Posts tagged pasta

pasta with goat cheese + veggies

This was dinner tonight.  Around here, we love pasta, and we love our goat cheese.  And as for vegetables, ahhh, well we can take them or leave them, and try to make them as delicious as possible so they’ll be more fun to eat.  This is a perfect recipe for those who like the taste of goat cheese, but find it a bit too strong and, well, goaty.  Thinning it out with chicken broth and a bit of the salty, starchy pasta cooking water makes a luxurious and creamy sauce to coat the pasta with.

Pasta with Goat Cheese + Veggies (2 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. linguine
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium yellow squash, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 8 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 1/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth

Directions:

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil.  Salt generously and add pasta.  Cook 10 minutes, or until not quite al dente, still slightly chewy.
  2. In the meantime, heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper and cook 2 minutes.  Add squash and tomato and cook another minute or two, until vegetables have softened somewhat.  Remove vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the saute pan.  Add chicken and cook until browned on all sides.  Add to bowl with vegetables.
  4. Deglaze the pan with a few tablespoons of chicken broth and then add the goat cheese.  Stir until the goat cheese melts, adding the remaining chicken broth.
  5. Add chicken and vegetables back to the pan and stir until coated.  Heat until bubbling and cook another few minutes, until the pasta is done.
  6. Measure out 1/4 c. of the pasta cooking water and set aside.  Drain pasta and add to the saute pan.  Toss with tongs until well coated and let cook for two minutes.  If the sauce looks thick and stickier, add the cup of pasta water and cook a further two minutes, until the sauce is silky and coats the pasta well.
Advertisements

Leave a comment »

Best Meaty Spaghetti Sauce

Where we live, there is a local Italian-American restaurant chain that serves truly excellent food.  True, you can pretty much tell from ingesting it that it isn’t a paragon of health food, but it’s far from other national chains I could mention, but won’t.  This particular local joint serves up tasty pizzas, salads (the caesar salad alone is incredible), and a variety of pasta dishes, many of which come with this savory, unctuous meaty sauce.  This is by far the most delicious pasta sauce I’ve ever had, seriously.

On your plate, this sauce settles between your noodles with a minimum of orangey grease like you see in some places, but a few shiny puddles here and there tell you that there’s definitely some fat, and you can taste it – in a good way.  Everything is minced up so finely that you’re never really sure what’s in it, whether there’s actually a carrot stashed away in there, or if it’s just the onions you are pretty sure are there.  This, oh parents, is a place where you could very easily chop up some extra veggies finely and stuff it in the sauce, as long as you are able to mince finely.

All of my homemade sauces pretty much paled in comparison, so I wanted to try a little harder to figure out exactly what makes their sauce so delicious, and replicate it.  The recipe is relatively simple, and I relied on these three principles:

  1. Fat is flavor: I’ve read several places recently about an almost ethereal marinara sauce made with an entire stick of butter.  I’ve never tried it, partly because I just can’t countenance using that much butter in something that isn’t even supposed to taste like butter.  I compromised by using slightly less than that amount, and using half butter, half olive oil.
  2. If the best mix of meats for meatballs is pork, veal, and beef, then why not also in a spaghetti sauce?  The local Whole Foods has started to stock veal products (humanely raised – this was really important to me, and I made sure to ask them in detail to be sure), and so I was actually able to get all three meats.
  3. When I’d gotten a fairly decent sauce, it still felt like it was missing something, some depth of flavor.  On a whim, I dropped in some homemade beef stock reduction (homemade beef stock that you reduce until it is somewhat syrupy and then store in the fridge – note that if you do this, the reduction turns into a rather hard and bouncy gelatin and is a bit difficult to get out of the jars).  That was the magic key for me.

So, I still don’t know how this particular restaurant makes their sauce, but I know how I’m making mine from now on.  Sure, it’s a little exacting, and it takes a while, but it’s definitely the best meat sauce I’ve ever made.

