July 26, 2007

Presto Pasta!

I bet you can get a pretty good idea from this blog that I enjoy pasta. I enjoy it even more when it's dressed in a rich creamy sauce. We made this weeks ago and wished we could eat it for days on end. This recipe is based on a Rachael Ray recipe called Peasant Pasta. Her recipe is plainly rich tomato cream sauce and I've make ours a little spicy, which I think is a little more fun.

We cook together spicy sausage with garlic, cayenne pepper, a dash of chili powder, crushed tomatoes and cream. Peas and a handful of fresh basil are stirred into the sauce and tossed with penne pasta. So, if you don't like sausage, I'm sorry. You're really missing out. We used turkey sausage this time with great success, but chicken would also be great in this. I would increase the spices though, since the recipe calls for hot Italian sausage. This isn't really that spicy of a dish, it just balances out the richness of the cream. I believe I ate my portion in total silence until I was practically licking the plate - it's that good.

This recipe makes a ton, so I like to freeze half the sauce (before adding the cream or basil) to use another time. We toss the remaining half with about 1/2 lb of pasta and still have plenty for lunch the next day!

Spicy Tomato Cream Sauce with Sausage and Peas

1 lb hot Italian sausage or turkey sausage links, casings removed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or more

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 cup chicken broth
1 (28 oz) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup cream

20 fresh basil leaves, torn

parmesan cheese

3/4 lb penne or other tubular pasta

Cook the sausage in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat, breaking it up into bite size chunks. Cook all the way through, drain off any grease and return to heat. Add the garlic, cayenne, chili powder, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Cook 2-3 minutes.

Bring to a boil a large pot of water for the pasta. Salt the water and cook penne 10-12 minutes. Deglaze the pan with chicken broth, scraping the pan and letting the broth reduce. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. Taste and add more cayenne or black pepper if it isn't spicy enough. Stir in the cream, peas and torn basil. Taste once more for seasoning. Toss the drained pasta with the sauce and serve with grated parmesan cheese. Serves 6.I'm submitting this to Ruth's Presto Pasta Night gathering over at Once Upon a Feast since it is pasta and a quick dish at that. Enjoy the meal ideas over there each Friday!

July 22, 2007

Lasagna of a different sort.

I posted this recipe about a year ago but came across it again recently. I think it's definitely a keeper. I love taking recipes for familiar, comforting foods and just twisting them a bit into something new. This lasagna might sound a little odd, but we love it. Many of the key Italian flavors are replaced by Mexican ones - cilantro instead of basil, black beans instead of meat, and a tomato sauce gets spiked with salsa.

If you can find fresh pasta sheets, definitely use those, otherwise normal lasagna noodles or the no-boil ones work really well. Of all the lasagna I've made, the ones that turn out the best include whole-milk ricotta, good quality aged parmigiano-reggiano and plenty of fresh herbs. You really can't go wrong if you use high quality cheese, especially the ricotta. A few months ago I made a lasagna with skim-milk ricotta and it was pretty awful - tasteless and dry instead of rich and creamy. This recipe is like most though and substitutions abound. Spicy sausage or ground meat would be a nice alternative, as would adding mixed roasted vegetables. This recipe makes a 9x13 pan so there's plenty to freeze for later!

Black Bean and Spinach Lasagna
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles, or 9 long lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 (16 oz) jar medium chunky salsa
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pkg frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 oz) container whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup shredded monterey jack
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and bell pepper, cook until onions are quite soft. Add the garlic, cumin and chili powder and cook 2 more minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and salsa, cover and simmer on low heat for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, and parmigiano. Add a little milk or cream to loosen the mixture a bit, so that it spreads easily. Season with black pepper.
Drain the set aside both the black beans and the spinach. Taste the tomato sauce, adding salt, pepper or more spice, if needed. The sauce can taste a little acidic but it will balance out once combined with the pasta and cheeses. Stir in the cilantro and turn off the heat.

Put a ladle full of sauce over the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Put down a layer of lasagna noodles, then half the ricotta mixture. Next, sprinkle on half the black beans and spinach, some shredded mozzarella and monterey jack and top with a small amount of tomato sauce. Repeat by layering the noodles, ricotta, beans and spinach, shredded cheese and sauce. Top with final lasagna noodles, the remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle with a generous covering of cheese.

