Spicy and Creamy Pasta

As you probably would expect, I love to thumb through cooking magazines and food blogs and read the recipes. One game I play with myself is think about how I would make a dish based on its title. One food blog I read is Iowagirleats.com. She has a different take on cooking than I do, and while I enjoy reading it, I don’t tend make her recipes. But a few weeks ago, she had a recipe that sounded great, “Spicy Sausage Pasta Skillet” that I kept it in my inbox. One Friday night, with all the ingredients at home, I decided to make my own version, cooked in a skillet with spicy sausage.

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Rombi!

For this dish, I decided to pull out the rombi pasta I had in the cupboard. It was an impulse buy; it was on sale at the coop and I thought it looked interesting. And interesting it is; it’s more like lasagna pieces, and being a small pasta, it allowed the sausage and vegetables to shine.

I had some leftover sausage in the freezer that I left out to thaw that morning from the time I made the Baked Ziti. I decided to add a rather sad-looking zucchini that had been forgotten in the vegetable bin to offset the meat, so I was getting at least some veggies into this dish. I made this again a few weeks later with even more forgotten veggies and it was great. I think you could add just about any kind of vegetable to the meat, sauce, and pasta and it would be good, especially if you use a water-filled veggie like spinach and squash, which enhances and thins the sauce. And of course, vegetarians can just leave out the sausage and up the veggies.

When the eater of the house asks if I’m done eating, and then proceeds to scoop the rest of the pasta into his bowl, you KNOW it was good!

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Spicy and Creamy Pasta
Adapted from Iowagirl.com

4 spicy sausage links
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon chopped shallots or red onion
1 zucchini, diced
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup half and half
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste (optional)
1 ½ cups pasta (penne, rombi, or other pasta)
2-3 handfuls baby spinach
Grated cheese for topping (optional)

  1. Take a large skillet, warm over medium heat, and add the sausage. Cook until done. Remove from pan, drain on a plate covered with paper towels, and wipe the pan clean and place back on the burner.
  2. Warm the olive oil and add the garlic and shallots. Cook a few minutes until soft. Add the zucchini, and cook this for few minutes until soft. Add the chicken broth and diced tomatoes to the pan, mix in the tomato paste and the half and half. Stir. Add the pasta, crushed red pepper, and bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Partially cover pan and cook about 7 minutes or so or until pasta is al dente. If the sauce starts getting a little too thick, add a bit of water or broth. When the pasta is done cooking, add the baby spinach, stir, and serve! Top with grated cheese if desired.

Oven Roasted Cabbage with Caraway Seeds

Not having a speck of Irish blood in me, St. Patrick’s Day usually goes by without nary a thought about it. I’ve been holding on to this recipe since the beginning of winter, just waiting for the right time to bring it to you. And I thought this week was perfect, because cabbage prices are dirt cheap in celebration of the holiday; I found huge heads of cabbage for sale at the supermarket for 29 cents a pound! And although they’re not Irish, the caraway seeds brings in a little bit of my own Eastern European roots.

I use the word “recipe” loosely when speaking about this. It’s comprised of three ingredients, plus salt and pepper. And no measurements. This can be a side dish to chicken, pork, or fish, or if you’re making dinner for yourself, the main entrée; I’ve done that too. When roasted, the cabbage gets a little sweet, a little soft yet still crunchy, and the caraway seeds adds just the right amount of spicy flavor.

I love that the coop sometimes sells half cabbages, since cutting into a whole cabbage sometimes can be daunting. I slice the cabbage thinly, so it is long thin pieces, place them in a baking dish, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil, sprinkle with a few caraway seeds, and add some salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, or until it becomes soft and some of the pieces begin to brown. Then serve!

With the caraway seeds, use less than teaspoon, probably closer to a half-teaspoon; sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and the caraway flavor is one of them. You still want to be able to taste the cabbage, too.

With the light in the evening and warmer weather, it is getting to be the time of year when I turn away from the oven and look to lighter meals. But with a recent fresh coating of snow, it’s not time to hang up the oven mitts just yet!

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Tarte Flambée

One of these days, I will draw up a map of my flower garden. In the meantime, look what is popping up! Spring is coming!

Look what is popping up in the flower garden! Spring is coming!

As I mentioned once before, there is a small French bakery near home, where I love to spend a lazy Sunday writing and eating. One day last fall, they served in the late afternoon slices of tarte flambée, topped with local Gilfeather turnips and fresh rosemary. Tarte flambée could be called a French pizza, made with or without yeast, topped not with tomato sauce but with a creamy base instead. It was heaven and I’ve been dreaming of it ever since. A recent stop had the bakery filled with college students and nary a seat to be had. I was so disappointed, I figured it was time to pull out a recipe I found online and make my own!

The crust is super easy and you could make it on a work night for a quick pizza dinner since there is no yeast, but there is a 30-minute waiting period. The texture is a bit different from a yeast crust, though; a bit more on the bready side, I found. The toppings came together nicely; Gilfeather turnips are an heirloom vegetable native to Vermont. The size of a rutabaga, they are a bit sweeter than the traditional purple-topped turnip. I sliced them very thinly and sautéed them with a little bit of butter and onion before placing them on the tarte and scattering some fresh rosemary needles on top. The recipe I found came from The Boston Globe and uses bacon instead of turnips, which, honestly sounds perhaps even more delicious! If you prefer, just fry up a few slices and crumble them on top. The original recipe also called for the topping to have 2 tablespoons of water and 1 tablespoon of heavy cream. If you have the cream on hand you can make that adjustment, but honestly, it wasn’t worth buying a pint  to just use a tiny portion.

