Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower

Matt first made Ina Garten’s Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower in February and we knew immediately that this would become one of our go-to dinners. Now, during Quarantine, we’ve made this at least six times and, guess what? It’s what’s for dinner TONIGHT!! Yum.

This dish is SO different from the average “baked pasta.” The panko-encrusted shells are flavored with lemon, garlic and Fontina cheese. The insides of the shells harbor pockets of creamy ricotta and the occasional salty zing of a caper. Tender cauliflower florets melt into the space between shells and make this meal feel lighter and healthier (or at least less unhealthy!). The entire dish is completed with a topping of panko, parsley and pecorino and baked in the oven until golden brown.

For the past 12 weeks Matt and I have been dependent on online grocery availability and we’ve had to get creative with some ingredient substitutions. Can’t find Fontina? Try Gruyère, Emmental or Gouda.  No shells available in the pasta aisle? Cavatappi and Pipe Rigate work well, too. And that time our online shopper delivered PURPLE cauliflower instead of the normal white stuff? No problem… the dish was just a little more colorful that time around!

We typically get one dinner plus three servings of lunch out of each recipe. This is great as a leftover and, according to Ina’s note in the original recipe, can also be made ahead by assembling the dish, refrigerating, and baking just before serving.

Ina Garten’s Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower

From Cooking for Jeffrey, adapted slightly

You will need…
Salt and Pepper
1 lb. Pasta Shells
Olive Oil
1 head Cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
3 tablespoons Sage, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons Capers, drained
3 cloves Garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Lemon Zest
¼ teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
10 oz. Fontina Val d’Aosta Cheese, grated
1 cup Ricotta
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
6 tablespoons Pecorino Cheese, grated
2 tablespoons minced Parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente.  Drain the pasta and transfer it to a very large mixing bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan, then add half the cauliflower in a single layer. Sauté for 5-6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and starting to brown. Place the cooked cauliflower in the bowl with the pasta before sautéing the remaining cauliflower and adding to the pasta.

Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper to the bowl with the pasta and cauliflower. Stir gently, then add the grated Fontina cheese and stir again.

Transfer half the pasta mixture to a large casserole dish. Drop spoonfuls of ricotta over top of the pasta, then cover with the remaining pasta mixture.

Combine the panko, parsley, grated Pecorino and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle topping evenly over the pasta. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the topping is browned and the edges of the pasta are beginning to get crusty. Serve immediately and enjoy!

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 Continue reading

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.

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One Pot Pasta with Sausage, Kale and White Beans

This one pot pasta dish with sausage, kale and white beans is hearty, warming and satisfying… perfect for a cold winter night!  Of course, winter is drawing to an end (or it better be, at least!) so I figure I should hurry up and get this recipe up on the blog while we’re all still in the mood to see some comfort food.

One Pot Pasta with Sausage, Kale and White Beans 1

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of cooking an entire pasta dish in one pot but it wasn’t until a few months ago that Matt and I actually tried this technique for ourselves.  It turns out that there’s nothing particularly hard about making a one pot meal… you simply layer in each ingredient as you go.  First you brown the meat, then throw in the onions and beans, toss in a little garlic, add broth, water and uncooked pasta, then add in your kale in two batches… the first to cook down into the dish and the remainder to add a little bite and pop of color.  Easy!  Thanks to the cooked-down white beans, the resulting dish has a creamy, thick, almost stew-like consistency that is very different from a normal “two pot” recipe where the pasta is cooked separately in boiling water.

Matt and I have been making variations of this pasta almost every week this winter.  Sometimes we use spinach instead of kale or we throw in steamed broccoli along with the greens.  Feel free to change up the meat (hot sausage adds a nice kick) and the pasta… we’ve had delicious results with gemelli, fusilli lunghi, rigatoni and penne.

One Pot Pasta with Sausage, Kale and White Beans  (serves 4; recipe adapted from Cool Spring CSA)

You will need…
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lb. ground Sweet Italian Sausage, ground (remove casings if using normal sausage)
1 Yellow Onion, chopped
2 – 15 oz. cans Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
5-6 cloves Garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons Dried Oregano
Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper
3 cups Chicken Broth
2 cups Water
1 lb. Pasta (we used Gemelli this time)
1 bunch Kale, washed, stems removed, and roughly chopped
1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:
In a large (6+ qt.) dutch oven brown the crumbled sausage with 1-2T olive oil over medium-high heat.  When the sausage is cooked through, add the onion and beans and saute, stirring occassionally, until onion is tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, oregano and red pepper and stir for 30 seconds or until garlic is fragrant.

