Category Archives: PASTA RECIPES

ITALIAN SAUSAGE, SPINACH, AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

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Of course you already know that I am a pasta fanatic. And in all honesty, this casserole is one of the reasons why I can’t seem to stay away from any type of dish that consists of a sauce and various other accoutrements that surround shaped and boiled semolina flour and water. This casserole has everything I find necessary to fulfill my “must have pasta” need. It has meat, veggies, cheese, and a killer cream sauce. When combined, it is just a fantastic amalgamation of flavors. And it’s pretty too!

So next time you’re in the mood for pasta, and especially when you have a small army to feed, make this dish. Now, I’m not going to tell you that it‘s a quick dish to prepare. Because it does take some dedicated kitchen time. But I will say that it’s an easy recipe to follow, and not too expensive compared to a lot of lasagna type recipes that call for vast amounts of expensive cheese. Plus it’s a lovely change from a tomato sauce based pasta dish. And, this pasta can be made well ahead and kept in your refrigerator until needed.

So everything considered, it’s a great dish to have in your special treat and company repertoire.

So give it a try. What’s to lose? Well for sure it’s not weight! Because this definitely is not a low calorie casserole. But then, I’ve never enjoyed a low calorie casserole in my life, so what would I know about how to create one? Never mind – just enjoy!

  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. fresh button mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ tsp. oregano
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T. minced fresh parsley
  • 10 oz. fresh baby spinach, chopped
  • ½ c. unsalted butter
  • 6 T. flour
  • 2 c. milk
  • ¼ c. dry white wine
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. beef base
  •  c. dry penne pasta, cooked al dente
  • 2 c. grated Mozzarella cheese
  • paprika

Heat olive oil in a large fry pan. Add the Italian sausage and cook until browned. Add onion and mushrooms. Fry until the onion starts to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Stir in the oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, parsley, and spinach. Remove pan from heat. In a medium sized saucepan melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Let cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually add the milk. Cook over low heat until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in the white wine, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, and beef base. Add to the sausage mixture, along with the cooked pasta. Adjust seasoning. Scoop into a lightly greased 9×13-inch pan or casserole dish. Top with Mozzarella cheese and sprinkle with paprika. Bake uncovered in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbly and the cheese topping has melted and started to brown. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Note: This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily. It can also be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator until about 2 hours before you need to pop it in the oven. Letting the casserole come to room temperature before heating allows all the ingredients to warm more evenly.

 

 

RICE AND PASTA PILAF

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OK, it’s time to fess up. When I am trailer camping, I almost always buy packaged rice mixes as a side dish for dinners. They are easy to store, simple to prepare, and usually make enough for 2 dinners. And one of my favorites is Rice-a-Roni. (Remember, I never said I was a gourmet!) And truly, there are some pretty good rice/risotto mixes on the market today. But even though they are perfect for camping, they are expensive (for what you get), and have that subtle background taste that I really don’t enjoy. I call that flavor – “packaged”. You find it in lots of products, from pancake mix to cake mix and beyond. (And yes, I still use cake mixes occasionally. In fact, some of my favorite dessert recipes start with a cake mix. But I digress…..)

So I have determined, after performing my own very unscientific analysis on the subject, that the unpleasant background flavor I don’t appreciate comes from the ingredients that I can’t pronounce and were never a part of my grandmother’s era. (My usual guideline for what I want to put in my mouth!)

So while looking for a fairly tame side dish to go with a simple ground beef pattie and steamed green beans dinner I was planning for last evening, I went on line for inspiration. And what I found was a recipe on Allrecipes by Sarah Billings for a homemade Rice-a-Roni. Oh the joy of finding one of my favorite guilty pleasures that I could duplicate at home. Of course I added/changed a couple of ingredients from the source recipe, and what I prepared was not quite like what comes in the little red boxes. It was much better! No “packaged” flavor. No ingredients that only a mad scientist could pronounce, and the right price since I had all the ingredients on hand. (Always a bonus!)

So if you too love a simple rice side dish, this is the recipe for you. And to change it up a bit, or even make it into a main dish, just add some cooked meat or seafood, additional veggies (mushrooms come to mind), a bit of whatever kind of cheese you happen to have, and you have a wonderful dish that is easy, fast, and economical to prepare. And bottom line, your kids are going to love it. It has that creamy mouth feel that makes macaroni and cheese such a favorite with children.

