Archive for the ‘Pasta’ Category

Shrimp Scampi Linguine
This may not come as much of a surprise. But, when I go on vacation, one of my favorite activities is seeking out and buying whatever edible bounty hails from my destination. And I’m not just talking the best local restaurants: if I can swing it, I try to bring back enough to stock my pantry and freezer. From Phoenix, I toted back a bag of the most splendid grapefruits. From Maryland, a trunk full of apples, pumpkins, and cider. From Wisconsin, a backpack full of cheese, accompanied by an ice pack which thankfully was not confiscated at the airport.

And from our recent weekend getaway to the Grand Strand beaches of South Carolina, I brought back a few pounds of fresh-caught shrimp.

Fresh shrimp!
Having grown up in a rather land-locked state, I never had many opportunities to enjoy fresh seafood. Shrimp was always something I liked to eat, but I mostly knew it only in its breaded, popcorn form, or cold and pink around the shores of a cocktail sauce reservoir. With this rare opportunity to buy it right from the waters of the Atlantic, I wanted to try a dish I’ve been thinking about ever since I was served something similar at a friend’s after their own return from their beach house in the Outer Banks: a pasta dish studded with shrimp and lightly coated with a buttery, flavorful sauce.

Pretty pretty ingredients Read on »

Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions & Mushrooms

Have you noticed that onion and mushroom pizzas are all the rage these days? It seems that every pizza parlour around now features a caramelized onion pizza topped with mushrooms and pungent gorgonzola cheese. And who can blame them? The rich, sultry flavors of these three ingredients make for an surprising and exciting change from red- or white-sauced pizzas.

But we’re not here to talk about pizza. In fact, it was the glut of all these pizzas popping up on menus that made me wonder how the same flavors would work when painted on a different canvas… say, perhaps, a knot of whole wheat pasta?

The ingredients
Chopped ingredients

Caramelized onions are, in my book, one of life’s greatest pleasures. From topping crostinis to starring in homemade onion dip, they enrich almost everything they encounter. I’ve been known to eat them plain, with no cares about the odorific consequences that might ensue. As I expected, they make an excellent base for this pasta sauce.

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Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

There aren’t enough sauces, ingredients, shapes, cheeses, or styles in the world to burn out my love for pasta. If anything, it seems my taste for the stuff has only expanded since I started this blog; my childhood pasta preferences were limited exclusively to spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese, and now I favor short, thick pasta dressed in zesty, flavorful sauces. There’s really nothing like writing a food blog to force me into trying new things. And as much as I want to make some of my favorites over and over again, then I’d have nothing new to tell you about! (However, if you haven’t already tried the Penne alla Vodka, you should really make it your top priority.)

Well, maybe your second priority. Because I’m pretty darn happy with this one, too.

All the bits and pieces

Roasted red peppers are pretty easy to come by at the grocery store. Yes, I know that fresh red bell peppers are EVERYWHERE at this time of year (at least in North Carolina), but for a quick and filling weeknight dinner, I went with these. Plus I already had them in my pantry and it was time to use them up.

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Easy Stove-Top Mac and Cheese

I’m just gonna come right out and say it. When discussing cheese and pasta, sometimes one must be blunt.

I like stove-top macaroni and cheese more than baked macaroni and cheese.

This is the truth, straight from me to you.

I mean, that’s not to say I won’t consume a mound of baked mac rapidly if it’s served at a potluck, a cookout, or a picnic. And I won’t say no to a fancy mac, like this one I made last year. But the macaroni of my dreams is prepared on the stove-top: al denté, piping hot, and swimming in thin, just-a-little-bit-spicy, orange cheddar cheese sauce.

Mac and Cheese
Is this a product of being raised on the blue box? Perhaps. Is this a product of wanting my pasta so firm that it nearly crunches between the teeth, a state that is nearly impossible to achieve when baking pasta? That’s probably reading too deeply into the whole thing. Maybe I don’t like the breadcrumbs that typically accompany a baked mac? Maybe I don’t like the waiting?

One significant downside of loving so much a mysteriously created product of food science is that it can be incredibly difficult to replicate at home. What the hell is that orange powder anyway? I theorize it must be fairy dust, for I have searched for years for a mac and cheese recipe that, if not identical, could at least be a satisfactory homemade replacement to the mac and cheese of my childhood.

Friends, I HAVE FOUND IT.

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Little Tomato Pasta
It hardly seems real to me that the summer, which seemingly only just began, is now drawing to a close. What once looked like a vast expanse of time in which to accomplish projects and execute plans that I’ve had on my list for some time now is now behind me, with very few of those items marked off.

I suppose that’s the way it goes, isn’t it? Perhaps there’s a reason those projects are still on the list: they simply don’t take priority when other things come up. Sometimes it’s dinner with friends, sometimes a movie, sometimes it’s work.

This time, it was a MASSIVE harvest of tiny tomatoes that would be heartbreaking to waste.

All the tomatoes in America
Up until a couple of years ago, I only ate cherry tomatoes raw, usually in salads or from the veggie tray at parties. And as someone who is not a particularly big fan of raw tomatoes, I typically only ate one or two.

Now that I am growing my own, however, I must find other ways to use them up. I actually dried most of this batch, but I’ve been curious about what a tomato sauce made from these tiny, sweet tomatoes would taste like, so I decided to give it a shot. And while it is certainly more labor-intensive than pulling a jar of Ragu from the pantry, it’s quite a delightful way to make the most of the tomato-harvest of August.

