Posts tagged pasta

Cooking tip: Garlic pasta

Awhile back I posted about making Thai Coconut Soup from the Sriracha Cookbook. The recipe called for minced ginger, but feeling lazy I just put in a whole piece, peeled, on a skewer. I figured the ginger flavor would seep into the boiling broth and I could get out of mincing.

Making pasta the other day I thought I might try the same idea: put a large garlic clove into the boiling water and let the flavor give some zest to my plain-old penne.

Well I didn’t want to waste a perfectly good clove of softened garlic, so then I smushed it with a fork after the pasta was done and added it to my sauce. Often when I use raw garlic I tend to add it too soon or too late to sauces and sautes–either burning it (and trust me, burnt garlic is not tasty) or inadvertently leaving little, pungent uncooked chunks of garlic that surprise and repulse my kiddos.

Now as far as giving the pasta a garlic kick, well, didn’t happen. Or at least I didn’t notice any change in the pasta flavor. Ditto for my family. But I did like using the cooked garlic in whatever else I was making to go with the pasta like sauteed veggies, creamy sauces, or even smushed then mixed with fresh shredded Parmesan cheese and stirred into the pasta. One last idea: you can easily blend it with butter to spread on Italian bread.

Lately, I just toss the garlic in and fish it out once the pasta is cooked

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30 minute Italian shrimp

My youngest used to love shrimp but now she’s going through denial. So we’ve been having shrimp a lot lately. Even with our ‘you’ve-got-to-eat-at-least-a-bite’ rule around our house she hasn’t budged to sampling more than she has to. I have hope: As a kid, I didn’t like shrimp either.

Recipe

Prep time: 30 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients

1 pound spaghetti

20-30 medium raw shrimp

1 clove garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon olive oil or butter

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1/2 lemon (optional)

1 jar spaghetti sauce

Directions

  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
  2. Prepare the shrimp. Note: I usually add half a bag of the medium-sized shrimp from Costco into warm water while I’m making the pasta. By the time the pasta is done, the shrimp is thawed. I removed the tails and dry off the shrimp before sauteing.
  3. Bring the olive oil to medium-high heat in a large skillet.
  4. Place the shrimp and garlic in the pan and cook until the shrimp begins to turn pink, about 3 minutes. Add a squirt of fresh lemon juice and the cayenne pepper, then pour the spaghetti sauce (Barilla is my fav) into the pan and cook until heated through, about 4 minutes.
  5. Serve the shrimp over the spaghetti.

Kids’ reactions: Well, you know what my youngest said. My teen gave it two thumbs up; my tween was mediocre on this one. She ate it, didn’t love it. But Mr. Squid (not technically a kid) was a fan and even finished off the last three shrimp left in the pan.

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Five-ingredient baked ziti

Five ingredients. One prep time. Three meals. What does it add up to? Easy baked ziti. I make a big batch of baked ziti one night that fills one, 9 x 13″ pan (for dinner that night and leftovers the next), then I fill a 9×9″ aluminum foil pan that I freeze and save to eat a couple weeks later. The only hard part about this meal is mixing all of the ingredients together before putting ‘em in the pans (hint: grab your biggest bowl).

A few notes on baked ziti:

•The noodles really do make a difference. Forget the penne, rigatoni, or even macaroni, ziti pasta is best.
•This dish is simple to make meatless. Skip the Italian sausage and use roasted veggies or spinach.
•I often add in spinach to this dish. The kids don’t seem to notice, plus I really like spinach.
•You can add as many different kinds of cheeses as you want–the last time I made this I put in Truffle Cheese (thank you Trader Joe’s!).
Baked ziti has all of the same flavors as lasagna, without all the work. So if your family likes lasagna, they’ll love baked ziti.

Recipe

Prep time: 25 minutes + 40 minutes baking + 15 minutes cooling

Servings: 10+

Ingredients

1 16-ounce package ziti pasta

1 16-ounce container ricotta cheese

3 cups mozzarella cheese, divided

2 24-ounce jars spaghetti sauce

1 pound sweet Italian sausage (optional, but recommended)

Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. Cook the Italian sausage, breaking up the meat into bite-sized pieces with the spatula.
  2. Cook the pasta according the package directions. Note: this recipe works best with ziti cooked to al dente, make sure not to overcook the pasta.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the cooked pasta and sausage, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, all of the ricotta cheese and both jars of spaghetti sauce.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  5. Coat a 9×13” pan with baking spray. Pour the pasta mixture into the pan and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese and additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.
  6. Place the filled 9×13” pan on a cookie sheet to make it easier to get in and out of the oven. (The pan will be heavy!)
  7. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the cheese becomes golden brown.
  8. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

*We have a winner to the Parents Need to Eat Too cookbook giveaway! Laura will be receiving her copy soon.

