Rigatoni with Sausage, Fennel and Ricotta

SNOW DAY!!!! I am currently sitting in my cozy living room drinking a giant cup of tea while the winds of Winter Storm Stella (aka #blizzard2017) howl outside. Knowing that we would be home from work today, Matt and I decided in advance that we’d make a big dinner last night that could serve double-duty as an excellent lunch after shoveling today. We settled on a riff of Ina Garten’s Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel, a warm, stick-to-your-ribs pasta dish with a creamy, rich sauce.

Our riff originates from the first time we made this: we didn’t have the heavy cream that Ina called for but we DID have ricotta cheese so we subbed that in. The ricotta melted into the sausage and pasta and tasted amazing. So good, in fact, that we never even considered going back to heavy cream for last night’s meal.

A note about the pasta for this dish… we made it ourselves!! Matt and I got a pasta machine last winter and we make fresh pasta all the time. Like, multiple times a week. Good thing I’m a runner and need my carbs!!! Homemade pasta tastes fresher and has a chewier, more complex texture than the boxed stuff. For our pasta we combine semolina flour, AP flour, eggs, salt and water and the Philips machine does the rest. It’s really crazy to watch it pump fresh pasta right out the front of the machine. I really should have taken a video but here are some photos. I never knew fresh pasta could be so easy to make!

Rigatoni with Sausage, Fennel and Ricotta
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey; serves 4

Ingredients
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Fennel Bulb, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 Yellow Onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 lb. Italian Sausage, casings removed
2-3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Whole Fennel Seeds, crushed or ground in spice grinder
1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons Salt, divided
1 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 cup dry White Wine
1 cup Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese*
2/3 cup Half and Half
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 lb. Pasta
1/2 cup chopped Parsley
1 cup freshly ground Parmesan Cheese
*To stick to Ina’s original recipe, substitute 1 cup heavy cream for the ricotta.

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion and saute, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until soft. Add the sausage, crumble, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until browned. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and bring mixture to a boil, then add the ricotta, half and half and tomato paste and stir well.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer sauce for 20 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package instructions and drain. (Or go all out and make fresh pasta!) When the sauce has finished simmering, add cooked pasta to sauce and stir well to coat the pasta evenly. Cook the mixture over low heat for 5 minutes then, off heat, stir in the parsley and Parmesan, reserving some Parm as a garnish if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!

…and, just for fun, here are a few more photos to celebrate the snow day. 😀

Parsley, Arugula and Ricotta Pesto

1504-parsley-pesto-pasta

I love basil pesto, but last week when I needed to make a side dish to bring to a party I decided to try something different. I paged through my America’s Test Kitchen Pasta Revolution cookbook and found a recipe for a tasty-sounding pesto with parsley, arugula, and ricotta cheese. I’ve now made this recipe two times in a week and can officially declare it a winner!

Like it’s basil-based cousin, this parsley pesto comes together quickly. Just toast the pine nuts and garlic in a hot skillet, then blend with fresh arugula, parsley, grated Parm, salt and olive oil. Then the best part… stir several spoonfuls of ricotta cheese into the pesto until the sauce is creamy and smooth. Combine with a pound of cooked pasta and you’ll have a bright, fresh, flavorful side that you’ll be proud to share with friends and family.

This pesto tastes extra delicious if you eat it while watching the Eagles crush the Steelers. Go Birds!

This pesto tastes extra delicious if you eat it while watching the Eagles crush the Steelers. Go Birds!

Parsley, Arugula and Ricotta Pesto
(Serves 4-6; from Pasta Revolution)

You will need…
1/4 cup Pine Nuts, toasted
3 cloves Garlic, toasted
1 cup packed Parsley
1 cup packed Arugula
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese, plus more for garnish
Salt and Pepper
7 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 cup Whole Milk Ricotta
1 pound Pasta

Directions:
Combine pine nuts, garlic, parsley, arugula, Parmesan, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a blender. Slowly pour in the olive oil as you blend the mixture for 30-60 seconds. Transfer the pesto to a large bowl and stir in the ricotta until well blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Before draining the pasta reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Mix several tablespoons of the reserved water into the pesto. Add the pasta and stir well until the pasta is evenly coated with pesto, adding more pasta water if desired. Top with freshly grated Parmesan and enjoy hot or cold.

1479-pesto-pasta

Pizza with Andouille, Kale and Cannellini Beans

Sometimes Matt and I spend hours making a fancy new recipe that seems like it will surely be “blog-worthy.” As we cook I painstakingly photograph each step and Matt waits patiently while I snap shot after shot of the finished dish before we eat. But guess what? Those elaborate, complicated meals don’t always live up to the hype. Sure, the food tastes good, but it’s just not special enough to warrant the time and energy to sort and edit all of those photos, especially if we know that we’d want to significantly tweak the recipe before ever attempting it again.

