Category Archives: Pasta

It Was Time for Lunch.

I came home this afternoon from having spent most of the morning at banks, so I was already cranky and kind of depressed, on top of being ravenously hungry. It was time for lunch. It was time for comfort lunch. So I started prepping my favorite comfort ingredients – pasta, garlic, cheese, and pancetta. And then I looked in the fridge and found another zucchini and some more green beans, leftover from the CSA haul this week.

Liiiiight bulllllb.
(from “Despicable Me?” Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?)

Before I knew it, I not only felt a thousand times better about my day, but I also had a delicious, kinda-healthy lunch. I guess you could make it without the pancetta, but I don’t want to think about it. 😉

 

It was just perfect with the Italian lemonade, too. Magnifico!

I also just posted the recipe on the Recipes page. Enjoy these last few weeks of summer with some good food!

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Today’s post is brought to you by the letters C, S, and A.

This week’s haul from the CSA:

  • Roma tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Green beans
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumber
  • Garlic
  • Chives
  • Callaloo
  • Bell peppers & jalapeños

 

First up? A stir fry. I cook stir-fry’s all the time, but it always – always – tastes so much better with actual fresh veggies. I can’t help but notice, every time I bring in the goodies from the CSA pick-up, that the veggies are so oddly shaped. I wonder, are they so visually unappealing that the local grocery stores wouldn’t carry them?

CSA veggies pre-stir fry

CSA stir fry finished

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The tomatoes from the farm had been picked at such a perfect time that when I picked them out, they were already perfectly soft, so I needed to go ahead and use them quickly. Having just finished off several quart-sized freezer bags full of chopped tomatoes I’d frozen a while back, I was very eager to make some homemade pasta sauce from scratch. So I did.

tomato sauce

We made tomato sauce in a similar way with the kids at cooking camp last week, but when I went to write it down for the cookbook we gave them at the end of the week, I couldn’t even bring myself to reveal my favorite, sorta-secret ingredients! So this sauce – one of my very favorite things in the world – has been on my mind a lot lately. Imagine my delight at seeing those ripe, delicious-looking Romas sitting in those crates!

Making my favorite sauce tonight must have also caused the whimsical feeling that made me decide not to just scoop the sauce onto some pasta on a plate. I found a covered ramekin somewhere in the dark recesses of my cabinets and made myself a mini baked pasta casserole, with rosemary-olive oil breadcrumbs (I made those, too) and Parmiggiano Reggiano.

baked pasta

The cuteness of this dish has made me all sentimental, so I’ll be spending the rest of the evening curled up with a bit more wine and a very sappy, (and also a favorite) movie, trying not to think about how soon I’ll be back at work …


Dinner & A Movie

Of course I eat my green veggies …

photo 1 (12)…just cooked in pork fat …

photo 2 (14)…covered in cream sauce…

photo 3 (9)…and served over pasta.

(give me just a little credit … the reason it looks kinda thin is because I used skim milk. But then there was alllllll that cheese I dumped in there …)

 

Since it is finally streaming on Netflix now, I figured I’d take advantage of a night with no plans and cook a lovely pasta dish and watch my favorite Italian movie (and definitely one of my all-time favorites):

image

The pasta was really good, all joking aside. I started with a base (other than the pasta) that is one of my mother’s Thanksgiving go-to’s: green beans and onions sauteed in bacon. Only for mine, I used pancetta, green beans, and asparagus, then skipped the onions and went for loads of garlic instead. She also tosses hers in balsamic vinegar – I tossed mine in “light” cream sauce.

In the spirit of my most recent culinary adventure in homebrewing (we’re currently brewing our first batch – an IPA), I had a glass of Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA with this little creamy pasta concoction. It cuts through the cream and cheese and pasta heaviness beautifully.

My main preoccupation lately has been getting ready to start the first batch of homebrewed beer with my friend Lisa, so that’s where most of the latest updates are. If any of you readers out there have any experience in homebrewing, I’d so appreciate your feedback! And for those of you who have no idea about homebrewing, you can read it and laugh at our mistakes while learning some new vocabulary. Fun for everyone!


Spaghetti Sorta-Bolognese

I was going to say how I made yet another yummy, Sunday night, wintertime comfort food. But since it was almost 70 degrees here today, I don’t think I can claim that. I can, however claim that it was yummy.

