Tag Archives: pasta

Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

29 Apr

As with take-out pizza versus homemade, there is also a time and a place for boxed mac and cheese and a time for homemade.  Is it bad to admit that I still enjoy the blue box variety?  I feel like that’s ok, since I appreciate the blue box kind for completely different reasons than a gourmet homemade version (namely nostalgia and the freedom to douse it in ketchup – which is probably gross to many people – oops).   Today’s recipe is for a “grown up” mac and cheese (with spinach and crispy fried shallots on top) – but really it’s just for a homemade variety – since the recipe is completely adaptable for all tastes and ages.

Once you know the basic process for making macaroni and cheese, the possibilities are endless.  This is a more classic version of macaroni and cheese, with cheddar and Gruyère (with spinach added to make me feel slightly less guilty about this indulgent dinner – and really, the cheese and pasta mellow out the spinachy taste – amen).  The crispy shallots (which to me are a more gourmet spin on French’s fried onions) add a lovely salty and tangy bite – don’t skip them – they really add that extra something.  But, like I said before, the possibilities are endless – you can use any combination of cheeses and/or veggies and/or meat you want (or use no veggies or meat at all!).  One of my personal favorites is using Pepper Jack cheese and tiny broccoli florets for a so-called “Mac and Jack” spicy macaroni and cheese.  Yum.

This is a quick version of macaroni and cheese, which skips any baking in the oven.  But you can certainly pour the macaroni into a baking dish, top with bread crumbs and/or cheese (and/or crispy shallots!) and bake until golden brown.  I can’t decide which method I like better – without baking, the sauce stays so luxuriously creamy and saucy; but when baked, the crunchy golden brown top is pretty delicious too.  I’m torn.

Mac and Cheese with Spinach and Crispy Shallots

Time: 25 minutes; Yield: 8 servings

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups shredded cheese (I recommend a mix of aged sharp cheddar, Gruyère and/or Jack)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • Few grates of fresh nutmeg
  • 8 ounces fresh spinach, chopped finely (optional)
  • 1 pound cavatappi (hollow corkscrew shaped pasta), or any other noodle you like
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • Flour, to coat shallots
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, or enough to generously coat a saute pan
  • Salt and pepper

Making the Sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour.  Cook for about 2 minutes, then add milk.  Bring to a boil (~8 min), then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thickened, whisking often to prevent burning.  Season with salt and pepper.  Once thickened, add the cheeses, mustard, Old Bay and nutmeg, whisking to combine.

Cooking Pasta and Spinach:  Boil pasta according to package directions.  When the pasta is ready, add the chopped spinach to the boiling water to blanch, then drain both the pasta and spinach (ensuring to get as much water out of the spinach as possible).

Crispy Shallots (aka grown up French’s fried onions):  While sauce and pasta are cooking, toss the thinly sliced shallots with enough flour to coat.  Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat, add shallots, and cook until crispy and golden brown.  Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain excess oil.

Assembly:  When sauce is finished and pasta and spinach are cooked, pour sauce on top of pasta and spinach and toss to coat.  Don’t add all the sauce all at once, in case it’s too much (wait, is that possible?!).  Top with crispy fried shallots and serve immediately.

Isn’t it surprisingly easy to make homemade mac and cheese?  I think so :)  What other flavor combinations do you think would be good?  I’m thinking anything with bacon would be pretty amazing, but maybe that’s just me….

Goat Cheese, Chicken and Asparagus Fettuccine

26 Mar

 I can’t believe I’m still posting chicken recipes from my one day of cooking, where I made lots of chicken stock (and shredded chicken), then turned it into soup, this pasta and Buffalo-style chicken salad.   I swear this is the end of the chicken recipes… for now!  But in the meantime, this is a pretty delicious and simple recipe to use leftover chicken.  It’s creamy and tangy from the goat cheese.  And, it’s perfect for spring time, since asparagus is now at its prime.

The cream sauce for this pasta is made from a roux, milk and goat cheese.  It’s deliciously creamy, without the cream.  A roux is a mixture of melted butter and flour, combined in equal parts (in this recipe, 1 tablespoon each), which is used to thicken sauces.  Knowing how to make a roux is a great technique to have in your repertoire so you can make cream sauces at any time, for things like this, or homemade macaroni and cheese :).