Best Meaty Spaghetti Sauce (makes one big pot, or about 12 cups)

We made this sauce and then froze it in 2-cup portions, perfect for two to defrost and enjoy any weeknight.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. ground veal
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 2 28-oz. cans low-sodium crushed tomatoes
  • 1 c. concentrated beef broth (low-sodium), or 1 c. water and low-sodium beef base/bouillon

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in olive oil, in a large pot over medium-low heat.  Add minced onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion has softened, becoming translucent.  Add minced garlic, and cook another minute or two, until very fragrant.
  2. Add beef, veal, and pork to the pot, and cook them, breaking up the meat into very small pieces, essentially making crumbs out of it, so that there are no chunks.  This ensures that the meat and tomato will mingle as much as possible, and that the different meats are evenly distributed.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes, stir until thoroughly combined, and simmer.  This step can take as little as 20 minutes, or for maximum depth of flavor, four hours, or more.  What you really want to see is the sauce getting to the texture you like for your spaghetti sauce.  In this case, I wanted something very loose and fluid that would coat each spaghetti noodle without clumping up, as meat sauces often do.  I believe I simmered for two or three hours with the lid on, and then another hour with it off, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the beef broth/bouillon/whatever-you’re-using, and again, simmer until your sauce reaches the desired consistency, probably about another hour or so, if you leave the lid off.  Taste for seasoning, and if the sauce tastes unbalanced, try simmering a little longer.

Leave a comment »

Browned Butter Mushroom Cream Pasta

No photo tonight – too lazy – but I thought, why deprive people of a perfectly delicious recipe just because my camera is in another room?

This is a dish you might best make when you have a few tablespoons of leftover cream from some other recipe.  I would bet that most people have all of the other ingredients in their pantry (sans, perhaps, the mushrooms, which are all too easy to pick up).

Browned Butter Mushroom Cream Pasta (serves 4 as a primi or first course, or 2 for dinner)

Ingredients:

  • 4-8 oz. pasta (depends on how much you like for a serving size)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley
  • freshly grated parmesan, optional (we thought it didn’t need it)

Directions:

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil, salt generously, and add pasta.  Cook according to box directions, until just al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Swirl gently, cooking until it just begins to brown.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes.  Cook a minute or so, until fragrant.
  3. Add mushrooms.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until mushrooms have softened.
  4. When pasta is done, drain, reserving 1/2 c. cooking liquid.  Add pasta to mushrooms in pan with cooking liquid, and cook, simmering rapidly, until liquid has reached desired consistency.
  5. Add cream and simmer another minute or so, until to desired consistency.  Taste for seasoning.  Stir in parsley.

Leave a comment »

Goat Cheese-Mascarpone Fig Ravioli Hack

Whole Foods had a sale on mascarpone cheese a couple of weeks ago and, it generally being prohibitively expensive for what’s really sort of a gourmet condiment, I don’t usually buy it.  This was a 2 for 1 sale, so I was excited to pick up two tubs, but didn’t really have a clue what to do with them.  Surveying the fridge and realizing I also had a huge log of goat cheese and a package of wonton wrappers that I’d bought ages ago, I thought I would make a goat cheese and mascarpone ravioli.

My thought was that the mascarpone would even out the sharp taste of the goat cheese to make a tasty filling, and I was right, though it was still pretty sharp and goaty – but then, I like goat cheese.

Dinner was delicious, but not very attractive, so I chalked it up to one more blog post I wouldn’t be able to write with a picture, but after we’d forked up the last of the ravioli, we looked at each other and said, “man, I’d love to have more of that.”  Luckily, I’d made way too much filling, so, after thinking all we needed was a sweet element, I set to work.

So why is this a ravioli “hack,” you ask?  I guess you could also call it a “cheat,” and it’s because it’s not actually a filled pasta.  In boiling water, wonton wrapper ravioli are notorious for splitting and some of the filling spilling out into the boiling water, so I said, “screw that, I’ll just place the filling on top.”  It was pretty rich, so a smaller plate than we ate should go a long way.

