Tag Archives: pasta

Bolognese Sauce

I usually plan dinner parties weeks in advance – tinker with the menu, what wines to serve, what kind of tabletop I want to have etc until I settle on exactly the look, taste and feel I want.  However, there is something to be said for spontaneity and this sauce and the dinner party it spawned is a good reminder to me that I should trying to be less planned.  I have been working on my bolognese sauce for a couple of years, trying to meet my husband’s exacting standards.  I had been getting pretty close so when our good friend Dave was staying with us for the weekend I thought it would be a good way to try out the latest incarnation.  We were having a bunch of people over to watch the Patriots so the notoriously long cooing sauce could just sit and bubble away while the game was on.  Well smelling the sauce for a couple of hours drove my friend Baker to distraction – he offered up a deal.  Could he and his fiance Erikka stay and have dinner with us if he provided fresh pasta??  That was much too good for me to pass up and so suddenly a dinner for 3 because a party of 5 with a fresh pasta lesson to boot.  I was able to round up a nice salad to start and figured out some sort of dessert with what I had in my pantry.  Baker schooled us all on making pasta by hand (something that I am determined to conquer this year).

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It was one of the most fun nights in recent memory and the sauce was just perfect with the fresh pasta strands.  This sauce would actually be good on cardboard so if you don’t have fresh pasta just used boxed like I had planned to.  This makes a ton and freezes really well so you too can have an impromptu dinner party!

Bolognese Sauce (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  fresh pasta in the house!
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 5 ounces chicken livers, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • parmesan for serving
  • pasta (fresh or dried) for serving – its also great as pizza sauce!

Add the olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium temperature.  Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the pot and season with salt and pepper.

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Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.  Add the chicken livers and the thyme and increase the heat to medium high.  Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the livers no longer look raw.

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Add in the ground beef, pork and lamb and cook until no longer pink, breaking up the pieces with your utensil occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the tomato paste, pepper flakes and the parmesan rind (if you have one).  Cook the tomato paste for a couple of minutes until it is totally incorporated with the rest of the sauce.  Add the red wine, stir to combine, and then stir in the cream.

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Bring to a simmer and then turn down the heat to low and cook for 2 hours at a minimum, 3 to 4 hours if you have the time.  If at any time the sauce looks a little too dry you can add in a splash of wine or cream to loosen it up.   Remove the rind before serving. This sauce keeps well in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months.

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Bolognese Sauce

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 3 to 5 hours depending
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Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 5 ounces chicken livers, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • parmesan for serving
  • pasta (fresh or dried) for serving – its also great as pizza sauce!

Add the olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium temperature.  Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the pot and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.  Add the chicken livers and the thyme and increase the heat to medium high.  Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the livers no longer look raw.  Add in the ground beef, pork and lamb and cook until no longer pink, breaking up the pieces with your utensil occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the tomato paste, pepper flakes and the parmesan rind (if you have one).  Cook the tomato paste for a couple of minutes until it is totally incorporated with the rest of the sauce.  Add the red wine, stir to combine, and then stir in the cream.  Bring to a simmer and then turn down the heat to low and cook for 2 hours at a minimum, 3 to 4 hours if you have the time.  If at any time the sauce looks a little too dry you can add in a splash of wine or cream to loosen it up.   Remove the rind before serving. This sauce keeps well in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months.

Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach

Continuing with the make ahead theme these cheesy rich shells are just what Santa ordered for Christmas Eve dinner.  Make them several days ahead and then just pop them in the oven when people get hungry.  This dish also makes a great gift for a neighbor or friend that has extra family in town and no time to cook!  I give you several sizes that work for this recipe – you can chose to make one mega dish or several smaller ones to share or make throughout the week.  The shells are pretty rich with the bechamel sauce and all the cheese to I would only estimate 3 or 4 shells per person with a nice Caesar salad on the side.  There are a bunch of steps to this (might be the longest directions I have ever written) but since you can do it in advance no one needs to see you sweat.  Also sometimes its nice to bury yourself in the kitchen for a little alone time!

Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  feed a crowd
Special Equipment:  a large baking dish or several smaller baking dishes

  • 12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces of diced pancetta
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Follow the directions on the pasta box and cook the pasta slightly al dente (the Barilla brand actually tells you how long to cook it for a baked pasta versus just serving them as pasta – if yours doesn’t just cook it a couple minutes shy of done).  Drain and spread the shells out on a baking sheet to cool.