Goat Cheese, Chicken and Asparagus Fettuccine

Time: 20 min, Yield: 2 servings

  • 6 ounces fettuccine
  • 1/2 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-2″ pieces
  • 1 cup shredded, cooked chicken (leftover and reheated or from a store-bought rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1.5 cups low-fat milk
  • 4-6 ounces goat cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon

Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot of boiling water.  While pasta is cooking and water is boiling, drop the asparagus into the same pot to blanch, until tender-crisp, 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Add flour and whisk until smooth, 30 seconds.  Whisk in the milk and simmer gently, until it starts to thicken, stirring often.  Whisk in the goat cheese until smooth.  If sauce is too thick, add more milk.  If sauce is too thin, add more cheese.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta and asparagus, and toss with chicken and enough cream sauce to coat.  Top with fresh tarragon and serve.

Braised Oxtail Ragù

2 Feb

There’s nothing like a slowly braised, rich, fall-off-the bone meat dish on a cold winter day.  Especially when you serve it over homemade pappardelle.  Too bad it hasn’t even been cold or wintery out!! (Who are we kidding, that is FINE by me!).  Regardless, I was in the mood for a wintery dish like this, and it turned out so delicious I would recommend it for any night of the year (preferably a weekend since this is a low-and-slow type recipe).

I had had a braised oxtail ragù dish recently at a local restaurant so I was anxious to try to make it myself at home, using this recipe from Osteria in Philadelphia, via Bon Appetit magazine.  Dishes like this at restaurants are so impressive, with such depth of flavor, but usually there are no fancy ingredients or techniques involved.  Just long and slow cooking to bring out the natural flavors.   And believe it or not, oxtail is not a hard-to-find ingredient.  I found it easily at my regular grocery store, which is not a gourmet store at all.

I wouldn’t call this a beginner-level recipe, but I wouldn’t say it’s advanced either.  All you have to do is read the directions and take the time to make it (it’s no 30 minute meal – so make it on the weekend!).  I highly suggest trying this recipe, even if you are intimidated – you and your friends will be very impressed, I promise!

The most labor-intensive part of this recipe was shredding the meat after it was cooked.  Oxtail has a lot of fat and cartilage and bone, which means there isn’t much meat.  Picking the meat off the bone takes time and a little patience, but it’s worth it.  Just make your kids (or husband) help you – men and kids don’t mind getting their hands messy, right?   If you can stand to wait, braising for longer than 2 hours may also help make this easier (just be sure that the liquid in the pot doesn’t over reduce – if so, add more broth).

Braised Oxtail Ragù recipe adapted from here

Yield: 4 servings at least (it is a very rich dish, you won’t be able to eat much!) Time: ~3.5 hours

  • 3 pounds oxtails (2-3″ pieces)
  • All purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 large celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, very coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3/4 cups canned crushed tomatoes with added puree
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 fresh Italian parsley sprigs
  • 1 large fresh rosemary sprig
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups beef broth

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Sprinkle oxtails with salt and pepper:

Then coat them in flour. Heat oil in heavy wide ovenproof pot over high heat.  Add oxtails;  cook until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to bowl.

Add celery,  carrots, and onion to pot.  Reduce heat to medium-high and sauté until vegetables brown, about 15 minutes. Add wine and tomatoes. Boil until thickened to chunky  sauce, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in garlic. Tie parsley, rosemary, and bay  leaves with kitchen string and add to pot.  Return oxtails to pot in single  layer (or as close to that as you can).  Add all broth; bring to boil.  Cover pot; place in oven.

Braise oxtails until very tender, about 2 hours.

Transfer oxtails to rimmed baking sheet.  Pull meat off oxtails, avoiding large pieces of fat and bone. Set aside.

Using potato masher, crush juices and vegetables  in pot to make a coarse sauce.

Add meat back to pot and season ragù with  salt and pepper.   Serve over gnocchi or homemade pappardelle.  Garnish with fresh parsley and shaved parmesan.

