Weekly Winner:  Light, Cheery (and Cheesy) Summer Pasta

It is finally tomato season here in Chicago.  My farmer’s market has an ample supply of these beauties and to me they signify the definitive start of summer. You really don’t want to do too much with these guys. They’re pretty much perfect just the way they are. The lightest touch of seasoning is all you need to bring out their best.  These tomatoes were the crowning touch on dinner tonight, which was so good, I had to post this immediately.

Two-Cheese Fusilli with Marinated Tomatoes is summer perfection on a plate.  It combines pasta (a Friday night “must have” for us), cheese (always a bonus) market tomatoes, home-grown basil and little else.  It’s reminiscent of a perfect Margherita Pizza.  Elegant in its simplicity  It doesn’t even need to be served piping hot — warmish is just fine.  On a muggy night like tonight, warmish pasta paired with an ice-cold glass of rose was the ideal way to cap off a busy week and kick off a long holiday weekend.

The recipe comes from Eating Well Magazine and the pasta is quick and super easy.  This is guaranteed to be a go-to summer dish for me — for as long as the tomatoes and rose hold out.

Two-Cheese Fusilli with Marinated Tomatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 cups chopped tomatoes (1-1/2 pounds)

2 Tbsp red-wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

8 ounces fusilli

1 cup finely diced fontina cheese

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature

2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Procedure:

  1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil
  2. Combine tomatoes, vinegar, garlic and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside to marinate.
  3. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain.  Immediately return the pasta to the pot. Add fontina and the reserved cooking liquid; stir constantly until the cheese is melted.  Fold in ricotta.  Transfer to a serving bowl or individual pasta bowls.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the marinated tomatoes over the pasta.  (Discard the marinade). Drizzle with oil and top with basil and a generous grinding of pepper.

Weekly Winner:  Because You Can’t Always Be Good

For the most part I cook healthy food. My weekly repertoire consists of low-calorie, whole foods made from tons of veggies and lean meats with the rare exception of the occasional pork fest.  No processed foods, not a lot of fat (but come on, some!) and a healthy dose of all the right “super foods”.

But you know what?  Every once in a while you just gotta be bad. I’m not talking about three Big Macs and a couple of milk shakes kind of bad, I’m referring to heart-warming, soul-satisfying, ooey-gooey, cheesy bad. The kind of dish that restores your faith in humanity.  For me, that kind of dish is usually mac-n-cheese.  But just because I’ve decided to be bad (and be happy about it), that doesn’t mean I can’t dress up and “adultify” mac-n-cheese and transform it into something, dare I say, elegant?  Its spring and the asparagus (look, a vegetable!!!) is fabulous right now so lets add that along with a sophisticated pork-product (prosciutto) and put on our fancy jammies to enjoy this meal.

Macaroni and Cheese with Asparagus and Prosciutto is too good to be abbreviated and hyphenated.  This dish deserves to be called by its full name and eaten with reverence.  The recipe comes from Fine Cooking Magazine and is surprisingly a one-pot wonder.  No separate pan for a cheese sauce or even for a bechamel.  Nope, all you need here is one big ‘ol pot and the restraint to actually dish it out into separate bowls rather than diving in with the wooden spoon.  Not that I would ever do that. Because that would be bad.

Macaroni and Cheese with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Kosher salt

3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

8 oz. elbow macaroni

2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3/4 cup evaporated milk (not fat-free)

2 large eggs

5 oz. Fontina, coarsely grated (about 1-3/4 cups)

1 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into thin strips

2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives

Freshly ground black pepper

Procedure:

Bring a 4-quart pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. With a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to a bowl, and keep warm.

Bring the water back to a boil, add the pasta, and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Add the butter and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, whisk the evaporated milk, eggs, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Add to the pasta, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the sauce begins to cling to the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese melts, another 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the asparagus, prosciutto, and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Weekly Winner:  Punchy, Pungent Pasta

Dang, OK… its been a while.  Apparently life kind of got in the way of posting here but as of last night, I’m back and with a whopper of a dinner recipe.