This was delicious, but I will advise you to eat this immediately, hot, right out of the oven. I had some left over to eat later and it didn’t stand the test of time. So get a crowd together and munch on this tasty treat!

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Tarte Flambée
Adapted from an April 17, 2012 Boston Globe recipe

Dough
2 cups of flour
½ cup warm water, or more if necessary
3 Tablespoons olive oil
¾ teaspoon salt

Topping
½ cup sour cream
3 Tablespoons water, or more if necessary
1 cup Gilfeather turnip, thinly sliced
½ medium-sized onion, thinly sliced
A scattering of fresh rosemary

To make the dough
In a bowl, combine the flour, ½ cup water, olive oil, and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Sprinkle more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, on the mixture until it forms crumbs. Knead with your hands directly in the bowl until it is smooth and no longer sticks to the sides.

Roll the dough into a ball and sprinkle it with oil, rolling it around so it is oiled all over. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for 30 minutes.

Topping
In a bowl, whisk together the sour cream, water, and 3 tablespoons of water. The sauce should be the consistency of regular yogurt; add more water, if you like. Refrigerate.

In a warm skillet, add a little bit of butter and the onions. Sauté gently. Add the turnips and sauté until soft.

To assemble
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

On a lightly floured counter, roll the dough to a 1/8-inch thickness. Lift it on to the rolling pin and transfer to the baking sheet. Prick the dough all over with a fork.

Spread the dough with the cream and top with the turnips and onions. Gently pat the toppings into the cream so they stay put. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary.

Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 15 minutes or until the edges are brown and the topping is crisp. Cool slightly before cutting into pieces.

Cook’s Note
• Instead of oiling the baking sheet, I covered it with parchment paper

Cooking from the Larder

Looking at the calendar and finding myself on three trips in the next six weeks has made me a bit more careful about money these days. In times like these, I start creating and making meals with what I have in the cupboard and freezer. I don’t know about you, but I tend to have the same dried beans and grains in my cupboard for months, only using them when I need them for a recipe, instead of using them in every day cooking.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite food writers, Melissa Clark of the New York Times, had a recipe and a tutorial video for braised beans in red wine. I call these soup beans; long-cooked beans that still stand up after a long braise with a faint bacon and deep, red wine flavor. It was perfect, a few ingredients made a huge pot, enough for several meals and lunches. And best part it is incredibly inexpensive, because most of the ingredients you already have on hand.

The original recipe calls for pinto beans, but I still had in the cupboard some Jacob’s Cattle Beans I picked up last fall, so I used those instead. You can soak the beans overnight, or in my case, for the day, but make sure it’s for at least 8 hours. Some diced bacon, carrots, onions, and celery, some reduced red wine in the end (you can, of course, leave this out if you prefer), and you’re done.

Here is a tip from me: Don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink yourself. Whenever I need cooking wine, I go to the wine section of the supermarket and pick out a less than expensive bottle for cooking. Don’t ever use what is called “cooking wine,” it is filled with lots of salt and preservatives.

I served this over baked polenta, but I think cooked polenta would be even better; the creamy corn mixed with the beans and red wine would be comfort in a bowl. You could also serve this over noodles, mashed potatoes, or just by itself. It’s still cold outside, so a bowl of this will make you warm and fill you right up.

Clark cooks like I do, throwing stuff in a pot, with no real measurements. I watched the video and just took notes. Below is how I made it. Of course, you can always add more veggies if you like; the dish won’t suffer because of it.

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Braised Beans with Red Wine
Recipe adapted from Melissa Clark of The New York Times

1 1/2 cups pinto beans, soaked for at least 8 hours
2 slices of bacon, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small rosemary stalk
2 cups of red wine, reduced to about  ⅔ of a cup

1. In a warmed Dutch oven, add the chopped bacon and cook until done. Remove from the pan, and place the bacon on a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb the grease.

2. You shouldn’t have a lot of bacon grease left in the pan, but if you do, drain and leave about a tablespoon or so. To the pan, add the carrots, onions, and celery, cook until just soft.

3. Meanwhile, drain the soaking beans over a colander and rinse. Add them to the pot of veggies, add the bacon and rosemary, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour or until the beans are soft, but not mushy.

4. While the beans are cooking, take another saucepan and add 2 cups of red wine. Bring to a simmer and cook until it is reduced to about ⅔ of a cup, about 20-30 minutes, depending on your stove.

5.  When the wine is finished reducing, pour it into the beans, and bring the beans back to a simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Cook’s Note:
This is totally self-serving, but I just wanted to note that this week marks two years of “My Vermont Kitchen!” Through more than 100 recipes, you’ve been cooking with me through the seasons, seeing me through successes and failures, and (hopefully) been enjoying the journey. This little experiment of bringing my cooking and recipes into your kitchen has been wonderful, and I hope you are enjoying it as much as I have. So, cheers! Here’s to another year of cooking!