Sweet Spaghetti Bolognese

My little summer-menu-in-the-winter project will continue this week; I’ve got the ingredients for garlic & lemon broiled chicken, and a fresh mushroom risotto, and possibly a stripped-down paella. I also got plenty of suggestions from you all and from friends about the meals you most enjoy in the summer that you wish you could eat more in the winter – I’ll be posting that, and a bunch of recipes, as soon as I have the time to sit and write them all out! I’m looking forward to it! And after the drop-dead gorgeous day we had here today, I’m looking forward to the real thing, too!

Sweet Sorta-Bolognese Sauce
(no measurements – just do it!)
-Roughly equal parts ground beef and crushed tomatoes (1/4 lb beef + 1 small can tomatoes = approx. 3-4 servings)
-Fresh Italian parsley, basil, & oregano (or a smaller amount of the dried stuff)
-Tomato paste and/or puree
-Crushed whole garlic cloves
-EV olive oil
-Red wine
-Balsamic vinegar

Heat the garlic & oil (about medium) together and cook for about 10 minutes – just don’t let it brown/burn. Remove garlic cloves. Meanwhile, brown the ground beef in a separate pan. Add the tomatoes, in all forms, to the oil. Bring to boil. Add herbs & a dash of red wine. Lower heat slightly & simmer for about 15 minutes. When meat is browned, use a slotted spoon to move it into the sauce (you don’t need the excess oil at this point). Stir, then cover the sauce & simmer another 5 minutes. Add a couple of dashes of balsamic vinegar, stir, and simmer another 5 minutes. Serve over pasta and garnish with fresh grated Parmesan.

 

 


“That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

I have visited Italy once in my entire life. And I only visited one place – Rome. I was there as a student on holiday, which meant I was broke. I also hadn’t yet come to appreciate food and cooking as much as I soon would. So the food I remember the most from my very brief time in Rome is gelato.

Just to give you an idea where this story is going, there’s been an explosion in gelato joints here in the last year or two, including one in my neighborhood. And I’m not denying, gelato is delicious. But in these last couple of years, it just so happens that I’ve been way more interested in actual food and learning about actual food – Italian and otherwise – than in jumping in the hipster, gelato-flavored bandwagon.

You may remember a post I wrote a while ago on the classic Roman dish, cacio e pepe. The more I have researched and read about Italian cooking, the more I’m drawn to traditional Roman fare. I love its simplicity, and the fact that it relies on so few ingredients, yet demands such high-quality. I love that it’s been truly “traditional” for centuries – it seems like the meaning of “traditional” changes a lot depending on how much food the restaurant is trying to sell.

Personally, I have no claims to any real, substantial Italian heritage. I come from a family of storytellers, and there is a story or two among some of us about some distant connection to Italy. I’ve never been able to really believe it. But maybe there’s something to be said for the fact that I seem to be drawn to Italian food and Italian cooking and Italian dishes. I didn’t learn to make gnocchi from an Italian grandma, or grow up eating simple peasant soups – nothing so dramatic. But when I think about my favorite ingredients, such as the ones I cooked with this evening, I have to wonder.

Pasta alla gricia is, like cacio e pepe, a classic, traditional Roman dish, and like its cousin, it’s ridiculously simple (and ridiculously good). I read up on it before I got ready to cook it, even though I knew I didn’t have the ingredients on hand to make it authentically. I learned that it’s actually not traditionally made with pancetta, but with guanciale, but I wouldn’t have the faintest idea where to even ask for guanciale around here, not because I’m snobby, but because I’ve never had it, never seen it, and I’m pretty sure my go-to “butchers”  (one of which is Harris Teeter, y’all) haven’t either.

Pasta alla gricia

You should cook this dish because the base is pancetta and olive oil. Seriously, what could be better? How can you go wrong? You start with pancetta and olive oil and you add pasta and cheese. Do I need to keep trying to explain why this dish is amazingly delicious??

Someday I’ll go back to Rome and eat in an actual trattoria and order this. But for tonight, a crazy-cold night in January, with a nice cold craft beer (Bell’s Amber Ale, in case you’re wondering) … this’ll do nicely.


And No One Gets Hurt.

Been reading up on “basics” lately. I have to say, as I tackle some new recipes (which, I hope, will become the bases of some new go-to dishes for me), I’m pretty pleased at how many “basic” things I’ve already picked up by this point. Between both watching my mother and reading various cookbooks over the years, I think I’m doing pretty well, and it’s got me thinking about my “life” in food.

Would I ever accept an opportunity to go to culinary school? Would I want to be a restaurant cook, or even a full-fledged chef?

No, I can say with very-near certainty.