A word of warning about this week’s entry:  Curry Noodles with Broccoli Rabe and Purple Cabbage is not for everyone.  This is one funky pasta dish!

If you are not a fan of bitter… you will not be a fan of this.  However, if you like spicy red curry paste, bitter broccoli rabe and tons of texture in your bowl of noodles, then run, don’t walk to make this dish.

The recipe comes from a new source for me, the PureWow website.  This is truly an adventure in a bowl.  The soft pasta is coated with spicy red curry paste that gets a hit of salt from soy sauce and some serious funk from fish sauce.  All that is mellowed a bit by the addition of coconut milk.  Then, you get some great bitter crunch from the broccoli rabe and the cabbage and a sweet bite of the shredded carrot.  OK, now that I’ve given you basically the entire ingredient list, you might as well go shopping, get the stuff and make this dish.  If you do, let me know what you think!  It got two enthusiastic thumbs up from this household.

Curry Noodles with Broccoli Rabe  and Purple Cabbage

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Noodles:

1 Tbsp olive oil

1-1/2 bunches of scallions, chopped

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp red curry paste

1 cup coconut milk

1/4 cup lime juice

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp fish sauce

1 Tbsp honey

12 oz spaghetti

Stir-fried veggies:

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

3 cups chopped broccoli rabe

2 cubs shredded purple cabbage

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

Salt and pepper

Optional toppings:

1/2 bunch scallions, chopped

Sesame seeds, to taste

Procedure:

  1. FOR THE NOODLES:  In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the scallions, ginger and garlic.  Sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the curry paste and cool until it darkens slightly, about 1 minute.  Stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce and honey.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Continue to simmer while you cook the pasta.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the spaghetti to the pot and cook, according th the package directions.  Drain well and reserve.
  4. FOR THE STIR-FRY: In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the broccoli rabe and cabbage; sauté until tender, 4 to 5 minutes more.  Stir in the shredded carrot and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Add the spaghetti and vegetables to the sauce and toss well to combine.  Divide the noodles among four bowls and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds.  Serve immediately.

Weekly Winner:  A Tasty Twist on Beans & Greens

Beans and greens have been friends forever.  Combinations include: collards, escarole, spinach, kale and chard on the green team and cannellini, kidney, and pinto for the bean team.  Put them together and you’re guaranteed a healthy and generally tasty meal or side dish. However, for it to be really memorable, things needed to be switched up in this old standard.  A recipe I found in Bon Appetit did just that by changing the beans and adding pasta and sausage.  That’s a guaranteed winner in my book!

There are a couple of things that make Sausage, Greens, and Beans Pasta unique.  First: the shape of the pasta – paccheri – which is like rigatoni on steroids.  I’m talking huge, short tubes of pasta goodness.  Second: it trades out the standard beans for chickpeas (always a fan favorite in this house).  Finally, there’s the crumbled fried rosemary sprinkled on top.  Enough of me blabbering on — just trust me.  This dish is special.  It’s got a great combination of textures and flavors and is the perfect thing to curl up to prepare for the craziness of the holiday season.

Sausage, Greens, and Beans Pasta

Serves 4

Ingredients:

⅓ cup olive oil

2 sprigs rosemary

8 ounces spicy Italian sausage, casings removed

1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, patted dry

¼ cup dry white wine

12 ounces paccheri (large tubular) pasta

Kosher salt

8 cups (lightly packed) torn kale

¾ cup finely grated Parmesan, divided

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Procedure:

  1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high. Fry rosemary, turning, until crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
  2. Add sausage to same pot and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 8–10 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.
  3. Add chickpeas to pot and cook, tossing occasionally and mashing some chickpeas with spoon, until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Transfer about half of chickpeas to plate with sausage. Add wine to pot, bring to a boil, and cook until liquid is almost completely evaporated, about 2 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions.
  5. Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer pasta to pot with chickpeas and add kale and 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing often, until kale is wilted, pasta is al dente, and sauce is thickened, about 4 minutes. Add another ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid, then gradually add ½ cup cheese, tossing until melted and dissolved into a luxurious, glossy sauce. Thin with more pasta cooking liquid if needed. Season with pepper, and more salt if needed. Add butter and toss to combine, then mix in reserved sausage and chickpeas.
  6. Divide pasta among bowls. Crumble rosemary over top and sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup cheese.