Other times a delicious recipe catches us totally by surprise. That was the case tonight when I spontaneously decided to combine Cannellini beans, kale and andouille sausage on a pizza. Matt isn’t a huge fan of white beans (or my tendency to try to work them into every meal possible), so he was rather suspicious about the whole idea from the start. I was more optimistic but still didn’t even bother to get my real camera out as I cooked… you’ll have to forgive the iPhone photos but after tasting it we both realized that this pizza was too good not to share!

Andouille Kale Cannellini Pizza

Hidden underneath those layers of spicy andouille sausage, melted mozzarella and wilted kale lies the secret ingredient of this pizza: a garlicky white bean puree.  I whipped up the puree using canned beans, minced garlic and a bit of thyme from my garden, then spread it like pizza sauce all over the uncooked dough. The beans imparted a thicker texture and heartiness to each bite of the finished pizza and complemented the bolder flavors of the kale and andouille perfectly.

Without further ado, here’s how I made tonight’s surprisingly blog-worthy pizza…

Pizza on the peel

Pizza with Andouille, Kale and Cannellini Bean Puree

You will need…
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 – 15 oz. can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves Garlic, minced
6 sprigs Thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
Salt, to taste
4-5 tablespoons Cornmeal or Semonlina Flour
1 package uncooked Pizza Dough
Small bunch Kale, stems removed and leaves torn into 3-5 inch pieces
8 oz. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
2 Andouille Sausages, fully cooked and sliced 1/8″ thick (we used Trader Joe’s Chicken Andouille tonight)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 490°F. Position the rack 6-8 inches from the top of the oven and place the pizza stone on the rack to warm up. Warm olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then add in the rinsed Cannellini beans. Saute beans for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gently stir in garlic and thyme and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes until garlic is very fragrant. Lightly salt, then transfer the bean mixture to a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding a little more olive oil if the mixture is too thick. Set aside.

Heap the kale leaves in the nonstick skillet you used for the beans. Saute the kale over medium-high heat until the kale is wilted.

Sprinkle cornmeal on the pizza peel then drop the pizza dough ball onto the cornmeal. Knead and spread the dough ball into a 15-17 inch pizza. Carefully remove the hot pizza stone from the oven and place it on a heat resistant surface. Transfer the dough to the stone and shape it into a nice circle the size of the stone.

Working quickly, spoon and spread the white bean puree onto the dough. Next, sprinkle a few handfuls of the shredded cheese over the pizza. Distribute the wilted kale evenly over the pie, leaving a 3/4 inch “margin” for the crust. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the kale and layer the andouille sausage slices over the cheese. Carefully slide the pizza stone back into the hot oven.

Bake the pizza for 8-9 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the edges of the crust are starting to turn golden brown. Keep an eye on the pizza as it cooks… if your oven heats unevenly (like ours does!) rotate the pie with a few minutes left on the cook time.

Remove the pizza from the oven, slice and enjoy!

Cutting the Pizza

Aunt Eileen’s Shrimp Curry

It’s time for another quick weeknight recipe! For dinner tonight Matt and I made this creamy shrimp curry over white rice. It came together so quickly that I had time to photograph it, eat it AND blog it all in the same night. Not a bad way to start the week!

1430 Shrimp Curry

The key element of this dish is the rich curry sauce that develops out of a surprisingly short and simple list of ingredients. Feel free to sub in cooked chicken for the shrimp or other veggies for the green pepper. Green beans, red pepper, broccoli… pretty much any vegetable is guaranteed to be delicious once it’s doused in this sauce. 😀

Aunt Eileen’s Shrimp Curry

Recipe from Matt’s late Aunt Eileen, who would make variations of this dish for family dinners.

You will need…
4 tablespoons Butter
Small Yellow Onion, chopped
Green Pepper, chopped
3-4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 pint Light or Fat Free Sour Cream
4 teaspoons Curry Powder
3/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Chili Powder
2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
1/2 teaspoon Minced Ginger (jarred or fresh)
1 lb. uncooked Shrimp, peeled and deveined
Hot Cooked White Rice (about 12 oz. uncooked)

Directions:
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and pepper and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the sour cream, curry powder, salt, chili powder, lemon juice and ginger.

Bring the sauce to a low simmer and add the shrimp. If you prefer a thinner sauce, stir 1/4-1/2 cup water into the sauce at this point. Allow the shrimp to cook in the sauce for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the sauce from heat as soon as shrimp turn pink and opaque. (Be careful not to overcook the shrimp!)

1428 Serving up the shrimp curry

Serve the curried shrimp over hot white rice. Enjoy!