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Southwest Chicken Pasta

A few days ago, I escaped the humid crush of the Eastern United States with my annual return to my childhood home in Southwest Colorado. Each summer, I look forward to this return with great anticipation, but each year I continue to be humbled and amazed by how much I love this place. To be sure, living in the mountain desert has its hardships: this year’s drought is threatening to run our well completely dry, and the cool dry air that normally greats me when stepping off the plane was this year flooded with smoke from the West Fork Fire Complex, a wildfire raging in the high country just an hour away. My parents keep large stock pots in each bathroom so that we can catch the gray water from our showers, haul it outside, and attempt to help our adolescent trees survive the long, dry summer.

Despite all this, I miss the Southwest. I miss watching the summer monsoons boil over the mountains, occasionally releasing precious rain to the parched earth below. I miss the abrupt landscape shifts from spruce tree forests, the sagebrush meadows, and the bare sandstone mesas and canyons. I miss the cultures, celebrations, people, and flavors.

When I’m out to eat, I frequently seek out southwest-y meals on a menu. A few weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised by a meal at a Chapel Hill favorite that I urgently wanted to recreate at home, and after Brad and I completely consumed multiple batches, I’m sure this will remain on my own home menu often.

A Southwest Chicken Pasta

I really don’t know why I didn’t think of this pasta sooner. Perhaps because I so strongly associate pasta with Italian flavors. But friends! I urge you to release pasta from it’s bonds in tomato sauce and alfredo. It is equally at home surrounded by black beans, red peppers, and spicy red chili.

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Flavorful pasta twist

I’ve grown tired, lately, of regular pasta sauce. Not of pasta, mind you. I crave that all the time. But these days, every time I sit down to make or order a pasta dish, I try to find something that is not marinara or alfredo.

While traipsing about the internet, I ran across a recipe for chicken marsala, which I’ve eaten at restaurants but never cooked myself. The thick, tangy brown sauce, full of mushrooms and drizzled over chicken, looked wonderfully decadent, and I started wondering how it would taste on pasta. It seemed it might be just the breath of fresh pasta-sauce-air that I was looking for.

Pretty creminis

For those of you out there who love chicken marsala, you won’t be surprised to hear that this dish starts with a large pile of mushrooms. You can use any variety you like, but I love using creminis. Even though they ultimately get drowned in brown sauce, they’re just so dang pretty when you clean and chop them up, aren’t they?

Sliced for saucing

And the other half of chicken marsala? The chicken, of course! Chicken breasts are sliced in half to create thin, fast-cooking filets. I dredged mine in a mixture of flour and parmesan cheese to create a golden-brown, slightly crunchy coating.

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And now, for something thoroughly NOT wedding cake:

Meatballs!

After spending the majority of last week baking more cake than many people bake in a lifetime, I’m celebrating this week by not baking anything sweet. No cookies, no cakes, no pies, nothin’. Instead, MEATBALLS.

These particular meatballs are a blend, primarily, of ground beef and ground pork. You can really mix and match any ground meats you like, or you can just use one variety. I’ve made excellent batches using only ground turkey, but beef and pork were in the freezer, so there you are. But contrary to their name, meatballs are not entirely meat. I daresay that every recipe I’ve seen suggests that bread crumbs are just as important as the meat itself.

Let’s actually talk about bread crumbs for a moment. Bread crumbs are incredibly easy to produce (if you have bread, you can make bread crumbs), but they have still managed to find their way onto the shelves of grocery stores in a consistency that often is not so much of crumbs as it is a fine dust. If you have fresh bread, a few minutes in the oven will crisp it enough that you can smash it into crumbs at whatever consistency you fancy. Or, if you have trouble making it through a baguette before it goes stale, as I always seem to do, you can grind that sucker up in the food processor for bread crumbs far more satisfying and probably more economical than the canisters at the store.

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Last year, I planted tomatoes in my little community garden plot. They were… unsuccessful. Extremely. I think I harvested two,maybe three tomatoes before they were attacked by bugs or rotted rather than ripened on the vine. Needless to say, I was distressed, but also determined to do better this year.

So I planted more tomatoes. Six plants, actually. And on the big tomato front, guess what? I still did not succeed. Dozens of green globes filled me with anticipation alllll summer. And then? Kaput. Like seriously, five tomatoes. It appears that I am doing something terribly wrong with my large tomatoes.

But the little guys! For the last six weeks, I’ve been harvesting dozens and dozens of both Sungolds, tiny orange spheres, generally considered the most flavorful cherry tomatoes, and Juliets, slightly larger egg-shaped tomatoes that ripen to a classic tomato red. A couple weeks ago, the harvests became so immense that even my tomato-loving beau couldn’t keep up with them. So what does one do with a couple pints of tiny tomatoes before they meet their maker?

This recipe features the tomatoes about as close to their natural form as is possible to get in a pasta “sauce”. To start, the tomatoes are simply sliced, squashed into a baking dish, and sprinkled with bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, and olive oil.

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Folks, we need to talk about mac and cheese.

Mac and cheese, when I was little, meant the blue box. Oh, beloved blue box of tiny elbows and mysterious orange powder. Then those Velveeta shells came out, and the blue box was supplanted by tiny shells and mysterious orange goo.

And they were delicious, weren’t they?

I discovered, early in my surfing of the foodie corners of the internet, that mac and cheese was something I had never really known. Baked casseroles of pasta and cheese, topped with a decadent crust of cheddar and bread crumbs, seemed to be what the foodie world wanted mac and cheese to be. And I confess! I looooove a good baked mac.

But sometimes, I just want some dang stove top cheesy pasta, creamy and without the crunch, but also without the mystery of the orange powder and goo. Is that so much to ask?

The answer is here, friends. No, this sauce isn’t a classic orange hue. It’s not a copycat recipe of the blue box. But it’s so, soooo good. And, I’m pleased to report, dreadfully easy. No tedious grating of cheese, no tempering of cream, no casserole dish required, no 45 minute bake in the oven.

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