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:  Embracing the Beige – my continuing defense of beige food

Everyone says you eat with your eyes first and that to truly eat well, one must “eat the rainbow”.  Generally I agree with that, however I have discovered that occasionally, an extremely tasty and complex meal is….well….beige.  And while it may be bland to the eyes, that does not necessarily mean it’s bland to the taste buds.  Case in point, Cauliflower-Onion Linguine.

I know a lot of people who say they don’t like cauliflower. I believe them, but I certainly do not understand them.  I am a great big fan of the cruciferous vegetable.  What I discovered with this dish, is that if you add fried onions to the mix — oh my!  It’s that little added bit of decadence that catapults this healthy dish right over and lands it smack dab in the middle of Incredibly Tasty Goodness Land.

Cauliflower-Onion Linguine comes from Food Network Magazine and is super easy and incredibly quick, thanks to the store-bought fried onions.  You might just spend more time cutting up the cauliflower than you will making the rest of the dish.  Make this dish, set the table with your brightest, boldest linens if you must, but go ahead — embrace the beauty and enjoy the bounty of beige food.

Cauliflower-Onion Linguine

Serves 4

Ingredients:

12 ounces linguine

4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup panko

1/2 cup fried onions, chopped

4 cups cauliflower florets, roughly chopped

1/2-1 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup pine nuts

Procedure:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta. Return to the pot and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add the panko and fried onions and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate; wipe out the skillet.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower and cook until the edges brown, about 4 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and toast 30 seconds. Add the reserved pasta water and cook until the liquid is reduced by half and the cauliflower is crisp-tender, about 1 more minute.

Add the pasta, onion mixture and Parmesan to the skillet and toss. Season with salt. Top with the basil, pine nuts and more Parmesan.

Weekly Winner:  Lasagna stripped bare and a bit boozy

I dearly love lasagna.  Any kind of lasagna. You can put sausage, ground beef or even chicken in it. It lends itself to a myriad of vegetables and really any type of cheese you can imagine. But, what if you stripped it bare?  No meat, no veggies, no distractions. Just layer after layer of pasta sheets bathed in a simple bechamel that’s been fortified (literally and figuratively) with some booze (in this case Marsala). What happens then?  Magic, I tell ya.  Sheer and utter magic.

I pulled this recipe for Lasagna in Bianco ages ago from Gourmet Magazine (just the fact that there was a Gourmet Magazine gives you a hint as to how long ago).  I have made this before but for whatever reason, it did not make it as a Weekly Winner.  All I can say is that must have been one heck of a week meal-wise if something else beat this out. And yes, I realize it does have Parmesan cheese in it, but compared to most lasagnas, not much and most of it is on the top.

You’ll have to excuse the picture.  Apparently when you strip a lasagna of everything that is not beige it does lack something in photographic appeal.  But trust me, it lacks nothing in pure pasta wonderfulness.

Lasagna in Bianco

Serves 6

Ingredients:

3/4 cup minced shallots (about 6)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

3 3/4 cups whole milk

1 cup rich chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup dry Marsala

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 pound grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup), divided

12 (7- by 3-inch) no-boil egg lasagna sheets

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Cook shallots in butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add flour and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, 3 minutes. Add nutmeg, then slowly whisk in milk and stock. Bring to a boil, whisking, then simmer, stirring occasionally, just until sauce lightly coats back of spoon, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool to warm, stirring occasionally. Stir in eggs, Marsala, sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 cup cheese.

Spread about 1 1/4 cups sauce over bottom of an 11- by 8-inch baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagna sheets. Repeat layering 3 more times, then top with remaining sauce and remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, until browned, 45 to 55 minutes.

Previous Older Entries