Clean Out the Fridge Chicken Pasta–Don’t Look for This Dish in Italy

Over the years, I’ve taught a number of Italian cooking classes, one more enjoyable than the last and no doubt I’ve learned as much as anyone in the groups. A few minutes are always spent discussing the basic courses of an Italian meal while listening to a stellar Italian opera aria or two, though we rarely have time to make them all, more’s the pity. Having traveled to Italy a number of times, I learned it was no secret Italians themselves only have time for such luxurious repasts during special family get-togethers, Sundays, or holidays — much like Americans. In Naples, a tour guide confided to me, “We love just pasta for lunch; it’s a favorite. Or pizza!” It was cool hearing that.

Here in the states, pasta is rarely a first course (“primi”), which it is for that special Italian meal:

Primo / Primi or primo piatto / primi piatti – first plate/s, usually pasta or risotto; you could also have a “bis di primi” or “tris di primi”, where they give you a small portion of two or three different types of pasta so you can sample.

ITALY Magazine

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Turkey Minestrone

Do you have a container of frozen turkey from the holidays in the freezer?

Just a short drive from our house in Colorado Springs is our favorite Italian market and deli Mollica’s, which is perhaps best known as a popular, packed lunch spot on Garden of the Gods Road just west of I-25. Mollica’s is the happy kind of place that still serves old school “red sauce” meals like spaghetti and meatballs or a very good lasagna (all made with fresh pasta) as well as yummy pizza and calzone — though I couldn’t call it a “pizza place.” A large part of the lunch menu has always been devoted to stellar sandwiches (think grinders from house made sausage, scratch meatballs, heroes, and hot Italian beef) and a full line of filling salads that of course are served with fresh bread and butter. While I’m ready to eat anything Mollica’s makes –check out their dinner specials, too — I nearly always choose a salad because I can also get a cup of their minestrone–a simple and herby vegetable soup that just hits the sweet spot in my tummy. Occasionally I wonder why I don’t make some minestrone at home, but for some reason, I rarely do. That just changed.

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Late Summer Vegetable Tortellini Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

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As summer wanes –– it was 50 degrees F this morning when I got up — the vegetables come in huge, lovely fragrant warm piles and a fresh, toothsome pasta salad feels perfect for supper in the lingering heat. No muss, no fuss, with fresh pasta that cooks in just two minutes; dinner is on the table faster than you can make the basil vinaigrette (thanks to David Lebovitz–scroll down for more) that simply makes this meal. Continue reading

Pam’s Sage Pasta with Grilled Summer Squash and Portobello Mushrooms

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NEW BAKING CLASS:  Make Your Pie and Eat It, Too!  Basics of American pie baking just in time for Thanksgiving.  Given two Saturdays in November:  November 7 and November 14, 1 – 4 pm.  6 openings for each date.  $55. per student includes pie making ingredients/instruction, dessert, coffee, and digestif (after dinner drink), if desired.  See CURRENT CLASSES above right.

My good friend Pam is a marvelous alto.  She’s a fine cook, too. I know this because she and her husband are in our wine group and I get to sample her tasty fare fairly often. Here she is looking gorgeous and cooking at a house we rented near the Paso Robles wine country a couple of years ago.

IMG_5059This summer I discovered another talent of Pam’s; she, along with her husband, is an avid, generous gardener.  Arriving last week at our house for a laid-back deck burger fest complete with homemade ice cream, she walked in brandishing a bouquet of sumptuous late summer herbs and two bright-as-sunshine summer (yellow) squash. Several very busy days went by and while I had pulled some herbs out for a dish or two, I hadn’t touched the summer squash. I’ve been on a serious diet for months and hadn’t had a bite of pasta all summer long. When I DO make pasta, it’s usually a good-quality whole-wheat variety and rarely white pasta.  But yesterday it was time for a treat; I pulled out the Cipriani’s pappardelle and began grilling the squash with some big Portobello mushrooms.  Try this easily-made-vegan dish for your end-of-summer grilled supper:

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PAM’S SAGE PASTA WITH GRILLED SUMMER SQUASH AND PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS

serves 4

No grill? Cook the squash and mushrooms in a skillet or roasted in the oven.

For vegan version, follow green instructions/ingredients. The large mushroom and squash pieces give this dish a really “meaty” feel. For a vegetarian version, simply leave out the bacon.