Goat Cheese-Mascarpone Fig Ravioli Hack (serves about 8 for dessert, I’d guess, or 3 for dinner and dessert, or 4 for a dinner portion leaving out the fig)

Ingredients:

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 4 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 c. fig spread, melted, if making dessert
  • freshly grated Parmesan, if making dinner
  • melted butter

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine cheeses, zest and juice of the lemon, salt and pepper.
  2. To make filled ravioli, place about 1 teaspoon of filling onto the center of one wonton wrapper.  Brush edges with water or egg, and then top with another wonton wrapper, trying to squeeze out air bubbles.
  3. Bring a pot of water to boil, salt generously, and then turn down to a medium boil (as opposed to full, rapid boiling).  For filled ravioli, place ravioli into the water and cook until ravioli float and are tender.  For the “hack,” just place wonton wrappers into water separately, waiting several seconds between each one so they don’t stick.  Cook until they are tender, just a few minutes.
  4. For filled ravioli, divide between plates.  For dinner portions, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.  For dessert portions, toss wonton wrappers in a little melted butter to keep them from sticking together.  Then crumble goat cheese mixture on top, followed by a drizzle of the melted fig spread.

Leave a comment »

Leek & Bacon Pasta

Now I admit this is probably the sort of recipe that most people have stashed away in their recipe files or their brains, but they might not know it yet.  I see this recipe as one of those that can be endlessly varied based on the ingredients you have on hand – seriously, endlessly.  The formula basically goes like this: fat + aromatics + deglazing + grain etc. + liquids = delicious.  (PS – this is sort of a teaching post.  For those of you who know all this already, skip down to the recipe)

Typically, the fat will be either olive oil or butter, a combination of the two, or fat rendered from a meat, such as bacon, pancetta, or any of the dozens of types of sausage meats out there.  Aromatics are vegetables typically used to create a base of flavor in a dish, or a soup.  The most common aromatics used are onions, garlic, carrots, and celery, but you can also use shallots, scallions, leeks, chile peppers, herbs, and spices.  Often, different cultures or regions will have their own particular mix that is commonly used, such as the French mirepoix, which is two parts onion to one part each carrot and celery.  More on aromatics here.

You might notice as you are sweating or sauteing your aromatics in your chosen fat that a brown, crusty substance is developing on the bottom of the pan (at least if you’re not using non-stick).  If you don’t know what this is, you might think your pan just got a lot more difficult to clean, but never fear, this is what deglazing is for.  Deglazing the pan uses a flavorful liquid to dissolve the brown crust and begin developing a delicious sauce.  Most commonly, cooks use wine or any of a variety of broths, but practically speaking any liquid can be used – just be sure it’s a taste you like.  The liquid will bubble and spatter rapidly, and soon evaporate.  Use a wooden spoon to scrape the brown crust off the bottom of the pan – wooden always works best for me.  Silicone utensils I find next to useless for this.

Once there is a wet, slightly sticky kind of mixture in the pan, it’s time to finish off the dish with grains and anything else that goes into it, like vegetables or bigger pieces of protein like chicken.  Grain in this case most often refers to pasta, but feel free to branch out!  In addition to the similarly common rice and potatoes (not a grain, but starchy), there is quinoa, couscous, amaranth, teff, millet, Israeli couscous, and the wide world of legumes: lentils, split peas, chickpeas, beans of all kinds.  In this case, pre-cook the grains, vegetables, and/or protein, and then add at this stage.

It’s ready to be finished!  To finish creating the sauce, add any flavorful liquids, such as melting cheeses, cream, or broths.  Then, as it cooks and thickens, if the sauce needs additional liquid with a little thickening power, the best and easiest option is often the liquid your pasta (or potatoes, etc.) has been cooked in.  A ladleful or two of this provides that certain something that can cause a pan full of soft stuff to coalesce into a cohesive sauce.  Garnish with anything extra, such as Parmesan cheese shavings, olives, capers, really whatever you want, and you’ve got a delicious plate of food just waiting to be devoured.

