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Archive for the ‘Pasta’ Category

We get cravings for pasta quite often, but we wanted something a little different than our typical tomato sauce based pasta, and we weren’t quite in the mood for a creamy pasta dish.  Greens and beans over pasta would do the trick.  You may select from a number of different greens for this recipe, but we chose kale because it looked the best in the grocery store.  We were going to go with spinach, but for some weird reason there was no spinach on the produce shelves.  None!  Wanting to stay with fresh and not frozen, we selected the kale, and since we do not eat kale often (try never), we thought it was adventurous. 

 

This meal smells good right from the beginning when you are adding the garlic and crushed red pepper to the hot olive oil.  You inhale this delicious peppery scent, and it actually makes you want to add more red pepper just to make sure that smell continues. 

As the garlic simmers and you begin to add the kale, the firm light green leaves with curly edges soften and turn a deep dark green, but then you add the white beans which brighten the greens up again.  The chicken broth adds a hearty flavor, but can be replaced with vegetable stock for an all veggie meal.  Then comes the wine vinegar which changes the smells completely and provides the perfect sweet and tangy smell, exactly what this bitter kale needs. We served it over thick ziti with grated fresh pecorino on top and everywhere in between.  There were so many flavors, and they all stood out, none being overpowered by the other.  

Sautéed Kale with Cannellini Beans over Pasta (adapted from Epicurious)

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1 large bunch kale (other greens will work too)

1 ½ cup (or more) low-salt chicken broth

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans rinsed, drained

1 teaspoon (or more) wine vinegar

Prepare greens by removing stems, and cutting into 2 inch strips.  In large nonstick pan, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and add garlic and dried crushed pepper.  Cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly browned. About 1 minute.  Add greens and stir until greens begin to wilt, adding more as space allows, and coating with the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. 

Add chicken broth, cover, and simmer until greens are just tender. Add beans and simmer until hot and almost all liquid is absorbed.  Add vinegar, salt and pepper, and stir together. Serve over pasta (ziti worked well), with freshly grated parmesan or pecorino.

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If you want a simple, yet tasty and impressive snack, then you want a tomato and feta phyllo tart.  I must caution you though, this snack is only as good as the quality of its ingredients.  So if you have nice looking tomatoes, good quality olive oil, and real feta cheese with some flavor (nothing packaged in plastic from the grocery store…think cheese shop), then I encourage you to try this.  The reason being is that the phyllo is rather tasteless.  It is the topping that provides the real flavor.  If your tomato and feta are bland, then this entire thing is bland.  You have been warned.

Next time I would make the tarts smaller and with more topping, thereby eliminating the wide phyllo edges.  When I took my first bite, all I got was phyllo…not very tasty.  So I would make the topping go all the way out to the edges.  

Tomato and Feta with Olive Oil Phyllo Tarts

1 package phyllo dough

1 large tomato

2 cups feta cheese crumbles

2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for brushing onto phyllo

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thaw phyllo dough, and brush a sheet with a light coat of olive oil, and set aside.  Then brush the rest of the sheets, and place one on top of the other. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo into squares-two rows, four squares in each row.  Chop tomato and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese on top of each square, covering the entire square.  Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, or until phyllo is golden brown.

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I am always looking for the best tomato sauce.  I love tomatoes and I love pasta.  Finding the perfect sauce can be difficult.  There are so many bad sauces out there.  I really do not like tomato sauce in a jar from the supermarket.  There is one brand that I can somewhat tolerate…if I add onion, garlic and wine to it, but most of them are either bland or entirely too salty.  I try new things while making sauce all the time.  Sometimes I add carrots to make the sauce more sweet, sometimes cheese to thicken it up, and sometimes good red wine to give it a lot of flavor.  And of course, I always add onion and garlic.  When I came across this recipe for tomato sauce and saw all the rave reviews and how simple it was too make, I was sold .  The recipe calls for butter, which is what probably makes this sauce so tasty, and although I do not think I can make this my regular tomato sauce, due to all the calories, I really really enjoyed it.  It is the best sauce that I have had in a long time.

Now what to make with this sauce…  My husband likes turkey meatballs.  I load them with garlic, onion, parmesan and parsley, and cook these massive meatballs in a pan with no oil or butter.  Turning to mini-turkey meatballs sounded like more my style. I love how they were bite-sized.  Adding flour to the meatballs provided a nice golden crust when cooked that I really liked too. 