Homemade Pappardelle

30 Jan

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to try cooking new things, new things I’ve never made before which may intimidate me.  Homemade pasta definitely fell into that category.

I’ve made gnocchi before, but never real pasta.  I guess I always assumed I needed some fancy pasta maker attachment for my Kitchenaid or something like that.  But then I noticed that this recipe for homemade pappardelle requires no fancy equipment and is actually categorized as “easy”.  I can do easy.

I would agree that this pasta was pretty easy to make, considering I thought it would be down-right hard.  The only frustrating part was when my eggs sort of overflowed over the edges of my flour volcano (see the steps below for explanation!) and so my hands got all sticky trying to save it and knead it.  Eventually, after adding more flour, it came together and resembled dough.  After which, it was almost therapeutic to knead the dough!

I think half the appeal of homemade pasta is the taste and texture (it really is chewier and better), and half is the satisfaction that comes from knowing you made it out of nothing (flour and eggs count as nothing).

So I encourage you to try making this at home – you may surprise yourself!  Soon I will be posting the recipe for the braised oxtail I served atop these beautiful noodles, but until then, enjoy them with copious amounts of butter, parmesan and/or sauce and meatballs.

Homemade Pappardelle  recipe from here

Time: 40 active, 40 inactive; Yield: 20 ounces of pasta

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 cup semolina flour*, plus more  for dusting
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of salt

*Semolina flour can either be found in the regular baking/flour aisle or the organic/health food aisle (near all the other alternative flours):

Sift both flours together, pile on a clean counter, and make a well in the center.   Make sure the well is very deep so the eggs don’t runneth over in the next step:

Place the eggs, olive oil and a pinch of salt in a bowl, then pour into the well.  With a fork, break up the eggs, then gradually mix the wet ingredients into the flour mixture just until combined.   This was the very messy step.  Try to keep the eggs in the center of the well and very slowly mix in the flour.  If it’s too sticky and messy, add some more flour.

Knead by hand, adding more flour if it’s too sticky, until the dough comes together.  This was the challenging part – try not to freak out about how messy your hands are, like I did.

Gather the dough into 2 equal-size balls; flour the surface. To knead each piece, push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, fold the dough over itself and turn it counterclockwise. Continue pushing, folding and turning until the dough is smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes.

Pat each piece into a ball. Flatten slightly, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. (You can freeze 1 ball for later, or roll out both and freeze the cut pasta).

To roll out the dough, place it on a lightly floured surface and dust with flour. Starting in the middle, push away from you with a rolling pin, easing up on the pressure as you approach the edge.  Continue rolling the dough into a sheet, turning occasionally, until you can see your fingers through the bottom. Getting it thin enough is key.  Let dry about 10 minutes.

Dust the top of the sheet of dough with flour and loosely roll it into a cylinder.

Using a sharp knife, cut into 3/4-inch-wide slices.

Unwrap the noodles; dust with semolina and gently toss to separate. Place on a sheet pan and cover with a towel until ready to cook (or freeze in freezer bags for up to 2 months).

In a very large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water, cook the pappardelle until al dente, about 5 minutes.

Farfalle with Brie, mushrooms and arugula

18 Jan

If there was only one food I could eat for the rest of my life, I’d probably choose Brie.  Or bagels.  Or enchiladas.  Or chocolate chip cookies.  Anyway, that’s besides the point.

I love Brie, but I definitely feel like there are not enough opportunities for me to eat it.  Picnics (Brie and a baguette and a plastic knife = a struggle I have had more times than I care to share) and holiday parties (puff pastry wrapped baked Brie.. so greasy, so delicious, amen) are just not frequent enough to fulfill my Brie quota.

ANYWAY, I made this pasta, originally from Real Simple Magazine.  It’s pasta with melted Brie, sauteed onion and mushrooms and wilted arugula.  I made this as a quick and easy lunch for one, so I like that this recipe comes together quickly and that you can very easily adjust the amount you make (you will have some leftover mushrooms or red onions this way, but those can be used in so many ways – stir fry, omlettes, salads, etc so I don’t mind having extras in my fridge.).