And just for the record, I am still going to buy packaged rice mixes when on trailer trips. But when I am at home, you can bet your last Golden Grain $1.00 off coupon that I am going to continue making all of my rice side dishes from scratch. And this recipe is now on the top of my list!   

  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • ½ c. orzo pasta
  • ½ c. uncooked white rice  
  • ½ c. diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 c. chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. seasoned salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 sliced green onions
  • ¼ c. toasted slivered almonds

Melt the butter in a lidded pan over medium-low heat. Add the orzo pasta and rice and fry until just starting to turn golden brown. Stir in onion and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth, seasoned salt, and pepper. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender, and the liquid has been absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the green onions and slivered almonds. Adjust seasoning. Let stand for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

CREAMY SMOKED SALMON PASTA

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As I have grown older, my stomach has started to rebel against certain foods such as those high in fat. And my lower GI tract, which until a few years ago was able to accommodate almost anything I sent its way, has now seemingly turned against me. So, contrary to the popular belief I once held, my brain is no longer in charge of my body. That happy distinction has now shifted to (you guessed it) my lower GI tract!  And just to confirm my long held belief that God has an ironic sense of humor, my taste buds remain unimpaired. So, my mouth still craves a buttery and creamy pasta sauce, while other parts of my body are praying that I can withstand temptation. Sometimes I feel like a royal battle is being staged in my body with no consideration being paid to what I still desire and need. (Perhaps that’s the true definition of growing old!)

Regardless, I have decided that I am going to fight for my rights. I still want to enjoy creamy pasta sauces, but I must respect the fact that my brain GI tract probably knows what’s best for me in the long run. Hence, this recipe.

So if you too love pasta, but are trying to reduce the amount of fat in your diet, may I suggest this recipe the next time a creamy and rich tasting pasta sauce calls your name. With this recipe, you can actually listen next time it happens!

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 lg. finely chopped shallots (about ½ cup)
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • ¾ c. light sour cream (Tillamook “light” sour cream is really very good)
  • scant 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tsp. dill weed, or more to taste
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt  
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ c. frozen petite peas brought to room temperature
  • 4 oz. smoked salmon, cut into small chunks
  • ½ c. grated Parmesan cheese + more for passing  
  • 12 oz. pasta*, cooked al dente (reserve about a ½ cup of the pasta water)

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add wine and simmer until reduced to about ½ cup, about 6 minutes. Whisk in the sour cream, lemon juice, dill weed, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 1 minute or until the sauce is hot. Stir in the peas, salmon, and Parmesan cheese. Remove from heat and add the hot al dente pasta and about ¼ cup of the hot pasta water. (Add more pasta water as required.) Adjust seasoning and serve immediately. 

*penne, farfalle, orecchiette, conchiglioni (seashell shaped), farfalloni (bow tie shaped), etc.

And remember, you never want your cooked pasta to wait for your sauce to be done. If anything has to wait, be sure it’s the sauce.

RICOTTA CHEESE GNOCCHI IN A GORGONZOLA CREAM SAUCE

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I believe most of you already know that I absolutely adore pasta and sauces. And why not? They are part of the five main food groups along with coffee, chocolate, and bacon. So of course I love them. They also happen to be the main reason I am filled to the brim of slimness. But that’s another story better held for another day.

Because today, I want the spotlight to be shining directly on this dish, which includes both a fabulous pasta which can be served with a variety of sauces and an incredible cream sauce which can be paired with a multitude of various pasta shapes. (See – it’s really not just all about me all the time!)

The gnocchi recipe is from Chef Geoffrey Zakarian. The sauce, well it’s a combination of recipes I have been preparing for years. But this time, the sauce was unbelievably delicious. And the gnocchi? Well let’s just say that if Mr. Zakarian walked in my home today, I would be down on my knees kissing his feet! OK, maybe I exaggerate about kissing his feet. But I would probably become so effusive with my complements that he would prefer if I just kissed his feet than to listen to any more of my verbal barrage. (I’m sure some of you feel the same way about my written ramblings.) But I digress…..

But truly, this is the sort of dish you would expect to be served in an excellent Italian restaurant. The gnocchi are like little soft pillows of flavor. The sauce is creamy and so tasty. And when garnished with toasted walnuts, it even has that crunch we all so dearly love.

