Tag Archives: pasta

Fruits of Our Labors: Cookbook Club 101

11 Jan
Image sourced from kcrw.com

Image sourced from kcrw.com

Pesto is much-loved around here — I’ve cooked with it in pasta dishes, as a pizza sauce, and even as an addition to hummus or other dips. And while I’ve enjoyed playing with the basil – Parmesan – pine nut formula by swapping in spinach, kale, cashews, almonds and more, until recently, I had never ventured too far outside of that routine. That is, until I tried Rachael Ray’s Roasted Red Pepper Pesto.

That is, until my DC girlfriends and I created a Cookbook Club.

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Summertime Suppers: Tomato-Zucchini Pasta with Ricotta and Herbs

9 Jul

pasta 1

Summertime pasta? Yes, please!

In the summer months, I’m always looking for easy, fresh recipes that don’t require any of the following:

  1. Lots of sweat, blood & tears in the kitchen
  2. Lots of hard-to-find ingredients
  3. Lots of clean-up.

[Come to think of it I’m looking for recipes like that all the time.]

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Meat-Free Fridays: 6 Vegetarian-Friendly Pasta Dishes

1 Mar

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Fun fact: Pasta + veggies = a vegetarian and vegan-friendly feast.

No, but seriously! Any combination of sauce, veggies, pasta and protein / fat can be a fabulous meal, particularly for a Lenten Friday when you’re scrounging around the pantry. The above recipe for Sesame Chick Pea Pasta is only one example. In this post, I’ll share an easy template for vegetarian pasta dishes that work for Lenten Fridays or any old weeknight. Mangia!

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New GKG Feature: Meat-Free Meals for Lent!

13 Feb

[Totally irrelevant side note: Found Maria Carey’s entire 1995 “Daydream” album on Youtube this morning. Good Lord, do I love the Interwebs sometimes. I’ll be jamming to “Fantasy” and “One Sweet Day” for the next month or so, just so y’all know. 🙂 ]

For my friends of the Christian and Catholic varieties (or simply for those wondering why a few folks are walking around with dark spots on their foreheads?), today’s observance of Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. While yesterday’s Mardi Gras was an opportunity to binge and go more than a little calorie-crazy (hello, paczkis that I ate en mass. NOM NOM NOM), Lent ushers in a time of penance, prayer and sacrifice. Even if you’re not particularly religious, a re-start on New Years Resolutions probably won’t hurt!

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Welp, There Goes the Casserole: Learning to Live with, and Love, Kitchen “Mistakes”

13 Jan

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Resolution fail this week! Conferences, an overnight retreat, and grading have left me swamped. However, if at first you don’t succeed, beat that dead horse-of-a-goal until it’s … um, well-beaten? Back with a vengeance this week, my friends. I’ll be letting some cool cats out of some bags in the next few days!

In between the paper towels and styrofoam in that trash can, you might be able to spy the remnants of a meal. (If you can, kudos to you!). Here’s what happened:

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Christmas Vacation (the Griswold-free Edition): Pizzas, Pasta, and a Whole Lotta Carbs

29 Dec

Hello hello, my lovely readers and friends! I’ve returned from a lengthy and lovely Christmas Break (the joys of working in education: I still have a set-in-stone-employer-can’t-touch-it end-of-December vacation. HOO-rah!) with updates of the foodie variety. As expected, my sojourn to my family homestead (figuratively, not literally — I grew up squarely in suburbia, not the big ol’ fields and pine-filled woods of THT’s childhood) was filled with food. Literally filled. The stuffed turkey and I were vying for the heftiest belly on Christmas night, and I’m very okay with that.

It was pretty wonderful to be home, actually. I mean, having come from depressingly snow-free DC, how could I beat this winter wonderland?

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com.

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com.
“White Christmas,” anyone?

And with a mama this cute, my time at home was downright fabbity fab-fab. 🙂

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com. Family resemblance, right down to the 80+ layers of warm clothing!

There were so many culinary highlights, that it’s hard to pin down my favorite dishes. My little sister made an amazing Asparagus Sauté, cutting the asparagus into 2-inch chunks and sauteing them with olive oil, a few minced garlic cloves, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. My older sister’s Pignoli Cookies were so epically Italian and so darned tasty that any attempt to reproduce their southern-Sicilian magic would moot. (Or a “moo” point, if you’re Joey.) NOTE: If you’re interested in tackling their tastiness, here’s a delicious version of her recipe from Italian Food Forever.

And Grandma GKG’s Christmas Eve Italian feast, complete with Pasta with Broccoli Rabe, was, as usual, downright divine. (Spaghetti + sauteed broccoli rabe + parmesan + chicken broth + a topping of crushed croutons. Simple, huh?)

