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.

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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:  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:  Keeping it Simple – Pork, Peas & Pasta

I’ve been getting a bit “fussy” lately with my cooking.  Lots of ingredients, some of them a bit hard to find or not things you normally have lying around.  I was thinking it was definitely time to dial it back and keep it simple.  That, in my opinion, is best done with two things: steaks and pasta. As it was Friday night which means a pre-run pasta dinner for hubby, I went for an old favorite:  Bucatini with Sausage and Peas.  The title just about gives you all the ingredients.  It is sensationally simple and stupidly delicious.

The recipe comes from Food & Wine Magazine and I’ve been making this for years.  I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it here in the blog before and I also can’t believe its been so long since I’ve made it.  Lucky for me (and hubby) I made a double batch and froze half. We’ll be enjoying this stunner of a dish again soon.

Bucatini with Sausage and Peas

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small shallot, minced

2 1/2 cups prepared tomato sauce

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup frozen baby peas

Salt

1 pound bucatini or perciatelli

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 tablespoons shredded basil

Procedure:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil.  Add the sausage and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer.
  2. Partially cover the saucepan and cook the tomato sauce over low heat for 30 minutes.  Stir in the cream and peas and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes longer.  Season with salt.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain and return the pasta to the pot.  Add the tomato sauce and 1/4 cup of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and toss over low heat until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce.  Transfer the pasta to bowls, top with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and the shredded basil and serve.


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.

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