So next time you want to treat your family and friends, fix this recipe and watch everyone at your table roll their eyes or gently sigh in response to the amazing flavors and textures in this pasta dish. And believe me, if I can make this gnocchi, you can too. All it takes is a little leap of faith in yourself. And of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s about the easiest and fastest pasta to make. No pasta machine required. Just a bit of extra flour, a pair of hands that don’t mind getting a little covered in flour, and a sharp knife or pastry scraper. And preparing the sauce? Very simple. Just have all your ingredients ready when you begin your sauce. You don’t want to be chopping parsley or toasting walnuts at the last minute. Have fun with this recipe and happy eating.

Gnocchi:

  • 1 (15-oz,) container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • ½ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1½ T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1¼ c. unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • semolina flour, for dusting 
  • Combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan, olive oil, eggs, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the all-purpose flour in 3 parts, stirring after each addition. Dust a work surface (I use a pastry cloth) with plenty of flour. Scoop the dough out of the mixing bowl, and with floured hands, knead about 4 times before gently rolling into a ball. Cut into 4 quarters using a floured pastry scraper or a sharp knife.Roll the first wedge of dough into a dowel shape about 5/8-inch in diameter. Cut the “dowel” into 5/8-inch pieces. Place the gnocchi on a semolina or regular flour dusted baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Set aside.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen your sauce is ready, cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water for about 2 minutes. (The gnocchi will float to the top of the water when it’s done.) Transfer the cooked gnocchi directly into the pan with the sauce using a flat headed strainer or a slotted spoon. (Be sure not to crowd your pan. When I cook the gnocchi I divide the tiny little pillows of dough in half. And since the gnocchi only take a couple of minutes to cook, and your pot of water is still hot, there is no problem with the first set just languishing in the lovely sauce while the second set cooks. (Save a small amount of the pasta water in case your sauce is too thick.)Note: Uncooked gnocchi can be frozen for up to 2 weeks.

    Gorgonzola Cream Sauce:

    1½ c. heavy whipping cream

    1/8 tsp. kosher salt

    freshly ground black pepper

    smidgen* cayenne pepper

    5-6 oz. crumbled Gorgonzola cheese – not the creamy or dolce (sweet) kind

    ¼ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese

    3 T. chopped Italian parsley, divided

    ½ c. chopped toasted walnuts, opt.

Pour the cream, salt, pepper, and cayenne into a heavy pan, bring to a simmer, and cook until it reduces by almost a half, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in Gorgonzola cheese, stirring gently until almost melted.  Stir in most of the parsley and the Parmesan cheese. Carefully toss in the cooked gnocchi. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a little of the pasta cooking water.

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Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with walnuts and the remaining parsley. Serve immediately.

*For accuracy in measuring a smidgen, pinch, or a dash of something, get yourself a set of measuring spoons. They are ever so helpful. Plus being cute as can be. What I did one year was buy several sets and tied them into the bows of Christmas packages for my girls and other family members. And of course, kept a set for myself.  

 

SHRIMP AND FRIED TOFU PAD THAI

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The other evening I had just an overwhelming hankering for Pad Thai. But having never made it before, I had to go to the internet for help. I only knew that whatever else the dish contained, mine had to have bite sized pieces of shrimp, crispy cubes of fried tofu, and of course rice noodles.

One of the first recipes I found was from Jennifer Steinhauer. I added, subtracted, and generally had my way with her recipe, but the basic ingredients she used became the backbone for the recipe you find below.

Jennifer’s recipe, as did almost all the other Pad Thai recipes, called for tamarind paste. Now I live on an island with just one humble grocery store. And granted, our store does its best with the limited space it has, but I didn’t even bother looking for tamarind paste. So I researched substitutions. Apparently equal parts of fresh lime juice and brown sugar is close enough for practical purposes. (And in my case, practical purposes includes not having to drive all over the region looking for tamarind paste!)

So there is no tamarind paste in my recipe. And as far as my taste buds can tell, the basic flavor of a good Pad Thai sauce has not been jeopardized by the absence of this quintessential Pad Thai ingredient. (Plus from everything I read about tamarind paste, it’s a pain in the patootie to work with! And frankly, I no longer have the time or patience for high maintenance ingredients!)

