Thursday, April 23, 2020

Ricotta, Zucchini and Parmesan Pasta Bake

Except for the ricotta this is a pantry recipe. In fact, you can sub whatever veggie(s) you have on hand for the zucchini and it will be a delicious way to use up some vegetables. Think of it more like a red primavera pasta bake.

Ricotta, Zucchini and Parmesan Pasta Bake

Makes one 8x8 pan

1 (12oz) box rigatoni*
1/2 onion, chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
16 ounces ricotta
3/4 cup mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 (15oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 large Zucchini squash, quartered lengthwise, then chopped into 1/2" slices
2 eggs
3 cloves garlic, minced

Method: cook noodles according to package directions, but drain them a minute or two before they are supposed to be done. You want them slightly Al dente. Set them aside to cool. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium pan and add onions, zucchini, oregano, basil and salt and pepper, to taste. When zucchini is mostly done add tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cook on lowest heat for 5 minutes, then set veg and sauce aside to cool. Into the ricotta mix the eggs, crushed red pepper, Italian seasonings and garlic powder. Preheat the oven to 375. Once everything is cooled, mix together, along with 1/2 cup of the shredded mozzarella and half of the grated Parmesan. Pour mix into greased 8x8" cake pan. Top with the remaining mozzarella and the remaining half of the Parmesan. Cook for 30 minutes. It will be golden and bubbly on top and ready to serve.

*Or pasta of your choice

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Cannelini Bean, Spinach and Tomato Pantry Pasta

This pantry staple comes together in 20 minutes or less and can be made with any fresh or frozen vegetables you have on hand. The creamy, thin skinned beans combine with the salty, zesty tomato sauce to create a fabulous, almost cheesy sauce. You can add meat of some kind or keep it vegetarian.

Tomato, Garlic & Bean Pantry Pasta with Spinach

Makes 8 servings

1 lb chunky pasta (such as rotini or orecchiette) 
1 can tomato sauce
1 (15 oz) can of cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
5 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
8 oz fresh or frozen spinach
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan (opt), for serving

Method: cook noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, mince the garlic or run it through a press. In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over the lowest possible heat, cook garlic in oil until fragrant, approx 1-3 minutes. Add beans, dried herbs and tomato sauce. Add in washed spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add pasta and stir to combine. Serve garnished with parmesan (preferably freshly grated).

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Shortcut Zesty Chicken Soup

This soup uses two shortcuts: leftover chicken and ready made stock. It is warming and the perfect thing to chase away the mid March chills.

Whenever I buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or roast my own I usually have a plan for the leftovers. Along with burrito bowls and chicken salad sandwiches a favorite is this zesty chicken soup. I like to serve it with crusty bread ( you'd be surprised how easy crusty bread is to make at home, especially if you have a Dutch oven) or garlic bread.

Shortcut Zesty Chicken Soup

Makes 6 servings

6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 slender carrots, chopped
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
3 cloves garlic, rougly minced
1 Tablespoon tomato paste (opt)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 small bayleaf (opt)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 & 1/2 - 2 cups leftover roasted chicken, chopped
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup soup noodles or 1/2 lb regular sized chunky pasta or 10 oz egg noodles
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Set a Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot over the heat at medium low. Add olive oil, then onions, carrots and celery. Add salt, thyme and a small amount of pepper. Saute vegetables, stirring frequently to avoid browning, for about 7 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste and bayleaf and cook for 1 minute more. Add 4 cups of stock and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. In a smaller, separate pot bring remaining stock and 2 cups of water to boil. Salt the water and add your pasta of choice.   Cook according to package directions (yes, it's too little water, but it will leave plenty of starch on your pasta, which will lend an extra flavor to the soup). When the stock in the larger pot has come to a boil, add chicken. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Drain pasta and serve soup with a ladle full of pasta in each bowl.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Sausage Primavera

Recently YouTube TV added several channels, including the Food Network. I watch a few shows on there (how could I resist?) and have been taking inspiration from it. Watching Beat Bobby Flay I was surprised to see the contestant add butter poached lobster to his pasta primavera. I had always thought of it as a strictly vegetarian dish, but why not add seafood, or even meat? Sausage is a much more practical choice for my family. My toddler loves it, it is much more budget friendly and the fat would add a ton of luscious flavor to the sauce. This dish is a combination of my sausage and broccolini pasta (although with different veggies) and Jamie Oliver’s excellent sausage zucchini carbonara. Next time I make it I plan on trying to find some fresh marjoram and using it in place of the dried herbs (see notes). With an extra bit of prepwork this dish comes together pretty quickly, so it’s a nice spring and summertime meal. Think of this dish as a starting point and use whatever veggies you have in the fridge and whatever kind of pasta your family enjoys. Just be sure to adjust cooking times as needed for each.