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Once cool, toss any broken pieces.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta to the pan and saute for 5 minutes or until the shallots are softened and the pancetta has cooked.  Start adding the spinach in large handfuls to the pan.

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From this…

As you add the spinach use tongs or a spoon to fold the spinach into the shallot mixture.  The spinach will start to wilt and you can continue to add until it all fits in the pan.  This should take about 3-4 minutes to get it all wilted down.  Once it is wilted, crank up the heat to medium high and cook off the liquid the spinach has released for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat and reserve.

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..to this!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, if planning on cooking the shells right away.  In a large bowl combine the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, half the mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and the spinach mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.  Now that your pasta shells have cooled they are ready to be filled.  I use my hands but use a teaspoon if that helps.  To make sure I have enough to fill all the shells I divide the filling mixture in 4 and then fill a quarter of the shells and then continue until they are all filled.

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In a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat.  When it is melted add the flour and stir with a whisk until combined and the flour has cooked, for about a minute.

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Slowly pour in the milk while whisking so there are no lumps.  Increase the heat to medium high, just until the milk starts to bubble.  Then lower the heat to medium low and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan cheese.

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This recipe makes one very large tray of shells in a 9 x 13 pan, a medium sized 9 x 13 and a 7 x 5 pan, or two 9 x 9 pans.  It all depends on how tightly you pack in the shells and how many people you want to serve at once (for these pictures I have a 9 x 13 pan and a 7 x 5 pan which served a family of 4 and a family of 2 respectfully – with leftovers).  Once you have selected your pans spread a thin later of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Then fill the entire pan(s) with the shells, open side up.  Top with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkle on the other half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

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Cover the pans with tin foil.  If you are making the shells later, let the shells cool completely and store in the fridge for several days before baking.  If you are baking them right away bake the shells covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then take off the tin foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

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Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 1 1/2 hours
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Special Equipment:  a large baking dish or several smaller baking dishes

  • 12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces of diced pancetta
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Follow the directions on the pasta box and cook the pasta slightly al dente (the Barilla brand actually tells you how long to cook it for a baked pasta versus just serving them as pasta – if yours doesn’t just cook it a couple minutes shy of done).  Drain and spread the shells out on a baking sheet to cool.  Once cool, toss any broken pieces.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta to the pan and saute for 5 minutes or until the shallots are softened and the pancetta has cooked.  Start adding the spinach in large handfuls to the pan.  As you add the spinach use tongs or a spoon to fold the spinach into the shallot mixture.  The spinach will start to wilt and you can continue to add until it all fits in the pan.  This should take about 3-4 minutes to get it all wilted down.  Once it is wilted, crank up the heat to medium high and cook off the liquid the spinach has released for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat and reserve.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, if planning on cooking the shells right away.  In a large bowl combine the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, half the mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and the spinach mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.  Now that your pasta shells have cooled they are ready to be filled.  I use my hands but use a teaspoon if that helps.  To make sure I have enough to fill all the shells I divide the filling mixture in 4 and then fill a quarter of the shells and then continue until they are all filled.

In a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat.  When it is melted add the flour and stir with a whisk until combined and the flour has cooked, for about a minute.  Slowly pour in the milk while whisking so there are no lumps.  Increase the heat to medium high, just until the milk starts to bubble.  Then lower the heat to medium low and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan cheese.  This recipe makes one very large tray of shells in a 9 x 13 pan, a medium sized 9 x 13 and a 7 x 5 pan, or two 9 x 9 pans.  It all depends on how tightly you pack in the shells and how many people you want to serve at once (for these pictures I have a 9 x 13 pan and a 7 x 5 pan which served a family of 4 and a family of 2 respectfully – with leftovers).

Once you have selected your pans spread a thin later of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Then fill the entire pan(s) with the shells, open side up.  Top with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkle on the other half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Cover the pans with tin foil.  If you are making the shells later, let the shells cool completely and store in the fridge for several days before baking.  If you are baking them right away bake the shells covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then take off the tin foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Burrata Pasta and Cooking Local

I am still on the no to low cook march – DC is hitting historic heat levels and I know most of the rest of the country is too.  So why not do as little cooking as possible and take advantage of nice summer tomatoes?  This pasta dish I came up with last month when I was in Boston cooking for my mom.  We had found some beautiful cherry tomatoes at Allendale Farm, an urban farm that was one of my favorite places growing up and even more so now as an adult who cooks.  Then I grabbed some fresh pasta at Boston Public Market flavored with parsley and garlic.  Last but not least we had some super creamy burrata from Russo’s in Watertown, MA in the fridge.  If you have never had burrata you need to run out and get some – its like mozzarella and cream had a baby and it just oozes and runs yummy cheesy goodness everywhere.

