yes, there’s pork (yay!) but overall this is veggie-heavy dish that tastes like a cheat meal.

The recipe comes from Bon Appetit magazine. It’s relatively quick, it’s relatively easy, it’s relatively healthy and it is a wonderful substitute to corned beef in my book.

Broccoli Bolognese with Orecchiette

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head of broccoli (1¼–1½ pounds), cut into florets, stalk peeled and finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 12 ounces fresh Italian sausage (about 3 links), casings removed
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 12 ounces orecchiette
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving

Procedure:

  • Cook broccoli in a large pot of salted boiling water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer broccoli to a colander and let cool (save pot of water for cooking pasta). Chop broccoli into small pieces; set aside.

  • Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook garlic, shaking skillet occasionally, until it starts to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add sausage and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes and break up meat into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally and continuing to break up sausage, until it is browned and cooked through, 6–8 minutes.

  • Bring reserved pot of water to a boil and cook pasta until barely al dente, about 9 minutes (set a timer for 3 minutes less than the package instructions; it will cook more in the skillet).

  • Meanwhile, ladle about ½ cup pasta cooking liquid from pot into skillet with sausage and add blanched broccoli. Keep mixture at a low simmer, stirring often and mashing with spoon to break up sausage even more, until pasta is finished cooking.

  • Using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer pasta to skillet, then ladle in ½ cup pasta water. Cook, stirring, until pasta absorbs most of the liquid and is just al dente, about 4 minutes. Add butter and stir until melted, then transfer pasta to a large bowl. Gradually add 1½ oz. Parmesan, tossing constantly until you have a glossy, emulsified sauce.

  • Serve pasta topped with more Parmesan and red pepper flakes and a drizzle of oil.

Weekly Winner: Corny Carbonara with a Kick

If I absolutely HAD to pick a favorite pasta dish (which would be like choosing your favorite child, or favorite cheese – yeah, impossible!) I would say pasta carbonara would have to be it.  If I’m at a restaurant that has pasta carbonara on the menu, there is a very good chance I’m going to order it. I am not, however, a purist when it comes to carbonara.  I have no problems with tinkering as long as the basic components are there: string pasta (preferably bucatini) egg yolk, bacon or pancetta, and a sprinkling of parmesan.

So when I came across this recipe for Spicy Corn Carbonara on Pure Wow, I was hooked.  This is so good.  Not only good, downright luscious.  I imagine it will only be better this summer when the local fresh corn is at its peak.  Regardless, I will be making this — a lot.  While some homes have “house wines” or “house salads”… this will be my new “house pasta”  Bon Appetito!

Spicy Corn Carbonara

Serves 6 (so they say, however in our house it was more like 4 servings)

Ingredients:

4 ears corn

2 strips bacon, diced

1 red onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

Kosher Salt

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 lb bucatini (or spaghetti or linguini, but bucatini is best)

2 large egg yolks

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

Chives for serving

Procedure:

  1. Cut the corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Transfer kernels to a bowl and firmly scrape the knife against the cob to release any liquid.  Discard the cobs.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the bacon and cook until the fat has rendered and it’s very crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
  3. Add the red onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s tender, about 4 minutes. Add the corn and garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Season with the salt and red pepper flakes and reserve over low heat.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.  Scoop out and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.
  5. Stir the pasta water into the corn mixture.  Raise heat to medium and bring the liquid to a gentle simmer.  Add the pasta to the skillet and toss to combine.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Add to the skillet and toss well to coat.  Add the Parmesan, plenty of black pepper and reserved bacon and toss to combine.  Garnish with the chives.

 

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.

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.

 

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