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Posts Tagged ‘Pasta’

Bolognese Sauce

I’m not much of a meat eater.  But there are certain foods I much prefer with meat or the taste of meat.  Pasta sauce is one such thing.  (Sorry, my vegan and vegetarian friends.)

A traditional Bolognese sauce is not simply tomato sauce with ground meat, but one that involves milk and wine and hours of simmering.  Just a few ingredients, but the result is a complex, rich blend of flavors with incredible depth.  If meat sauce is what you crave, consider making a large batch of this sauce and freezing leftovers for a easy weeknight meal.  For us, nothing says homemade or “family dinner” like this.

Bolognese Sauce

 

Ingredients

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes with juice or crushed tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
5 ounces pancetta or 5 slices bacon, finely chopped
1/3 lb beef chuck
1/3 lb ground pork
1/3 lb ground veal
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup milk (or heavy cream)
1 spring rosemary
1 tsp sugar
1 pound pasta of your choice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. If using whole tomatoes, in blender or food processor, purée tomatoes with juice.  Set aside.
  2. In large, heavy pot over moderate heat, heat oil.  Add pancetta and sauté until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes.  Add beef, pork, and veal and sauté, breaking up meat with back of spoon, until cooked but not browned, 7 to 8 minutes.  Add onion and carrot and sauté until vegetables are tender, 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. Stir in milk and simmer until milk is clear, about 1 minute.
  4. Stir in red wine and simmer, scraping up browned bits stuck to bottom of pan, until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid is fully absorbed, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  5. In large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until almost tender.  Drain well and toss with sauce.

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Rice Kernel loves the farmer’s market.  Ever since he could walk, he’s enjoyed picking out vegetables and fruit and, most of all, sampling.  And sampling some more.  Pistachios and peaches/nectarines are his favorite.  But he rarely discriminates.

On a recent Sunday, Rice Kernel and Grandma went to the farmer’s market.  She let him loose and asked him to pick vegetables for the week.  I was surprised to find that he came home with two medium eggplants.  I asked my mother-in-law if they were hers but she assured me Rice Kernel “purchased” the beautiful purple vegetables. 

This is where I have to say we are all drawn the beautiful things; but what you find on the outside does not necessarily correlate with what you find inside.  As much as Rice Kernel “thinks” he wants eggplant, I hear complaints of “mushy” and “slimy” on a regular basis.  I’ve had increased success recently (here and here) and decided our next eggplant dish would be one where the vegetable plays a more complementary role. 

I should note that this recipe takes a couple precautionary measures with the vegetable: First, it is salted for ten minutes before cooking to draw out moisture and tossed with a little flour before sautéeing in oil.  This seems to create a nice protective barrier and prevents the eggplant from soaking up too much oil, as it has a tendency to do.  Finally it drains on paper towels again while a simple sauce comes together.

Rice Kernel had a few chunks of eggplant, but not mouthfuls.  For eggplant averters out there, I think this is a great starting point for one of summer’s most beautiful vegetables.

Pasta Alla Norma, from Lidia Bastianich

4 cups basic tomato sauce, jarred or homemade
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt
4 tbsp flour
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 medium cloves garlic, smashed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 pound short pasta, such as rigatoni, penne, or casarecce (pictured)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
6 tbsp ricotta cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  In the meantime, sprinkle the eggplant with salt and allow to drain on paper towels for 10 minutes, then dust with flour. 
  2. Heat 1 1/2 tbsp of the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering, then add one of the smashed garlic cloves.  Cook until golden, about 1 minutes, then remove and add half the eggplant.  Cook the eggplant, stirring occasionally, until golden but still tender on the inside, about 5 minutes.  Remove to drain on paper towels.  Repeat with the remaining garlic and eggplant.
  3. Heat remaining tablespoon oil over medium heat in the same skillet until shimmering, then add the onion.  Cook until lightly golden and soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce in a large saucepan.  Add the cooked onion to the tomato sauce.
  4. Cook the pasta until a couple minutes away from al dente, then drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.  Add the pasta to the sauce, using pasta water as necessary to keep the sauce a nice consistency, and cook until the pasta is al dente.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the eggplant pieces and basil, stir to combine, and heat through. D ivide into bowls and top with the ricotta, if desired.

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What should or can you cook when the closest you’ve come to the stove is turning on the stove light on a late, dark, insomnia-laden night?  Stir-fry.  Really.  You can.  You should. 