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Delicious on its own, I thought burrata could actually stand in and make its own sauce since it’s so creamy.  Inspiration struck and it delivered a delicious pasta dinner where all you have to do is boil water.  I replicated it back in DC and it proved one of my fundamental cooking rules – if you are going simple, you have to use the highest quality ingredients.  I made this dish using grocery store tomatoes and cheese on dried pasta – NOT the same.  It was still good, don’t get me wrong, but please if you make this please do run down good ingredients.  It reaffirmed that spending a little more and frequenting local purveyors really does make all the difference.  I will have to make this again soon using the best ingredients DC has to offer and see if it stacks up to the Boston version.  So remember – cook local!

Burrata Pasta (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:   local summer ingredients
Special Equipment:  none

  • 1 pint of local cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • splash of red wine vinegar
  • pinch of sugar
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh pasta (or dried if that’s all you have)
  • 2 small or one large ball of burrata (approximately 8 ounces) at room temperature
  • a couple of sprigs of basil
  • pinch of red pepper flakes

In a bowl toss the halved cherry tomatoes with the crushed garlic, red wine vinegar, sugar, olive oil and some salt and pepper.  You can do this right before you boil the water or leave it out for several hours – the more time you leave it the more the flavors will combine and the more juices the tomatoes will give off.

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Boil a pot of water and cook the pasta – if it’s fresh pasta that should only take a couple of minutes, dried takes longer but just follow the instructions on the box (short cut pasta is best here).  Drain the pasta and add to a large serving bowl.  With clean hands, rip up the burrata over the pasta letting any cream or small pieces fall into the bowl.  Once its all ripped up toss the pasta with the burrata.  Add the tomatoes and any juices accumulated and toss again.  Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cut ribbons of basil and top the pasta.

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Burrata Pasta

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 10 minutes
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Special Equipment:  none

  • 1 pint of local cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • splash of red wine vinegar
  • pinch of sugar
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh pasta (or dried if that’s all you have)
  • 2 small or one large ball of burrata (approximately 8 ounces) at room temperature
  • a couple of sprigs of basil
  • pinch of red pepper flakes

In a bowl toss the halved cherry tomatoes with the crushed garlic, red wine vinegar, sugar, olive oil and some salt and pepper.  You can do this right before you boil the water or leave it out for several hours – the more time you leave it the more the flavors will combine and the more juices the tomatoes will give off.  Boil a pot of water and cook the pasta – if it’s fresh pasta that should only take a couple of minutes, dried takes longer but just follow the instructions on the box (short cut pasta is best here).  Drain the pasta and add to a large serving bowl.  With clean hands, rip up the burrata over the pasta letting any cream or small pieces fall into the bowl.  Once its all ripped up toss the pasta with the burrata.  Add the tomatoes and any juices accumulated and toss again.  Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cut ribbons of basil and top the pasta.

 

Creamy Avocado Linguine

Always looking for ways to incorporate pasta into my day I concocted this dish the other day.  I was hoping to use up items in my fridge and pantry and since there is always some rotation of peppers hanging around I thought a pasta with an almost guacamole type sauce would be good.  But we can be more refined than that right?  So blend all the ingredients together and get a silky smooth yet spicy and complex sauce.  DONE.   A great vegetarian main course or side for some grilled chicken.  I topped it with sliced fresno chilis (sometimes called red jalapenos) which are easily my favorite pepper to use these days but you could leave those off, use another pepper or just sprinkle on red pepper flakes if you need more heat.  I also had queso fresco on hand, a semi hard salty Mexican cheese, but parmesan would be a good sub.  Or omit the grated cheese on top and you will have a super creamy but creamless vegan dish on your hands (I could not help myself and of course added the cheese).

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Creamy Avocado Linguine (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  guacamole pasta
Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 1 tablespoon canola or veggie oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 avocado
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 3/4 pound of linguine (I used fresh…from Wegmans)
  • 2 fresno chilis
  • queso blanco

Preheat your broiler and stem the poblano.  Place the poblano on a cookie sheet and broil for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until the skin is blistered and blackened.  Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam for 10 minutes.

