penne con pancetta e crema

January 13, 2014 § 64 Comments

Penne with bacon and cream.  This is what we had for dinner the other night instead of macaroni and cheese.  On a freezing late afternoon my teenage son mentioned how “cozy” it was in the house and he wanted a bowl of macaroni and cheese.  We checked the refrigerator and did not have enough of the right type of cheese.    However, what we did find was a bag of cremini mushrooms, bacon and some heavy whipping cream.  I know, it’s the New Year and we are suppose to be eating light.  How do you tell that to a 15 year old young man who eats constantly?!  He agreed with the prospect of this combination and I was happily pulling the pots out as well as the chopping block.

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Perhaps the combination and texture of this sauce would be better with another pasta shape.  I only had penne on hand so finely chopping the mushrooms helped the bits find their way into the pasta tubes.  This is another recipe inspired by the late Marcella Hazen.

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If you are craving a comforting carbonara type sauce this is it.  Eggless and wonderful.

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I n g r e d i e n t s

  • 3/4 pound fresh mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 or 4 good quality bacon slices, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 pound good quality pasta

F o r    t o s s i n g    t h e    p a s t a

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • reserved pasta liquid (if needed)

Wash, dry and finely chop mushrooms and set aside.  Place a large skillet on medium heat and add the butter and finely chopped shallots, cook until soft.  Turn up the heat and add the mushrooms.  Stir thoroughly to coat well.  Add salt and a few grindings of pepper, turn up the heat to allow the liquid from the mushrooms to boil away, stirring frequently.  Turn the heat back down to medium, add the bacon and stir while it cook for about a minute or two.  Add the cream and cook just long enough for the cream to become reduced and slightly thickened.  Taste and correct for salt and pepper.  Turn off the heat.  Set aside.

Choose an enameled cast-iron or other flameproof serving pan that can later contain all the pasta without piling it high.  Put in the 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/4 cup cream for tossing the pasta, and turn on the heat to low.  When the butter melts, stir to amalgamate it with the cream, then turn off the heat.

Drain the pasta when done, reserving one cup of the liquid.  Transfer the pasta to the serving pan containing butter and cream.  Turn on the heat to low, toss the noodles, turning them thoroughly to coat them well.  Add half of the mushroom sauce, tossing it with the noodles.  Add the 1/2 cup parmesan, toss again, and turn off the heat.  Pour the remainder of the mushroom sauce over the pasta.  Check for dryness and add a bit of the cooking liquid if necessary.  Serve at once right out of the pan, with additional parmesan on the side.

Serves 4-6

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fettuccine ai funghi

November 4, 2013 § 56 Comments

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The sauce for this recipe is silky smooth and deliciously creamy.   It is surprisingly light because only 1/2 cup of half & half is used. This is when using the stock from the pasta plays a huge role in keeping your pasta moist.  Along with a little butter and grana padano cheese (or Parmesan) the stock helps to create a creaminess without using too much cream (or in this recipe, half & half).  Keeping it light…

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Simple cooking, minimal ingredients and vibrant flavor.

I n g r e d i e n t s

  • 12 ounces good quality fettuccine (not quite a pound)
  • large pinch of coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, any color, chopped
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese, grated (or Parmesan)
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to desired taste

M e t h o d

Fill a large pot with cold water and bring to a roaring boil over high heat, toss in a large pinch of coarse salt and add the spaghetti.  Cook for 9 minutes stirring occasionally until al dente.  Prior to draining pasta reserve at least two cups of the cooking liquid and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Add oil and butter, swirl to coat the skillet.  Add the onion, mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper;  sauté 20 minutes until mushrooms are browned and have released their liquid.  Add wine and thyme and cook for a few minutes until liquid has evaporated.  Remove pan from heat.  Add hot cooked pasta another sprinkling of salt, half & half and Grana Padano to the skillet, tossing to combine.  Add cooking pasta cooking liquid until desired moistness and continue to toss.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve right away.

Serves 4, generously…

risotto with butternut squash and basil

October 21, 2013 § 52 Comments

Autumn is here and what a perfect evening for a steamy bowl of butternut squash risotto and a glass (or two) of Sauvignon Blanc.