So if you too love Pad Thai and would like to serve it at home, give this recipe a try. It has lots of wonderful flavor without being too loaded with fat or salt. And it’s a one dish meal. And if there’s any phrase I’m beginning to like more and more, it’s “one dish meal”. Of course in my case, that one dish should be a big old salad, not a plate of noodles. But one simply must listen to one’s own hankering every so often. How else are we to keep our souls alive if we neglect our bodies wishes all the time? Perhaps I should research that subject on the internet. (I’ll let you know if I find an answer that still allows me to eat Pad Thai once in a while!)

  • 8 oz. stir-fry rice stick noodles (the noodles are almost fettuccine-width)
  • ½ block firm tofu
  • 2 T. cornstarch, or more as needed
  • 1 T. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. chili oil
  • 2 T. fish sauce
  • 1 T. granulated sugar
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 2 T. fresh lime juice
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ c. water
  • 2 T. canola oil
  • 2 small garlic cloves, finely minced  
  • 2 tsp. minced ginger
  • ½ small carrot, grated
  • 1/3 c. finely chopped red bell pepper, opt.
  • 2 c. chopped baby spinach or shredded Napa cabbage
  • ¾ – 1 lb. uncooked large (16-20) shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into thirds
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 c. bean sprouts
  • 1/3 c. chopped salted peanuts
  • 2 T. sesame seeds, opt.  
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add the rice noodles; let stand for 8 minutes or until the noodles are soft but firm. (Basically al dente.) Rinse under cold water; drain well. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cut drained tofu into 1/4-inch slices and coat with cornstarch.  Combine the sesame oil and chili oil in a medium frying pan. Bring oil to medium heat and fry the tofu until both sides are a nice golden brown. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel. When cool cut into bite size pieces. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, granulated sugar, brown sugar, lime juice, crushed red pepper flakes, and water; set aside.

Set a wok or large fry pan over high heat for 1 minute, then add the canola oil and heat until the oil shimmers. Add the garlic, ginger, carrot, red bell pepper, and spinach; sauté for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and sauté until almost cooked through, 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add the noodles to the pan and stir-fry for 1 minute. Pour in the fish sauce and toss to coat the noodles. Cook until the noodles are hot, then push them to one side of the wok/pan and scramble the eggs in the remaining space. Add the reserved shrimp mixture, fried tofu chunks, green onions, bean sprouts, and half the peanuts. Toss to mix. Garnish with the remaining peanuts, sesame seeds, and lime wedges. Serve immediately.

 

 

BOLOGNESE SAUCE (RAGÙ ALLA BOLOGNESE)

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Once in a while I have an “aha moment”.  And usually when this happens I wonder why in the world I didn’t think of this (whatever it might be) sooner! Well one of those “aha moments” occurred this last week when I was preparing Lasagna Bolognese. I had prepared the red sauce for the lasagna and was giving it a taste to make sure the seasoning was correct, when it hit me that this easy sauce, with the possible addition of a grated carrot and a stalk of celery, would be perfect over al dente spaghetti. Add a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, and Bob’s your uncle!

And yes, I have other recipes for spaghetti sauce, but this particular recipe uses very simple ingredients, doesn’t take all day to simmer, and always turns out wonderfully. Plus it freezes beautifully.

Now I know what those of you who are Italian sauce experts will be thinking when you look at the list of ingredients. (And yes, I can read minds!) Where are all the rest of the herbs usually in a recipe for ragù, like thyme, rosemary, Italian seasoning, for example? And what about wine? Where’s the wine in this recipe? Well the answer is quite simple really. Additional herbs are simply not necessary. And frankly, wine can sometimes make an Italian red sauce taste too acidic.

Now don’t get me wrong, I sometimes use wine in my sauces, but this one just doesn’t need it. Neither does it need any sugar, especially if you use canned Italian tomatoes. And then, even if the sauce is a slight bit acidic, a tablespoon or two of butter right at the end takes care of the problem in a second. (I really do try to stay away from additional sugar if at all possible.)

So next time you want a hearty Italian meal that your entire family is sure to like, make up a big old batch of this sauce, boil up some spaghetti (al dente of course) and grate up some Parmesan cheese. Serve with a simple green salad, and perhaps some garlic bread, and you have a recipe for success. And of course, since you didn’t pour any wine in your sauce, you should have plenty to pour in your glass. And if this sauce doesn’t fairly scream out for a nice rich cabernet, pinot noir, or Sangiovese as an accompaniment, I’m not the proud owner of “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan. And I’ve got my copy right in front of me as I write!