Here’s the version I made tonight:

Leek & Bacon Pasta (serves 2)

As you might imagine from the lengthy introduction, I encourage substitutions, omissions, and additions to this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 oz. pasta
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 3 medium leeks, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, 2 of them minced
  • 4 baby potatoes, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 2-4 oz. soft goat cheese

Directions:

  1. Set a pot of water on to boil.  When boiling, salt generously and then add pasta, and two cloves of garlic whole.
  2. While water is heating, add bacon to a saute pan over medium-low heat.  Cook several minutes, or until fat has rendered, and bacon is beginning to brown.
  3. Add butter, and swirl to melt it.  Then, add leeks, potatoes, celery, and remaining garlic.  Cook about ten minutes, stirring often.  If you start boiling your pasta just before adding these ingredients, when the pasta is ready to drain, you will be ready to move onto the next step – no timing required!
  4. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 c. pasta’s cooking water.
  5. When the vegetables are soft, brown, and beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan, add wine, and cook, stirring, until wine has mostly evaporated.
  6. Add goat cheese, and pasta water as needed to create a creamy sauce.

Leave a comment »

A New Direction: Korean Grilled Beef (Bulgogi) and Jap Chae

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I guess would be called “nutri-diversity,” sort of like biodiversity.  The concept of biodiversity tells us that the more different species there are, the healthier an ecosystem will be.  Similarly, the more diversity there is within one given species, the healthier, stronger, and more likely to survive that species is.

It seems to me the same is true with the way we feed ourselves.  It’s relatively common knowledge that a variety of fruits and vegetables gives us the greatest variety of nutrients.  From there, I’ve been thinking about the other types of foods we eat and how incredibly limited so many of us are.  Maybe it’s not that big of a deal since, of course, each ancient people had its primary grain and is primary sweetener, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to branch out, right?

That’s why, as of this week, I’ve decided that I’m going to try and introduce more variety into our diets.  Perhaps we eat too much cane sugar and wheat flour.  I’m starting with sugars, exploring: date sugar, agave nectar, honey, brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup.  Then I’ll move on to flours: spelt, teff, possibly others like chickpea, potato, rice, etc.  Finally, we already have a more diverse dairy diet, eating cheeses made of goat’s and sheep’s milks, but we may also try alternative yogurts and, as a byproduct, frozen yogurts.

But we’re starting out slowly.  Tonight I replaced cane sugar in both components of our meal, bulgogi (a Korean marinated grilled beef) and jap chae (Korean-style noodle dish).  They may not be strictly authentic recipes, but they are tasty, though very mildly flavored.  I prefer a stronger, saltier, more garlicky flavor, so next time I make this I may play around a little with the recipe, or just fry up some minced garlic and sprinkle it over the dish.

Bulgogi (Korean Grilled Beef) (2 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. apple cider
  • 1/2 c. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1/3 c. agave nectar
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced or thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb. steak (cut is up to you but sirloin would work well)

Directions:

  1. In an 8-inch square baking dish, whisk together all ingredients except steak.  Place steak in the marinade, and turn over.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours, turning every half hour or so to marinate evenly.
  3. On a hot grill, place meat and cook about 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare, depending on thickness of steak.
  4. Let rest ten minutes, then slice thinly against the grain.

Jap Chae (Korean-Style Noodles) (2 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Asian-rice noodles (the kind you soak and then fry)
  • half head of Savoy or Napa cabbage, shredded
  • 6 oz. Shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup

Directions:

  1. Place rice noodles in a small baking dish.  Boil water and pour over the noodles to cover, reserving some of the water.  Let noodles soak for 10 minutes, then drain.
  2. Meanwhile, wilt cabbage in several tablespoons of lightly salted water.  Set aside in a bowl.
  3. Heat a little vegetable oil in the same pan.  Saute sliced mushrooms for a few moments, and then remove to the same bowl as the cabbage.
  4. Mix soy sauce and 1/4 c. of the boiling water with the maple syrup in a small bowl.
  5. Heat several tablespoons of vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add noodles and sauce mixture, and fry several minutes or until some of the water has evaporated.  Add cabbage and mushrooms, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and everything is heated through.

Comments (1) »

A Pretty Authentic Pad Thai

From what I hear, this recipe, simple though it is, may be even more authentic than some restaurants who serve it, some of which use… ketchup.  There is no ingredient I can think of that is less Thai than ketchup.  Ketchup is a condiment, something that should be actually used in very few recipes, primarily those of other condiments, such as barbecue sauce.  But I digress.