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I n g r e d i e n t s

  • 1 medium large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 large purple onion
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 2 quarts of stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • 3/4 cup of Grana Padano cheese, grated
  • 3/4 cup of fresh basil, chopped

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M e t h o d

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat.  Add squash and sauté until beginning to soften and brown around edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer squash to medium bowl and set aside.  Reduce heat to medium and add remaining tablespoon of oil, purple onion and thyme.  Stir until tender but not brown, about 5 minutes.   Add risotto and stir to coat for one minute.   Add 1 large ladle of  broth and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes.  Continue adding remaining broth by ladle, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next, stirring often, about 15 minutes.  Return butternut squash to the pot.  Continue to cook until rice is just tender but still very creamy, stirring gently and often, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Stir in basil and 3/4 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl and serve with additional Grana Padano cheese.

Serves 4.

homemade tomato soup

October 14, 2013 § 53 Comments

For this particular recipe a medley of tomatoes straight from the vine went into this garden tomato soup.  A very sweet and firm fleshed tomato called “Plum Lemon”, which is a russian yellow tomato that looks like a lemon!  An heirloom striped tomato which looks like a bell pepper and also harvested were several plum tomatoes to add to the mix.  Straight from the vine and into the soup pot.

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The yellow ones are not lemons…they are yellow plum tomatoes!

This soup had a slight tanginess to it as well as an herbal infused flavor which came from sprigs of fresh cut greek basil and thyme.  I chose to keep the sprigs whole and remove at the end in order to keep the soup texture silky smooth.   Both the thyme and greek basil seem to have a toughness about the leaves and I was looking for a nice smooth finish.

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I n g r e d i e n t s

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 pounds tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • a few fresh thyme sprigs
  • a few basil sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • sprinkling of pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • a pinch of sugar (optional)

M e t h o d

Place the oil and butter in a large heavy bottomed pot and heat until butter melts.  Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, thyme, basil, salt and pepper and stir to mix.  Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until the tomatoes have collapsed, 6 – 8 minutes.

While the tomatoes cook, heat the stock until beginning to boil.  Using 1/2 cup stock in a cup, whisk the flour to make a smooth paste.  Add the flour paste and the remaining broth to the pot and bring to a boil.  Simmer for several minutes on very low heat, stirring frequently.  Turn off heat and cool enough to handle.

Using a hand blender (or blender) purée the soup until well mixed.   On several occasions I have read by adding a pinch of sugar to tomatoes rather it be a sauce or soup, helps to soften the acidity of the fruit and boost the tomato flavor.  I did add a pinch of sugar and I can not say if this had an effect on the soup or not.  It was so delicious and it seems using fresh tomatoes right off the vine you can not go wrong.

At this point I passed the soup through a sieve to catch the skins and bits to achieve a silky smooth texture.  I think this step is optional, it was wonderful even left a bit rustic and chunky.

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Topped with oven toasted croutons, fresh grated pecorino cheese and a few greek basil leaves.

Serves 4.

strozzapreti carbonara with charred brussels sprouts

September 23, 2013 § 54 Comments

Spaghetti carbonara is one of my favorite pasta dishes.  I love the flavors of bacon, egg and grana padano cheese combined with a good quality spaghetti.  Also, having “breakfast for dinner” in spaghetti form is always a pleasure.  This is a nice spin on the basic carbonara.  The brussels sprout leaves are cooked until crispy and charred before tossing in the pasta.

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This recipe was featured in the latest issue of Bon Appétit.  It was stated “the key to this dish is getting a good char on the brussels sprouts, which helps balance the richness of the porky, eggy sauce.  Salt draws moisture out of the leaves, which might make them soggy, so do not season them” (while charring in the skillet).

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I found by removing the outer leaves first then carving out the core a little I was able to easily separate most of the leaves from each sprout.

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Using a good quality pasta will made a difference in the outcome of your recipe.