  • 1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. bulk Italian sausage (either chicken or pork)
  • ½ c. chopped onion
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • 1 stalk celery, very finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 (28-oz.) can chopped or diced tomatoes (Italian tomatoes preferably)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ c. loosely packed fresh basil chiffonade*
  • 1-2 T. butter, optional

In a large covered sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the sausage, chop it into small pieces as it cooks, and sauté until nicely browned. Add the onion, carrot, and celery; sauté until the onion is soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Stir to combine ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes.  When the sauce is done, remove from heat, remove bay leaf, add basil, and adjust seasoning. If the sauce tastes acidic, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavor.  (Even better if made a day or two ahead.)

Please note: This is a very thick and chunky sauce. If you prefer a more “saucy” sauce, add a small can of tomato sauce along with the chopped or diced tomatoes.

*Chiffonade (pronounced “shif-oh-nod”) is a knife technique used for cutting herbs and leaf vegetables such as lettuce into thin strips or ribbons. To chiffonade leaves of basil, stack the basil leaves and roll them into a tube. Then carefully cut across the ends of the tube with your knife to produce fine strips.

 

ROASTED MUSHROOM LASAGNA WITH BÉCHAMEL SAUCE

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Since I knew I was going to have a large crowd (41) for last Sundays JazzVox concert, I decided to fix a big ole Italian meal. Complete with appetizers – Caponata Alla Siciliana, Marinated Goat Cheese, and Crab and Artichoke Dip. (I didn’t get a picture of the Crab and Artichoke Dip, so I am going to have to make it again very soon before I can post the recipe. Oh the sacrifices I must make for this blog!) Followed by Lasagna Bolognese, vegetarian Roasted Mushroom Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce (this recipe), romaine salad with Italian Salad Dressing (soon to be published), and Herb and Garlic Focaccia (again – soon to be published). And for dessert, Italian Dream Cake and Glazed Italian Lemon Cookies. Look for the cookie recipe in the near future also.

And for those of you who are looking at the menu and saying to yourself “is this woman crazy making all that food”, I offer a simple response. Yes she is! I mean – yes I am!

But if you are going to lavish food on 41 hungry people, 10 of whom are teenagers, you simply need to fix a large quantity with multiple choices. And what better dish or dishes to feed a large crowd than lasagna? Now granted, lasagna is not a quick dish to prepare.  But none of the steps taken individually are difficult to construct. It’s just that there are a stinkin’ lot of steps! (I sound like I’m trying to persuade you not to make this lasagna, but that’s not the case. But, I’m also not going to lead you down a primrose path! (For those of you who are too young to know the meaning of “being led down a primrose path”, it means “being led to a life of ease and pleasure”.) Or as Lemony Snicket* would define it “being in and out of the kitchen in less than 30 minutes”. Simply not going to happen!)

But if I do say so myself, it is time well spent. The lasagna is creamy, herby, and full of mushroom flavor. And it’s vegetarian. So next time you need or want a veggie main dish, give this lasagna a try. It’s just really, really good.

*For a wonderful read that contains more vocabulary words and definitions (some real, some just for the circumstance) than your average grade school English primer, check out one of Lemony Snicket’s books in the charming children’s series “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. If all of the 3 R’s could be taught in such a delightful way, there would be a lot more children achieving than left behind. And if Lemony Snicket were telling you about this recipe, he would undoubtedly tell you not to make this dish. That you should try a recipe that was simpler and quicker to prepare. That you should fix a dish that you knew you would like. That you would be upset with the final product. But then, he tries with all his might to dissuade youngsters from reading his books too if all they like are happy endings. (His books never have a happy ending!) But unlike his books, this recipe does have a happy ending. It’s called a happy mouth. Enjoy!

  • ½ onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 lbs. mixed mushrooms (cremini, button, Portobello, shiitake) sliced between ¼-inch and ½-inch thick
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T. finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ½ c. flour
  • 6 c. milk (whole milk is best)  
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. white pepper or black pepper to taste (white pepper actually has a sharper flavor than black)
  • 1 lb. lasagna noodles* (I like Culinary Circle Authentic Bronze-cut Lasagna noodles)  
  • 1 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1½ c. grated mozzarella cheese 
  • 1½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. chopped Italian parsley

Place the onion and mushrooms on a large low sided baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil. Cut 2 tablespoons of the butter into small pieces and place on top of the mushrooms. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Using your hands, toss the vegetables together until they are evenly coated with the oil, butter chunks, and seasonings.

