Category Archives: Weeknight Supper

A Monday Kind of Pasta Frittata

As Summer finally (maybe) comes to an end, leaving a checkerboard path of meatless meals in its wake, I am again moving into “Meatless Mondays.” I am also once again cleaning out the refrigerator, putting ingredients to use before they are useless. That being said this recipe would be wonderful even if it was planned in advance.

I have just returned from a wonderful visit with California friends. While I was living it up in a penthouse suite overlooking the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, Papa D was left to his own devices as far as meals were concerned. One evening he cooked a pound of pasta to go with the container of Sunday Gravy that I had left in the refrigerator. Wisely, he decided to save some of the pasta  to scramble with eggs (his idea).

Liking the idea when I got home, I ran with it. There were a few other leftovers that needed rescuing. Peppers, tomatoes and some cheese all were nearing the end of the road so they gathered together to become a pasta frittata.This dish, and the use of pasta, is popular in many areas of Italy. It can be labeled Neapolitan or Sicilian and is probably claimed by many other regions, but it always seems to use leftover pasta as its base. Techniques can vary, but I like cooking the vegetables first.and adding the pasta second. Olive oil is a driving force in this process as is initial high heat. Once the eggs are added along with some cheese, things need to get low and slow. This is a dense dish that takes time to set. This also allows time to enjoy the fragrance that the garlic and other vegetables create.When the frittata is almost set, it gets crowned with a little more cheese (a hard grating cheese is best. Asiago, Romano or Parmesan are good choices) and heads for the broiler. Lightly golden and ever so slightly crusty it is ready for its close up. A sprinkling of basil or any other available herb gives it a little more color.This makes a lovely weeknight supper, but it is just as at home for a weekend brunch. The format is easy and lends itself to whatever embellishment you want to add. This served two lavishly and could easily serve more with a salad and some crusty bread added.  

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Pasta Frittata
Servings: 2
Ingredients
  • 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 3/4 Cup Thinly sliced Onions
  • 3/4 Cup Thinly sliced Sweet Peppers
  • 2 cloves Garlic Chopped
  • 1 Cup Grape Tomatoes Halved
  • 2 Cups Cooked Pasta
  • 4 Eggs Beaten
  • 2 Tbsp. Milk
  • 1 Tsp. Italian Hebs
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Italian Cheese Divided
  • 1/4 Cup Thinly sliced Basil
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in an oven proof skillet. Add the onions and peppers and cook stirring occasionally until softened and beginning to brown. 5-7 minutes.

  2. Add the garlic and tomatoes to the pan and cook another 3 - 4 minutes. The garlic should be fragrant and the tomatoes should begin to soften.

  3. Add the pasta and toss to combine the ingredients. Continue to cook, tossing occasionally until the pasta begins to take on some color, another  5 minutes or so.

  4. Heat the oven to broil. Beat the eggs, milk and half of the cheese together until well blended. Stir in the Italian herbs. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the pan so that it is even.

  5. Lower the heat to medium and cook lifting the edges of the egg to allow the mixture to cook through. Once the eggs are almost set, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and transfer to the oven.

  6. Broil until the top is golden and the cheese has melted. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the basil and serve.

I don’t want to cut anyone’s weekend short, but Monday is just around the corner. If you make pasta over the weekend, make a little extra…a frittata might be just the way to begin the “Meatless Monday” tradition.

 

Bringing Back Summer…Grilled Turkey Tenderloins

Remember a short time ago when I was gushing about Fall coming to the Midwest? Well, this is the Midwest after all and seasons are relative. My last casserole adventure had barely been seen when the weather decided it wasn’t quite finished with Summer. For what seems like an eternity we have been plunged back into hot humid weather and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in the foreseeable future.

Here in the Midwest grills never really get put away. Oh, we may cover them, but we never seal them because we know that we might wake up to another summer day when we least expect it. So, I’d like to share a mostly grilled dinner that happened recently. The protein is Turkey Tenderloin. This has been a staple all summer long.

These come from Aldi. a grocery store chain that is re-inventing itself and the way people look at buying food. These stores have been a “no frills,” limited inventory, house brand, haven for people looking to save money. This year they began a multi-million dollar project of revamping their stores to expand their product line and tap into the shopping habits of more consumers. To illustrate this, everything on the plate came from Aldi; Organic Rainbow Baby Carrots, Sugar Snap Peas, and Sweet Potatoes. Even the Memphis Barbecue Sauce that glazed the sweet potatoes was an Aldi find.