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Cooking with anise and fennel

Sometimes labelled anise or fennel in the produce section

New Year’s resolution alert: yup, I was getting into a little food rut in December (possibly a happily induced sugar coma) so I’m refocusing myself on what I enjoy most–trying new foods or playing around with old ones and encouraging my kids to do the same.

Ingredient: anise or fennel

So let’s start the new year off with anise. You’ll find anise hanging out with the Swiss chard and spinach in the produce section. It looks almost like a giant-sized green onion with stalks that have small pieces gutting off that reminded me of dill.

Flavor

Mild licorice. Now here’s where it gets a little confusing: anise and fennel are not the same vegetable, although from what I’ve found you can use the two interchangeably in recipes. They have a similar flavor, although fennel is said to have a stronger licorice hit. When thumbing through recipes, I’ve often found fennel on the ingredient list, but not as often in the produce section.

Not to confuse the matter even more, but there is also a spice used typically in Asian cooking called anise, or star anise that looks like a dried flower you can grate and use in stir-fries or sweets. For a complete discussion about anise, I found WHFoods.com a good primer.

How to use anise or fennel

I’ve just started playing around with this new-to-me ingredient. So far, I’ve used it as a filling along with French entrees, like pairing it sauteed mushrooms as a filling in buckwheat crepes (recipe to come) and in Italian dishes that are already packed with vegetables. But you can also slice it thin to add zing to salads or coleslaw.

It was Compari on the Park‘s chef Zachary Yaquinto that got me to try anise–his recipe for fagioli calabrese calls for fennel, but since I could only find anise, I thought it was worth a try.

Wash the vegetable thoroughly before removing the feathery stalks from the bulb. Chop the bulb in half and then slice thin to use in the fagioli calabrese. I saved the top to use as a garnish. But you can also use them as you might fresh herbs–I’m thinking they’d be excellent in a homemade vinaigrette. Note: the licorice flavor is stronger when it’s used raw and becomes sweet when sauteed.

Kids reaction

The first time I made the pasta fagioli calabrese with the anise my teenager noticed the licorice undertones right away–and didn’t like them. She still ate it, but mentioned she’d rather have less anise and more spinach (I know, more spinach? I think I’m actually raising my kids to love spinach as much as I do). The next time I served it, my oldest didn’t even notice the anise. And my younger two who hadn’t liked their pasta mingling with so many other ingredients had no comment on the anise but were diligently trying to pick out any red peppers they found. By the end of the meal my oldest professed this was ‘one of her favorite dishes.’ Beyond the anise, the other big winner in this meal was the white canneloni beans (my substitute instead of butter beans). The combination of sweet anise, little tube pasta, beans, spinach, Parmesan cheese, and Italian sausage went over well with my crew (even if I had to eat all the red peppers my youngest two corralled to the side of their plates).

Your turn–have you cooked with anise/fennel? What did you think?

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Mac ‘n cheese from Zingerman’s Roadhouse

Zingerman's Roadhouse Mac 'n cheese

For the perfect holiday comfort food, try James Beard award-winning chef Alex Young’s recipe for homemade mac ‘n cheese. While you might not have cheddar cheese on hand from Grafton Village Cheese Company like they do at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Young serves guests this rich pasta dish, but for something special you might want to look around for a locally produced cheddar cheese.

Here’s a few more ideas to add some pizzazz to your mac ‘n cheese: add bits of crisped bacon on top before serving and/or pour the mac ‘n cheese into a casserole dish, sprinkle with another 1 cup of shredded cheese and bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the cheese on top is browned.

Recipe

Prep + cook time: 25-35 minutes

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

1 lb. macaroni
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup diced onion
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 lb. grated raw milk cheddar cheese (Zingerman’s uses two-year-old raw milk cheddar from Grafton Village)
2 tsp. olive oil
Coarse sea salt

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta and stir well. Cook for about 13 minutes (if using Martelli) or until the pasta is done. Drain it and set it aside.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter for the sauce in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat (be careful not to scorch the butter). Add the onion and bay leaf and saute until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the bay leaf. Add the flour and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly.
  4. Slowly add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly to avoid lumping. When the flour and milk have been completely combined, stir in the cream. Keep the mixture at a gentle simmer (not at a high boil) until it thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the mustard, cheddar cheese and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes and set aside.
  6. In a heavy bottom skillet, over medium-high heat, get the pan very hot. Add olive oil and, when it begins to smoke, add the cheese sauce and drained cooked noodles. Toss thoroughly and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until you have approximately 15% of the mixture golden brown.
  7. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Remove from heat.
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Fagioli Calabrese from Compari’s on the Park

Compari’s on the Park chef, Tony Yaquinto, shared his restaurant’s favorite recipe for fagioli calabrese.