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(Before the mushrooms are roasted.)

Place in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and browned. (Turn once during the baking process to ensure even browning.)  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the fresh rosemary. Stir. Set aside.

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(After the mushrooms are roasted.)

Meanwhile to prepare your béchamel sauce, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute of until the garlic gives off its aroma. Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes or until the roux starts to turn a delicate golden brown. Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a slow boil, stirring the entire time. Boil for one minute as the sauce continues to thicken. Remove from heat and whisk in the salt and pepper. Set aside. Reserve 1 cup of the béchamel sauce. (This will be spread on the lasagna half way through the baking process.)

Before cooking the noodles, have all the other ingredients prepped and ready to go. Cook the noodles in boiling salted water until al dente (firm to the bite). Drain the noodles and run under cold water. Drain again.  

To assemble:  Spread ½ cup béchamel sauce in a buttered 10×16-inch baking pan.  Arrange 1/3rd of the lasagna noodles over the sauce. Spread half of the roasted vegetables over the noodles, followed by half of each kind of cheese, then half of the béchamel sauce. Repeat, beginning with another third of the noodles, remaining roasted veggies, and remaining half of each cheese, except the Parmesan. Save out about a quarter cup. Layer on the remaining noodles. Carefully cover the pan with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil; spread the reserved 1 cup béchamel over the top and sprinkle with the reserved quarter cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the lasagna is bubbly and lightly browned on top. Remove from oven, lightly cover with the foil you used earlier, and allow the lasagna to sit about 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with the parsley just before cutting into portion sized pieces.

*Hint: when deciding how many noodles to cook, spread the bottom of your pan with a single layer of uncooked noodles. Triple that number and you have just the right amount. (Seems too easy, doesn’t it?)  

 

CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI FETTUCCINE (HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!)

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So here’s the skinny! A regular Alfredo sauce is considered by many to be one of the top ten forbidden foods. (Or at the very least, a dish that should only be consumed once in a blue moon, which for those who don’t remember, is about once every 2½ years!)

Now I am here to tell you, that is just not often enough for yours truly and Mr. C! We love us our pasta Alfredo. So in an effort to keep our desire for Alfredo commensurate with our need to keep our cholesterol at a level that is appropriate for people in their “golden years”, and not coincidentally keep our doctors from jumping up and down and yelling at us, I have modified one of our favorite “Alfredo” style dishes. Now granted, without the cream it’s certainly never ever going to replace the real deal. But, truly, it ain’t half bad! But since I know that some of you are purists, I decided to also provide you with the original recipe that won my grandchildren (Derek and Rebecca) over to the belief that broccoli is the best green vegetable ever invented!

So give my modified version a try. It still has the creamy sauce that is so important to a delicious “Alfredo”. But I have to tell you. When you warm up leftovers, no puddle of butter is left in the bottom of the bowl. (If you happen to be one of the people who has never reheated an Alfredo sauce, please believe me when I tell you that looking in the bowl after the pasta has been reheated is enough to immediately change your thinking on Alfredo Sauce. Does the term “swimming in liquid fat” mean anything to you? Well that’s exactly what your noodles will be doing if you reheat a true Alfredo sauce.)

But like I said, if you are a purist, under the age of 30, have the metabolism of a pigmy shrew, are 6’2’’, and weigh about 102 pounds, please give my original recipe a try. It is really fabulous. Just don’t tell me about it. I might start crying, and no one likes to see tears on their computer screen.

Reduced fat CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI FETTUCCINE:

  • 2 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 c. bite sized pieces of fresh broccoli
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast half, cubed
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T. dry white wine
  • 2 T. flour
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • ¾ c. chicken broth
  • 1 c. milk (I use 2%)
  • 8-oz. fettuccine pasta, cooked al dente (keep some of the cooking water*)
  • ¾ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese + more for passing (or use part Parmesan and part Pecorino Romano)

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large fry pan. Add the broccoli and sauté for 2-3 minutes. (Broccoli should still be crisp.) Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove broccoli and garlic from pan with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Add the chicken, salt, and pepper; cook until the chicken is barely cooked through. Remove from pan and add to the reserved broccoli and garlic.