I didn’t set out to create an “All Aldi” dinner. It just happened and it is happening more often thanks to the fact that I can once again walk to my local Aldi (the above mentioned re-vamping caused the store to close for a month, yes, a month). They reopened brighter, bigger, and more grocery store like. The quality of their products has been improving over the last few years and this remodel is the final step to compete with, if not the “big boys,” at least the smaller more boutique chains that are expanding everywhere. Yes, they are a cousin of Trader Joe’s.

Now back to this End of Summer, Please! dinner. These tenderloins come marinated. I like the Cracked Pepper Flavor. There are two large tenderloins in each package, so there is plenty for dinner with leftovers for salads and sandwiches through the week. Just open the package, drain off the marinade and they are ready for the grill.

The sweet potatoes went on the grill, too. The wedges browned beautifully and were brushed with a bit of barbecue sauce for a little extra flavor.

The only part of the dinner that didn’t make it to the grill, the carrots and snap peas, roasted in the oven dressed, in a little brown sugar and olive oil. I am in love with Rainbow Carrots. Besides being lovely to look at, they are delicious to eat. Once I had to hunt for them, now I find them everywhere in every shape and size. From 2 pound bags of large carrots to bunches of baby carrots still sporting their ferny crowns, to these baby versions all peeled and pretty and waiting to be cooked.

I even attempted to grow them in my tiny garden this year. My pitiful harvest attested to the fact that “trash gardening” doesn’t work for everything. (magnified to show detail)

Roasting carrots is by far my favorite preparation technique. They only need a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a pinch of brown sugar and some salt and pepper. I like to keep additional seasoning to a minimum so that the sweetness of the carrots comes through. If I want to change things up I may add a little fresh thyme or some cumin, but I don’t often gild this lily.

They can roast by themselves or as in this case be joined by some onions and towards the end of roasting some snap peas. They go with everything color and taste wise.

Non- Recipe, Recipe:

Roasted Carrots

For one pound of carrots you need about one tablespoon of olive oil, 1/2  teaspoon brown sugar ( more is all right, too), salt and pepper to taste. Toss these together in a bowl. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet that has been lightly coated with cooking spray. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so, stirring once or twice. 

This is one dish that really doesn’t have a season. Carrots, rainbow or not, baby or big are available year around and are usually cheap. They will continue to grace the plates of many meals in the Kitchen of Love. Oh, and before I forget….

Fall, please come back. I miss you.

Bring on Fall…Spinach Alfredo Casserole

There are signs of Fall all around us. The trees (those that can) are beginning to show their autumn paletes of red and gold. The vibrant petunias and impatiens of Summer are being replaced by more subtly colored and hardier mums. Squirrels are hunting and burying with gusto. Kitchens are beginning to fire up the ovens as often as firing up the grill.

In case you haven’t guessed, I love Fall. It is my favorite time of year. Those of you who only know it is Fall by the month on the calendar or the inexplicable appearance of pumpkin spice everything, are missing quite an experience. Whatever the weather is where you are, it is time to think about making those comfort filled one dish wonders, casseroles.

Here is one to get your autumnal juices flowing. This starts quite simply with penne pasta as a base, but any cut pasta would do. Baby spinach and crimini mushrooms team up with onion and garlic to give some plant presence to the dish.

The sauce is Alfredo. You can make this sauce, and it is really quite easy, or you could buy pre-made sauce which is even easier. I am not a proponent of prepared foods in general, but once in a while it doesn’t compromise my integrity too much to reach for a jar or carton. Find one with an ingredient list that has things you can easily identify and not too many non-food additives. They are out there.

The vegetables were sautéed in a little olive oil, taking turns based on cooking time. Once everything was as it should be, the sauce was added. Once it was at a bubble some asiago cheese went in. Th penne was added and everything went into a good-sized casserole.

I gave it a blanket of cheesy breadcrumbs and let it bake until it displayed all of the requisite casserole characteristics; bubbly edges and golden brown crust. It was delicious, it made the house smell wonderful, and it was the perfect comfort food for the first chilly night of the season.

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Spinach Alfredo Casserole


Servings: 4
Ingredients
  • 8 Ounces Penne Pasta Any cut pasta will work
  • 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 1 Mediium Onion Chopped
  • 8 Ounces Crimini Mushrooms sliced
  • 4 Cloves Garlic Chopped
  • 6 Ounces Baby Spinach Chopped
  • 1-1/2 Cups Alfredo Sauce Home made or prepeared
  • 1/3 Cup Milk More or less as needed
  • Salt and Pepper To Taste
  • 4 Ounces Grated Asiago Cheese
  • 3/4 Cup Bread Crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp. Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. Butter
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water 2 minutes less than the box directs. Drain and put in a 2 quart casserole dish that has been generously sprayed with olive oil cooking spray. Prepare the sauce while the past cooks

  2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil swirling to coat the bottom of the skillet. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  3. Add the mushrooms and garlic to the skillet and cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.