The finished product is a satisfying home-cooked meal.  The tomato sauce tasted just how tomato sauce is supposed to taste (without the added saltiness and fake basil flavors), and finding the mini meatballs hiding among the ziti was delightful.  The melted pecorino was a nice addition, but I do not think it was really needed.  Just adding some grated parmesan on top is good enough.

Baked Ziti with Tomato Sauce and Mini-Turkey Meatballs

(Adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking and Smitten Kitchen)

Meatballs:

1 pound ground turkey

1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs

2 garlic cloves chopped
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/3 cup Parmesan
1 egg
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground Black pepper
1 cup flour, spread on a plate

Tomato Sauce 

34 ounce (approximately) whole or plum peeled tomatoes from a can

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium yellow onion

1 box ziti

1 ½ cups freshly grated pecorino cheese (optional)

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Tomato sauce

Peel onion and cut in half.  In a large sauce pan, add tomatoes, butter and onion.  Cook for 30 minutes.  Then, crush the tomatoes against the sides of the pot with a wooden or silicon spoon.  Cook another 15 minutes.  Remove onion and set aside.

Meatballs

Heat milk and add to bread crumbs.  Let soak for 5 minutes.  Chop garlic and parsley.  Place in a bowl with egg and parmesan cheese.  Add ground turkey and bread crumbs to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.  Add salt and pepper.  Mix meat with other ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Spread flour out on a plate, and set aside another plate to collect the meatballs.  Roll meat into cherry-sized balls.   Roll the meatballs in the flour.  Then place as many meatballs as can fit in a colander at a time and shake well so that the excess flour is released.  Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to a skillet, or spray with Pam, and place skillet on medium heat.  (My skillet is non-stick, and I did not use anything to coat the skillet and the meatballs still cooked with a nice golden crust).  Place as many meatballs in the pan as can fit and still cook evenly.  Cook meatballs, turning them on all sides.

Boil pasta while you are cooking the meatballs.

Once the meatballs and pasta are done, place ziti in a large casserole dish, pour tomato sauce on top and add ¾ of the cheese.  Mix through with a large spoon.  Then add ¾ of the meatballs, and mix them through as well.  Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.  Bake in oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese on top is melted and slightly golden.  You can use all the meatballs if you would like, but the recipe makes many many meatballs and I thought that adding all of them would be overkill.  So I saved the rest for future meals and snacking.

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When we were in Paris last year, we had the best beef bourguignon at a small restaurant where the tables were so close together that it felt like you were actually eating dinner with the strangers next to you.  I have always been a fan of beef stew.  I have memories of my aunt’s beef stew, but unfortunately I do not have the recipe. I remember how tender everything was and how each bite was just delicious. I often try to replicate my memory of it, but it never comes out quite right. 

The beef bourguignon was nothing like my aunt’s comforting stew.  It was much more refined with much stronger flavors.  Although I really love beef stew in all its forms, I rarely finish all of the meat in the dish. I much rather have a little piece of meat with lots of veggies that have borrowed flavors from the meat.  When I came across this recipe for Mushroom Bourguignon I thought that it was a fantastic idea.  When I explained what I was cooking to my husband, I believe that he was a bit confused that there was no meat.  The sauce was very tasty, and although I used regular white button mushrooms instead of portabella or cremini, it turned out well.  I especially liked the pearl onions, which gave the sauce a sweeter taste.  However, I must admit that while we were eating, I did say…this is good, but would be great with a little beef in it.

Mushroom Bourguignon (adapted from SmittenKitchen)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 pounds mushrooms, in 1/4-inch slices

1/2 carrot, finely diced (or handful of baby carrots)

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup full-bodied red wine (I used Malbec)

2 cups beef broth

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup pearl onions, peeled

¼ teaspoon of fresh ground pepper

Pinch of salt

Egg noodles

In a Dutch oven or large sauce pan, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter over medium heat.  Throw the mushrooms into the pot, but do not crowd them.  Sear the mushrooms until they begin to darken.  About three or four minutes. Remove mushroom and set aside. 