I n g r e d i e n t s

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed, leaves separated
  • 12 ounces good quality strozzapreti or small pasta
  • 2 ounces of guanicale (salt-cured pork jowl) or pancetta, finely chopped
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup Pecorino, plus more for serving
  • 2 large egg yolks, beaten to blend

M e t h o d

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Working in batches , add brussels sprout leaves and cook, tossing occasionally, until charred in spots and crisp tender, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Cook pasta in a large pot until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat.  Add guanciale or pancetta and cook, stirring often, until slightly crisp, about 4 minutes.  Add pepper and cook, stirring until fragrant.  Immediately add 1/2 cup pasta water, reduce heat to low and gradually add butter, swirling skillet and adding more pasta water as needed, until a tick glossy sauce forms.

Add pasta to skillet and toss to coat.  Add Pecorino, toss to combine.  Remove from heat, mix in egg yolks.  Add brussels sprouts leaves and toss.  You may need to add a little more pasta water to thin sauce.  Serve pasta with more Pecorino.

Serves 4.

wilted kale

September 18, 2013 § 44 Comments

We eat fairly light in this house.  I find myself serving sides as mains more often than not.  Most of our meals are “one pot” or maybe a few sides.  We are not vegetarians, but come awfully close.   With an athletic young man in the house I do have to consider his nutritional needs and most often plan my meals with his palate in mind. Thank goodness he has a grown up palate!

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Here is an exceptional side (or main) involving lacinato kale, also known as Tuscan, dinosaur or black kale.    I especially enjoy lacinato kale due to it heartiness, deep dark green color and it’s ability to hold onto it’s crunchiness even after simmering for several minutes.  This is a lovely combination of textures and flavors.

I found this recipe in a Cooking Light magazine (thanks sis!).  This is a slight adaptation and we found the recipe really only serves two.  Next time I make this I will double the recipe.

I n g r e d i e n t s

  • 3 slices of center cup bacon
  • 3/4 cup vertically sliced onion (sweet yellow or red)
  • 8 cups lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 2/3 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup

M e t h o d

Cook bacon in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crisp.   Remove from pan, crumple and set aside.  Increase heat to medium.  Add onions to bacon drippings in pan and sauté 3-4 minutes.  Add kale and cook until kale begins to wilt, stirring occasionally.  Add stock, cover and cook 4 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally.  Stir in vinegar and syrup.  Sprinkle with crumbled bacon.

Serves 2.

spicy sausage, yam and spinach soup

September 16, 2013 § 62 Comments

This is a recipe I haven’t prepared for over 10 years.  I came across this long lost recipe tucked away inside a cookbook I have not lifted off the shelf for ages.  Right away I added the ingredients to my next shopping list.

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I can not even remember where the recipe came from, but, it is hand written by me in a very short, almost undecipherable manner.  I set out to make sense out of it and it all started coming back to me as I was cooking and it took me back 10 or 12 years.   The smell, the taste, the preparation all represents a time when my son was a toddler and life seemed so simple.  I revisited this soup over and over back then, and I can not imagine how I lost track of it for all these years.

I used a very spicy sausage this time and it was delicious.  You may tone it down a bit if your palate doesn’t handle spicy too well.   I couldn’t remember if I made it with sweet potatoes or yams, so I chose the latter, however, I think sweet potatoes would be a nice offset to the spicy sausage.   Knowing a roux is always made with butter, I decided to try to achieve the same results using olive oil, and it worked!    If you would like to use butter instead of olive oil, omit the olive oil and use a 1/2 cup (full stick) of butter.  Final note,  the  recipe calls for cream and  I substituted whole milk and it was perfect.  This is a one pot dinner.

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I n g r e d i e n t s

  • 4 smoked sausages, I used chicken – julienned
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup celery, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 quarts stock
  • 2 yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • handful of chives, sliced
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste

M e t h o d

Heat olive oil over medium high heat and add sausage, onions, celery and garlic.  Sauté for 5 minutes until well combined.  Sprinkle in the flour, a little at a time stirring constantly until a blonde roux forms.  Add stock one large ladle at a time while stirring until soup consistency is achieved.  Add sweet potatoes or yams.   Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Additional stock may be added to retain proper consistency.   Add milk, chives and parsley.  Season to taste using salt and pepper.  Once potatoes are tender, serve in individual bowls.  Put a handful of spinach in the bowl, then ladle the soup on top, garnish with additional chives and parsley.

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