Pour wine into the pan and cook until very little liquid remains. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the flour. Whisk together and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the nutmeg, chicken broth, and milk; stirring until the sauce boils and thickens. Remove from heat and add the cooked pasta, reserved broccoli, garlic, and chicken, and ¾ cup Parmesan. Add some of the pasta cooking water if the sauce seems too thick. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately with additional Parmesan cheese.

Please note: If doubling this recipe, use only 3 tablespoons of flour, but double all the remaining ingredients. FYI: many of my recipes feed just 2-3 people. Unless otherwise stated, my recipes can easily be doubles or tripled.

* You really don’t need to use seemingly gallons of water when you cook pasta. In fact, you only need to use enough so that the pasta has room to expand and not stick together. This not only saves water and energy, but the resulting cooking water has a higher percentage of residual starch, which makes it perfect for adding to the sauce if more liquid and/or thickening is required. For more information, search Serious Eats; The Food Lab; A new way to cook pasta?

Good old fashioned CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI FETTUCCINE:

  • ¼ c. (½ stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 c. bite sized pieces of fresh broccoli
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast half, cubed
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 c. whipping cream
  • 8-oz. fettuccine pasta, cooked al dente (keep some of the cooking water)
  • ¾ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese + more for passing (or use part Parmesan and part Pecorino Romano)

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large fry pan. Add the broccoli and sauté for 2-3 minutes. (Broccoli should still be crisp.) Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove broccoli and garlic from pan with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Add the chicken, salt, and pepper; cook until the chicken is barely cooked through. Remove from pan and add to the reserved broccoli and garlic.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoon butter and cook until butter is lightly browned. Add 1/3 cup of the cream and boil rapidly over high heat until large shiny bubbles form; stir occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and add cooked noodles to sauce. Toss vigorously and add the chicken mixture, Parmesan cheese and the remaining cream, in about 3 additions. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately with additional Parmesan cheese.

 

 

 

 

 

CREAMY PASTA WITH PANCETTA AND PEAS

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Usually when I make a creamy sauce, I use cream. Sounds reasonable, right? But in an effort to reduce the number of calories and amount of fat in the dishes I prepare, I decided to use chicken stock and 2% milk instead of cream when I prepared this dish last evening. (OK, I did use 2 tablespoons of butter, but that’s just a fraction of the amount I normally would use!) So of course the resulting product was not as rich as a regular Alfredo sauce. (How could it be without a half cup of butter and 2 cups of heavy cream?) But regardless, it was still quite delicious. And without all the fat, it just had a fresher taste to it. Perhaps it was because the other ingredients were forced to shine on their own without relying on the cream to carry the day.

Whatever the reason, we were very happy to chomp away on this pasta sans the guilty feeling we usually experience when we are eating a creamy pasta dish. Not to say, we won’t ever eat a true Alfredo again. But I think I will be adapting my other standard Alfredo type dishes too, so that we can enjoy them more often without our cholesterol numbers shooting into the stratosphere!

And the first one I am going to adapt is one of our favorite pasta recipes – Chicken and Broccoli Fettuccine. So look for this recipe in the near future. And for those of you who have no cholesterol worries or don’t ever have to concern yourself with putting on weight, I will also post the “real” recipe. Which just happens to be Derek and Rebecca’s (two of my grandchildren) favorite food. (Poor kids. They unfortunately inherited their grandmother’s love of sauces.)

So if you too love pasta with a creamy sauce, give this dish a try. It takes no time to whip up. And I’m sure your whole family will love it. And miss all those calories in a traditional Alfredo sauce? I think not!

  • 2 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • ½ c. diced pancetta
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 T. dry white wine
  • 2 T. flour
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • ¾ c. chicken broth
  • ¾ c. milk (I use 2%)
  • 8-oz. penne pasta, cooked al dente (keep some of the cooking water*)
  • ½ c. uncooked frozen petite peas, thawed
  • ½ c. finely grated parmesan cheese + more for passing (or use part Parmesan and part Pecorino Romano)
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large fry pan. Add the pancetta and fry until crisp. Remove the pancetta from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the garlic to the pan. Cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until no liquid remains. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the flour. Whisk together and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, nutmeg, chicken broth, and milk; stirring until the sauce boils and thickens. Remove from heat and add the cooked pasta, peas, cooked pancetta, ½ cup Parmesan, and parsley. Add some of the pasta cooking water if the sauce seems too thick. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately with additional Parmesan cheese.

Please note: If doubling the recipe, use only 3 tablespoons of flour, but double all the remaining ingredients.

