Category Archives: pasta

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Tax day has come and gone, meaning it is time for the annual Feast.  We have a lovely barter deal with  our friendly CPA to prepare and file our taxes.  She gives us a nifty planner to fill out each year, we add the required forms and documents, hand it to her and she does all the rest.  While she certainly is honest in the preparation, she also knows how to get us every single deduction possible no matter how seemingly insignificant.  Gotta love that.  And in return, I make her family a feast for dinner just after tax season ends.  Talk about a win-win situation!

Each year I ask her what she would like, and each year she gives that awful response that cooks hate, “oh anything since everything you make is great.”  Sigh, no direction there to point the way.  Fortunately, her teenage son was home while I dropped off the paperwork this year, so I asked him.  Bingo!  He had an answer.  The beef skewers with peanut sauce were a hit with him last year, so this year the meal was built around that along with shrimp and vegetable skewers.  This Mediterranean orzo salad, loaded with veggies, was the perfect accompaniment.  It was simple and delicious, with clear flavors that don’t overwhelm the main dish.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

inspired by this recipe at My Recipes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked orzo
  • 3 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 3 TBS red onion, chopped
  • 3 TBS kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1  jar marinated artichoke hearts
  • 3 oz feta cheese, crumbled, divided

Directions:

  1. Cook the orzo according to the package directions, omitting salt and oil.  Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. In a large bowl, combine orzo, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, olives, salt and pepper.
  3. Prepare artichokes and vinaigrette by removing the artichokes from the jar, leaving the oil behind.  Chop artichokes and add to orzo mixture.  Add 1/2 of the feta cheese to the oil in the jar, put the lid back on the jar and shake to mix.
  4. Finish salad by adding feta vinaigrette to the orzo salad and tossing gently.  Sprinkle with remaining feta.

Notes:

  • May be served cold or at room temperature.  
  • This was easy to double by just using a larger jar of marinated artichoke hearts.
  • Check your grocery store’s olive bar for kalamatas so you don’t have to splurge for a whole jar.  Unless they are a staple in your pantry, of course.
  • This recipe was originally printed in Cooking Light magazine in 2005.
  • The full menu: beef, shrimp and vegetable skewers, peanut dipping sauce, Joe’s Stone Crab sauce, Caribbean Cocktail sauce, grilled asparagus, Mediterranean Orzo salad, lemon pound cake with fresh strawberries.

Linguini with Sausage and Zucchini

“Pasta with.”  About twice a month we have what I’ve come to call “Pasta with” for dinner.  Sometimes it is spaghetti with cheap canned sauce.  Sometimes it is tortellini with pesto.  In the summer, it’s often bow tie pasta with fresh tomatoes, a bit of olive oil, and torn basil.  Winter begs for pasta with Sunday Gravy.  In order to accommodate the preferences in the household, the pasta is drained in the colander and the “with” is in a skillet or bowl nearby.  Everyone gets as much pasta and much topping as desired.

But then, I was watching a bit of Lidia on the local public TV station. Lidia doesn’t seem to do pasta with, but does pasta in.  Long story short, I’ve been playing with ingredients, proportions and timing for a few months now and have finally found the perfect weeknight dish.  One, it is really tasty.  Two, the timing is, dare I say, perfect.  Put the water on the stove, get the skillet heating, prep the veggies and sausage, start cooking the pasta at the same time as the other ingredients, and both finish at the exact same time.  Bon Appetit.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb linguine
  • 2 hot Italian sausages, casings removed,
  • 1/2 lb medium shrimp, shells and veins removed
  • 1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2 in pieces
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 TBS Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. Set pot of water and pan on medium – high heat while ingredients are being prepped.
  2. When water is boiling, set pasta in water.
  3. Add sausage to pan, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring to prevent burning.  Add tomatoes, and stir for 1 minute.  Add zucchini, and let set for 2 minutes.  Add 3 ladles of pasta water to the pan, followed by the garlic.  Let cook another 2 minutes.  Add shrimp and stir the mixture gently.
  4. Drain pasta in a colander.  The shrimp should be a bit translucent in the middle, but go ahead and add the pasta to the pan.   Using tongs, gently mix the sausage and vegetables into the pasta.  The pasta will absorb the liquid in the pan.
  5. Plate and top with a bit of Parmesan if desired.

Notes:

  • This recipe / technique has been tried and tried again at home.  Finally I came upon the correct timings, ingredients, and flavors. Enjoy!
  • Yes, this was tried with wine, but I found that the wine and sausage were just not a lovely pair.
  • Adding the tomatoes at the start was a stroke of perfect luck!  They add into the flavor, aroma, and color of the dish in the most beautiful way.
  • Mmmmmm, finely diced garlic in pasta broth.  Heaven!