  • 3 pieces thick bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled (Skip for vegan version)
  • 2 summer (yellow) squash, sliced thinly lengthwise
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced thinly lengthwise
  • 3 Large Portobello mushrooms
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 each tablespoon butter or olive oil (2 tablespoons olive oil for vegan version)
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh sage (Reserve 2 tablespoons for garnish.)*
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 2 large tomatoes, small dice (Reserve 1/3 cup for garnish.)
  • 1 cup heavy cream (1 cup rice or nut milk for vegan version)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Sub with a garnish of toasted bread crumbs for vegan version)
  • 1 pound cooked and drained Pappardelle pasta–Cipriani’s is my favorite (Vegan pasta for vegan version.)
  1. Set cooked and crumbled bacon aside, if using.
  2. Heat grill to medium high. Toss squash and mushrooms with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper. Grill, turning midway, until grill marks are quite dark and the squash is tender. Remove and set aside.  Slice mushrooms  into 1/4-inch pieces. If grilling indoors on the stovetop in a grill pan, you may have to grill in batches. (Cook pasta now if you haven’t done so already.)
  3. In the meantime, heat butter/oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium flame and cook onions until quite soft. Add garlic, a good pinch each of crushed red pepper, salt, black pepper, 2 tablespoons minced sage, spinach, and all but 1/3 cup diced tomatoes. Cook another minute or two, stirring, or until spinach begins to wilt.
  4. Stir in cream or rice/nut milk along with Parmesan cheese, if using.  Lower heat and simmer 2-3 minutes.  Add grilled mushrooms and chopped, cooked bacon, if using.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
  5. Gently add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir. Taste again and adjust seasonings as needed.
  6. To serve, divide pasta between four bowls adding reserved grilled squash along side, on top, or around.  Garnish with the reserved tomatoes and minced sage.    Top with toasted bread crumbs for vegan version.

*Fresh sage is usually available in grocery stores, but if you can’t locate it, stir in 1/4 teaspoon dried, rubbed sage.  Taste and add more if you like.  Skip the sage garnish, perhaps substituting chopped fresh parsley instead.

{printable recipe}

WINE:  White Burgundy  or Chardonnay.

DESSERT:  Sliced fresh peaches with a drizzle of Amaretto or apples with cheese.

Sing a new song,

Alyce

One-Pan Orzo “Risotto” with Asparagus, Fennel, and Cherry Tomatoes

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Still have some openings in upcoming classes, which begin next Thursday, April 16, 5-8pm at Shouse Appliance in Colorado Springs.   There are  two available spots each in the FRENCH CLASS, April 16 and in the BRUNCH class (we’re learning how to make homemade sausage!), April 25, as well in the rest of the series.  Click at top on CURRENT CLASSES for list and registration info. Can’t wait to cook with you!

Orzo, the tiny rice-like pasta, and vegetables is a favorite combination of mine and you’ll see it on the blog a time or two. Or more. This particular comforting oh-so-green pasta dish, which is easily made vegan, seems to catapult spring vegetables such as asparagus, fennel, and baby spinach way up onto their long-awaited pedestal.  It also feels and nearly looks like risotto minus the questionably constant stirring, angst, and jaw-clenching risotto seems to engender. While it bubbles away nearly untended, you can look to other occupations like pouring wine, chatting,  setting the table, or if you’re like me, petting Rosie–just spayed and not too happy with it. Poor baby. She does like the pills that come all wrapped up in cream cheese for easy swallowing.

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For other meals, I cook orzo separately and make a heartier dish or pasta salad, adding feta, tiny tomatoes, celery or peas, basil or parsley, and a vinaigrette. Either variation is easy to make ahead early on a warm day for a potluck or as a bed for that night’s grilled fish, shrimp, chicken or chops. You can find regular orzo easily in the pasta aisle of your B-flat grocery store, but there are also some brands that sell the whole-wheat variety, which adds fiber and protein.  Try this:

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ONE-PAN ORZO “RISOTTO” WITH ASPARAGUS, FENNEL, AND CHERRY TOMATOES

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Bolognese Sauce — I Did it My Way

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Sometimes you just have to make things the way you want them to be.  And that would go for Bolognese sauce.  Many American cooks my age, unless they were blessed with an Italian nonna, were raised with red sauce with meat and spaghetti because that’s what there was and it was cheap.  Meatballs might show up on a big day.  That’s what there still is if you go down to most of the local, inexpensive Italian places across the U.S.  They also usually make a pizza the town adores or eats anyway along with a bottle of cheap chianti for date night and American beer on tap for the rest of the time.