1429 Shrimp Curry

Curried Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew

September has flown by!! This month was marked by several “blog-worthy” events, including a race, two vacations and a major room makeover. If only I could find the time to actually write these posts!! For tonight, however, I have an easy entry to share because I made it last fall and have been saving the photos since then. 😆

1203 Curried Butternut Squash Stew

This fantastic one-pot stew dish features curry-roasted morsels of butternut squash, flavorful red lentils, a hearty helping of kale and crumbled Italian sausage.  Sounds like a perfect fall dish, right?!? The curry-coated butternut squash smells amazing when it’s in the oven and the lentils, kale and squash cook down to form a thick, tasty mixture that completely makes you forget that you’re eating healthy food. Well, except for the sausage… but you can also use ground turkey (shown in my photos here from last year) or opt to leave the meat out altogether if you prefer a vegetarian dish.

1216 Curried Butternut Squash Stew

Curried Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew with Kale and Sausage

Serves 4-6; Slightly adapted from HealthyFoodForLiving.com.

Ingredients
For the curried squash…
4 cups cubed Butternut Squash
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
2 teaspoons Garam Masala

For the stew…
1 teaspoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
OPTIONAL: 1 lb. Ground Italian Sausage or Ground Turkey
1 Yellow Onion, finely chopped
3-4 Garlic Cloves, minced
3 teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
3 cups Chicken Broth (or Vegetable Broth, if going the vegetarian route)
3/4-1 cup Red Lentils
Curried Squash from above
1 bunch Kale, washed, stems, removed, and roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Naan flatbread

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss the cubed squash in olive oil and then add several grinds of salt and pepper plus the curry powder and garam masala. Stir well to coat the squash evenly. Spread the squash out in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway through. The squash cubes are ready when they are just starting to brown on the edges. Remove the squash from the oven and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add in the (optional) crumbled sausage or turkey and saute until cooked through. Transfer the cooked meat to a plate. Add the chopped onion to the leftover oil in the pot (drain off a bit if the meat was very fatty) and saute the onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, curry powder and garam masala and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Pour in the chicken broth and stir in the lentils. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the roasted butternut squash, sausage and chopped kale to the stew and stir to combine. Cook the stew for another 10-15 minutes or until the kale has wilted down. If you have a lot of kale covering the pot will speed up this process! Season with salt and pepper to taste.

1209 Curried Butternut Squash Stew

Serve a hearty portion of curried butternut squash stew with a few slices of naan. Enjoy!

Pork, Provolone & Spinach Stromboli

A few months ago Matt and I discovered A Casa, a local “bake at home” pizza shop that sells amazing homemade strombolis. A Casa’s strombolis are frozen and available in wonderful flavors like sausage, pepper and onions, Philly cheesesteak, buffalo chicken, and – our favorite – pulled pork and long-hot peppers.  YUM!

1239 Assembling the stromboli 2

Today we planned to pick up some A Casa strombolis but unfortunately the local market didn’t have them in stock.  A Casa itself is only a few miles down the road from our house, but it’s closed on Sundays so we found ourselves looking for other options.  Then we realized that we had 6+ lbs. of freshly smoked pork shoulder* in the fridge… we could make OUR OWN pulled pork stromboli!

After a quick stop to Trader Joe’s to pick up some pizza dough, provolone and spinach we were ready to go. The stromboli itself was very easy to assemble… just spread out the dough, add the cheese and fillings, fold and bake. The finished stromboli was delicious. Fresher, cheesier and less greasy than our beloved A Casa equivalent and so much more satisfying because we made it ourselves!

*Matt just got a smoker and this pork shoulder was the second recipe he’s made in it. Matt smoked a 9 lb. pork butt for 14+ hours yesterday and we had BBQ pork sandwiches for dinner. Now we have lots of yummy pork left over for lunch and dinner all week, but after tonight’s meal we also plan on using some of the meat to make a second pork stromboli to freeze for a future dinner!

I’ll post the smoked pork recipe at some point, but we want to make some tweaks to it first before it’s blog-worthy. 😄 For this recipe, you can use any left over slow-cooked pork.  (Try making it in a slow-cooker if you don’t have a smoker!)1264 Pork Stromboli

Pork, Provolone & Spinach Stromboli

Ingredients:
1 – 6-8 oz. bag Baby Spinach
3-4 spoonfuls Semolina Flour or Cornmeal
1 – 16 oz. ball Raw Pizza Dough
4 slices Provolone Cheese
1 cup chopped Roasted Pork Shoulder
4-5 spoonfuls chopped Long-hot Peppers or hot salsa; we used Trader Joe’s Hatch Valley Salsa which has a fiery, long-hot-like kick
1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Cooking Spray

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 475°F. If you have a pizza stone, put the stone in the oven while it preheats.