Sausage Primavera

Serves 6

1 lb sweet Italian pork sausage, casing removed
1 lb whole wheat penne
1 small yellow onion
8 ounces mushrooms
1 large zucchini
1 large summer squash
8 ounces grape tomatoes, whole
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano*
1/2 teaspoon dried basil*
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt, to taste
Fresh pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 450. Rub the tomatoes with a bit of olive oil or spray oil, season with salt and pepper and lay on a baking sheet in a single layer. Chop all vegetables (except tomatoes) into roughly similar bite sized pieces. Roast tomatoes in oven for 12 minutes, or until they brown slightly on the bottom. Set aside. In a large heavy bottomed pan over medium heat, add olive oil, then sausage meat. Break up the sausage roughly. Cook sausage until it has no traces of pink. Scoop meat out of pan, leaving fat. Boil pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water, according to package directions. Meanwhile, in the pan with the sausage fat saute onions, mushrooms and squash in the fat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add dried herbs and crushed red pepper. Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook until vegetables are all cooked through. Turn off heat and add cream and tomatoes. Toss with pasta and serve with grated Parmesan cheese and minced Italian parsley.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Red Beans and Rice

Walk with me down Frenchmen Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Soulful, amazing Jazz music pours out of the open doors of most of the bars; some of the best Jazz music in the world. Here and there you can catch delicious, elusive smells, fabulous odors that are different from any other place on Earth. New Orleans cuisine is based on French cuisine, brought there by the Acadian settlers when they migrated from French Canada and suffused with the influences of Spanish, African American and Southern American cuisines. The Acadian settlers based their diets on the tradition in the French countryside of using whatever ingredients were available to make dishes often resembling stews with rich sauces. Many dishes have a mirépoix base (called the holy Trinity in Louisiana, their mirépoix consists of bell peppers, celery and onions) and a roux as the base of the sauce. As it is easy to grow in Louisiana's hot, wet climate, rice replaced potatoes as the staple starch in the Acadian transplants' diets.

Red beans and rice is a classic Louisiana dish and can be found on many New Orleans menus. Slightly sweet, slightly spicy, intensely comforting, it is a combination of rice with sausage, red kidney beans and a spice blend unique to Louisiana's melting pot cuisine. The beans are often cooked with leftover pork bones from another meal. This filling meal can be served on its own or with steamed corn on the cob or cornbread.

I've made my own Cajun seasoning, which I will share in another post.

Red Beans and Rice

Makes 10 servings

4 cups red kidney beans in their liquid (see notes)

1.5 lbs fully cooked bratwurst, sliced

1/ 4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon mild chili powder

1 Tablespoon Cajun seasoning

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, diced (see notes)

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 - 2 bay leaves (see notes)

Salt, to taste

For the rice:

1.5 cups long grain white rice

1 Tablespoon butter

3 spice cloves

1 bay leaf

Salt, generously to taste


In a large skillet heat olive oil and saute onion, celery, green pepper and jalapeño in a pinch of salt until they begin to soften. Add sausages and sear for a couple of minutes, until veggies begin to brown. Add garlic, bay leaf, Cajun seasoning, paprika, oregano, thyme, tomato paste, chili powder salt and pepper and cook for 90 seconds, stirring frequently. Add beans and 8 ounces of water and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer while you prepare the rice. In a medium pan saute rice in butter for 90 seconds to toast it. Add cloves, bay leaf and 3 cups of water. Generously salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn it to the lowest heat setting. Cook for 15 minutes, then fluff rice and fold rice into beans.

Serve as is or with cornbread or corn on the cob.

