Ziti with Winter Squash

Every now and then, I get a culinary idea out of nowhere, that is equal parts “hey, this could be good” and “Well, we got this in the fridge.. so”.  More often than not, it turns out pretty decent.  Once in a great while, it’s spectacular. This one was one of the later instances.

It’s been cold here of late, so I thought of doing a butternut squash pasta (because what says winter like butternut squash?). However, in the wake of Thanksgiving, Teeter was out of them, so I switched to acorn.

OK-  so how to turn two acorn squash into what you see below —  easy.  First,  butcher the squash and roast it (375 for about 50 min) in the oven with some EVOO, balsamic, s&p and as much red pepper flake as you like.  When that’s just about done, render down some pancetta and carmelize some shallots, then toss in the squash to sautee in the bacon goodness for a minute or three.  Add some white wine (we happened to have a bottle of white in the fridge that I’d been cooking with for a month..) and let that fully reduce. Then, right before your pasta is ready (I used ziti, but any cut pasta will do) – add a bit of cream (which I had left over from Thanksgiving) and then toss in the pasta and a little pasta water to make the sauce. (Remember, always take your pasta out of the water 90 seconds before the box tells you to and let it finish in the sauce).

Top it off with mint, chives and parsley (all similarly left over from Thanksgiving) — and of course, some parm.

A quick and easy dinner – that a certain toddler just devoured.

Enjoy!

Spaghetti and Meatballs

99.9% of Americans will tell you this is the most Italian dish in the world; in reality, no actual Italian would eat pasta with their meatballs. No matter to us, this is the ultimate family dish. I have fond memories of gathering every Sunday at my grandmothers for Sunday supper, yet, oddly, my sauce is nothing like hers.   She made hers rather thin, mine is quite thick, almost like a bolognese.

There’s really no recipe here, I’ve made it so many times I can do it in my sleep, but here’s a rough guide so you can do it yourself.

Sauce:

  1. Roast some garlic in the oven (275 degrees for about an hour and a half)
  2. In a dutch oven, heat some olive oil and sautee some onions for about 5 min. throw in some hot Italian sausage, and let that caramelize for about 8 minutes.  Now toss in the roasted garlic and red pepper flake
  3. Optional, if you have some open red wine, throw it in here maybe a half a cup or so, and let that cook down
  4. Put in one can of diced tomatoes, one can of tomato sauce, one can of tomato paste, and then add two cans of water (from the diced tomato can)
  5. Add a heavy amount of basil, parsley and oregano.  Lower the heat to simmer, and let it cook for several hours
  6. After a few hours, blend the sauce with an emersion blender, add in the meatballs (below) let it cook for a few hours more, fresh parm and copious amounts of wine.

Meatballs:

Pretty easy recipe –Make sure everything is room temp

  1. 2/3 ground beef, 1/3 ground pork. (if you’re feeling really fancy, you can substitute 1/3 of the ground beef for veal).
  2. Add in a little salt, fistfulls of dried basil, parsley and oregano and some dried italian breadcrumbs
  3. Add in an egg or 2, then mix it all together with your hands
  4. Quickly sear/fry the meatballs in olive oil (60 seconds a side) — then place them into the sauce after step 6 above to let them fully cook

 

Orichette with Sausage and Fennel

With only a few days (hours?!) until the newest kid arrives, I’ve spent the past week or two checking off the family favorites. This one might be Ben’s. I first saw it mindless watching the Food Network one afternoon as Giada made this recipie for a picnic. She served it cold. I mostly follow it to the letter, although i add far more wine, and usually some red pepper flake, because everyone in the family likes a little kick and serve it hot

There are a few more favorties to check off, pizza for one. Will we get to make them before the kid shows up…. we’ll see.

When Two Become One

When cooking for company, or doing overly elaborate things, I’ll usually keep a recipe close and follow 75% of it or so.  It’s fun to see dishes turn out the way they’re supposed to, especially if they’re really difficult techniques or presentations.

However, to me, its a heck of a lot more fun to take a concept, and turn it into something of your own.  One of our family’s favorite dishes is penne with sausage and saffron and we make it quite frequently. However, one random day I was watching Ina Garten cook up a storm on the Barefoot Contessa, and saw her create this sausage and fennel pasta, which seemed similar enough, yet different from our family staple.  I made it once on its own by the recipe but quickly realized the dish would be better if I essentially combined the two ideas into one original.

I basically follow Ina’s recipe, but use hot sausage instead of sweet (gives it more of the red color that I was looking for) — and add a heavy pinch of saffron and a fair amount of thyme (from the sausage and saffron recipe), Here’s the result below, which has become one of my favorite personal creations.

Enjoy!

Mother’s Day Creative Pasta

I’m fortunate enough to have a better half, although to be honest, most days it feels more like she’s the better three quarters.  She’s brilliant– I, um, try hard. She’s successful, I often hack my way through.  She’s gorgeous, I’m, well, me. But at least I can cook, and I try to put a smile on her face come dinner time every night, and make an extra effort to go that extra mile on holidays.