Heat 3-4 tablespoons of water in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the water begins to sizzle add the spinach and toss constantly for 1-3 minutes until wilted. Transfer the wilted spinach to a strainer and allow to cool for a few minutes. Once cool enough to work with, use a paper towel to press down on the spinach in the strainer and squeeze out as much water as you can. Transfer the spinach to a cutting board and roughly chop.

Spread a few spoonfuls of semolina flour onto a dry cutting board or pizza peel, then drop the dough ball onto the flour. Knead and spread the dough ball into a rectangle approximately 20″ long by 10″ wide.

1233 Assembling the stromboli 1

Place four slices of overlapping Provolone cheese on the dough, then distribute the spinach and pork over the cheese. Spoon the long-hots or salsa over the pork. Sprinkle a thin layer of Mozzarella cheese over top of the pork and spinach filling. Fold the long sides of the dough over the filling, then stretch and pull the dough on the short ends over top of the folded sides to close up the stromboli.

Carefully remove the hot pizza stone from the oven and place it on a heat resistant surface. Flip the stromboli over and place it in the center of the hot pizza stone so that the folded sides are facing down. (If using a pan, position the stromboli on the pan this way, too.) Poke the top of the stromboli with a fork 3-4 times to vent and spray the top of the ‘boli with 3-4 quick shots of cooking spray.

Bake the stromboli in a 375° oven on the stone for 12-13 minutes or until the top of the dough is golden brown. Rotate the stone 180° about halfway through the cook time to make sure that the stromboli cooks evenly. Remove the cooked stromboli from the oven, transfer to a pizza peel or cutting board, and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Cut the cooled stromboli, serve, and enjoy! 😄

1244 Finished Stromboli on the pizza stone

Zucchini Pesto Pizza

Basil is my favorite thing to grow in the garden. This year I have no fewer than 9 basil plants and every one is 2+ feet tall and thick with large, green, fragrant leaves. What do I do with all of this basil, you ask? Pesto pesto pesto!!! This time of year I make big batches of pesto at least once a week. I use a few tablespoons of the fresh pesto on whatever dish we’re eating that night, then I portion out the rest into a silicone ice cube tray, freeze it, and store the cubes in the freezer in a ziplock bag. These pesto cubes keep for months and definitely are a welcome treat in the dead of winter when dinner needs a kick of flavor.

2727 Zucchini Pesto Pizza

Fresh pesto is one of the key ingredients in this Zucchini-Pesto Pizza that I made for dinner tonight. I spread a liberal amount of pesto directly on the dough, then added layers of mozzarella cheese and thin zucchini slices that had been tossed in garlic and olive oil. Yum!!

2713 Zucchini Pesto Pizza

As a side note, I had a major revelation while making tonight’s dinner. I constantly struggle with getting the uncooked pizza off of the peel and onto the stone in the oven, so much so that lately I had resorted to cracking open the oven and placing the raw dough directly on the preheated stone. Then I would arrange the toppings on the dough while it was already cooking in the oven. (That’s the hot, energy-wasteful way to do it, but at least the pizza turned out out nice and round!!)

Tonight, however, I wondered… what if I just temporarily took the hot stone out of the oven and assembled the pizza directly on the stone while OUT of the oven?? It worked perfectly!! This is probably the way that everyone else makes pizza, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me until tonight. Oh well! 😄

2726 Zucchini Pesto Pizza

Zucchini Pesto Pizza

You will need…
Pizza Stone and Pizza Peel
1 medium Zucchini, sliced into very thin (1/8″) discs
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
Cornmeal or Semolina Flour
1 – 16 oz. ball Raw Pizza Dough
1/2 cup Fresh Basil Pesto
8 oz. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Freshly Ground Pepper

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 500°F. Position the rack 6-8 inches from the top of the oven and place the pizza stone on the rack to warm up. Place the zucchini discs in a shallow bowl with the olive oil and garlic, then toss thoroughly to coat.

Sprinkle 4-5 tablespoons of cornmeal on the pizza peel then drop the dough ball onto the cornmeal. Knead and spread the dough ball into a 15-17 inch pizza. Carefully remove the hot pizza stone from the oven and place it on a heat resistant surface. Transfer the dough to the stone and shape it into a nice circle the size of the stone.

Working quickly, spoon and spread the pesto onto the dough. Next, sprinkle half of the shredded cheese over the pesto. Layer the marinated zucchini slices evenly over the pie, leaving a 3/4 inch “margin” for the crust. Finally, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the zucchini and slide the stone back into the hot oven.

Bake the pizza for 8-9 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and starting to turn golden brown. Keep an eye on the pizza as it cooks… if your oven heats unevenly (like ours does!) rotate the pie with a few minutes left on the cook time.

Remove the pizza from the oven, top with a few grinds of black pepper, then slice and enjoy!

2730 Zucchini Pesto Pizza