  4. Add the spinach and toss well to combine. Cook 3 - 4 minutes until the spinach begins to wilt. Stir in the Alfredo sauce and continue to cook until it comes to a bubble, stirring often. If the sauce seems thick, add the milk a little at a time until you have a medium thick sauce.

  5. Turn the heat to low and add the Asiago cheese. Stir until it is completely melted. Taste and add salt and pepper as you need. Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir to completely combine.

  6. Melt the butter and stir in the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese . Toss until the crumbs are well coated. Sprinkle on the top of the casserole.

  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes. The crumbs should be brown and the sauce should be bubbly. Allow to rest a few minutes before serving.

Fall likes to take its time around here. Right now it feels far more summer like. We all know that this is only a fleeting event and soon the weather will demand something from the oven. This casserole is a good place to start.

Melrose Peppers, Another Love Story

This is a story about Melrose Peppers. It is also a story about growing up in Melrose Park surrounded by family. Not everyone can claim that their hometown has a pepper named after it, but I can.

The Melrose pepper, an Italian sweet variety, came to Melrose Park along with many Italian Immigrants. My grandfather was one of those settlers and like so many others he had a garden. When I was little, I was fascinated with the garden across the street from our house. I remember my grandfather spending hours tending the tomato and pepper plants. There were lots of other vegetables, but those are the ones I remember most. I grew up taking for granted that everyone had a giant field of food within walking distance.

Sadly, my grandfather passed away and before long, so did his garden. The field became home to a trio of brick three flats. The tradition of garden fresh produce continued in Melrose Park, however. There was a converted school bus that came down our street several times a week in the summer. Inside was a veritable wonderland of fruits and vegetables. There always seemed to be plum tomatoes and Melrose peppers. That was a convenience that is no longer a reality.

If for some reason we missed the bus, there was always Tom Naples stand. To call it a stand is an understatement. It was huge (at least to an 8-year-old) and had every vegetable imaginable. There were fields of Melrose peppers growing behind his stand. I think he supplied the entire Chicago area Italian population with these sweet little beauties.

They were a staple in Italian kitchens in the summer. Fried in olive oil and seasoned with salt they crowned sausage and Italian beef sandwiches. They could simmer in tomato sauce and in a time when there was plenty of time they could be stuffed with sausage. My favorite treatment was when they were added to scrambled eggs for that Friday Supper Favorite, Pepper and Egg Sandwiches. Tucked into crusty Italian bread there was nothing better. It was delicious enough that I never missed the meat.

Years passed and access to the peppers did too. With all the bounty of produce we experienced living in California, there was never a Melrose Pepper. Once we moved back to Illinois it took some time before I re-discovered them. I have sung the praises of Caputo’s Fresh Market before, but I may love them the most because they reunited me with my cherished peppers.

This year my love affair reached a new level. I actually found Melrose Pepper plants and two have lived happily in my tiny garden plot. They have withstood heat, rain (and lack thereof), and rabbits and have given me if not a bounty at least some tasty meals.

Since I am always interested in the next “Can you grill it?” adventure I thought it was time to put my small bounty of Melrose beauties to the test. What better way then to pair them with one of their most popular partners, Italian sausage. I chose Scratch Family Chicken Italian Sausage because I got to talk to the creator at my favorite Caputo’s and his passion was as remarkable as his sausage. The sausage which is made with natural ingredients tastes remarkably like its pork cousin. The company is local, based in Montgomery, serving a limited market in the Chicago area. I think it’s due to get more widely known.

This sausage is also fully cooked which made it an even better choice for Mama D’s Grill Basket of Love.

While not traditional, I added a few red bell pepper strips for some color and some sliced sweet onions for a bolder flavor. Everything cooked together so the flavors really had a chance to blend. The result was a one dish meal that would have made my grandfather proud.

There isn’t much of a recipe to write. All you need is enough sausage, peppers, and onions to feed your family. Olive oil, maybe a bit of Italian herbs, and a sprinkle of some Pecorino Romano and you are good to go.

As my lead picture indicates, the last batch of peppers are turning their fully ripe crimson, an event that makes them even sweeter. The last peppers are waiting to be picked and I will miss them. A year is a long time to be without them. The season for these little guys is short and they may be hard to find but, keep an eye out for them, they are worth the hunt.