Slow Cooker Sunday Gravy

Just a very few years ago, I was so naive about Sunday Gravy.  Perhaps it just sounded like a heavy topping that would sink to the bottom of your stomach, sapping all of your energy.  Or maybe it was just one of those terms used in Italian families to make something we all knew about, like spaghetti sauce.  Since it resembles marinara on first glance, maybe it was just an East Coast term.  After some delicious test dishes for a Sopranos Sunday Dinner dinner, and some very helpful background information from FoodBlogga and her first hand experience with such meals, we gave Sunday Gravy a try.  It looks like a nice little pasta sauce, but oh, the depth of flavors is amazing!

If you are from an Italian family, you may just want to stop reading right here.  What comes next is so sanctimonious it would cause Tony Soprano to cry.  Sunday gravy can indeed be made in a slow cooker with darned good results.  There is a bit of prep work in the morning, but then you can go on your merry way and let the Sunday Gravy love happen on its own.

Slow Cooker Sunday Gravy

Ingredients:

2 TBS olive oil

1 1/2  pounds pork country ribs (boneless)

1 pound Italian sausages

4 garlic cloves

1/4 cup tomato paste

3 cans Italian peeled tomatoes

2 cups water

salt and pepper

Directions:

1.  In a large cast iron or heavy skillet, heat the olive oil.  Pat the pork country ribs dry with a paper towel and cook in the skillet over medium heat until nicely browned on all sides.  Work in batches so as not to crowd the meat.  When each batch is browned, move the pork to the slow cooker.  Brown the sausages the same way, and move to the slow cooker when lightly browned.

2.  Drain off all but 1 TBS of fat from the pan.  Keeping it on medium heat, add the garlic cloves and cook for about 2 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove the garlic, chop finely, and add to the slow cooker.  Stir the tomato paste into the skillet, cook for 1 minute, and add to the slow cooker.

3.  With blender or food mill, puree the tomatoes with their juices and add them to the slow cooker.  Add the water, salt and pepper to the slow cooker.  Mix gently.

4.  Cover and cook on low for 6 to 10 hours.

5.  To serve, cook up a pot of pasta, drain and return to the pot.  Add ladles of the tomato sauce from the Sunday Gravy to the pasta and stir.  Serve pasta with Sunday gravy and sausages on the side.

Notes:

  • The country ribs pretty much dissolve into the Sunday gravy.  Anything you can pull from the sauce can be served on the side or added to another meal.
  • These sausages were most certainly from our most recent Sausage Saturday!  No post due to abysmal photos of the process.   😦
  • Yes, there is a bit of prep work in the morning, but the results are spectacular.

Lightish Stuffed Manicotti

Lightish.  Gotta love that the indecision.  Yes, I want to make a rich pasta dish with Alfredo sauce, but don’t want it to have too many calories.  Typical female.  This was my first go at manicotti.  It is just so different from the standard spaghetti that it put fear in my heart for years.  And while a few lessons were learned, it will take a few more trips around the park to get that pasta stuffing technique perfected.  The stuffing is based on a stuffed shells recipe from Southern Living and the Alfredo sauce is based on a recipe comment that suggested using fat free half and half with a bit of flour instead of the whipping cream.  Like I said, its lightish.

Yes, the sauce in the picture is broken.  Perhaps its time to make an ugly picture category for the blog!  But, there’s a story behind that.  With all of the stress in my vocation and location due to the economy, and following two nights of “informational meetings” I was so stressed that the only way to get out of it was to go on a cooking bender.  Everyone has their own way to handle stress, and an all out “leave me along and let me cook” marathon is a reliable tool in my repertoire.  Naturally, time needed for each dish was completely underestimated.  Typical.  In the end, all of the prep work, including the Alfredo sauce,  was completed in one evening, with the 5 family sized dishes assembled the next day.  Food to share, food to freeze, food to ease burdens.  And in the end, the cooking bender did soothe my frazzled nerves.  Ahhhhhh.

Lightish Stuffed Manicotti

Manicotti ingredients:

1 box manicotti shells

2 packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

2 cups diced chicken (optional)

1 TBS fresh basil, chopped

16 oz low fat cottage cheese

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup Parmesan, grated

1/4 tsp nutmeg

Alfredo Sauce ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cups fat free half and half

2 TBS flour

3/4 cup Parmesan, grated

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 clove garlic, finely diced

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Drain chopped spinach well, pressing between paper towels.

3. Stir together spinach, chicken, basil, and next 4 ingredients.  Set aside.

4.  Prepare Alfredo sauce by melting butter in a sauce pan, add remaining ingredients, and lightly whisk until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.  Continue stirring over low heat for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly.

5.  Cook manicotti shells according to directions on the box, and remove to a plate.

6.  Spread 1 cup Alfredo sauce on the bottom of a 9 by 13 pan.

7.  Either put spinach filling in a gallon size plastic bag and cut the corner off to use for filling each manicotti shell, or gently fill pasta tubes with a teaspoon.  Lay the manicotti on the alfredo sauce.

