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:  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:  Better (and Prettier) Than Takeout — Stunningly Simply and Sensational Sweet & Sour Sesame Pork

In general, I’m a fan of takeout (or, as is the case here in Chicago) ordering in.  We are fortunate here, because we can get basically any type of food delivered to our door.  Italian, Mexican, Asian, Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian… you name it.  Go online and within an hour, someone is ringing your doorbell with dinner.  The problem I have with ordering in is that while all of this is generally tasty, it can be expensive, is not usually healthy, can take a frustratingly long time, and generally is not too attractive by the time it arrives.

If I do order in, it is usually Asian food.  However, that may soon change. Sweet-and-Sour Sesame Bok Choy with Pork is ridiculously easy, amazingly tasty and is on the table in less than a half hour.  And it’s beautiful to boot!  The recipe comes from Cooking Light and might just take the place of my local Asian takeout menu.

Sweet-and-Sour Sesame Bok Choy with Pork

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese hot mustard
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces ground pork
  • 1 pound baby or small bok choy, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 cup matchstick-cut carrots
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cups hot cooked brown rice
  • 2 teaspoons black or white sesame seeds (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Whisk together stock, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, mustard, cornstarch, and crushed red pepper in a bowl.  Set aside.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high.  Add pork; cook, stirring often and scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, until pork is browned and crumbled, 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove pork from pan with a slotted spoon.
  3. Add bok choy and carrots to drippings in pan; cook over medium-high until slightly wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add stock mixture and pork.  Bring to a boil; cook until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Stir in sesame oil.
  4. Serve over rice, and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.

Weekly Winner:  A Divisive Dinner Where Pork is the Only Winner

So last night was not a total success.  I liked everything about dinner, but hubby… not so much.  I really can’t complain as he is willing to try darn near anything and has a very short list of things he absolutely does not like.  Apparently we now need to add watercress to that list. Who knew? The pork however, received thumbs up all around.

Orange Pork With Watercress Rice comes from Martha Stewart Living magazine.  I really didn’t think this was going to be risky new recipe to try. Basically stir-fried pork and rice with an Asian orange sauce. However, what makes this dish unique is also what made it not-so-stellar for my husband.  I am pretty sure I’ve served watercress before, but not in such heavy concentration — usually mixed with other greens and generally raw.  This time it was only wilted into the rice.  Let’s just say it was not well-received  The rest of the recipe will be repeated and I’ll simply find another green to swap in for the watercress.  Live and learn and try again!

Orange Pork With Watercress Rice

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup jasmine rice

Kosher salt and black pepper

3 cups coarsely chopped watercress, plus sprigs for serving

3 Tbsp safflower oil

1-1/4 lbs pork tenderloin, cut into 3/4-inch pieces and patted dry

1/2 cup finely julienned peeled ginger (from a 2-1/2 inch piece)

2 Tbsp minced garlic

2/3 cup orange marmalade

2 Tbsp fish sauce

3 Tbsp fresh lime juice

Procedure:

  1. Bring rice, 1-1/3 cups water, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil in a saucepan.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed, 16 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Toss watercress with 1 Tbsp oil; season with salt.  Add to pan; let stand, covered 10 minutes.  Stir
  2. Season pork with salt.  Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high.  Add half of the ginger; cook until golden, 1 minute.  Let drain on paper towels.
  3. Add pork to skillet and brown, 3 to 4 minutes; then remove from pan.  Add remaining ginger and garlic to skillet; cook 30 seconds.  Add marmalade, fish sauce, and lime juice; bring to a boil, stirring, until syrupy, about 1 minute.  Return pork to pan; simmer 30 seconds.  Serve over rice, with watercress sprigs and crisp ginger.

Weekly Winner:  This Little Piggy Went to Korea – and the possibilities became endless

Every once in a while a recipe really surprises me.  I’ll pull it because I think it sounds tasty (obviously, otherwise why bother?) and interesting in some way but when it all comes together at the dinner table, I’m pleasantly surprised.  That’s exactly what happened with Korean-Style Pork and Rice.

I’m a big fan of gochujang, and my love for pork knows no bounds, but somehow while I was reading through this gem of a dinner, I totally underestimated the results.  I thought it would taste good.  I knew it would be quick, easy and make a nice mid-week meal, but Wow!!  This blew me away!  It was spicy, tangy, savory, fresh and comforting all nestled in a big bowl of happiness.

Almost immediately, my husband and I started thinking of all the spins we could put on this pork preparation.  While it’s perfectly scrumptious as is… what about Korean Pork Sloppy Joes?  Korean Queso Fundido (swapping the chorizo for this)?  Korean Pork Tacos or Burritos?  The possibilities are truly endless.  But rest assured, you’ll read about it all here when it happens.