The mix of the creamy, rich Brie and the mushrooms which soak up all the wine flavor was pretty delicious.  And the peppery arugula adds a nice freshness and color.  In general I’d say this recipe is pretty yummy, but definitely not over-flavorful, just mild and subtle.  So make sure to season the pasta water generously with salt before cooking the pasta, and be generous with the salt and pepper when cooking the mushrooms and onions.   Also, use a good wine, because the flavor really gets soaked up by the mushrooms.  I actually used vermouth instead of wine, because I didn’t want to open a whole bottle for the recipe.  I keep vermouth in my fridge all the time (it keeps, opened, for months) as a substitute for wine for recipes or for martinis ;-).    If you really want to jazz this recipe up, and aren’t a vegetarian, I bet adding some proscuitto or pancetta would be pretty awesome in it too.

Farfalle with Brie, mushrooms and arugula  recipe from Real Simple Magazine

Time: 20 min, Yield: 4 servings

  • 12 ounces farfalle (or any shape pasta you like!)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb mushrooms, quartered (I used baby bella)
  • 1 small red onion, sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces Brie, cut into 1/2″ cubes, most of the rind removed (but you don’t wanna lose too much of the Brie! That would be tragic)
  • 4 cups baby arugula

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, making sure to reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining (using the starchy pasta water to help make a sauce is a great trick).

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.   Add the mushrooms and onion and cook, tossing occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to release their juices, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the wine, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook until the mushrooms begin to brown, 5 to 6 minutes.

Toss the pasta with the Brie and reserved cooking water until the pasta is coated.  Stir in the mushroom mixture and arugula and serve.

Jambalaya Pasta

9 Jan

This recipe was born out of a craving for spicy food and a desire to use up leftovers.  I had some uncooked Italian sausage left in my freezer from a different recipe, and I wanted to use it up.  I also always have shrimp in my freezer for quick weeknight meals like this.  I didn’t feel like making a whole pot of traditional rice-based jambalaya, and I thought making a pasta version would be quicker and just as tasty.

I must say that this recipe was super easy and tasted even better than I expected.  It was so flavorful and so satisfying, I was impressed with myself.  Haha.  Am I allowed to say that?  Anyway, I guess it’s ok as long as I share the recipe with you!

Jambalaya Pasta

Time: 30 min, Yield: 6 servings

  • 3 links Italian sausage (this is what I had on-hand, but any kind will work)
  • 3 stalks celery, diced small
  • 1/4 of a yellow onion, diced small (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced small
  • 28 ounces canned whole tomatoes, cut into chunks, juice reserved
  • 2-3 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (adjust amount depending on the spiciness you like.  I used Tony Chachere’s brand)
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon each thyme, paprika and oregano (optional, if you want to beef up the flavor)
  • salt and pepper
  • ~25 medium-sized raw shrimp, thawed if frozen, peeled and deveined (tails can be removed or not)
  • 12 ounces pasta (I used Ronzoni Garden Delight – delicious and nutritious!)

Cook sausage links over medium heat in a very large skillet, until browned and cooked through (if using pre-cooked, smoked sausage, eliminate this step).  Once cooked, slice into rounds.

In the same pan, after removing the sausage, saute celery, onions, garlic and bell pepper over medium heat until soft, using any sausage fat drippings left in the pan (if there are no drippings or you eliminated the first step, add about 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan before adding veggies).

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.

Once the veggies are soft, add canned tomatoes plus 1/2 to 2/3 cup of the reserved tomato juice.  Add in sliced, cooked sausage and all spices and seasonings, stirring to combine.

Then, add the raw shrimp to the pan:

…Cover the pan and let the shrimp steam until cooked through:

Once shrimp are cooked through (firm and pink), add the cooked pasta and toss all to combine.  Serve immediately.  This also reheats pretty well if you have leftovers!

*Bell Pepper Cutting Tip

I find that the easiest way to cut a bell pepper is to slice it in half, right through the stem:

… and then just use your hand to scoop out the seeds, ribs, and stems from each half.  Compared to other ways to cut them, you don’t waste nearly as much of the pepper.