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Peel and seed the peppers (I like to do this with plastic gloves on).  Put the poblano into the food processor.  While the peppers are steaming, heat the oil over medium heat in a small skillet.  Sautee the onion and garlic for 10 minutes until softened but not browned (lower the heat if you need to keep it from browning).  Scrape the onion mixture into the food processor.  Cut the avocado in half, get rid of the pit and scrape all of the meat into the food processor.

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Pulse a couple of limes to combine then add the lime juice.  Run until smooth then taste for salt and pepper.  Bring a large pot of water to boil, salt the water and cook the pasta according to the directions.  While the pasta cooks, finely slice the fresno chilis and grate the queso fresco for the pasta.  Drain the pasta and toss with the avocado sauce.  Top with the sliced chilis and cheese.

Creamy Avocado Linguine

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes
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Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 1 tablespoon canola or veggie oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 avocado
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 3/4 pound of linguine (I used fresh…from Wegmans)
  • 2 fresno chilis
  • queso blanco

Preheat your broiler and stem the poblano.  Place the poblano on a cookie sheet and broil for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until the skin is blistered and blackened.  Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam for 10 minutes.  Peel and seed the peppers (I like to do this with plastic gloves on).  Put the poblano into the food processor.  While the peppers are steaming heat the oil over medium heat in a small skillet.  Sautee the onion and garlic for 10 minutes until softened but not browned (lower the heat if you need to keep it from browning).  Scrape the onion mixture into the food processor.  Cut the avocado in half, get rid of the pit and scrape all of the meat into the food processor.  Pulse a couple of limes to combine then add the lime juice.  Run until smooth then taste for salt and pepper.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, salt the water and cook the pasta according to the directions.  While the pasta cooks, finely slice the fresno chilis and grate the queso fresco for the pasta.  Drain the pasta and toss with the avocado sauce.  Top with the sliced chilis and cheese.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs

While it’s starting to feel a bit more like spring here in DC, it’s still pretty cool in the evenings, meaning warm comforting dishes are still in demand.  Nothing beats a classic spaghetti and meatball dinner, which can please just about anyone in your family.  My dad used to make this dish for me when I was little and it’s the first thing I remember cooking right alongside him.  I have flirted with a lot of other recipes, most of them much more complicated, but none were as good as my dad’s.  One big change from what he used to do is broiling the meatballs versus cooking them in a skillet.  It uses a lot less oil but also is a lot cleaner because you don’t have hot oil spitting at you.  I find that the meatballs stay together a lot better this way as well once added to the sauce.  I may have taken some liberties with the fennel seeds and parm rind but the student should always try to surpass the master right??  This dish really is best if you have the time to let the meatballs and sauce cook a while together, hours if you have them.  The good news is that it’s just as good if not better reheated so you can make them and then freeze and pull out whenever you want some comfort food.  Paired with a caesar salad (my dressing is awesome and so easy) and some garlic bread it’s a great end to the day.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  my dad’s cooking
Special Equipment:  none

For the tomato sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • two 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

For the meatballs

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • more basil and mozzarella boccochini for serving (optional)
  • 1 pound spaghetti

In a large skillet or wide dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and a pinch of salt and cook for about 7 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent.  Add the tomato paste and stir to combine.  Cook for another minute or so then add the wine to deglaze and get any bits off of the bottom of the pan.  If you have a parmesan rind throw it in there along with the basil and sugar.

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Add in the cans of tomatoes, being careful not to splatter any on yourself.  Stir to combine and then increase the heat to medium high until bubbles form.  Turn the heat back down to low and let simmer while you make the meatballs.

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While the sauce simmers combine the beef with the rest of the meatball ingredients.    This is easiest to do with your hands but don’t over work the meat, combine just enough so all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.  DSC02904Turn on your broiler.  Using your hands form meatballs around the size of golf balls and place them on a baking sheet (if you have cooking spray it never hurts to coat the pan so the meatballs easily come off).  DSC02906Place the baking sheet in the broiler and cook for about 15 minutes until the meatballs are nice and brown.  Add them to the sauce, I like to use tongs for this, being careful not to break the meatballs.  Nestle them in and use a spoon to make sure the meatballs are covered in the sauce.  At this point you could serve the whole thing but I like to let it all simmer together for at least another 30 minutes if not an hour.  The more time you give this the more the sauce will flavor the meatballs and vice versa.  When you are near ready to serve, boil the pasta, drain well and serve the meatballs and sauce on top along with the chopped basil and mozzarella if you have it (remember to fish out the parmesan rind if you used it).  The meatballs and sauce will last in the fridge several days or frozen for 6 months.