8.  Top with remaining sauce.

9.  Bake, covered, at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes or until filling is hot and sauce is bubbly. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes.

Notes:

  • This can be prepared through step 8, then covered and frozen for 1 month.
  • I made one batch with chicken and one without.  Both were equally yummy.
  • When stuffing the manicotti tubes, I went back and forth between the plastic bag method and the spoon method.  Next time I may need to just find more patience.
  • Slightly under-cooking the pasta helped keep the tubes from splitting open.

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Oh, how can anyone not simply love butternut squash?  Sure, it takes a bit of care, but it can even be purchased ready to steam these days at Trader Joe’s.  Somehow, my family does not yet appreciate the joys of butternut squash.  Surely this would be the remedy.

Results?  I had pretty much the whole thing to myself at home.  When sharing this dish with Renee’s family, they politely said they liked it.  But, their 13 year old son coming back for 3rds was proof that other butternut squash lovers do exist in this universe!

This was made from Giada deLaurentiis’ recipe.  Straight up.  Using only 3 of those lovely Amaretto cookies seemed a shame, until the family quickly snacked them up with no complaints.  Yes, we have the traditional wide noodles.  Between them are a lovely milky roux with fresh basil (hence the hint of green) and steamed and pureed butternut squash.  Somehow, both sweet and savory flavors come though.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 amaretti cookies, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Directions:

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet and then cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a food processor. Add the amaretti cookies and blend until smooth. Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Notes:

  • Honestly, I burned the first batch of butternut squash.  Medium heat?  Which medium?  On the power burner, medium burner, or simmer burners?  Low and slow is what you need here.
  • Couldn’t find no boil noodles in my discount grocer, so just got the dry noodles and cooked them al dente.
  • This makes a great little breakfast snack.  (really)

Linguine with Spinach Pesto and Shrimp

Linguine with Spinach PestoAnother crazy long day at work, and my family was off at water polo scrimmages and would not be home until late.  If my solo dinner was going to happen at all, it had to be super simple and tastey enough to make it worth even that much effort.  Mmmmmm, spinach pesto was in the fridge and some shrimp were in the freezer.  Add a little pasta for comfort.  Perfecto!

Sometimes we buy those bags of frozen shrimp and just make them all up in one perfect low country boil kinds of meals, but lately, we’ve just kept frozen shrimp in the freezer to use a small handful in this or that.  Makes us feel pampered and like we’re “all that.”

The pesto made with just barely enough oil had me a bit worried about whether or not it would properly coat the pasta.  The resolution was a to spoon some spinach pesto into a mixing bowl, add a bit of pasta water before dumping the pasta in the colander, and voila, success!

Linguine with Spinach Pesto and Shrimp

Linguine

Spinach Pesto

Handful of Shrimp

oil

Parmesan, grated

Directions:

1.  Boil water for linguine and cook according to package instructions.

2.  Thaw a handful of shrimp.  Heat a saute pan over medium heat, add a bit of oil to coat the bottom.  Dry the shrimp and add to the pan when it is hot.  Flip over each shrimp after 1 minute, cook for another minute, and turn off heat.

3. Place 3 TBS spinach pesto per serving into a mixing bowl, and add 1 TBS pasta water as pasta finishes cooking, and mix.

4.  Drain pasta and place in bowl with pesto.  Gently mix to coat the pasta.

5.  Plate the pasta, top with shrimp and parmesan.

Gremelli and Asparagus

pasta asparagus saladOh asparagus! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

Last night, after a quickie pasta dinner, there was still lots of pasta left over. Time to raid the vegetable bin and make a pasta salad! And what was waiting there for me, just begging to be included in the fun? Asparagus. While many dishes that I toss together with bits of this and that from the pantry are better than prison food, I wouldn’t specifically shop for the ingredients to make that dish again. Not so this time. This my friends, is a winner. Part of the love in this dish (yes, that’s a shout out to Carla from Top Chef!) is the pasta itself. Costco carries this brand in 6 packs, and it is truly worth keeping some on hand.Garofalo pasta

The red wine vinegar gives this a nice tang while the Parmesan rounds out the flavors. Enjoy.

No notes were taken during the creation of this dish, so bear with me on the directions.

Ingredients:

half pack of gemelli or similar pasta, cooked al dente

1 bunch asparagus, but into 1 inch pieces

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tsp dried basil

3 TBS flat leaf parsley, minced

1 TBS olive oil, plus 1 tsp for cooking

1 TBS red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp kosher salt

ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Heat a skillet to medium high, add oil and asparagus. Quickly cook so that the outsides of the asparagus begin to darken but the insides are still crisp, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Add pasta and mix gently. Add Parmesan and asparagus to pasta and combine.