Archive for the ‘Pasta’ Category

Green Chile and Sweet Corn Mac

I’ve found, in my eleven years living outside of Colorado, that many people don’t imagine Colorado as a place where much food can grow. People always sound surprised when I tell them that the hardiness zone for growing fruits and vegetables in Denver is approximately the same as that of Columbus, Ohio. And while it may be impossible to grow prolific gardens in the high mountain towns, there are many areas of the state known specifically for their produce.

In fact, many of the most anticipated foods of the summer are identified by the town in which they are grown. I’ve already mentioned Palisade peaches, and that area is also a significant producer of apples, plums, and cherries. Rocky Ford melons are some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. Olathe sweet corn is grown so prolifically that it appears in heaping mounds at even the most basic grocery stores, not just at boutique food shops and farmers markets. And, though it’s a town in New Mexico, we always look forward to the arrival each fall of Hatch green chiles.

Summery ingredients

Green chile is a bit of a sport in the Southwest. Most natives will argue that there is NOTHING that can’t be improved by these versatile foods, whether you like your chiles mild (like me) or screamin’ hot. The smell of roasting chiles tumbling around in giant metal barrels outside every grocery store still elicits strong memories of back-to-school evening errands with my parents and anticipation for the imminent changing leaves. Interestingly, I did not like green chiles at all as a kid. It’s only now, as an adult and returning Colorado resident, that I finally appreciate the obsession.

Charring corn

And so, I’m on a quest to learn how to cook with green chile beyond simply sprinkling it on my eggs, my pizza, my fajitas… though those are all excellent decisions. And this quest starts with something I’m supremely comfortable with: mac and cheese! For a Colorado-autumn twist on my go-to recipe, I paired my green chile with sweet corn, another fall favorite of mine.

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Ravioli with Mushroom Sauce

As much as I enjoy the pride that comes from highly crafty cooking projects, from hand-making pasta and pie crust and pizza dough, it’s just too dang much work most days. It’s not that I’m ready to abandon my stove and commit to microwave dinners. But I am constantly on the lookout for meals that can be thrown together in just a few minutes with minimal chopping, mincing, grating, or cooking time.

Mushrooms and dairy

Sometimes, those recipes are as close as the back of a package of pasta I bought on a whim. And this one quickly became a household favorite.

Minced grated and chopped

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Magic Pasta
Last August, I canned 118 pounds of tomatoes. Broke ’em down one-by-one and divvied up them up into whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, plain tomato sauce, pizza sauce, and marinara sauce. And while I certainly do use those the other products, the biggest motivator is the marinara sauce. Which I ration carefully across the year for one dish and one dish only.

Magic Pasta.

The makings of greatness
Having stumbled across this delightful combination of ingredients by pure accident, I accidentally discovered a meal that Brad and I both find so perfect, so delicious, that I have to work really really hard to make anything else for dinner. Originally hatched as a way to use up the previous year’s supply of home-canned marinara sauce, this dish now holds permanent quarters at the top of our favorites list. I know that “Magic Pasta” doesn’t really indicate the components of the meal particularly well, but it’s all we call it. If you prefer, you can call it Pasta with Amazing Tomato Cream Sauce and Italian Sausage.

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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.


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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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