Notes: you can use canned beans or soak and boil your own. I made my own beans and boiled them with a very generous pinch of salt and a bay leaf. Traditionally you can also use leftover pork bones to season the beans. If you like it spicy (this version is fairly mild), leave in the seeds and ribs of the jalapeńo, or use a hotter pepper altogether. Scotch bonnet might work well here.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Mini Chocolate Cheesecake with Earl Grey Chocolate Ganache

This is a combination of two recipes I've blogged about that I really love: chai spiced chocolate cheesecake and Earl Grey truffles. I used the chai cheesecake post only as a guide for a mini chocolate cheesecake and omitted the spices because I was planning to make the Earl Grey tea in the ganache the stand out flavor. Why use Earl Grey with chocolate? It has a light bitterness that enhances the richness of the chocolate. As teas go, Earl Grey is used in particular in chocolate because it's flavored with a citrus extract (bergamot) which is lovely with chocolate.

I made a mini cheesecake so you can enjoy it by yourself. With a chocolate crust and a chocolate filling as well as a chocolate ganache topping, this is definitely a chocolate lover's decadent dessert. The size means this is perfect to treat yourself.

Mini Chocolate Cheesecake with Earl Grey Chocolate Ganache

Makes 4” cheesecake

1 Tablespoon butter, melted
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
2 (full sheet) chocolate graham crackers, crushed

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 ounces quality chocolate, chopped
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste
1/4 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg
1 Tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 ounces quality chocolate, chopped
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 Tablespoon clarified butter
1 Earl Grey tea bag

Assemble the crust: mix together chocolate cracker crumbs and sugar, then add melted butter. Toss until thoroughly combined. Press mixture into the bottom and slightly up the sides of a 4” springform pan. Cover with plastic wrap and set in fridge for one hour.

Use a mixer to cream together eggs, cream cheese, cream, sugar and vanilla.
Preheat the oven to 300F. Fill a roasting pan or large baking dish with 1/2 inch boiling water and place on the lower rack of the oven.

In the microwave in a microwave safe container heat chocolate in 15 second blasts until it is thoroughly melted.
Fold chocolate and cornstarch into cream cheese mixture. Pour mixture over crust in springform. Spread evenly.
Bake for 30 minutes at 300.
Allow the cheesecake to chill in the fridge at least one hour before making the ganache topping.
To make the topping: In a tiny saucepan heat cream and steep tea bag for five minutes, or until the taste is noticeable in the cream.

Add hot cream and butter to chopped chocolate and stir until chocolate is thoroughly melted and ganache is smooth and shiny. Pour over cheesecake, spreading with a spatula over the entire surface. Chill in the fridge covered for one hour to set.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Kale and Quinoa with Tahini

Many of us have resolved to eat healthier this year. Protein packed quinoa and kale, which is high in potassium and vitamin c is certainly healthy. Not to mention this dish is under 140 calories per serving. But you shouldn't just try this for a resolution. You should try it because it's exceptionally delicious. Earthy, lightly bitter kale is mellowed and complimented by nutty, rich, creamy tahini. Soy sauce adds a perfect salty and slightly sweet element, while quinoa is a delicate, softly crunchy starch base. The amazing smell of soy sauce caramelized onions lingers in the air for hours after.

This is a great way to make kale appealing and it has become a weeknight favorite in my house. It's a great weeknight dish because it comes together quickly--only 25 minutes start to finish!--and, apart from the kale, is mostly shelf stable ingredients.

There are two adults and one toddler, so I make enough to enjoy it for two nights running. The first night we enjoy it on its own (and then indulge in some guilt free dessert after) and the second night we enjoy the leftovers topped with fried eggs. 

Kale and Quinoa with Tahini and Soy Sauce Caramelized Onions

10 ounces kale, trimmed and chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry quinoa
1 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons tahini
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Pepper, to taste

Rinse quinoa. Combine it with 8 ounces water, stock, 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and bring to a boil. Once it has come to a boil, cover and reduce heat to lowest setting and set timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off take quinoa off of the heat. In a large heavy bottomed pan, heat olive oil and remaining sesame oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until they soften and begin to brown. Add garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce and cook for another minute. Add kale in large batches and saute for about 5 minutes. When kale has started to cook through, add another 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce and 5 ounces water to cook kale stems through. When all of the water has evaporated (5 to 7 minutes), turn off heat. Drizzle kale with tahini, then add quinoa over top in an even layer. Season quinoa with remaining soy sauce and mix everything together. Serve hot.