One Skillet Pasta

DSCN0321A note to all non-cooks or those who think they can’t cook: this recipe requires no cooking skills other than slicing some tomatoes and onions, chopping some garlic, and putting everything in a pan!

A few weeks ago, I stopped by my friend, Richard’s, home on a cold and very wet Saturday afternoon. He had the latest issue of Martha Stewart’s Living magazine (June 2013) and he wanted to cook lunch together. But honestly, there wasn’t much for me to do, he put some pasta, sliced onions, minced garlic, and basil in a skillet, added some water, brought it to a boil, and I stirred it occasionally. It was delicious, and lunch for four on that cold afternoon was perfect, it was warm and filled us all up.

So I decided to go home and recreate this with a few twists of my own. First off, I had three very sad-looking zucchinis that either needed to be eaten that night or tossed, so I sliced them and added them to the pan. I upped the garlic and basil, and added a half-cup of white wine and a parmesan rind that I pulled out of the freezer. If you don’t have that, don’t worry, just top the finished pasta with cheese (I discovered as I was about to serve I didn’t have any). This dish is first off easy, but it’s also a nice blend of the vegetables in a flavorful sauce. On yet another cold and rainy evening, served with a nice green salad, this was a quick meal that is perfect for a weeknight dinner!

DSCN0323One Skillet Pasta

Inspired by the June 2013 recipe “One Pan Pasta” published in Martha Stewart Living.

Serves 4-5 eaters.

¾ of a box of linguine, or 12 ounces
2 cups halved grape tomatoes
A big handful of basil
1 onion, thinly sliced
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
3 small zucchini, sliced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 ½ cups water
½ cup white wine (optional. If you aren’t using the wine, add 4 cups water total)
1 big skillet

To the pan, add the linguine, tomatoes, basil, onion, garlic, zucchini, and olive oil. Add water and wine, if using. Bring to a boil then turn to simmer. Stir occasionally and cook until pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes or so. Serve in large bowls and top with parmesan cheese.

Springtime Pasta

Look what's up in the garden! Now it's time to weed!

The happiest of the springtime flowers! Now it’s time to weed!

So I know I said I was going to take a break some time soon, but I couldn’t resist giving you this recipe I made that is picture-perfect for this time of year!

I was driving home from work one late Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and of course, the question of what’s for dinner came to my mind. At the end of the week, a martini and some cheese and crackers is a sufficient dinner for me, but of course, nutritionally it should be a bit more substantial. One game I like to play with myself is to figure out what I can create for dinner with what I have on hand before I get to the grocery store in case I need to stop. I knew I had some asparagus in the fridge and some pasta in the cupboard. A stop at the grocery store for a shallot,  some frozen peas, and goat cheese and I knew what dinner was going to be, Springtime Pasta!

I always wonder when I see cooking magazines and their “seasons.” Yes, peas are a spring vegetable, but in Vermont, that’s June not April. But frozen peas are great, they are always fresh and you don’t have to shell them! Shallots sautéed in a little bit of butter and olive oil lend just the right amount of flavor, and you can always substitute red onion. Of course, with most of my pasta dishes a little bit of white wine or vermouth is a tasty addition, but you can leave it out if you want. I had pappardelle in the cupboard, but I would recommend perhaps linguine instead; pappardelle is long, very thick egg noodles. A little too long for me, you can’t wind the pasta on your fork. The topping of goat cheese added just a little bit of creaminess to the warm noodles, but you can use whatever you prefer, or leave it out. And per usual, measurements here always are a guideline; you can use more asparagus, peas, leave one out, or use less pasta!

I eat asparagus on a daily basis this time of year, with my eggs in the morning, on my salad for lunch, roasted or in pasta for dinner. It just tastes like spring!

DSCN0190

Springtime Pasta

1 small shallot, minced
2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Butter and extra virgin olive oil for sauteing
3 cups chopped asparagus
½ cup of peas (fresh or frozen)
¾ cup chicken broth
Splash of white wine or vermouth (optional)
About 8 ounces dried pasta
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cheese for topping, if desired

  1. Fill a Dutch oven with water and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and boil for about three minutes or until tender. With a slotted spoon, take the asparagus out of the water and set aside.
  2. In a medium skillet, melt some butter and olive oil together. Add the shallot and garlic and cook at a medium heat until soft. Add the chicken broth and wine, if using, and bring to a boil. When it is reduced a little, add the cooked asparagus and peas. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions (or 7-8 minutes for al dente). Drain, and add the pasta to the sauce. Toss gentle, add a squirt of lemon juice, and serve. Top with cheese if using.

