Category Archives: Pasta

Summertime is Pesto Time

Summer is here in all of its radiant (and humid) glory. I love this time of year. Flowers are peaking, showing their most vibrant color and gardens are beginning to give forth their bounty. Basil plants are thriving and beg to be snipped back almost daily. Basil always brings pesto to mind. I’ve shared my version of the traditional Pesto recipe and it is still number one on my Hit Parade, but this summer I have stepped out of my comfort zone (a little) and experimented with some different flavors and ingredients.

First off is a Roasted Tomato and Ricotta Pesto. Grape tomatoes and garlic are roasted to perfection before they are added to ricotta and pine nuts. Basil actually plays a supporting role here, but is present enough to lend some color and lots of flavor.

This is wonderful on pasta. or as a base for bruschetta.

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Roasted Tomato and Ricotta Pesto
Servings: 2 Cups
Ingredients
  • 1 Pint Grape Tomatoes
  • 4-5 Large Garlic Cloves Skin on
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil Plus more for roasting
  • 3/4 Cup Ricotta I used Part Skim
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/4 Cup Pine Nuts I toasted mine
  • 1/2 Cup Basil Leaves Firmly packed
  • Salt and Pepper To taste
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Toss the tomatoes with a generous dose of olive oil, add a bit of salt and pepper. and spread them out on the baking sheet. 

  2. Place the garlic cloves on a piece of foil. Drizzle with a little olive oil and pull the foil up around the cloves to make a nice bundle. Seal well, but leave a little room for steam.

  3. Roast the garlic for about 30 minutes until it is very fragrant. Roast the tomatoes 15 - 20 minutes until the begin to blister and give off a little juice. Remove things from the oven as the are done and set aside. 

  4. In a processor combine the tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts, oil, and the cheeses. Process until fairly smooth. Add the basil and pulse just long enough to coarsely chop. You want those pretty green flecks.

  5. Use with your favorite pasta or as a base for bruschetta or pizza.

This pesto takes its inspiration from what is flourishing in my (balcony) herb garden. These are my standbys that are always planted. Nothing exotic or fancy just some rosemary, basil, and lemon thyme. Just out of camera range is a chive plant that is happily snipped at everyday.

This Garden Herb Pesto is based what’s in my garden. You can make it your own by snipping in you own garden. Lemon juice and zest along with some toasted almonds join the traditional pecorino, olive oil, and roasted garlic to create a bright blend. Once again, basil doesn’t take center stage, it co-stars with thyme. Rosemary is there but in a quantity that imparts flavor without hitting everything else over the head. Parsley would be a welcome addition here. Sadly, my success with parsley has never been great so I use it at times that I have enough. This was not one of those times. Herb Pesto is the perfect sauce for some angel hair pasta. It also shines as a topping for grilled or roasted vegetables. I’ve even added bread crumbs and a little stock and used it to stuff chicken breasts and pork chops.

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Garden Herb Pesto
Servings: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 Lemon Zest & juice
  • 4-5 Cloves Garlic Roasted
  • 1/2 Cup Thyme Leaves
  • 1/3 Cup Basil Leaves
  • 2 Tblsp. Rosemary Leaves
  • 1/4 Cup Chives
  • 2 Tblsp. Slivered almonds Toasted
  • 1/4 Cup Pecorino Romano Grated
  • 3 Tblsp. Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper To taste
Instructions
  1. Roast the garlic by wrapping the skin-on cloves in foil. Add a bit of olive oil before sealing the packet. Roast 30- 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

  2. Combine all of the ingredients, except the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is chopped but not to the point of being a paste.

  3. Drizzle in the olive oil blending until it is incorporated. Season with salt and pepper as needed and it's ready for its culinary adventure.

There you have two quick pesto recipes that are ready for their day in the sun. I know that these are only a small corner of what can be done with garden bounty. Let your green (and red if you are using tomatoes) flag fly and make pesto your own. Its time is now.

A Semi-Grilled Supper: Bruschetta Pasta with Sausage and Zucchini

Summer marches on at a breakneck pace. Not only is the time going by far too quickly, but the school year will be starting in just over two weeks. Summer has been wonderful even if I’ve only made a small dent in the plans I had for this time. Here in the Midwest, the weather has been on the hot and humid side. Yes, I know that’s what summer in the Midwest is like, but the hot and humid seems to cling to the days like static cling to polyester.

Grilling is still the cooking style of choice, but Mama and Papa can’t live by the grill alone. Once in a while we want pasta. I do not intend to put pasta to the “Can You Grill It?” challenge, at least not in its uncooked state. There is certainly the possibility of grilling the sauce ingredients and that’s what I did not long ago.