In Praise of Gas Grills…and Roasted Red Peppers

Summer is at its peak and fresh vegetables are overflowing their bins. Grills everywhere are fired up and working up a major sweat. Vegetables and grills have a special affinity that is at its best at this time of the year.

Purists will swear by charcoal and I do love me some char-grilled meat, but there are times when the convenience of gas has many of its own attributes. Disclaimer: I have no choice other than using a gas grill. Apartment living requires it for safety reasons (at least in my complex). That being said, I used gas long before I had to. It is at times a love hate relationship but, lately I love it and here is why.

The biggest plus (in my book) is how quickly it is ready to cook. Turn on the gas and press the button and you have a flame.  In a few minutes it is hot and ready to cook. What I love the most about this almost instant grill gratification is that it allows me to grill only the ingredients that I want. These ingredients can then come inside and become part of a pasta dish, frittata or salad. and yes all of those have happened this past week.

Woodman’s, a local mega grocery store, discounts their slightly sad produce. The discount is deep (think large bags of produce for 99 cents) and it is done daily with Mondays seeming to be the biggest day. While there are often some things that are sadder than others, there is usually enough usable produce to be well worth the under a dollar price. Quick processing then becomes the top priority. My bag of peppers, all of which were usable went in several directions. I chopped up a few and froze them for later, some where good enough for a salad and the rest went on the grill.

Grilling peppers accomplishes two things. The peppers cook into a silky textured scarlet bite of deliciousness and the charring allows the skin to easily be peeled.  This peeling step is a must do. For as silky as the pepper flesh gets the skin becomes tough, chewy and isn’t fun to eat.

As with peeling chili peppers, covering with plastic wrap and allowing the peppers to sit for a few minutes makes the skin easy to remove. The jewel like flesh that is revealed is a thing of beauty.

I opted to roughly chop the peppers for the recipes that I made, but slicing them into strips and adding some herbs, vinegar and olive oil create the perfect star for your next relish tray. As I said they made several appearances in the kitchen. My favorite was their co-starring role in a Panzanella Salad.

Cucumbers, cannellini beans, red onions, tomatoes, and whole wheat baguette joined the peppers and some kalamata olives to create a Mediterranean main dish salad that was wonderful. 

A Mediterranean Vinaigrette laced with lots of Rosemary gave a light yet zesty flavor to the salad. A sprinkling of Feta and it was ready to enjoy.

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Mediterranean Vinaigrette

A twist on the classic vinaigrette with plenty of lemon and more than a hint of garlic. Add any fresh herbs of your choice. This is wonderful on a Greek salad, but it would be equally delightful as a dressing for grilled vegetable or a pasta salad. It makes a great marinade as well.

Ingredients
  • 1 Medium Lemon Juice and zest
  • 2 Cloves Garlic Grated
  • 1/4 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes Optional, to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Herbs Parsley, thyme, basil, or you choice
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper To taste
  • 1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/4 Cup Olive oil
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until completely blended. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

As far as Panzanella Salad Recipes go…anything goes. Tomatoes and cucumbers seem to be a must and of course crusty bread has to be present as this is a “Bread Salad.”

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Cannellini and Roasted Red Pepper Panzanella Salad

Another variation on the classic Panzanella Salad.  This is totally open to your own interpretation. add or subtract what you want, just make sure the tomatoes and bread stick around.

Servings: 4
Ingredients
  • Can Cannellini Beans Drained and rinsed
  • 2 - 3 Roasted Red Peppers Chopped
  • 1 Cup Sliced Cucumber
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced Red Onion Scliced vertically
  • 1/4 Cup Kalamata Olives Sliced
  • 1 Cup Grape or Cherry Tomatoes Halved
  • 2 Cups Crusty Bread Cubes Day Old is best
  • 3/4 Cup Mediterranean Vinaigrette Recipe above
  • 1/3 Cup Crumbled Feta Cheese
Instructions
  1. If the bread cubes are soft toast them lightly in a 325 degree oven. they should be dry and lightly golden. Combine the peppers, tomatoes, onion, olives, bread, and beans in a large bowl.

  2. Add the dressing and toss to coat everything nicely. cover and chill for several hours.

  3. When you are ready to serve, re-toss the salad adding a little more dressing if necessary. Sprinkle with the Feta cheese and serve.

So now that I have “said my piece” about grills and peppers, I will leave you with this bit of philosophy: Grills and peppers come in all shapes and sizes. Kind of like everything else in the world. Find what works, find what you love, and make it your own.