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Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: at least 1 hour
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Special Equipment:  none

For the tomato sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • two 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

For the meatballs

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • more basil and mozzarella boccochini for serving (optional)
  • 1 pound spaghetti

In a large skillet or wide dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and a pinch of salt and cook for about 7 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent.  Add the tomato paste and stir to combine.  Cook for another minute or so then add the wine to deglaze and get any bits off of the bottom of the pan.  Add in the cans of tomatoes, being careful not to splatter any on yourself.  If you have a parmesan rind throw it in there along with the basil and sugar.  Stir to combine and then increase the heat to medium high until bubbles form.  Turn the heat back down to low and let simmer while you make the meatballs.

While the sauce simmers combine the beef with the rest of the meatball ingredients.    This is easiest to do with your hands but don’t over work the meat, combine just enough so all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.  Turn on your broiler.  Using your hands form meatballs around the size of golf balls and place them on a baking sheet (if you have cooking spray it never hurts to coat the pan so the meatballs easily come off).  Place the baking sheet in the broiler and cook for about 15 minutes until the meatballs are nice and brown.

Add them to the sauce, I like to use tongs for this, being careful not to break the meatballs.  Nestle them in and use a spoon to make sure the meatballs are covered in the sauce.  At this point you could serve the whole thing but I like to let it all simmer together for at least another 30 minutes if not an hour.  The more time you give this the more the sauce will flavor the meatballs and vice versa.  When you are near ready to serve, boil the pasta, drain well and serve the meatballs and sauce on top along with the chopped basil and mozzarella if you have it (remember to fish out the parmesan rind if you used it).  The meatballs and sauce will last in the fridge several days or frozen for 6 months.

Creamy Meyer Lemon and Fig Pasta

Oooooh figs!  I love their sweetness, their amazing color (inside and out), the way that they can go savory or sweet.  I love figs so much that I planted a fig tree in our backyard.  Allegedly it should produce fruit this year, fingers crossed, but in the meantime I scour the farmers markets when they are in season.  Problem is they can be sort of hard to find and the season is so short.  The next best thing is keeping dried figs on hand.  Reconstituted in a little liquid they can be used on pizzas, folding into a lovely pasta like this or to top ice cream.  I prefer black mission figs and they are usually the most widely available – Trader Joe’s always seems to have them in stock.

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Equally fleeting is the meyer lemon season.  If you have never tried one it’s like if a tangerine and a lemon had a baby.  The skin is ever so slightly more orange than a regular lemon and as you can see it’s smaller and smoother.  They have such a bright sunny flavor so I stock up as soon as I can get my hands on them.  If you can’t find meyer lemons or they aren’t in season you can use regular lemon, I would just omit the zest and have a lighter hand with the juice since it’s more pungent.  Paired together with creamy goat cheese, the fig and meyer lemon all come together for a super quick and delicious pasta dinner.  The sauce actually cooks in the same time as the pasta!  This post is dedicated to my friend Ashley who is even more obsessed with figs than I am – if I get any figs this year I will make sure to send some to Denver Ash!

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Creamy Meyer Lemon and Fig Pasta (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  getting figgy with it
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 6 ounces dried mission figs, stems cut off and quartered
  • 1 pound short cut pasta
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon meyer lemon zest
  • 4 to 5 ounces soft goat cheese
  • the juice of 1 meyer lemon

In a large skillet heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  At the same time bring water to a boil and add the pasta and salt.  Add the shallot with some salt and pepper and cook for 4 minutes until softened.  Add the figs and cook for an additional minute.

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Add the wine and zest and let it cook for about 3 minutes until most of the wine has cooked off but not all.  The pasta should be al dente now so drain, saving a cup of pasta water, and add to the skillet.  Toss the pasta with the wine, shallots and figs and cook for 1 more minute so the pasta can take on some of the wine.  Turn off the heat and crumble in the goat cheese.  Stir it around so the cheese can melt and become a sort of sauce.  Add some of the pasta water if you need to thin it out.  Squeeze the meyer lemon all over, toss and taste for salt and pepper.