How do I know?  I was 22 years old, standing in front of the stove in our first apartment, when my boyfriend (now husband) said, “You need to learn (to cook).  It’s a matter of survival.  Anyone can stir-fry.”  (Sorry if you were expecting a romantic moment in the kitchen.  The only time you’ll find candlelight between us – bingo – when there’s a power outage.)  He really did say “survival.”  Dramatic, I still think.  But I got the point.  I couldn’t eat in a dining hall, sorority house, or restaurant for the rest of my life.  Over-priced and over-greased foods are not long-term solutions.

So I learned to cook via stir-frys.  I learned how to season meat.  I learned that I wouldn’t faint touching and cutting up raw meat.  (That was a hard one.  I bought surgical gloves for my first encounter.  No joke.)  It wasn’t always pretty, as you can imagine.  But FHE was supportive and ate every over-salted, under-salted, overcooked, and/or undercooked meal I prepared.  In the first few years, 99% of our meals were stir-fries.  They were simple, versatile, convenient, and reliable.

Fast-forward through years of working, graduate school, and starting a family.  The boyfriend-turned-husband is still here.  And so are the stir-frys.  In fact, when in doubt or when pressed for time, I stir-fry.  They are well-balanced, healthy, quick to prepare and clean-up, and (best of all) the perfect way to use up leftover ingredients.  The hardest part of preparing this dish is emptying the mountain of food from your frying pan into a serving dish!

Stir-Fry Fried Rice

You can serve the dish over rice or pasta.  Or you can mix your choice of starch into the cooking process for fried rice or fried pasta (I guess that’s what you’d call it).  Tonight, Rice Kernel requested fried rice, so that’s what I’ve posted here.  We typically add eggs in our fried rice, but omit it for stir-fries.  (Rice Kernel doesn’t like eggs.  This is one recipe where I can sneak it into his diet.)

Ingredients

    2-3 cups vegetables of your choice (onions, carrots, cabbage, sugar snap peas, scallions, frozen mixes, etc.)
    1 1/2 cups protein (sliced beef, chicken, shrimp, ham, tofu, egg)
    2 eggs, lightly beaten
    1/2 pound of pasta or 1 1/2 cups rice (white or brown rice)
    2-3 tbsp soy sauce (to taste)
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    3 tbsp scallion, chopped
    1 tsp sesame oil
    freshly ground pepper
    chili flakes (optional)

 

Directions

  1. Prepare noodles or rice according to directions.  (I often cook my rice in chicken stock for added flavor.  If you are preparing a stir-fry of vegetables and meat over rice, freshly-prepared rice is fine.  However, for fried rice, leftover rice is more ideal.  Freshly-cooked rice is often too moist, leading to a mushier final product.)
  2. Marinate meat, if necessary, and either slice or chop into small pieces.
  3. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat.  Add oil and stir-fry your protein until about 80-90% cooked (If using beef, until the redness in the meat is gone; or until chicken turns white).  Remove and set aside.
  4. Add a few additional teaspoons of oil and scramble the eggs.  Add the vegetables and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. 
  5. Then add cooked noodles or rice, along with the cooked protein and scallion. 
  6. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, freshly ground black pepper and chili flakes (optional).  Cook an additional 1-2 minutes.  Adjust seasonings as necessary and serve.

Note: Many Asian recipes call for oyster sauce.  It’s a great flavor enhancer but, over the years, I’ve read reports that the product contains high levels of chloropropanols and/or other cancer-causing ingredients.  Based on that concern, I omit it from my cooking entirely.  Our stir-fries and fried rice dishes are just as flavorful without it, I think.

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Rice Kernel and I love cauliflower.  When he first started eating true solids (pieces of food, not just purees), one of the first things he reached for was raw cauliflower.  That’s when I knew he was my son and not just my husband’s.  He would sit next to me in his high chair or on the kitchen counter (I know, not the safest seat in the house) and munch on the tiny florets.  He would crunch on them nearly as quickly as I could chop the pieces.  For me, though, nothing beats roasted cauliflower.  Surprisingly nutty and sweet, the flavor of raw cauliflower is completely transformed in the oven.  Really, you might have to watch yourself, or you could end up accidentally eating up the entire head nibble by nibble as you prepare the rest of your meal.