And as an alternative to turkey, my padre tried this recipe for Michael Symon’s Porchetta from Food Network Magazine. With its spicy pancetta and rosemary filling (an extra kick comes from oodles of red pepper flakes), it was a hit for the senses and the sinuses. Whoo!

Image courtesy of foodnetwork.com. Molto bene!

Image courtesy of foodnetwork.com. Molto bene!

My contributions were mostly of the sous-chef variety — scoring the pork roast, baking some bread, arranging tables, washing dishes, etc. However, I did make one of my absolute favorite pizza recipes, which I’ll now share with you, lovely readers.

Here’s a preview:

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com. Love the blur effect -- looks like steam on the oven window!

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com. Love the blur effect — looks like steam on the oven window!

One night a few days before Christmas, the task of dinner prep fell to me. (I know, how terrible … twist my arm, why don’t you, Mom? Tee hee.) I decided to make one of my specialties, White Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms & Ham. I also whipped up a Pesto Pizza and Veggie Pizza, which are low-key additions to the pizza repertoire of any budding chef. (Pesto Pizza = pesto sauce, cheese, and sliced tomatoes; Veggie pizza = wheat crust, tomato sauce, and as many veggies as your fridge can hold.) The white pizza, however, is an elegant and stylish dinner treat.

White Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, & Ham

You’ll need:

  • 1 white or wheat pizza crust, rolled out and prepared for baking
  • 1 cup prepared bechamel sauce
  • 1-2 cups shredded fontina cheese
  • 4-6 slices of deli ham, sliced into thin shreds
  • 1/4 white onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup white button mushroom slices
  • Additional parmesan cheese, salt & pepper for seasoning

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prepare pizza crust on top of either a baking sheet or a baking stone.
  • To caramelize onions, heat 1 tsp olive oil in a small pan on medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, slowly, for 20-30 minutes, adding 1/4 cup of water every few minutes, or until water is absorbed each time. This slow method will render sweetness and delicious caramelized sugar from the onions.
  • To prepare the mushrooms, cook in batches over medium-low heat with a smidgen of olive oil. Do NOT add mushrooms all at once; keep space between each mushroom and flip once, allowing them to brown on each side.
  • To prepare the ham, simply saute the slices in either the onion pan or the mushroom pan once either vegetable is finished cooking. Allow the ham to crisp up slightly, for no longer than 5-10 minutes.
  • Spread the prepared bechamel sauce over the crust. Check here for a simple recipe. Top with shredded cheese, caramelized onions, and prepared ham slices and mushrooms. Additional parmesan is good here as a garnish, as is a grind or two of fresh black pepper.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until crust and cheese are lightly browned. Slice into small squares and enjoy as an appetizer or a main meal.

This pizza is SO darn good, it’s ridiculous. If you’d like something less labor-intensive, you can also use raw onions, raw mushrooms, and deli ham straight out of the package. The extra steps add a whole nother dimension, however, and are definitely worth the effort!

What are your favorite holiday recipes? What are your classic Christmas dishes, wintertime favorites, and seasonal delicacies? Happy eating!

Viva Italia: Four Ingredient Baked Pasta

15 Dec

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What if I told you that a simple, hearty meal could be yours in 30-ish minutes and using only 4 ingredients? You’d be all over that bidness, right? What if I also told you that this dinner creation is as customizable as you can imagine, allowing for creativity, taste preferences, and inventive food adventures to your heart’s content?

If your response is a Howard Dean-style “Yeeeeah!” then you’ve come to the right blog.

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Pumpkin Mac & Cheese with Kale

8 Oct

Yes, this dish is good. SO good.

And yes, you can make it easily. So easily, in fact, that as you’re gorging yourself on pumpkiny, cheesy goodness, you’ll be shocked that you made it yourself.

You’ll also be surprised to know that this dish is healthier than you’d think. First, the pumpkin puree is a nutritious, vitamin-rich way to sneak some veggies into your meal. Second, the shredded kale — whether frozen or fresh — is a nutrient powerhouse. Third, IF you consume a moderate portion and balance it with a side salad or other veggies, you can indulge a bit with higher-fat cheese due to a surprisingly low-fat béchamel sauce base.

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Viva Italia: Healthful Chicken Parmigiana

23 Sep

When the History Teacher mentioned a craving for Chicken Parm recently, he and I both took a peek or two at various recipes in our collections. (Cookbooks, magazines, Pinterest — which is slowly becoming a recipe book-sized collection in itself!) Each recipe we found, it seemed, called for lots of oil, gobs of cheese, and a few more calories than either of us might need in one meal. Or an entire day.

I decided to tackle the beast that was one of Italian-American cuisine’s most iconic dishes, but in a healthier way. Could it be done? Would it be a fruitless effort, like whoever decided to try manufacturing fat-free ice cream? (Oxymoronic at best, nasty at worst. Oif.) Would I end up with a chicken-tasting hockey puck of low-fat grossness? Time would tell.