Then add a tablespoon of olive oil, and sauté the carrots, onions, thyme, a pinch of salt and ¼ tsp of fresh ground pepper until onions are slightly browned.  Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the wine.  Turn the heat on high, and reduce wine by half.  Then add tomato paste and beef broth and stir until combined. Add the mushrooms with any juices that have collected.  When the liquid begins to boil, reduce temperature to low, so it simmers for about 20 minutes.  Add the pearl onions and simmer for five minutes more. 

 In a small bowl, combine butter and the flour with a fork.  Stir it into the stew. Simmer for 10 more minutes. Boil egg noodles.  Serve mushroom sauce atop a bed of egg noodles.

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Pastichio is the Greek equivalent to lasagna.  It involves layers of pasta and meat sauce, but it has the added extra of the béchamel sauce (cream sauce) on top.  There are many ways to make pastichio, and you will never find two Greek people who agree on the proper way to make it.  Some people added cinnamon to the meat sauce, some add nutmeg to the béchamel, and some, like myself, forgo those spices and rely on good old salt and pepper and use ground turkey, which would make any Greek creator of pastichio cringe at the thought.  I prefer not to use cinnamon and nutmeg because I think they overpower the other flavors in this dish, and all you can think about is…wow there is a lot of cinnamon in here.  I think the salt and pepper brings more of the flavors out of the dish.  I use ground turkey because I rarely have ground beef on hand, it is healthier, and I prepared the dish once with ground turkey and we really liked it.  Traditional pastichio is made with a noodle called #2 macaroni (I just learned the name), which can be found in Greek grocery stores.  However, if you do not have a Greek grocery store near you, then you can substitute penne or ziti.

I was able to add a little something different to my pastichio this time, and it was kasseri cheese, which is a Greek cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It has a sharp and salty flavor. I had some left over from Easter, and I decided to grate it and add it to the top of the béchamel sauce. 

Something fun about making the meat sauce is changing the red wine you use.  It really does change the flavors a bit, and it is always interesting what you get when you use pinot noir versus merlot.  I even mix French red wine into this Greek dish, and I love the outcome.  This time I added Malbec, from Argentina, and it was probably the best addition yet. 

Pastichio with Ground Turkey

What you need:

Meat Sauce

1 lb ground turkey (or ground beef if you prefer)

1 large can crushed tomatoes

4 cloves garlic chopped finely

1 ½ onions chopped finely

2 bay leaves

Olive oil

½ cup good red wine

1-2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp dried oregano

½ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp salt

Pasta

1 box of ziti (or #2 macaroni or other tube pasta)

2 egg whites

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Bechamel Sauce

½ cup butter

1 cup flour

4 cups whole milk

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

3 egg yolks

¼ tsp black pepper

Extra grated parmesan (or grated kasseri) for top of béchamel sauce.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Meat Sauce

First, using a large sauce/sauté pan with high sides, sauté your finely chopped onion in olive oil.  When the onions are translucent add the ground turkey, salt and pepper and throw the garlic in on top of the meat.  Brown the meat, chopping it up along the way in the pan. Then, add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano and wine.  Cook for about 20 minutes so that all the flavors combine. 

Pasta

While the meat sauce is cooking, boil the pasta.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain and rinse with cold water.  Then, add egg whites to the pasta with 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese.  Toss to combine.  The egg whites will help the pasta stick together in the pan.  Set aside.

Meat Sauce and Pasta Layers

When meat sauce is finished cooking, remove the bay leaves, and add a thin coating to the bottom of a medium lasagna pan.  Then add half the pasta, and make sure that the noodles are lying as flat as possible and covering the entire pan.  Then add the remaining meat sauce.  Spread it out over all the noodles.  Add the rest of the pasta, again making sure the noodles are lying as flat as possible and covering the entire pan.  Set the pan aside.

Bechamel Sauce

Heat 4 cups of milk until hot but not boiling.  Melt butter in a medium to large sauce pan.  Add flour, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.  Once, smooth, add the milk all at once, again, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.  On low-medium heat, whisk until the sauce thickens.  When the sauce has thickened, remove from heat, and add egg yolks, ½ of grated parmesan cheese, and pepper.  Whisk together until combined.  Then pour this sauce over top the exposed layer of noodles, making sure the entire pan is covered.  Then add a light coating of grated parmesan or grated kasseri cheese to top of sauce.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.