Can I learn as well in my own kitchen, or become as masterful, on my own as those who do go to culinary school, or those who give their blood, sweat, and tears in various fine restaurants?

Again, I say: No.

But if I’ve learned anything as my life in food has evolved over the last few years, it’s that it doesn’t matter where the education comes from, because I’m just enjoying it as it comes, and that’s good enough. People who’ve known me for a long time know that “good enough” is hard for me to accept. But my “relationship” with food has been one of the most tumultuous of any other in my life over the last few years, and certainly the most successful, if “success” means we each reach a happy medium and move on with our lives and no one gets hurt.

There aren’t many things in my life that make me happier than someone tasting my food and saying they loved it. I’m past the point where I even wonder if they’re telling the truth. Who cares?

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I realized on Sunday morning that I have a ridiculous amount of random, half-empty boxes of dried pasta, in various shapes & forms. Time to start getting some of them out of the way. So, it’s pasta week in my house!

I’ve been putting my new favorite cooking app (and I have a bunch of them, to be sure; I’ll post a list sometime), How To Cook Everything. Buying that app, by the way, is kind of a no-brainer if you’ve ever used Bittman’s actual How To Cook Everything books. Anyway, my pasta dishes of the last two nights have come directly from that app.

First up was the Pasta with Eggplant and Balsamic Vinegar. Even with my pan

Pasta with Eggplant & Balsamic Vinegar

being too hot when I added the vinegar, this ended up being delicious. To add to the deliciousness, I used a riccioli pasta – a shape I’d never seen before – that was a gift from a friend of mine. It somehow tasted fresher than your average dried, boxed pasta. Eggplant & balsamic, of course, is a match made in food heaven. In this dish, biting into the eggplant tasted super smooth, and along with the wonderfully sweet balsamic, had a flavor all its own that stood up to the heaviness of the pasta really well. Some Pecorino is a must.

 

"Mother In Law's Tongue" Pasta with Mushrooms

Then tonight I did Pasta with Mushrooms, which I admit right now I made some adjustments to, partly due to ingredients available and partly due to me not reading the directions carefully. Regardless, it was great and when I make it again more carefully, I’m sure it will be even better. I had another “special” type of pasta, also a gift, that I wanted to use. I had no idea if the vegetables used to color the pasta would influence the flavor of the dish, but I went for it anyway (it didn’t, but it was also somehow way better than regular old dry pasta). I used shiitakes, but should have used more than just the one package I had bought. I misread the recipe and used a full cup of chicken broth instead of 1/2 cup, but I realized it quickly and drained off some of the liquid before it started to cook down, but that meant losing a bit of the now-mushroom-and-shallot-flavored oil. Oh well. It was still really, really good.

If I had to go to work tomorrow I’d be really excited to open up my lunch bag and find leftovers of either one waiting for me. But tomorrow, like today, is a snow day, so I’ll be doing the next best thing – probably eating lunch in my pj’s.

 

***UPDATE: 1/11/11 – Recipes Added for Pasta with Mushrooms and Pasta with Eggplant and Balsamic. See Recipes page for more!


A Little Bit of Everything for 2011

**UPDATE: Links to recipes added. 🙂 **

I rang in 2011 with good friends and good food – an excellent start! I brought both sweet and savory as my contributions to the party.

Maple-glazed gingerbread cookies

Lowcountry mac & cheese "cupcakes"

I’ve made the Gingerbread Cookies a million times (or seems so anyway), so I wanted to jazz them up a bit with some icing. The cookies themselves turn out a bit extra ginger-y, so the icing had to be sweet, but not bland. I think it needs some work still, but using a bit of maple syrup, along with the confectioners sugar and a bit of butter, seemed to do really enhance the flavor of the cookies, as well as turn plain old gingerbread into a very rich dessert. I personally think they’re delicious with vanilla ice cream.

As for the “cupcakes,” I used my own recipe, but borrowed the idea of serving them up in cupcake liners from Kate at Framed Cooks – brilliant idea, a definite crowd pleaser!

I’m back to work this week – yuck – so tomorrow I’ll be back to cooking a week’s worth of lunches too. This week, vegetarian lentil soup, which means I’ll be cooking a soup base without pork fat of any kind, unfortunately. No bacon, no pancetta. It’s a new year, so we’ll call this my attempt at a healthy new year’s resolution. And we’ll just see how long it lasts.

Speaking of seeing how long things may last, I’ve “resolved” to do WordPress’ 2011 posting challenge, to post at least once a week. Here goes. 🙂