Soldiers returning from Italy after World War II brought with them their desire for the foods of a grateful but war-torn nation. Enterprising immigrants opened restaurants providing the soldiers with the foods they had developed a craving for and introduced the soldiers’ families to spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and peppers, ravioli, lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti and pizza.

Throughout the 50s and 60s, Italian food was becoming a part of the American diet and delicatessens offered salami, capocollo, mortadella, pepperoni, mozzarella and provolone, while spumone was a popular dessert, and variations of minestrone abounded. During the 70s and 80s, many Italian-inspired regional dishes became popular in America — Eggplant Parmigiana, Fettuccini Alfredo, Penne alla Vodka, Shrimp Scampi, Chicken Piccata, Chicken Cacciatore, Steak Pizzaiola, Osso Buco, Veal Marsala, Pasta Primavera, Fried Calamari, Saltimbocca, Caponata, Calzone and Stromboli. Grissini, semolina bread, risotto, broccoli rabe, arugula, radicchio, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano, ricotta, olive oil, pesto, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, pizzelle, cannoli, zeppole, torrone, gianduja, panettone and espresso were common additions to meals.

courtesy lagazzettaitaliana.com

I’ve had a hankering for pasta lately.  Last week, Dave and I stopped for lunch at Panino’s  –one of our local red sauce joints, albeit with the largest variety of panini I’ve ever seen — and he couldn’t believe I ordered a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce. “What?”  I simply craved it.  It was absolutely edible, but it didn’t satisfy the hunger for what I really wanted on the menu:  bolognese.IMG_6255If I get a hankering for fresh pasta and Bolognese, then I just have to make myself. (Especially if Emily’s coming home for a few days.)  I learned to cook sauce in a few places. I had an aunt who learned from the Italian restaurant down below her Chicago apartment and passed a few tidbits onto me.  Of course I watched my mom, who made the best Irish spaghetti around with her home-canned tomatoes.  I also worked in an Italian restaurant nearly all the way through college, but mostly I read Marcella Hazan. THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK was published in 1973, which was the year before Dave and I married, and it was updated in 1992. Combined at that point with MORE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKING, it then became  ESSENTIALS OF CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKING.  They’re perfect, pleasant, loving, precise, and delicious tomes dedicated to just exactly how to do that Italian thing the way it should be done.  Read this NYT article for more info on my talented long-distance, long-time mentor, who by the way never wrote in English.  Her dear husband translated all of her work. Continue reading

One-Pot Pasta with Salmon and Vegetables or Good Friday Supper in a Bowl

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There’s something down-to-earth, cozy, and comfortable about one-pot meals.  Particularly one-pot meals that include pasta, vegetables, and protein.  The Mexican cooks have it all with their sopas secas, which include the ubiquitous  “Mexican Rice,” but also include pots of pasta or even lentils and occasionally beans.  Sopa seca means dry soup and, to our ears and cooking hearts, just means you only put enough liquid in the dry rice, pasta, lentils, or beans, to cook the ingredients–no more.  In other words, if you cooked pasta in the traditional way, you’d cook it in a large pot of boiling water and drain it.  Here, you use just enough liquid (broth or water) to get everything tender and creamy without the addition of cream.  Though a scoop of sour cream often wouldn’t go amiss.

For Good Friday — or any night when time is of the essence and meat isn’t on the menu — try this quick and easy one-pot dinner I made using leftover salmon the other night.  If you have no leftover protein, you can, while the pasta simmers, quickly cook up a small piece of salmon or even a couple of chicken thighs if you’re indulging in “meat.” Alternately, you could put small fresh pieces of salmon into the pot for the last few minutes.  (I haven’t tried this, but I’m guessing it would work.)