Over the weekend, there was a request for a chicken pot pie pasta (ours, of course, dressed in an ethereal cream sauce comprised of lowfat milk, chicken stock and herbs).  But with some fresh cod that needed to be used up, I decided to prepare a side of roasted cauliflower and pasta bathed in an aromatic rosemary cream.  (I know, not the most colorful meal, as FHE noted.  But nutritious in white.)  Even if you aren’t as enthusiastic about cauliflower as we are, this method will make it palatable to any but the most ardent anti-veggie.  Promise.

Roasted Cauliflower Pasta

Ingredients

    1/2 to whole large onion, sliced
    1 medium-sized cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    3/4 cups milk
    1/2-1 cup chicken stock
    splash dry sherry (optional)
    1-2 tsp thyme or poultry seasoning
    1 spring of fresh rosemary
    1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    Pasta of your choosing

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Lay out cauliflower on a baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast until just lightly browned and cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cook pasta as directed.
  3. In a large pan, add a couple tablespoons olive oil to hot pan (or 1-2 tablespoonds of oil and butter, each). 
  4. Saute onions until translucent.   
  5. Add flour and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute until well absorbed. 
  6. Add liquids and rosemary and whisk vigorously.  Add additional broth if mixture is too thick. 
  7. Mix in additional herbs and seasonings.
  8. Toss in drained pasta and cauliflower.  Remove rosemary spring before serving.

Creamy, light sauce. Oxymoron? Not here.

 

Seductively simple.

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When I cook and/or read through food blogs, I typically have two people in mind: my 31-month-old son, whom I affectionately dubbed Rice Kernel in the womb (that was his size when I first saw him on the computer screen), and my husband, whom I’ll refer to as FHE for now.  My eating habits and cooking style have evolved over the past 8 years (I got a late start in the kitchen) but I would best describe myself now as a veggie-loving dessert fanatic.  That’s not exactly how I would categorize the men in my life.  Translation: need more meat and pasta/rice.  While my fantasy blog would proudly display a stalk of broccoli coated with sprinkles and icing, this will more likely be represented by chicken-green noodle ramen…. next to a stalk of broccoli with sprinkles!

So my first contributions.  My best ever cookie:  A “cleaned-up” spin on the classic oatmeal chocolate chip cookie made with whole wheat, reduced sugar, and agave nectar.  And an almost fat-free chicken pot-pie filling great over rice or pasta… or as a pie. 

Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Agave-Nectar Cookies

Ingredients

    1 cup all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat flour with success)
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1 1/2 cups rolled (old-fashioned) oats
    1/2 cup quick-cook oats (instant)
    8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (You need the entire stick – I tried 3/4 and the cookies were not chewy)
    1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1 large egg
    1/4 cup agave nectar
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (or a mix of chocolate and toffee chips…. or any mix-ins you enjoy)

Directions

  1. Preheat to 350 degrees F
  2. Set aside flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, oats, and pecans together in a bowl. 
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together for 30 seconds until blended. Beat in the egg until smooth.  Drizzle in the agave nectar and vanilla until incorporated.  Turn the mixer down to its lowest setting and gradually add the flour-oatmeal mixture, followed by the chocolate chips.
  4. Drop balls of dough onto a nonstick or parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  5. With moistened fingers, flatten and round out the cookies a little.
  6. Bake for 9-11minutes, turning the pan once for even baking. The cookies are done when they are lightly browned around the edges. (The cookies may look slightly undercooked in the middle.  Do not overbake).
  7. Set the cookie sheets on a rack to cool.  Cookies freeze beautifully.  (In fact, FHE and I prefer them straight from the freezer – slightly harder but just as chewy.) 

***

Healthful Chicken Pot Pie Filling

Ingredients

    1/2 to whole large onion, diced
    Frozen peas and carrots, quantity as you wish
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    3/4 cups milk
    1/4-1/2 cup chicken stock
    splash dry sherry (optional)
    1-2 tsp thyme or poultry seasoning
    1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    1-2 cups of shredded or cubed Rotisserie chicken (for best flavor)
    Pasta, rice or bread to serveDirections

Directions

  1. Add a couple tablespoons olive oil to hot pan (or 1-2 tablespoonds of oil and butter, each). 
  2. Saute onions until translucent and then stir in peas and carrots.   
  3. Add flour and cook for 30 seconds until well absorbed. 
  4. Add liquids and whisk vigorously.  Add additional broth if too thick. 
  5. Mix in seasonings and shredded or cubed chicken.
  6. Serve with bread, over rice or mixed into pasta (as a sauce).  Or as a traditional savory pie.  And, of course, alongside your greenery of choice.

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