It really started because I had some tomato bruschetta ( click here for more about bruschetta) left over. It met all the pasta sauce requirements. Tomatoes in a highly flavorful liquid complimented with red onions, basil and garlic. I also had some Chicken Italian Sausage and zucchini (it isn’t summer without it). I had just enough whole grain penne left to make it a meal.IMG_2167

So the main characters were assembled and the sausage and zucchini begged to be cooked on the grill. Well, I may have had something to do with their decision. The whole grilling process was pretty quick since the sausage was already cooked and the zucchini (combined with some onions and dressed with some olive oil and  Italian seasoning) doesn’t take long to char lightly.IMG_2172

While everything was cooking I pondered what else might make this dish even better. A little fresh mozzarella and a hearty handful of basil seemed like the perfect additions. These were already on hand so it was one of those “no brainer” choices.IMG_2170

When the pasta was cooked to my liking, I saved several ladles of the pasta water to give the sauce a little more “umph” Everything came together in rapid fashion and a simple yet delicious supper was on the table.IMG_2173

Bruschetta Pasta with Grilled Sausage and Zucchini
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Bruschetta Pasta with Grilled Sausage and Zucchini
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine the Zucchini, Onion, Italian Seasoning, and Olive Oil in a bowl. Toss to mix and set it aside.
  2. Heat a large pot of water to boiling and season generously with salt. Add the pasta and cook to your favorite level of "al dente" Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta.
  3. While the pasta cooks, heat your grill to medium high. Place the sausage on the top rack. Heat a grill basket and add the zucchini onion mixture. Grill until the sausage is browned and the zucchini is lightly charred.
  4. Slice the sausage into 1/2 inch thick coins.
  5. Combine the drained pasta, sausage, zucchini and the reserved pasta water in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss to mix everything together. Add the mozzarella and basil and toss once more to combine.
  6. Transfer to a large bowl and serve.
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This is a wonderful way to use the bounty from the garden or the farmer’s market. Use whatever sounds or looks perfect to you. There is never a right or wrong when it comes to a supper filled with freshness and love.

 

Supper From the Grill: Linguine with Sausage and Artichokes

Pasta isn’t food that takes very kindly to the grill. It does however, make a wonderful base for sauce ingredients that can be grilled. This easy and delicious dish features sausage and artichoke hearts grilled to perfection and tossed together to create a sauce that any plate of linguine would be proud to wear.

The ingredient list isn’t long or exotic. Just a few quality items that are relatively easy to procure.IMG_2004

I love linguine. I love how it cooks up, I love how it twirls on my fork and I love how when perfectly cooked “al dente” it feels in my mouth. I used an Italian Sausage from Ream’s, a local meat market and butcher shop known for its sausages of distinction. The artichoke hearts came from Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have fresh baby artichokes or the time to prepare them, this is a great alternative. The rest of the ingredients have appeared so often in Mama D’s Kitchen that they need no introduction. Onions, garlic, olive oil (Mama D’s Trinity), and red pepper flakes all make their presence known.

We all love those marinated artichoke hearts. You know the ones. They come in those cute little jars and are perfect on a relish tray or in a salad. Tasty as they are, they would fail the “Can you grill it?” test woefully. Frozen artichoke hearts, especially the ones that T. J’s. sells, are nice, big, firm, quarters that can be cooked and will still be  identifiable as artichokes. So, I went about making my own marinated artichoke hearts, I added some sliced onion and red pepper flakes along with garlic, white balsamic, and olive oil. I once again called on my trusty McCormick Italian Herb grinder to lend an air of herbal authenticity. Once everything was tossed together, I let them get happy in the refrigerator for the better part of a day.IMG_2009

A nice thing about this sauce is that the main components can be cooked ahead of time. A nice thing about having a small grill on a small balcony, is that I can sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of summer while I grill. I can even enjoy a glass of wine and pleasant conversation with Papa D . IMG_2015My marinated artichokes became something magical in the grill basket. Lightly charred and completely recognizable they waited for their moment of glory. The sausage also came to life on the grill. They had just the right balance of fat to stay plump and juicy without the aid of a fire extinguisher. Sometimes there is no substitute for quality.IMG_2018

While the pasta cooked, I sliced up the sausage and added it to an  olive oil coated skillet along with the artichoke hearts. Everything developed a little more golden goodness before a splash of dry vermouth and several ladles of pasta water made just the right amount of “sauce”. IMG_2020All that was left to do was add the pasta and some torn fresh basil. Moments later it was ready to grace our bowls.IMG_2026

The bowls of goodness were garnished with a little Pecorino Romano and the lightest drizzle of olive oil. This was a supper fit for company, but we were the lucky ones who got to partake. And that we did. We ate it all and didn’t even feel guilty.IMG_2033