I’ll give directions rather than a recipe because you absolutely make this with what you have on hand.  Basically you’ll cook about four cups chopped vegetables in oil with garlic, add a pound of broken pasta and a quart of broth, and cook it all until it’s done, stirring in already-cooked salmon right at the end.   If you have no salmon, or don’t eat fish, skip it; it’ll be a lovely vegetarian meal.  Season the whole pot with lots of fresh chopped parsley or basil or whatever fresh soft herb you have.  Leftovers are epic.  Here’s a clearer idea as long as you remember the vegetables can be switched out for your own choices:

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Sesame-Shrimp Noodles with Fresh Vegetable Toppings or Lilacs in the Rain

A cool and rainy spring in Saint Paul keeps me cooking indoors.  Typically I’d be raking together a salad while Dave grilled chicken or salmon.  Instead, just back from our happy daughter Emily’s graduation from seminary at Princeton, I’m slaving over a hot stove.  Well,  not really.

Here is Emily with her proud parents.  We sang in the choir! Go, Emily!

I will say that once I decided to make and blog some Asian noodles, they were everywhere I looked online.  Like this version from FOOD AND WINE.   I ignored all that and forged ahead.  Hmph; great minds think alike, etc.

If you’re looking for something luscious, filling, and healthy for dinner with plenty leftover for a cold lunch or tomorrow’s dinner, this is your meal.   The short story is that you cook up some noodles with snow peas, asparagus, and shrimp.  You stir in all kinds of things to make it taste good, and let your family or guests choose their toppings — a variety of chopped vegetables, sesame seeds, lime and nuts– at the table.

OR:  Add just the vegetables and “sauce” ingredients (skip the shrimp), along with the peanut topping, and you have a great side for meats you might be grilling for Memorial Day.  I picture this with  salmon, pork chops, or chicken, perhaps those that have been lolling around in an Asian marinade before grilling.

Try this photo recipe:  (Ingredients are in bold type.)

 
sesame-shrimp noodles with fresh vegetable toppings

4 servings
8 Weight Watcher’s Plus Points per serving

Place 2 tablespoons sesame seeds in a small skillet over low heat and toast, stirring occasionally, for several minutes until light brown.  Remove from heat; pour into a small bowl and place on table.  Chop 1/4 cup plain peanuts, scoop into another small bowl, and place on table.

Pour 2 tablespoons canola oil into the skillet over low heat and add 1 tablespoon each minced ginger and garlic.  Cook a minute or two or just until garlic begins to color.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Bring 5-6 quarts of salted and peppered water to boil for the pasta.  While it heats, chop 1/2 cup each bok choy, fresh cilantro, scallions (green onions), and cucumber.  Chop all of one red bell pepper.  Cut a lime into wedges.   Place the vegetables and the lime wedges side by side in a large bowl or in separate small bowls and put them on the table by the sesame seeds and peanuts.

 
To the by now boiling water, add one pound whole wheat linguine (I like Whole Foods 365 brand best) and cook for about 7 minutes.   Stir in 3/4 pound (12 ounces) fresh peeled and deveined shrimp, a cup each of stringed+ fresh snow peas and chopped fresh asparagus and cook for 2-3 minutes until shrimp is firm and pink and noodles are nearly tender.

 
  Drain pasta, shrimp, asparagus and peas.  Pour back into the pot and, while hot, stir in garlic-ginger oil,  a generous pinch of crushed red pepper, 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, 1/4 cup  soy sauce and 1  tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of Sriracha,  and the juice of one lime.   Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more Sriracha, soy sauce, sesame oil, or lime, if needed. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold in shallow pasta bowls; pass fresh vegetables, extra lime slices, soy sauce, and chopped peanuts so that guests can add what they’d like at the table.

Cook’s Notes: 

+Destringing snow peas  If you don’t destring your snow peas, you’ll be flossing (without meaning to) during dinner. 

If you have a vegan or vegetarian in your group, cook the shrimp separately and place it in a separate bowl on the table.  You could add sauteed tofu, if desired, or 2 -3 tablespoons peanut butter to the soy sauce mixture.

If you have leftover cooked chicken, you can add sliced chicken with the garlic-ginger oil instead of cooking shrimp with the noodles.

Vegetables are very interchangeable; please add what you have or you like.  For instance, julienned carrots could be used instead of asparagus or sliced celery in place of the snow peas.  

My lilac are in bloom–finally.  But it’s too cold and rainy to go enjoy them.  Hopefully tomorrow!

Sing a new song,
Alyce