Pour in the chicken broth, water, pasta and half of the chopped kale and stir well to combine.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cover with a tightly fitted lid.  Allow the mixture to cook undisturbed for 6 minutes, then layer in the remaining kale on top of the pasta without stirring.  Recover and cook for another 4 minutes.  Remove the lid, stir, and taste test a piece of pasta.  (My favorite part!)

Allow the dish to continue to simmer uncovered for another few minutes until the pasta is cooked to your desired consistency.  Remove from heat, stir in the cheese, drizzle in a tablespoon or so of olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve and enjoy!

One Pot Pasta with Sausage, Kale and White Beans 2

What’s Cookin’?

I haven’t posted a new recipe on the blog for a while but, rest assured, Matt and I are eating well!  We’ve been re-making a lot of our favorite recipes and, quite frankly, I’m finding less motivation to try new recipes since we know we can throw together a garlicky pasta dish, flavorful stir fry, or quick rotisserie chicken burrito in less than a hour with delicious results.  Here are some of the dishes that we’ve been enjoying this Spring…  (mouse over for a link to each recipe)

This Spring has been pretty hectic with traveling, racing, and LOTS of yard work, but I have a feeling that things will slow down soon and we’ll find ourselves paging through our trusty cook books in search of new recipes to try.  We’d like to try smoking something (ribs? brisket?) this Summer and maybe try a grilled Romaine recipe.  I also definitely want to make Paella and I’d like to start making more desserts (cobblers and crumbles, anyone?).  I better start looking at those cookbooks!!

Do you have any go-to Summer recipes that you love making at this time of year?  Tell me about them (and feel free to link to them) in the comments!

Easy Shrimp Scampi with Linguine

Every once in a while a recipe comes along that is so delicious and so easy to make that I know that I must blog about it the moment the meal is done.  Recipes that made it onto this blog the night of their consumption include my Mexican Pizza, Trader Joe’s style Eggplant Parm, and our Las Vegas-inspired Guacamole-Chiptole Burgers…  I just couldn’t wait until the next day to share them!  Well, after tonight’s dinner a new recipe is joining that elite list: Ina Garten’s 25-minute Shrimp Scampi with Linguine.  Doesn’t it look fantastic??

700 Shrimp Scampi

The concept is simple:  Sauté garlic in melted butter and stir in a pound of shrimp until just cooked through.  Then mix in freshly squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest, and fresh chopped parsley.  Toss with a generous portion of linguine, serve with crusty garlic bread and Voila! the perfect simple-yet-sophisticated weeknight meal is born.

683 Shrimp Scampi in the Pan

The Food Network advertises this Shrimp Scampi as the perfect “Make-It-Together” meal for Valentine’s Day, but it’s totally possible to throw it together on any old weeknight like we did.    Oh, and you’ll even have time to blog about it afterwards if you want!  🙂

705 Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp Scampi with Linguine (from the Food Network’s Ina Garten; serves 3)

You will need…678 The Good Stuff... Garlic, Parsley & Lemon
Olive Oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
1 pound Linguine
3 tablespoons Butter
4-5 cloves Garlic, minced
1 lb. Shrimp (we used ‘large’ shrimp, about 31/lb.), peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoons Ground Black Pepper
1/3 cup chopped Parsley
Zest from 1/2 large Lemon
1/4 cup Lemon Juice (approx. 1/2 large Lemon)
1/2 Lemon, sliced into 1/8″ half-rounds
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Crusty Garlic Bread Crisps, Optional (drizzle olive oil on garlic bread slices and broil for 5 minutes)

Directions:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil then add in about a tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of the salt and the linguine.  Cook pasta according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, melt the butter and 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat.  Add the minced garlic and saute for one minute or until the smallest garlic bits are just starting to brown.  Add the shrimp, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper and saute for about 5 minutes until the shrimp have just turned pink.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the parsley, zest, lemon juice, lemon slices and crushed red pepper.

Drain the cooked pasta, then return to the pasta pot and gently stir in the shrimp mixture.  (I’d recommend using a spatula to scoop every last bit of flavorful garlic and parsley out of the shrimp pan!).  We served our shrimp scampi with crusty, crispy garlic bread.  Enjoy!

693 Shrimp Scampi686 Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp with Penne in Herbed Cream Sauce

For some reason our families make nearly identical holiday meals, usually featuring a juicy filet roast, twice-baked potatoes and green beans.  Matt and I love this dinner (and in fact got to enjoy it twice this month – once at my mom’s and again with Matt’s family!) but when it came time for us to host Christmas Eve dinner at our house we decided to do something completely different.