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Creamy Meyer Lemon and Fig Pasta

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 6 ounces dried mission figs, stems cut off and quartered
  • 1 pound short cut pasta
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon meyer lemon zest
  • 4 to 5 ounces soft goat cheese
  • the juice of 1 meyer lemon

In a large skillet heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  At the same time bring water to a boil and add the pasta and salt.  Add the shallot with some salt and pepper and cook for 4 minutes until softened.  Add the figs and cook for an additional minute.

Add the wine and zest and let it cook for about 3 minutes until most of the wine has cooked off but not all.  The pasta should be al dente now so drain, saving a cup of pasta water, and add to the skillet.  Toss the pasta with the wine, shallots and figs and cook for 1 more minute so the pasta can take on some of the wine.  Turn off the heat and crumble in the goat cheese.  Stir it around so the cheese can melt and become a sort of sauce.  Add some of the pasta water if you need to thin it out.  Squeeze the meyer lemon all over, toss and taste for salt and pepper.

Pasta alla Norma

I know things can get pretty crazy around the holiday season with lots of commitments.  This pasta is so easy, filling and crowd pleasing that you can squeeze it in between parties and decorating.  Pasta alla Norma is a pretty classic Italian dish but of course I have taken my own liberties with it.  Traditionally it includes eggplant, tomato and ricotta salata, which is a dried kind of ricotta (the texture is sort of like feta but drier).  Years ago I saw a great trick in Fine Cooking magazine about using the microwave to par cook eggplant so that it doesn’t soak up so much oil when you are cooking it.  I use it here and I really recommend trying it.  It also eliminates the need to salt eggplant, a sort of old fashioned method of pulling water out of the eggplant so that it isn’t so spongey.  To make sure this passed the Patrick test I added some meat to it in the form of “prosciutto chips.”  You crisp prosciutto up on the oven and then sprinkle it on almost like bacon bits – these are also delicious on salads.  I am so confident in this dish and it’s ability to please the masses that it was the first thing I ever cooked for my future in laws.  We were all staying in a house in rural Ireland and I knew not only would I be able to find all the equipment I would need to make it and the ingredients at the tiny grocery store but also that it would be a hit.  I am part of the family now so something must have worked!!

Pasta alla Norma (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  quick dinner for the whole family
Special Equipment:  coffee filters

  • 2 eggplants, diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4-5 slices of prosciutto (optional)
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 14 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound of shells or other short cut pasta
  • 1 ounce ricotta salata

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees,  Take the diced eggplant and toss it with the salt.  Cut the coffee filters so they will lay flat and line a plate with them.

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Use enough to hold all the eggplant, about 2 or 3.  Pop the plate into the microwave and cook at high for 10 minutes, tossing once at the 5 minute mark.  The eggplant will look shriveled like below – that’s a good thing.  Set aside.

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While the eggplant is cooking lay the prosciutto slices (if using) on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.  When they come out of the oven they should have dried out and been made into lovely ham chips.  Crumble and set aside.

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Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a skillet and sweat out the shallot, garlic and fennel seeds over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.  Boil a pot of water and start cooking the pasta.  Add the eggplant and cook for 2 minutes more.  Add the crushed tomato and cook for 5 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld and the sauce to cook down a little.  When the pasta is done toss it in the skillet with the sauce then transfer to a serving bowl and shave or crumble the ricotta salata on top along with the prosciutto chips if using.

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Pasta alla Norma

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  coffee filters

  • 2 eggplants, diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4-5 slices of prosciutto (optional)
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 14 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound of shells or other short cut pasta
  • 1 ounce ricotta salata

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees,  Take the diced eggplant and toss it with the salt.  Cut the coffee filters so they will lay flat and line a plate with them.  Use enough to hold all the eggplant, about 2 or 3.  Pop the plate into the microwave and cook at high for 10 minutes, tossing once at the 5 minute mark.  While the eggplant is cooking lay the prosciutto slices (if using) on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.  When they come out of the oven they should have dried out and been made into lovely ham chips.  Crumble and set aside.  Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a skillet and sweat out the shallot, garlic and fennel seeds over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.  Boil a pot of water and start cooking the pasta.  Add the eggplant and cook for 2 minutes more.  Add the crushed tomato and cook for 5 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld and the sauce to cook down a little.  When the pasta is done toss it in the skillet with the sauce then transfer to a serving bowl and shave or crumble the ricotta salata on top along with the prosciutto chips if using.

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