But, lo and behold, I came up with this beauty:

Nommy nom nom goodness.

The recipe’s low-fat, easy-prep secrets? (I’ll let you in, faithful GKG readers, because you’re lovely and awesome.)

  1. Pound the chicken breasts to tenderize the meat.
  2. Double-Bread the chicken (directions below) to seal in moisture and create a crispy crust
  3. Downplay the cheese by only adding enough for flavor, rather than letting the chicken drown in fromaggio.
  4. If you have it, use whole-wheat pasta, which has a nuttier flavor and a hefty “bite” when cooked al dente.

Now, some of you may be raising a red flag at the mention of lowering the recipe’s cheese content. After all, what’s Chicken Parm without gobs upon gobs of melted mozzarella? Here’s my reasoning: If the chef uses less, but makes the cheese available to her guests and patrons, then they can add as much cheese as they see fit. And, thus, their future heart attacks are not on the chef’s conscience. Plus, I like a lighter layer of cheese with the whole-wheat or whole-grain pastas. Something about their nutty, wholesome flavor screams “Please don’t drown me in dairy!”

And so, friends, here’s my recipe for an easy and surprisingly healthful Chicken Parmigiana. It’s really the meat-pounding-and-double-breading that makes this recipe special, and the techniques are so simple that they can be easily applied to any cut of meat that you choose. Try it with pork chops, chicken thighs, or even a thin steak if you’re feeling particularly Southern. Happy eating!

Surprisingly Healthful Chicken Parm — Serves 4 (easily reduced to 2 or doubled)

You’ll need:

  • 4 medium-sized or two large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (regular, Italian-seasoned or panko are all fine)
  • A hefty sprinkle of Parmesan, plus more for serving (approx 1 tbsp)
  • 1-2 tsp Dried or fresh basil, parsley and oregano, crushed (if dried) or finely chopped (if fresh)
  • Salt & pepper to season
  • 1 recipe homemade tomato sauce (or 1 jar of your favorite marinara)
  • 1 lb whole-grain or whole-wheat spaghetti (or 1 lb regular spaghetti. Your carbs are your prerogatives, my dears.)

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, set a pot of water (with a pinch of salt) to boil on high heat.
  • In a small saucepan, heat 2-3 cups pasta sauce.
  • Place your chicken breasts on a cutting board between two layers of wax paper or plastic wrap. (If you used 2 large breasts, cut ’em into evenly-sized portions). Using a meat tenderizer or whatever heavy, blunt object you don’t mind getting slightly covered in chicken guts (I used the bottom of a jar), pound out the breasts until they are at least 1/2 of their original thickness. They should end up about 1/2 to 1 inch thick. (The recipe can handle a little variation.)
  • Arrange 3 bowls or serving dishes. In the first, add the flour, some salt & pepper, and 1/2 of the herbs. In the 2nd, add the beaten egg (with an optional pinch of garlic salt). In the third, add the breadcrumbs, Parmesan and the rest of the herbs. Dredge the pounded breasts first in flour (shaking off the excess), then in egg, and finally in the breadcrumb and Parmesan mixture. Set aside on a serving dish.
  • Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. (Optional: Add 1/2 tsp butter to the pan for additional flavor. Add the chicken breasts (2 at a time) and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until well browned. When browned, transfer to a lightly sprayed baking sheet. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until completely cooked through.

“Hissssss.” — Breadcrumb coating meets olive oil.

  • Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse lightly, and transfer to serving bowl / dish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and a little remaining pasta water to keep pasta from sticking together until chicken is done.

Lonely pasta, just waiting for some friends.

  • To serve, top pasta with chicken breasts. Spoon sauce over breasts and pasta until well-covered. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese to garnish, and top with additional dried or fresh herbs. Serve to the hungry hordes!

Almost ready! Check out that sweet crumb-coating.

Oh yeah. Sauce & cheese take that chicken to the next level.

A few final points, my dears:

First, if you’re serving this for dinner, a simple salad and crusty loaf of bread are the perfect side dishes. Secondly, you can up the veggie quantity by using a veggie-filled sauce, adding sauteed veggies to your premade sauce, or even using peeled eggplant slices / squash slices instead of chicken breasts. And if you’re really craving that cheesy goodness, assemble the dish in an oven-safe, deep-sided pan, top with mozzarella, and broil for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is gooey, bubbly and browned to your liking. (“All things in moderation, including moderation.” — some wise, awesome person.)

Lastly, what really makes the dish is that double-breading. It creates a crisp coating that locks in moisture, leaving your chicken breasts juicy and the outsides browned, crunchy and delicious. You really can’t go wrong!