The original version comes from Cooking Light Magazine.  The only change I made (besides, obviously omitting the cilantro) was to use some leftover brown rice that I had made the day before for something else. Go ahead and use the precooked brown rice it calls for … I won’t judge.  I’ve definitely been known to reach for that in a pinch.

Korean-Style Pork and Rice

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil

12 oz. lean ground pork

3/4 cup finely chopped white onion

3/4 cup finely chopped green onions, divided

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/3 cup water

2 Tbsp gochujang sauce

2 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 Tbsp brown sugar

2 (8.8 oz) pkg. precooked brown rice

2 Tbsp chopped cilantro

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

4 lime wedges

Procedure:

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Add pork; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.  Add white onion, 1/4 cup green onions, and garlic; cook 4 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup water; cook 1 minute,scraping pan to loosen browned bits.
  2. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1/2 cup green onions, gochujang, soy sauce, and brown sugar.
  3. Heat rice according to directions
  4. Place 1/2 cup pork mixture and 3/4 cup rice in each of 4 bowls; top with vinegar, cilantro, and lime wedges.

Weekly Winner:  Turmeric Turns Pork Chops into Tantalizing Treat.

OK, seriously, when aren’t pork chops tantalizing??  They are, without hesitation, my favorite piece of meat.  When cooked properly nothing can beat it. For some reason, I just haven’t made them much lately and when the hankering took hold over the weekend, I went looking for a new twist on my old favorite.

Turmeric Pork Chops with Green Onion Rice was just what I was looking for.  The dry rub and glaze makes these chops tangy, sticky, and dang delicious.  And with all the touted health benefits of turmeric, and the fact that the recipe comes from Cooking Light, you could make the argument that this is one healthy, life-extending dish. You could make that argument, but you probably wouldn’t win it.  What you will win is an excellent quick, easy, tasty meal.

Turmeric Pork Chops with Green Onion Rice

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 (6-oz.) bone-in pork chops

1 large garlic clove, halved

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 teaspoons oyster sauce

1 teaspoon tomato paste

1 bunch green onions

2 (8.8-oz.) packages precooked brown rice (such as Uncle Ben’s)

1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

Procedure:

1. Heat a grill pan over medium-high. Rub pork with cut sides of garlic; discard garlic. Sprinkle pork with turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Combine 2 tablespoons oil, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and tomato paste. Brush both sides of pork with half of oil mixture. Add pork to pan; grill 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Transfer to a plate; brush both sides of pork with remaining oil mixture. Keep warm.

2. Add onions to grill pan over medium-high; grill 2 minutes. Coarsely chop onions.

3. Heat rice according to package directions. Combine green onions, rice, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Serve rice with pork. Serve with lime wedges.

Weekly Winner:  Terrificly Tasty Tagine

I’ve had this recipe laying on the kitchen counter literally for weeks.  I’ve had it “slated” for various Sunday suppers and even one or two weeknight dinners, but something has always come up to thwart me.  I had everything I needed on hand to make it, it just never happened.  That is until this past Sunday.

I had a feeling this was going to be good.  Little did I realize just how good Moroccan Pork Tagine would be.  This was amazing!  Every bite was a bit different depending on what combination of pork, chickpeas, raisins, couscous or olives you got.  It didn’t really matter because each bite was fantastic.

The recipe comes from Cuisine at Home and while it may not be a traditional tagine recipe, the flavors and spices come together to make it taste very Moroccan.  I’m glad I finally got to try this recipe — don’t be like me and keep put it off — make this very soon.

Moroccan Pork Tagine with Chickpeas and Raisins

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 lb. pork tenderloin

1 1/2 tsp each ground cumin, ground coriander, and sweet paprika

1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon and kosher salt

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 Tbsp each unsalted butter and olive oil

2 cups sliced onions

1 Tbsp each minced fresh ginger and garlic

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 14-oz can diced tomatoes in juice

3/4 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Procedure:

  1. Trim fat and sliverskin from tenderloin.  Cut tenderloin into 1-inch cubes; toss with cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, salt and pepper flakes.
  2. Melt butter with oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onions and cook until browned, 6-7 minutes.  Stir in tenderloin, garlic, ginger and tomato paste; cook until tenderloin is browned on all sides, 3-4 minutes.
  3. Deglaze skillet with wine and reduce until nearly evaporated.  Stir in tomatoes, chickpeas, broth, and raisins and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer stew until thickened, 7-8 minutes.
  4. Serve on Couscous (recipe follows) and garnish with almonds.

Couscous Pilaf with Olives and Lemon

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/4 cups pearl (Israeli) couscous

1 tsp minced garlic

1/2 tsp salt

1 3/4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup sliced kalamata olives

1 Tbsp each minced lemon zest and lemon juice

Procedure:

  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add couscous and cook until toasted, 2 minutes.  Stir in garlic and salt; cook 30 seconds.
  2. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and cook until broth is absorbed and couscous is al dente, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Stir in olives, zest, and lemon juice

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