After an online search we settled on Shrimp and Penne in Herbed Cream Sauce and it was perfect!  The shrimp were tender and the combination of white wine, garlic, parsley and basil made the whole kitchen smell wonderful.  The pasta was nicely coated in a light cream sauce and the red pepper flakes provided just the right amount of heat.  To streamline the cooking process I prepped the herbs, tomatoes and cheese ahead of time so assembling this dish was actually pretty easy once our guests arrived.

In addition to the shrimp and penne we served fresh bruschetta, a tossed salad with Matt’s mom’s balsamic vinaigrette, and wedges of rosemary-studded Italian bread with butter.  We finished off the meal with a tray of Christmas cookies, chocolate-dipped coconut sticks, and white chocolate holiday bark.  Yum!

Shrimp and Penne in Herbed Cream Sauce (iPhone photo)

Shrimp with Penne in Herbed Cream Sauce  (from Giada De Laurentiis)
serves 4-5; we doubled this to serve 7 and had enough leftovers for dinner a few days later

You will need…
1 pound Penne Pasta
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 pound medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 cloves Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Pepper
1 – 15 oz. can Whole Tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
1/2 cup Basil Leaves, chopped
1/2 cup Flat-Leaf Parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
1 cup White Wine (we used a Chardonnay)
1/3 cup Clam Juice
3/4 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1/2 cup Parmesan, freshly grated

Directions:
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water then drain and set aside.  Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shrimp, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.  Cook the shrimp for about 3 minutes until they are pink and cooked through.  Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the tomatoes, 1/4 cup basil, 1/4 cup parsley and the red pepper flakes to the skillet.  Cook for 2 minutes while stirring constantly, then add the wine, clam juice and cream.  Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 7-8 minutes until the sauce thickens.  Add about half of the Parmesan along with the shrimp, pasta and remaining basil and parsley.  Mix well until the pasta is coated and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the pasta to a serving dish and top with the remaining freshly grated Parmesan.  Serve with a wedge of Italian bread and a glass of white wine.

Shrimp with Penne in Herbed Cream Sauce

Radiatori with Sausage and Garlicky Broccoli

Matt has a knack for creating great flavors in meat and pasta dishes.  Some of my favorite recipes on this blog are entirely his creations (like Chicken Cutlets and Bucatini with Asparagus and Sausage in a White Wine Sauce!) and he carried on the tradition of melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness with this simple combination of sausage, broccoli and pasta.

If you don’t have broccoli on hand, you can easily substitute other in-season vegetables and feel free to try other types of sausage and pasta as well.  Last week Matt made a version of this dish using zucchini, Orecchiette, and freshly made Chicken Cordon Bleu sausage from Maiale and it was so delicious that we ate all of it before I had the presence of mind to snap a photo!

Radiatori with Sausage and Garlicky Broccoli

You will need:
6 Tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
10 cloves Garlic, sliced into thin discs
1 ½ – 2 cups Broccoli Crowns, cut into bite sized pieces
1 Yellow Onion, sliced into ¼ inch rounds and quartered
2 Sweet Italian Pork Sausages, grilled and sliced into bite sized pieces
1 teaspoon Chili Garlic Sauce (in the Asian food section of most grocery stores)
1 lb. Pasta, cooked according to package instructions (We used Garofalo’s Radiatori pasta)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:
In a large skillet or wok, heat 4 tablespoons of the Olive Oil over medium heat.  Add the sliced garlic and sauté until aromatic, 1-2 minutes.  Add the broccoli, stir well to coat with the oil, and allow to sauté for approximately 20 minutes, stirring only occasionally until broccoli starts to brown.  Remove broccoli and garlic from wok and set aside.

From left: Broccoli with garlic, onions, and finished, combined pasta dish

Add remaining 2 tablespoons Olive Oil to wok and return to medium heat.  Add the sliced onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until onions start to become translucent.  Add the cooked and sliced sausage and the chili garlic sauce and mix until the onion and sausage are evenly coated with sauce.  Return the broccoli to the wok and stir well to combine.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Carefully add the cooked and drained pasta into the wok and stir well to combine ingredients and coat the pasta.  Sprinkle on 1/4-1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan and mix well.  Enjoy with your favorite chilled white wine or, if you’re like us, with a good Oktoberfest-style beer!