Are you guys fans of this Italian-American classic? Have you ever double-breaded chicken breasts before? What are your favorite techniques for recreating this dish at home?

Summer Spaghetti with Sauteed Yellow Squash

16 Aug

In the spirit of Julia Child’s birthday week, here’s one of my favorite quotes from America’s “Lady of the Ladle” on approaching the stove (and the recipe book, and the kitchen table) with an open heart and soul: “Cooking is like love – it should be entered into with abandon, or not at all.” Amen! (For more fun quotes, check out this post from HuffPost Food. Delightful.) Here’s a fun pair of summertime recipes in the name of that grande dame, slightly inspired by the Mediterranean region of her beloved Provençal home, La Pitchoune.

La Pitchoune itself, on a corner of Simone Beck’s property in France. Le sigh.

Sometimes, when it’s steamy and sticky outside — as ALWAYS in lovely, humid DC — and the allure of a hot stove is virtually nonexistent, you don’t want to cook a thing when dinnertime comes around. But peanut butter, cereal, or other “instant” meals (ramen, anyone?) can and do seem less than appealing. What’s a budding chef to do? How about summer spaghetti?

The “sauce” for summer spaghetti — fresh, cool, and good.

“As in, spaghetti squash? Uhhh….” you might ask. Nope, nothing of the kind. (Even though spaghetti squash is delicious; check out this lovely entry on Psych in the Kitchen about the wonders of spaghetti squash as a pasta substitute.) Instead, this is a delicious summertime supper that requires very little cooking at all; only the pasta and yellow squash see the heat of a stovetop. Based in part on a recipe from my ingenious and ever-experimental-in-the-kitchen maternal grandmother, summer spaghetti is a simple and downright tasty warm weather entree that’s sure to please, whether you cook up a plate for one or serve it to ten of your hungriest friends.

Summer Spaghetti with Sauteed Yellow Squash — Serves 4, but easily reduced by half (or a serving for one!)

For the Spaghetti, you’ll need:

  • 1 lb spaghetti (you can also use bucatini or linquini; either would be delicious!)
  • 4 large tomatoes, diced (keep seeds and skins). (Heirloom tomatoes are WONDERFUL here, but use whatever looks good to you.)
  • 1/4 cup green olives, chopped (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried), chopped or cut into a chiffonade (see directions below)
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • A dash of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup pasta water
  • Grated Parmesan and Romano cheese, plus fresh herbs for garnishing

For the squash, you’ll need:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Yellow Squash (or 2 Zucchini; they’re interchangeable in this recipe, but both are delicious!)
  • 1/2 white onion, cut into thing slices (think caramelized onions; not rings or chunks)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • chopped fresh parsley and basil for serving

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat a pot of water on the stove, covered, until boiling. Salt the water lightly for added flavor. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add your pasta and cook according to package directions.
  • While the water’s heating, dice your tomatoes and add them to whatever serving bowl you’ll use for your pasta. Add green olives, basil, garlic salt, black pepper, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice to taste, tasting the mixture as you add each ingredient. (See what you like, and adjust seasonings accordingly.)

Clearly, the lemon juice container wanted a glamor shot. Thanks, flash button.

  • Note: To chiffonade your basil, stack the leaves. Roll your stack into a tight bundle. Then, use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to “slice” the bundle, creating little ribbons of basil. (Here’s a helpful Youtube clip if you’re confused.) So easy, and it creates a really pretty effect in your food.

Step one: Stack your leaves.

Step two: roll up the leaves. (And ZOOM WITH YOUR CAMERA!)

Step 3: Snip snip. So posh-looking.

  • While the pasta water’s heating and your pasta’s cooking, refrigerate the no-cook sauce you’ve created. Once the pasta’s finished, drain but DO NOT rinse, saving about 1/4 cup pasta water. Add the pasta to your serving bowl, along with the extra pasta water you’ve saved, mixing thoroughly. The warm pasta will instantly “cook” your sauce — Mmm! Add cheeses and extra herbs for garnishing as desired. Nom nom nom.
  • For the squash, slice the squash into 1/4 inch thick rounds. If the squash is wider at one end, simply cut those squash rounds in half, creating half-moons. Sprinkle with seasoning (salt and pepper) on the cutting board.

Getting artsy with the vegetables.

  • Heat the 1 tbsp olive oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. The onions should brown slightly, rather that “sweat” (i.e. get soft without browning.). Add the seasoned squash rounds and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, stirring every minute or so with a wooden spoon or spatula, until squash rounds are soft and golden brown. Top with fresh herbs & a squeeze of lemon juice, and serve.

Enjoy! I’ll close with one more Julia quote, because she’s just that wonderful: “The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon Appetit.” Happy Birthday week, Julia. You were the best, ever.