*Something I had thought for a long time just came out as being accurate. You really don’t need to use seemingly gallons of water when you cook pasta. In fact, you only need to use enough so that the pasta has room to expand and not stick together. This not only saves water and energy, but the resulting cooking water has a higher percentage of residual starch, which makes it perfect for adding to the sauce if more liquid and/or thickening is required. For more information, search Serious Eats; The Food Lab; A new way to cook pasta?

 

 

 

VEGETARIAN MUSHROOM STROGANOFF

(Sorry, no picture. I lost it when my computer and my camera were not speaking. They have resolved their differences now, but the picture is still missing in action. Will add a picture in the near future.)

Of course you know what most savvy people are saying about vegetarians or people who eat at least one or more meatless meals a week. And yes you are right there with me if you too believe the word is “smart”. But another word immediately jumps into my brain also. And that word is “yummy”. Because there are just an abundance of wonderful recipes out there that don’t contain as much as a quarter cup of meat broth or a tablespoon of bacon fat to make them both delicious and nutritious.

So when I hear someone say they hate vegetarian food, I almost always look at them as if they just stepped out of a brand spanking new Studebaker. And just for your information, the last Studebaker was manufactured in 1967!

Because in my opinion, what these folks have done is limit themselves to food choices that are often expensive, include more protein than is necessary for continued good health, and lack the vegetables, herbs, spices, and whole grains needed to supply our bodies with the necessary vitamins and minerals to support good health. (And no, I don’t believe taking a daily multi-vitamin replaces the lack of fresh vegetables, herbs, spices, and fruits in our diet!) And don’t even get me started on fiber!

So when I decided the other evening to serve “Beef Stroganoff”, I thought about my pledge to serve more meatless dishes. And I concluded that the meat in a stroganoff was not the part I cherished the most. What I loved were the mushrooms, noodles, and the savory sour cream gravy. So I basically made my standard recipe without the meat. And truly, I didn’t miss the meat one little bit.

So in essence you might say that this new spin on my old recipe was “fashioned by an impulsive epicure”.

(Sorry Leah Worth for changing out the words “for” and “ingénue” with “by” and “epicure” from the Bobby Troup classic song “The Meaning of the Blues”.) But it really was Mr. Cs idea to change the lyric. He changed the word “ingénue” to “epicure” while we were listening to the song and talking about food. (Nothing new, believe me!) And I loved the new words, because like Mr. C, I too feel that the word epicure has fallen into disuse. So while I was writing up this recipe, our conversation while listening to Janis Mann’s version of this beautiful blues song came to mind. And I totally felt that Mr. Cs new lyric applied to what I had just done to my original Beef Stroganoff recipe. Hence the musical reference.

(For those of you haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m talking about, I have included the words to one of the loveliest and saddest songs ever written. I’m sure after reading the lyrics you will perfectly understand how the entire chain of events came about. Or not!) But regardless, give this recipe a try. I truly believe the epicure in you won’t miss the meat in the least.

The Meaning of the Blues

Blue was just the color of the sea,

Til my lover left me;

Blue was just a bluebird in a tree,

Til he said “Forget me.”

Blue always made me think of summer,

Cloudless summer skies so fresh and warm;

But now the blue I see is more like winter

Winter skies with clouds about to storm.

Blue was just the color of his eyes

Til he said “Goodbye, love.”

Blue was just a ribbon for first prize

Til he said, “Don’t cry, love.”

And blues were only torch songs

Fashioned for impulsive ingénues;

But now I know, too well I know,

Too well I know the meaning of the blues.

(To hear this song performed, search on “Julie London meaning of the blues”.)

  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T. butter, divided
  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced (or any combination of fresh mushrooms)
  • scant ½ c. chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ c. dry white wine
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or ¾ tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1½ c. vegetable or mushroom broth
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 8-oz. wide egg noodles, cooked al dente
  • 2 T. chopped Italian parsley

Heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and onion; cook until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms slices are starting to brown. Stir in garlic and cook for one minute. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. When the wine is all but evaporated, add the thyme, paprika, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.

Whisk in broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream and noodles. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve immediately.

Tip: Never cook noodles ahead of time and let them sit until you’re ready for them. If any part of the dish needs to wait, it should be the sauce. And no, I don’t care what any given recipe says. If it instructs you to cook the noodles and just keep them warm, just say no! You know better!