Adding Some Pizazz to Weeknight Tortellini

Despite what you might think based on all of the semi-complicated recipes on this blog, there are plenty of nights when Matt and I resort to quick and easy dinners like take-out pizza, frozen dinner entrees, and basic pasta. One of our go-to pasta dinners is tortellini with a sprinkle of garlic powder and Parmesan cheese (healthy, I know!), but last week we decided to add a little pizazz to the dish by incorporating a few simple ingredients.

This entire meal only takes about 15 minutes to make… including the time it takes for your tortellini to cook! The asparagus gets added to the pasta water for the last few minutes and, after straining, all of the ingredients are tossed together in the same pot, making this a simple one-pot meal.

Quick and Easy Pesto Tortellini with Asparagus and Tomatoes (makes 3-4 servings)

You will need…
1 lb. Tortellini (we love Drake’s Frozen Cheese Tortellini)
1 bunch Asparagus, cut into 2″ pieces
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
2-3 tablespoons Pesto (I used 2 “Pesto cubes” that I froze in an ice cube tray last week)
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes

Directions:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the tortellini according to package instructions. When there are 3-4 minutes left on the cook time, add the cut asparagus to the pasta water and allow the pasta to finish cooking. Drain pasta and asparagus and return the empty pot to the stove over medium-low heat. Add the Olive Oil and drop in your pesto “cubes.” Stir constantly as the pesto thaws. (If using fresh pesto you can skip this step.)

I made this pesto last week using basil and garlic from our garden. For easy storage I spooned the pesto into an ice cube tray and made 10 frozen pesto cubes — perfect for use in quick weeknight meals!

Add the hot pasta and asparagus back to the pot and stir to combine with the pesto (if the pesto wasn’t already completely thawed it will be after a few stirs!). Add in the uncooked tomatoes, stir a few more times, and serve!

Bucatini with Sausage, Asparagus and Tomato in a White Wine Sauce

Last week we paid a visit to our local farmer’s market and we were pleasantly surprised to discover a man selling fresh sausage!  He seemed unfazed by the 95° temps and was happily browning up pieces of sausage on a tiny griddle and offering samples to potential customers.  We are not ones to pass up free sausage so we eagerly tasted some and it was amazing!  We promptly purchased a package of chicken provolone sausage and started brainstorming for potential summer meal ideas to highlight the local fare.

The recipe that Matt came up with definitely did the sausage justice.  The white wine sauce was flavorful without being overpowering (it actually smelled like “real” Italian cooking!) and the firm asparagus and super-tasty tomatoes (from our garden, of course!) complemented the sausage nicely.  This recipe made enough food for the two of us to eat dinner and then enjoy hearty portions for lunch the next day.

Oh, and before I get to the recipe, please remember to comment on my Tomato Salad post to win a free kitchen scale!

Bucatini with Sausage, Asparagus and Tomato in a White Wine Sauce

You will need…
1 bunch Asparagus, chopped into 2 inch pieces
Olive Oil
12 oz. Sausage (we used Maiale’s Chicken Sausage with Spinach and Sharp Provolone*)
4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Shallot, minced
1 cup Dry White Wine
1/2 cup Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
2 tablespoons minced Chives
2 tablespoons Butter or Olive Oil Spread
Bucatini Pasta
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes

Directions:
Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the chopped asparagus.  Blanch the asparagus for 2 minutes (or more if using thicker spears) and then use a slotted spoon to transfer the asparagus to an ice bath.  Allow asparagus to cool completely before straining and setting aside in a bowl.

The sauteing garlic and shallots smell wonderful!

Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Remove the sausage from its casing and brown it in the oil, breaking it up as it cooks.  Remove the browned sausage from the wok and set aside.  Lower the heat to medium, add another tablespoon of olive oil and the minced garlic and shallots.  Saute until shallots are translucent.  Add the white wine and chicken broth, stir, and allow to simmer over low heat until mixture is reduced to approximately 1/3 the original volume.  As the sauce reduces cook the pasta according to package instructions.

Toss all of the ingredients together in the wok.

Add the sausage to the reduced white wine mixture, stir to combine, and bring the heat back up to medium.  Stir in the blanched asparagus, chives, and butter and add salt and pepper to taste.  Finally, add in the cooked and drained pasta and the cherry tomatoes and toss well.  Serve with a garnish of finely chopped chives.

*If you’re local to the southeastern PA / DE region, the delicious sausage was made by Maiale (“may.all.ay”) in Wilmington, Delaware.  We’ll definitely be going back to the farmer’s market next week to get more sausage!!  🙂