Pad Thai is a fairly mild flavored, tangy, savory, sweet pasta dish, possibly one of the only Thai dishes most Americans are familiar with, its having come into vogue in the past few years.  I tried it for the first time two years ago when I was living in Boston, and it became a monthly treat from the Asian delivery place down the street.  I never could define what was in it to make it so delicious, and when I looked up various recipes, I was skeptical.

The sauce for Pad Thai is comprised entirely of three ingredients: fish sauce, tamarind paste, and palm sugar.  I have only come across fish sauce once before, and if you ever have, you’ll never forget it.  It smells rank – like rotten fish.  Do yourself a favor and don’t look up how it’s traditionally made.  Tamarind paste is extremely sour.  Palm sugar I could not find, so I substituted brown.

Pad Thai (4 servings)

Yes, this recipe looks long and involved.  It’s actually not!  I cooked up three portions of Pad Thai, making each portion separately, in just over half an hour.  Most of the things I cook take at least 45 minutes, so this is actually very quick, comparatively!  Buying your veggies pre-shredded will help, as will cutting your protein into small pieces.

As to making the sauce, you’ll want to experiment a little.  If you have tried Pad Thai before, it may be a little easier, but basically you want to have a well-balanced sauce: salty, sour, and sweet.  You’ll know when you’ve got it to your taste.  I had never before had Pad Thai that tasted sour at all, so if you haven’t either, don’t worry!  It’s great.  Bean sprouts are traditional as a vegetable, but I think you could add any shredded veggie you love.  I would add mushrooms next time – yum!

Ingredients:

  • about 1/2 c. each: fish sauce, tamarind paste, palm (or brown) sugar, more or less to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. or to taste of chile powder
  • 8-12 oz. rice stick noodles
  • 1/2 – 1 lb. protein of your choice – shrimp, chicken, tofu, or a mixture
  • 2 c. bean sprouts
  • 2 c. shredded carrots
  • 1 medium onion, halved and then thinly sliced
  • 4 eggs
  • traditional Thai garnishes include: ground peanuts, minced pickled turnips, ground dried shrimps, lime wedges

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine fish sauce, tamarind paste, sugar, and chile powder.  Stir until smooth, and taste (yes, taste it!  trust me.  it will be strong, but if you have had Pad Thai before, there should be one of those “angels singing” moments where you suddenly realize how the sauce came to be composed.  or, um, it did for me.  anyway…).  Adjust seasonings if necessary.
  2. Place rice stick noodles in a shallow dish.  Follow directions for soaking, and soak until noodles are considerably softer than when they started, but not soft.  They should be firmer than al dente pasta, as they will continue to cook in the pan.  For my noodles, I had to soak them in hot (not warm) water for about 10 minutes.  The last batch was perfect, the third a little too soft – although typically you do one batch at a time, for this reason I will next time try the entire dish in one pan.
  3. If you are using chicken, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, and quickly saute in a pan in hot oil until mostly cooked through.  Remove to a bowl.
  4. Repeat with tofu.
  5. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a pan, and add onions.  Cook for a moment or two, then add carrots.  Cook another two or three minutes, and add bean sprouts.  Cook another minute or two, and then remove to the same bowl as the chicken/tofu.  Stir until equally distributed.
  6. When the noodles are softened, heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet or wok.  Add noodles, and about 3-4 tbsp. of sauce for each serving, about 3/4-1 c. total.  You don’t absolutely need to measure this – you’ll want the noodles to be well-covered, but neither too dark nor too light.
  7. Cook for a minute or two, until noodles reach al dente, not quite soft – this happens quickly!  Taste for seasoning and add more sauce if necessary.  Make some space in the pan for the eggs by pushing the noodles around.  Crack eggs into the pasta, let cook a minute or so to set, and then toss with the noodles.
  8. Add shrimp, if using, and continue tossing until shrimps are cooked through – this also only takes a few moments.
  9. Add remaining ingredients and toss well in the pan, cooking just until everything is heated through.
  10. Plate up and serve with garnishes!

Leave a comment »