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.

DSCN0118

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!

DSCN0120

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.

Cooking for a Crowd

DSCN0099

As you can see, I’m a bit rusty shopping for more than two people, I doubled everything!

I recently offered to make dinner for the eater of the house’s book club. Here’s the lowdown: up to nine people, it had to be dairy-free, and since I was making it the night before, it had to be something that would still taste delicious the next day. I was up to the challenge!

A baked pasta dish was mentioned, but I thought about it and took it one step further, baked ziti with lots of veggies. The perfect recipe, with the cheese served on the side! I took five minutes and thought about what I like to put in my lasagna and baked pasta dishes. I frequently make dishes vegetarian, but since this was a meat-eating crowd, I decided to tame them by  adding some spicy sausage.

From beginning to end this took about an hour to put everything together. I worried it would be dry the next day, but the wine and water (as well as the water-filled mushrooms and zucchini) were a good addition to keep it moist as was the remaining sauce; a nice, new layer of sauce was added before it was baked. I refilled the sauce jar and had almost a full jar. You can do that or warm it to top your serving.

The report back was “dinner was a hit” and some went back for seconds. Phew! And leftovers the following night were delicious!

Bove's is a Vermont spaghetti sauce and is the only jarred sauce I buy. Their roasted garlic is what I usually get, but decided to go with their basic marinara for this dish.

Bove’s is a Vermont spaghetti sauce and is the only jarred sauce I buy. Their roasted garlic is what I usually get, but decided to go with their basic marinara for this dish.

Baked Ziti
This made enough for nine people plus leftovers. And of course, for a vegetarian version, just leave out the sausage and up the veggies!

1 pound hot (or sweet) sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 green peppers, chopped
2 zucchini, diced
10 ounce mushrooms, thickly sliced (I used baby bella mushrooms)
1 6 oz can large black olives, halved
1 jar spaghetti sauce
¾ cup white wine, optional (if not using, substitute water)
1 cup water
1 pound box of ziti, penne, or mostaccioli

1. Cook pasta according to directions.

2. Warm a tiny bit of oil in a medium saucepan. Add the sausage and cook until it is done. With a slotted spoon, place on a plate lined with paper towels. Rinse the pan.

3. With the same skillet, warm about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, and green peppers and cook until just soft. Add the zucchini, stir, and then add the mushrooms. Cook until the veggies are soft but not mushy.

4. To the pan of veggies, add the jar of sauce, wine, and water. Stir and cook for about 10-15 minutes to incorporate the flavors. Add the black olive and remove pan from burner.

5. In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked pasta, about three-fourths of the  sauce, and mix until incorporated. Add mixture to a large baking dish.

For baking the next day:
• Cover and place pan in fridge.
• Remove pan from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking.
• Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Add the additional sauce (or warm it in a saucepan to serve on the side) and put foil over pan.
• Bake at 325 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly.
• Serve with the additional sauce and cheese.

For baking that night:
• Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly.
• Serve with the additional sauce and cheese.
DSCN0102

Linguine With Clam Sauce

Good morning, fellow cooks! After 14 months (or 80 posts!) of writing about my culinary adventures at least once a week with nary a break, I’ve decided to take a vacation from writing for a week or two. Through holidays, vacations, and  surgery, I’ve been cooking and writing, and frankly, I’m a little burned out and am finding my creative juices waning. But that’s not to say I won’t still be cooking; have no fear, springtime has sprung here and even though I’ll be taking some R& R, I’ll still be creating and keeping track of the dishes to bring to you Wednesday mornings from my Vermont kitchen. So stay tuned!

This week’s recipe I developed one night when I had 1. A craving for pasta; and 2. A craving for seafood. I had a can of chopped cans in the cupboard, fresh parsley in the vegetable bin, and it came easily together. Of course, if you have fresh clams, that’s even better. I decided to use chopped clams as opposed to minced because I really wanted the flavor of the clams. I prefer linguine to any other string pasta, but of course you can substitute your own favorite. I thought if I had a plum tomato, chopped and added to the sauce would be a welcome addition.

This is relatively light, easy to cook, and inexpensive, my three benchmarks for a great recipe!

Linguine with Clam Sauce

Cook’s Note: How you like your sauce (watery or not watery) will depend on how much you reduce the wine and juice while cooking.
• The butter adds just a little bit more richness to the sauce, but by all means, use all olive oil if you prefer.
• If you’re like me and like a little bit of heat to your pasta, add some crushed red pepper. How much depends on your own palate. 