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The dilemma of what to make for dinner last night had me staring at my open refrigerator, trying to piece together something from the puzzle of leftover ingredients.  No meat was defrosted so I thought pasta.  I found some fun pasta shells to work with, and then found the fresh parmesan, which needed to be used sooner rather than later.  Then found some half and half and the leftover asparagus from Easter that also needed a home.  I usually have garlic on hand, and pasta always tastes better with garlic.  So into the pasta it all went. 

The result was a garlicky, cheesy, creamy sauce with bright green asparagus to dress it up.  Just looking at the bowl of pasta you could tell it was a rich dish, but in reality I only used about 1/3 of a cup of half and half.  However, I used a ton of cheese.  But who doesn’t like cheese?

 

Garlic Parmesan Cream Sauce Shells with Asparagus (my thoughts)

What you need:

4 cups pasta shells

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon olive oil

2-3 cups grated fresh parmesan

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

10-12 asparagus stalks

Add pasta to boiling water.  While pasta is cooking, chop garlic finely.  Then chop the heads off the asparagus.  You will be using the heads of the asparagus, and discarding the rest of the stalk, so cut the asparagus about 2 to 2 ½ inches from the head.  Add asparagus to boiling water for 3-5 minutes until tender, but not droopy. 

In a medium sized sauce pan, sautee the garlic in the olive oil for 1 minute, then add the half and half and grated cheese.  Continuously stir the cheese into the half and half until it thickens.  The garlic and some of the cheese may stick to the bottom of your pan, so make sure you scrap the bottom a few times while you are stirring in the cheese.  Add ground black pepper.

Drain pasta.  Add the sauce and asparagus to the pasta shells and combine.

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It is again pretty chilly in Philadelphia, but it is the perfect weather for a warm pasta dish.  Bolognese sauce is simply ground meat and tomato sauce. It  is basically a fancy way to say meat sauce. There are many variations of this dish, and if you search online long enough you will find really complex versions of a relatively simple meal.  Typically made with ground beef, I substituted ground turkey to make it a little healthier, and I added a bunch of garlic and some vegetables.  I also attempted zucchini pasta, which is zucchini shredded in such a way that it resembles pasta.  I thought it would be a neat thing to try, as well as a way to add some more vegetables to a meal that is usually lacking in the area of vegetables.

I notice that a lot of people will not order pasta Bolognese in restaurants.  Maybe it isn’t fancy enough or maybe when people are out to eat they want something more than a traditional pasta dish.  Nevertheless, I do order it at restaurants, and I usually enjoy it.  Sometimes it does lack a little flavor (presumably not enough garlic).  It is a dish that is hard to mess up.

Turkey Bolognese with Angel Hair and Zucchini Pasta

What you need

1 lb ground turkey

4 cloves garlic

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 onion

1 large can tomato puree

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

1 cup parmesan cheese

½ package of angel hair pasta

1 zucchini

1 and 1/2 cup dry whtie wine

Finely chop onion, celery and carrot.  Add to a large pan and sauté in olive oil until onion is translucent.  Finely chop garlic.  Add ground turkey, garlic, salt and pepper to the pan.  Cook until turkey is brown.  Add 1 cup white wine. Cook another 10 minutes.  Drain meat, and put back in pan with the tomato puree.  Add ½ cup wine and cook for about 15-20 minutes.

While the meat and sauce are cooking, boil water for pasta and zucchini.  Peel zucchini.  Then grate zucchini on a grater with larger teeth, so that you get strings of zucchini that look like pasta.   Add angel hair pasta to the boiling water.  When pasta is almost done, add the zucchini for about 3 minutes.  Drain pasta and zucchini, and sauce to pasta.  Grate fresh parmesan cheese and serve on top.

My zucchini pasta looked great after I shredded the zucchini.  It looked like light green fettuccini.  However, when it got mixed with the pasta, it folded up and lost its shape.  Perhaps cooking the zucchini and pasta separately, and then serving the pasta with the zucchini on top of it, would provide for a prettier dish.  Either way, it was delightful to taste the zucchini throughout the pasta.  The grated fresh parmesan cheese on top enhanced the flavor of the sauce, which, in my honest opinion, could have used some more garlic.

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