Linguine with Grilled Sausage and Artichokes
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Servings
3
Servings
3
Linguine with Grilled Sausage and Artichokes
Print Recipe
Servings
3
Servings
3
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine the artichokes, onion, and garlic. Place the olive oil, vinegar, pepper flakes, and Italian herb blend in a container with a tight fitting lid. Cover and shake until well blended. Pour over the artichoke mixture toss well. Refrigerate, covered for at least 4 hours.
  2. Heat a grill to medium high heat. Add the sausage links and cook, turning frequently until well browned and cooked through. Remove from grill and allow to cool before slicing .
  3. Heat a grill basket over medium high heat. Spray well with cooking spray. Add the artichoke mixture . Grill, tossing frequently until the mixture is golden brown. This should take about 10 minutes or so. Remove from grill.
  4. Cook the pasta according to the package directions reducing the time by a minute or two. Prepare the sauce while the pasta cooks.
  5. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the sliced sausage and the artichoke mixture to the pan. Cook tossing occasionally until everything is heated through and has become a little more golden.
  6. Add the vermouth to the pan and stir to deglaze. Add several ladles of the pasta water to the skillet and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet along with the basil, tossing to combine with the sauce. Cook for another minute or two and remove from the heat.
  8. Place the mixture in pasta bowls and sprinkle with the Pecorino. Drizzle each serving with a little olive oil and it is ready to eat.
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There you have it. Easy, kind of quick, and ever so tasty…give this one a try before grilling season is but a memory. If you’re anything like Mama D’s Kitchen however, that grilling season never ends.

Italian Cauliflower Mac & Cheese for All Seasons

While spring is officially here, the weather has been far from Springlike. Call it confused, call it crazy, but any day that gives you snow, sleet and rain along with a touch of sun, but temperature wise is still in the 30’s is a good reason to make a comfort food casserole that warms the heart and the kitchen. While I know that things will get better (in fact, they are already) Mac & cheese has no season.

IMG_1608This started with equal parts of pasta and cauliflower. The “Gigli” looked a bit like the cauliflower and the combination lightened the carb load a bit. This could also be a great disguise for vegetables if that is an issue in your family. Any way, the pasta cooked to almost al dente before I added the cauliflower. I drained it all and set it aside.IMG_1618

I chopped two Italian Chicken Sausage links and added them to a hot pan. (I wanted a little of that crunchy meat taste, but you could easily leave it out.)  Beautifully browned, they sat on the sidelines for a bit. Then a swirl of olive oil followed by some garlic, onion, and red bell pepper went into the pan. I let this get golden and used a bit of chicken stock to de-glaze the pan. Flour went in and a stock/oil roux came together. I used Fat Free Half and Half and more chicken stock to create the sauce.

tjs-toscano I combined equal parts of Black Pepper Toscano ( this wonderfully asiago cheesecreamy Parmesan cheese has made several appearances in Mama D’s recipes) and Olive Oil  Rosemary Asiago cheeses (Another Mama D favorite with just the right sharpness and plenty of rosemary kick). Both of these cheeses come from Trader Joe’s, but any sharp Italian cheese would work. Emphasis on the “sharp”…a little goes a long way to create big flavor in a small package. I used about 1/2 cup shredded of each cheese and the flavor was more than satisfying.IMG_1616

All the players came together in a baking dish.  It baked covered for about 20 minutes, then I removed the foil and added breadcrumb topping and let it bake a bit more before cranking the oven to “Broil” and letting the golden magic happen.IMG_1629

It was very pretty, but that was nothing compared to how it tasted. A few sautéed grape tomatoes were the only addition to this “enlightened” meal. IMG_1634 It had the creaminess of a full dairy cheese sauce, but the chicken stock lowered the fat content nicely. While it wasn’t completely guilt free, it was darn close. This could easily serve six people, but in reality it is more like four servings, but even at that it still won’t totally break the fat and calorie bank.

Italian Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Italian Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
Print Recipe
Servings
6
Servings
6
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until not quite "al dente". Add the cauliflower and bring back to a boil. Drain and rinse, then set aside.
  2. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Coat lightly with cooking spray and add the sausage. Cook the sausage until it is golden brown, stirring frequently. Remove the sausage from the pan and set it aside.
  3. Add the olive oil to the pan. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Cook stirring often until everything is soft and fragrant. Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock to the pan. Stir to loosen any brown bits. Add the flour and cook and stir for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the remaining stock stirring until smooth. Stir in Half & Half and cook until the mixture thickens and is bubbly. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the grated cheese, stirring until it melts.
  5. Coat a rectangular baking dish with cooking spray. Combine the pasta, cauliflower, sausage, and cheese sauce in the pan. cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
  6. Combine the melted butter, bread crumbs, and Parmesan. Remove the foil and top the casserole with the crumb mixture. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Turn oven to broil and allow the topping to brown.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
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As I get ready to post this, it feels like Spring is truly here. Let’s hope that it plans on staying for awhile.