• 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
• 2 teaspoons butter
• 3 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1-2 Tablespoons minced shallots or red onion
• 1 can chopped clams, reserve juice
• A splash or two of white wine
• A dash of crushed red pepper, optional
• ½ cup or less of chopped fresh parsley
• Pasta servings for two, cooked according to directions

In a medium-sized skillet, warm the butter and olive oil. When shimmery, add the garlic and shallots and cook at medium heat until soft. Add in the clams, setting aside the reserved juice from the can. Turn up the heat and stir. Add the splashes of wine and cook until the sauce has reduced. (If it reduces too much, add some of the reserved juice.) Turn to low, and stir in the parsley and hot peppers, if using. Place pasta on a dish, top with the sauce. Serve with a simple side salad.

Fresh Basil and Garlic Scape Pesto

One of my culinary versions of perfect deliciousness is garlic, lots of it, basil, and olive oil: pesto. I regularly make this in the summertime, either in the blender or by hand. Pesto in Italian means “to pound,” so on occasion I try the old school method with a mortar and pestle, but usually revert to the blender, as it’s a lot easier and quicker! You can serve it on warm pasta, over grilled veggies or meat, in soups and salads, or with fresh bread, any place you want a little oomph to the dish you’re cooking. The only thing I have to remember is to not get too close to people the next morning; while I’ll be keeping away the warlocks and bugs with my garlic breath, I might also be keeping away other humans!

I made this the other night and thought I had died and gone to heaven. Admittedly, I put in a little too much garlic, even for me, but it was still peppery, spicy, and delicious. I had a couple of garlic scapes I bought at the farmer’s market, added that to mix this time, along with the basil, chopped garlic, olive oil, and cheese. (Garlic scapes are the tops of garlic bulbs, that come up in June or so. Be sure to use the scape below the little bulb, the very top can be discarded. They are a milder flavor than their counterpart, a little tough, but good! Try them in the recipe or in a stir fry for a little bit of garlic flavor.) If I have it on hand, I’ll also add a small handful of parsley. I’ve also made the same recipe with cilantro in place of the basil. I was skeptical at first, but it too is delicious.

When I have an overflow of basil and garlic in August, I make batches of pesto and freeze it for later use. Placed in tiny containers with plastic wrap on top to ward off freezer burn, opening one of these in the middle of January is like a breath of summer and is a gentle reminder of what we can look forward to in a mere six months.

As with many of dishes I make, this one I make up as I go along, depending on what I have on hand. So, here goes:

Fresh Basil and Garlic Scape Pesto
• About 2 cups fresh basil
• 2-3 cloves of fresh garlic, coarsely chopped
• 2 garlic scapes, chopped
• 2 tablespoons of pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts (optional)
• About 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
• About 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

With the blender on “chop,” add the basil through the chute. Add the chopped garlic and scapes, cleaning the sides of the blender as you go along. Add the nuts, if using. With the blender whirring, gently add the olive oil. Add the cheese, then make sure everything is well mixed before adding to your dish.

One Word: Pasta

Last night it was a solo supper evening. When these occur, I usually have a “Chris meal,” or, a very large salad with lots of “accessories.” I went to my usual Thursday night yoga class and halfway through my dazed savasana, I awoke to one word: pasta. I had such a craving. I try to stay away from most carbohydrates, but that evening I was focused and couldn’t get it out of my head.

As I was driving home after class, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I had a rather sad looking container of mushrooms that needed attention, a few grape tomatoes, and much to my pleasure, some linguini. As the water was getting ready to boil, I minced some garlic and red onion together, heated a little bit of olive oil and butter, and once melted, added the garlic and onion and cooked at low heat. As these were cooking, I sliced the mushrooms. Once the garlic was just about soft, I added the mushrooms and cooked these also at a low heat until they released their juices and became very soft. I sliced the grape tomatoes, put the pasta in for 8 minutes, and waited–and took the compost out.

In a large mixing bowl, I added the mushrooms, cooked pasta, tomatoes, and tossed. A couple splashes of white wine (if you don’t drink alcohol, you can use vinegar or lemon for some brightness, or leave out), and ground some black pepper and added some salt and crushed red pepper for heat (of course, you can always leave that out as well). After incorporating all the ingredients, I placed a helping in a bowl, grated some cheese on top, and sat to eat with a small glass of wine and the latest Consumer Reports. I was in  heaven.

I did end up eating my salad, albeit a much smaller one. Just the way I like it, greens with a little bit of olive oil and vinegar.

Sometimes varying from the traditional can make for a very happy supper.