Unfortunately, many of her favorite meals in my lexicon aren’t exactly pregnancy-friendly (my seared tuna with mango avocado salsa, for example)– So this Mother’s Day, I went with a little creativity and hoped for the best.

The weather was lousy here today, grey and wet. So I wanted to do something a little more hearty for dinner tonight, which led me to mushrooms, and being Italian pasta on a Sunday seemed to make the most sense.  The result — this.  A wild mushroom spaghetti

I took a variety of mushrooms (porcini, hen of the woods, baby bellas) – and sauteed them in garlic, olive oil, and shallots, threw in some white wine and some herbs grown in the garden (sage and basil) then pureed most of it with a little cream and goat cheese. I added a little pasta water to loosen it up and bind it to the pasta and then topped it off with a few of the mushrooms that were pulverized and of course, a little parm.

Served alongside some simply roasted broccoli, and a glass of red (for me) — and all and all, not too bad.

Although, probably a safe bet that next Mother’s Day will involve seared tuna.

 

 

Penne with Sausage and Saffron

Years ago, my parents bought me a subscription to the (now defunct) La Cucina Italiana magazine, which assured that every two months, I’d get 70 pages full of pictures that would make me hungry, and very few recipes I would ever make, on account of the fact that most of them included exotic or at least non-everyday ingredients like rabbit, or required more cooking and prep time than a working day (or at that point, a working boyfriend) could invest most nights of the week.  However, about a dozen recipes have made it into our frequent rotation; this is one of them.  Its one of the wife’s favorites, and the munchkin can’t get enough of it.

It’s pretty easy. Take a white onion, sautee it in a little canola oil with some thyme for about 5 minutes or just until the onions start to brown.  Toss in about a half pound of sausage meat (I think the original recipe calls for sweet, but hot can work too), then add about cup of cream and a heavy pinch of saffron (bloom the saffron in a bit of water before adding to the cream).  Let that thicken up for a few minutes, then toss the sauce over your favorite cut pasta.

As always, serve with red wine.  If you’re the parent of a toddler, lots of red wine.

Beating the Heat with Citrus

Citrus flavors are often a great way to combat blazing temperatures outside. Given that it’s 90+ outside this citrus and pea linguini really hit the spot.

This is mostly following this recipe from epicurious with only two changes. I swapped out the orange for a blood orange, which has a bit of a stronger flavor… and its juice can make a tasty mimosa or screwdriver tomorrow.

Swapped linguini for penne, to better enable pictures like this.

Shockingly, the kid didn’t like the prosciutto….we might have to disown him.

 

Sometimes Friday calls for Lasanga

Business has been a little slow of late. Having some time on my hands, I realized that my son (2, going on 13) had never tasted lasagna.  This had to change, and rapidly.

So, I started with this recipe from Epicurious, but made a few key changes.

  1. I replaced half the ground beef with Italian sausage
  2. I added a can of San Marzano tomatoes
  3. I let the sauce cook for hours.

This was the result. And yes, a 2-year-old ate that entire piece.

Carbonara – Proof that God Exisits

I’m honestly not sure if I had ever had Spaghetti Carbonara until the wife and I took our honeymoon to Italy. Which basically means I lived the first 30 years of my life deprived.

You’d think with so few ingredients, it would be a pretty idiot proof dish. You’d think wrong.  The number of times I served what basically turned out to be spaghetti and scrambled eggs was appalling.  Then I found this New York Times recipe and everything made sense.  I usually double the pancetta in the dish (because, which of life’s problems cannot be solved with more bacon?) and add one extra egg yolk to the mixture, although “1 egg” can always be a bit of an inaccurate thing listed on a recipe, given that they don’t come in uniform sizes.  While generally sacrilegious, I often had some parsley or basil at the end just for color.

Key to success here is having the eggs and pancetta at mostly room temperature. Even let the pasta cool a little too. The only heat to cook the eggs should come from the lukewarm pan, the residual heat from the pasta, and the pasta water.

Macaroni and Broccoli 

I’m told my great-grandmother was a hell of a cook.  She passed when I was rather young, and by the time I got to know her (or at least my earliest memories of her), she wasn’t cooking very much. This dish was one of her staples, but since she never taught me how she made it, I’m told my version of it is entirely different from hers. It’s also likely considerably less healthy —

That said, it’s pretty straightforward — Take a fair amount of olive oil, sautee as much garlic as you want for 30 seconds, then drop in the broccoli to fry for about 8-10 minutes until its soft. (I’m told my great-grandmother boiled the broccoli)

Season liberally as you go with dried basil, oregano and parsley, as well as a little salt to taste, and then serve it over any pasta you choose (I usually go with penne).  Add a little more olive oil for the “sauce” — (the pasta should be slippery) — and top it off with some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, the undisputed king of cheeses.

An old world classic, start to finish in 30 minutes of less.

Enjoy!