Stealing Inspiration and Artichoke Lasagna

Inspiration. It’s what motivates us to do something. We can be inspired by someone’s actions or words, which in turn allows us to try something new. Cooking is made up of many things, but first and most important is inspiration. Whether it’s a beautiful vegetable at its peak of deliciousness, an upcoming event that screams for a special dish, or a recipe that sparks the creative juices of the mind and palate. That’s what this is all about…taking inspiration from a recipe.

Those of us who love to cook often come up with ideas that arrive like lightning bolts that must be harnessed into wonderful food. We take to the kitchen and experiment until we create the perfect storm, a dish that is fabulous. There are also times when we see someone else’s “perfect storm” and are inspired to create our own version of that perfection. Let’s face it, most of us do not follow a recipe to the letter (with the exception of baking where creative license can mess with the kitchen chemistry). We add a little more of something or maybe a little less.

There are times when I see a recipe in a magazine or on-line that gives me an idea. I take the basic idea and run with it. That’s how the Artichoke Lasagna came to be. The recipe I came across used artichokes, mushrooms, and red bell peppers to create the filling that included a huge amount of cream cheese. I kept the veggies and lost the cream cheese to create a lasagna that was all my own with a more traditional filling using ricotta, cheese, and eggs, along with a bit of pesto.IMG_1510I combined the vegetables with this and the result was a creamy filling ready to hold its own in my lasagna.IMG_1519I decided to try whole grain lasagna and I can highly recommend it. The nutty flavor and sturdy texture added to the lasagna’s taste.IMG_1524The lasagna went together in the usual way; layers of noodles, filling and cheese.IMG_1527 I topped it off with a Bechamel Sauce that I made with fat-free half & half and Cracked Pepper Toscano Cheese. This is one of my favorite Trader Joe’s items. It’s a creamy Parmesan type cheese that is coated in black pepper. Wonderful in cooking  and a delicious addition to a cheese plate. IMG_1532The lasagna emerged from the oven bubbly and golden as every lasagna should. After a waiting period that seemed endless, but was really about 15 minutes, it was ready to cut and serve.IMG_1537This was a win win for stolen inspiration and conscious en”light”enment. The filling was creamy and filled with veggie goodness. The six generous servings had plenty of cheesy goodness from modest amounts of  ricotta and Italian Cheese Blend and of course, that killer Bechamel.

A Disclaimer: This is not a quick weeknight meal, but it can be assembled ahead of time (even the day before) and hang out in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it. Just let it come to room temperature before baking. The recipe may look daunting at first glance. There are lots of steps which is typical of most lasagna recipes, but they are pretty easy to execute and are definitely worth the effort. Make this when you have time on a Sunday and you’ll have a delicious Meatless Monday supper with no more effort than turning on the oven and tossing a salad.

Artichoke Lasagna
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Artichoke Lasagna
Print Recipe
Servings
6
Servings
6
Ingredients
Bechamel Sauce
Lasagna
Servings:
Instructions
Bechamel sauce
  1. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently for 2 minutes or so. Add the milk slowly whisking constantly to keep things smooth.
  2. Bring the mixture just to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Set aside in a warm place. If sauce gets too thick add a little more half & half.
Lasagna
  1. Cook the lasagna according to the package directions. Drain well and lay out on wax or parchment paper. Prepare the filling while the pasta cooks.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add the bell peppers and mushrooms and cook another 3 minutes. Stir often during this step to insure everything is softening.
  3. Add the garlic and artichoke hearts and cook 3 minutes more or until everything is soft, fragrant, and lightly browned. Allow to cool before adding to the other filling ingredients.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, pesto, and 1/3 cup of the Italian Cheese Blend. Mix everything together. Add the cooled vegetables and stir it all together.
  5. Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray. Place 2 lasagna noodles in the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the filling evenly over the noodles. Sprinkle with a little of the remaining cheese blend and drizzle a tablespoon or two of the Bechamel over the layer.
  6. Repeat the process with two more noodles and the other half of the filling. Sprinkle with cheese and drizzle with sauce as for the first layer.
  7. Top with the remaining two noodles. Spread the rest of the Bechamel sauce on top and sprinkle with the last of the cheese blend.
  8. Cover loosely with foil and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Check to see if things are beginning to bubble. If not cover and bake another 5 minutes or so.
  9. When the lasagna is bubbly, remove the foil and raise the oven to broil. Broil the lasagna for 3 - 4 minutes or until it is lightly golden brown and even more bubbly.
  10. Allow to rest 10 -15 minutes before cutting and serving.
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