Recipe
Ingredients

2 Tbs julienne fennel
2 Tbs julienne hungarian pepper (hot)
1 Link Hot Italian Sausage (cooked & chopped)
1 Tbs roasted red pepper
pinch chopped fresh garlic
3 Tbs butter beans
1 Cup fresh spinach
1/8 cup chicken stock
1/8 cup white wine (substitute: white grape juice)
2 cups cooked tubetti pasta
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
Directions

  1. Saute fennel, hungarian pepper and italian sausage in canola oil, cook until the veggies are tender.
    Add roasted red peppers, garlic, beans, and spinach, then cook till beans are hot and spinach cooks down.
  2. Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and white wine (or white grape juice).
  3. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add pasta, butter, and Parmesan cheese; simmer till creamy.
  4. Top with fresh Parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper (or crushed red pepper).
  5. Enjoy this Southern italian favorite with fresh Italian bread with butter.

Keep reading during MKES’s Chef Week, tomorrow I’ll be starting a cool giveaway!

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Wok your pasta

Break out the wok! Why haven’t I been using it more? Actually my last one ended up in the donation pile after I weeded out essential kitchen tools from non-essentials during a move. I just hadn’t been using it all that much.

But since we’ve been getting into stir-fries lately (Happy Chinese New Year everyone!), I just had to give woks another try. First, they’re pretty inexpensive as far as pans go. Second, the newer versions aren’t like my old standard–the bottom is flat and then the sides curve upward (my old one was hard to balance on a gas stovetop).

After reading a recent article in the March issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray about using your wok for more than just Asian dishes, I figured it was time. Enter the wok. For quick-cooking food, the wok beats out my skillet, I’m happy to say. And as far as pasta dishes go it’s so much easier to toss a sauce and pasta together in a wok versus the flat-bottomed, spill-over-prone skillet.

Last night I made one of my favorite pasta dishes–gnocchi with ricotta, spinach & fontina cheese–in the wok. It sauteed everything perfectly.

Are you ready to get woking? (Forgive me, I had to use at least one lame pun.)

The key with using the wok for any dish is that the ingredients have to either cook fast or already be cooked before you add them in. So for pasta, you should cook it first in a deep, stockpot and then toss it with your sauce in the wok and any other ingredients you want to add in, like maybe diced ham, fresh basil, grated Parmesan cheese, ricotta cheese…

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Kids Eating….sauteed spinach

I love spinach nearly as much as I do dark chocolate. Seriously, when there was the E. Coli outbreak back in 2006 linked to bagged spinach I felt like I went through leafy green withdrawl (so sad to see it stripped from all the grocery store shelves—if only I were a decent gardener!). Romaine lettuce, iceberg, butter lettuce, they’re okay, but the thick heft and chewiness of leaf of spinach, simply tasty.

Not so for my kids. “This tastes like you’re eating leaves,” my oldest said once. “Well… you are,” I explained. Of course, that didn’t make her any more eager to eat it. So I add spinach into my foods, but I don’t push it with my girls.

Sometimes, it’s all about the recipe. The other day I had a duel challenge—my kids aren’t huge gnocchi fans and well, you already know their thoughts on my favorite veggie. But I wanted a meal with both. I made them plain pasta and for my husband and me I tried something new. For each of my girls I put a little of my new creation on their plates and expected to eat their leftovers later. No leftovers. In fact, my two oldest girls went back for seconds—we’re talking sautéed spinach here. And it wasn’t a fluke. I made the recipe again this week and sure enough they ate it. I wish I could say the recipe was something terribly creative and unique, but taking a few extra steps was what made the dish yummy. That and I didn’t try to tweak it for my girls, I just made something I wanted to eat.

My daughter with a second helping

*Note—for this recipe I tried a stir-fry technique with Italian food. I sauteed the veggies first (the spinach) and moved it to the sides of the pan as you would in a wok. Then I add the main ingredient (the gnocchi) to the center of the pan and then tossed in my sauce ingredients. Couldn’t have been simpler and less mess to clean up too.

Fast & Easy Creamy Sauteed Spinach with Ricotta and Fontina Gnocchi

Ingredients

1 17.6 ounce package gnocchi

4 cups spinach

1 cup ricotta

¾ cup fontina

1 clove garlic

1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil, separated

ground pepper and salt to taste

2 Tablespoons either half and half or cream (optional)

Fresh, chopped basil (optional)

Directions

Cook the gnocchi according the package directions.

Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan and bring to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds before adding the spinach (I don’t even bother pulling them into smaller pieces I just throw them whole into the pan). Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or just until the spinach leaves just barely begin to wilt. Push the spinach to the outer sides of the pan and add another ½ tablespoon of oil. Add the cooked gnocchi to the middle of the pan. Let the gnocchi cook for about 4 minutes before moving them around.

Now that the gnocchi have had time to sauté, turn the heat down to medium. Add the ricotta cheese in dollops on top of the gnocchi and sprinkle with the cheese.  Don’t mix the ingredients until you see cheese just beginning to melt. Sprinkle with pepper and salt, stir briefly until the cheeses mix with the rest of the ingredients. For a creamier sauce you can add a few tablespoons half and half or heavy cream at this point. You can also toss in fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and/or a few red pepper flakes. Serve.

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