Bake, covered, at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes. Remove the foil/cover and bake another 15-20 minutes, or until browned and bubbling. Serves 8.

July 20, 2007

Gettin' Outta Town

My apologies for the delay in posting! I lost my camera cord for a while and refuse to post without pictures. More to come soon!
Downtown Charlottesville
Last weekend we went to see our good friends who live in Charlottesville, Virginia. We had passed through only once on our way to see Monticello a few months ago, so we were glad to see more of the town. It's a great college town in the way it has everything you want - great restaurants, a pedestrian mall with a pavilion that regularly welcomes quite famous bands, nice people, and a sense of community. Music plays and the outdoor seating at restaurants is packed with happy, boisterous people.

One of the highlights of the pedestrian mall was the gelateria that served some of the most delicious and authentic gelato I've had outside of Italy. It came really close to the real stuff! We had a sinful combo of pistachio, coconut and tiramisu, although I may have sampled the amaretto, honey and chipotle chocolate, too.

I could tell you in detail about our visits to a couple wineries in the area, but besides being a fun way to spend an afternoon, the wines aren't anything to rave about. The setting is beautiful and some of the whites are decent and I think it's enough to keep it at that. If you are visiting Virginia, it's a wonderful thing to do, don't get me wrong. Buy a glass, bring a picnic and take in the scenery.

Besides getting my gelato fix, one of the more amazing moments of the evening was when our host, Matthew, opened his liquor cabinet. We met these amazing friends of ours in Paris, so we have many grand memories and shared loves. I usually think Paul has the reputation of having an odd but beautiful assortment of alcohols, but Matthew takes it to another level. You can see in the picture the wonderful representation. He doesn't have anything close to what you would call normal. I'm pretty sure more than a few aren't even legal to have here, which is especially fun.
First we were shown the Absinthe, then the Grappa, the a few tequilas, one bottle encased in leather. There were a few mini-bottles from Budapest and farther which tasted of pine needles and had an unattractive brown color. There was definitely a kind of tequila with a worm in it, and Havana Club brought back from Cuba, but the pièce de resistance, and the only one we tried, was a French Calvados of unknown age. But rest assured, it was old. You can see by the picture the layers of furry mold covering the label. It was an assertive but smooth apple brandy and it tasted refined. It was definitely a pleasure to taste and a sight to see.

The other significant event of the weekend was my husband eating grilled Alaskan salmon and loving it! I think it was because he trusted the source - Matthew grew up in Alaska, fishing and eating wild salmon the way the rest of us grew up eating hamburger or Kraft dinner. It was grilled to perfection with a little jerk seasoning and I think we have a new favorite!

Merci Beaucoup Matthew and Aniseh!

July 3, 2007

Who wants dessert?

I don't know what I'm doing lately. I haven't made this many desserts in quite awhile. The strangest part is that I don't even need much prompting to get in the kitchen and whip it up. What can I say? I'm a sucker for fresh summer fruit and new individual baking dishes. In addition to loving the taste of these strawberry-blueberry crisps, I love my new individual gratin-like dishes that are the perfect vessels with which to carry these raw berries to baked, bubbly perfection.

I'm not all that picky when it comes to crisp topping; I mean, honestly, any combo of brown sugar, nuts, oatmeal or cookies crushed up with butter is going to pretty freaking good. In these crisps, I made a basic crisp topping with ingredients I had right in the pantry: oatmeal, almonds, flour and brown sugar. I love berries this time of year and there's the added bonus: no peeling or chopping, just rinse and toss them in! This recipe serves 2, but you could easily double or triple the recipe for your next picnic!

Happy 4th of July!
What are you cooking for The Fourth? Leave your favorite dishes or desserts in the comments section!Berry Crisp
(adapted from Alton Brown)
5 large fresh strawberries
1 cup fresh blueberries

1 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 - 1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup oatmeal (or amaretti or other cookies)
1/3 cup sliced almonds

3 Tbsp butter

vanilla ice cream

Toss the rinsed and drained berries with the sugar (to taste) and flour to coat evenly. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, oatmeal and almonds. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, fork or your fingers until the butter is in small pieces, about the size of a pea.

Butter 2 gratin dishes, small dishes or ramekins and pour the tossed berries in them. Top the berries with a generous amount of the topping. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until the berries are bubbling beneath the browned topping. Let cool 5-10 minutes. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Serves 2.