Tag Archive for Pasta

Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Piselli

The joke goes that my grandfather was born on the kitchen table and so his love affair with food began right from the start.

His passion for cooking fostered my own love of being in the kitchen and eating good food from the time I was a child.

My grandfather and me

My memories of him revolve around food: making fresh pasta, picking basil in his greenhouse and making little pots of pesto to be eaten on bread with cheddar, and eating plates and plates of pasta.

(The other joke is that my grandfather is secretly Italian.) I still feel that influence today.

When I cook the dishes he would make for me as a child, I am back in the kitchen with him. Comfort dishes are often those I associate with him: tomato and red onion salad, sweet peppers braised in tomato sauce and served with chunks of crusty bread, soft-boiled eggs with toast and, of course, pasta.

He makes a wicked carbonara, but the dish I have inextricably linked to him is Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Piselli – a much more romantic way of saying pasta with cream, peas and ham.

Piselli e Prosciutto

I’d sit at the dining room table and he would bring in heaping bowls of it, steaming hot and speckled with pink ham and green peas, dusted over with Parmesan and a sprig of parsley from the plant on his front deck.

There have been unusual and unexpected variations over the years, depending on what ingredients he had available. At one point, it was a truly bastardized version made from army green-coloured canned peas and canned flaked ham.

When I moved out on my own to go to university, my grandfather bought me a copy of The Umbergo Menghi cookbook containing the actual recipe which had spawned all his own versions. (And also the braised sweet peppers recipe.) Making it in the early ’90s on a student budget and without much experience finding specialty stores meant using more readily available types of ham since most grocery stores back then weren’t carrying prosciutto. Still, combining some version of ham with some cream and frozen peas and tossing it all with cooked pasta felt luxurious when competing against whatever food was being served in the cafeteria. (Lucky me to have had a boyfriend who lived off campus and, therefore, had a kitchen I could putter in occasionally.) Nowadays, prosciutto is easy to spot in the deli section, which means when I make this dish, it’s as Menghi intended.

Most of the time, though, I cook it from memory. Typically that also means adding more peas and prosciutto than called for. Partly because who doesn’t like all the good bits mixed with the pasta and also because that’s exactly how my grandfather does it.

A couple of years ago, while visiting my grandfather on the coast, we made some pesto together.

Then I let him sit at the dining room table sipping a glass of wine while I made Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Piselli for him, serving up a bowlful, sprinkled with Parmesan and a scattering of parsley from the plant on his front deck.

Piselli e Prosciutto

Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Piselli

While the measurements are quite specific, I won’t tell if a few extra peas and a slice or two of prosciutto find their way into the mix. I also like to let the cream reduce a little bit more than the recipe suggests. For reheating leftovers – if there are any – I find a touch more cream, or even milk in a pinch, helps. (ETA: if the mixture is too thick before serving — which happens when the cream reduces a bit too much — another splash of cream or some reserved pasta cooking water can thin it a bit.)

  • 1 lb (500 g) fettuccine
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) dry white wine
  • 6 tbsp (90 mL) peas
  • 2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream
  • 2 oz (60 g) prosciutto, julienned
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) fresh parsley, finely chopped

Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente, about 3 to 5 minutes for fresh pasta and 5 to 7 minutes for packaged fettuccine.

Sauté peas in butter and wine in a large skillet on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add cream to peas and cook on medium heat until cream begins to bubble. Add prosciutto to peas and cream and simmer on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, but use less salt than you would normally use. The prosciutto will give you some salt.

Add fettuccine to peas, cream and prosciutto. Gradually add 1 cup (250 mL) Parmesan cheese to fettuccine. Toss together and heat thoroughly until cheese has melted.

Put fettuccine into a warm serving bowl or on warm plates. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup (125 mL) Parmesan and parsley and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

Butter, onion, tomato sauce

My general approach to tomato sauce is simple: I wing it.

After years of watching my parents throw basic ingredients into a pot and letting it simmer for an hour or two to create a hearty and rich tomato sauce, and even more years of making it from scratch on my own – owing to a perhaps unnatural love of pasta – I don’t give too much thought to cooking up a decent red sauce.

I’m a big believer in the long-simmered sauce with a multitude of ingredients that all come together over a slow heat, melding and marrying into something that is so much greater as a whole than the sum of its parts.

But I can also turn around a very basic sauce in 15 minutes.

At the very least, my spaghetti sauce usually has garlic and diced onions, sauted in olive oil with a generous pinch of salt, canned plum tomatoes I roughly (and gently, using a butter knife) chop in my hand over the pot, fresh basil if I can get my hands on it, a little sprinkle of sugar if the whole mix is too acidic, and a Parmesan heel, which I stash in my freezer for just such occasions.

So, it takes an unusual tomato sauce recipe to catch my eye.

Like this one. It has three ingredients. (OK, four, if you count salt, which, in general, I don’t, since almost all recipes call for salt.)

Canned tomatoes. A yellow onion. Butter.

That’s it.

Butter, onion, tomato II

Marcella Hazan’s recipe for tomato sauce with butter and onion has made appearances over the years on various food blogs I follow.

Each time I saw it, I thought I really should remember to give that a try.

And then I’d forget about it until someone else posted their love of this simple yet rich dish.

This seemed like a great weeknight dinner recipe since there is minimal fuss. No chopping or dicing, sweating or sauteing.

You dump it all into the pot, let it come to a simmer, reduce the heat, and go about things. In this case, a little laundry, some tidying and things that allowed for a quick wander past the pot to give the tomatoes a stir and squish against the side with a wooden spoon.

At the end of 45 minutes, all it needed was a small pinch of salt and to be dolloped over a nest of noodles.

Some have suggested sprinkling on Parmesan, but I opted not to. The sauce is rich and tasty without adornment, which is sort of the beauty of it.

The butter adds an almost unidentifiable creaminess and mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes.

And, luckily, such an easy recipe is simple enough that in the future I can pretty much wing it.

Butter, onion, tomato

Cooked sauce

Spaghetti and Sauce I

Spaghetti and sauce II

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

This was adapted from Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by way of several food blogs. Since there are only three ingredients, I do recommend using San Marzano or San Marzano-style canned tomatoes, which are packed in tomato puree instead of water and have, therefore, a greater tomato flavour. You can find Marzano-style tomatoes in most grocery stores these days.

  • 1 28-oz (796-mL) can of whole tomatoes
  • 5 tbsp (75 mL) butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 lb (500 g) spaghetti
  • salt to taste, if needed

Put the tomatoes, butter and onion in a pot over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, stir to combine, then reduce the heat to low or medium low – depending on how hot your element is; you’re looking for a slow but steady simmer – and cook for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, squishing the tomatoes against the side of the pot.

Cook pasta according to package instructions.

Remove sauce from heat, discard the onion and taste. Add salt if needed. Serve over cooked pasta.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and meal ideas, head to the Calgary Herald’s food page.

Mac-Raff n’ Cheese

This is one of my favourite all-time childhood meals.

Mac-Raff n' Cheese I

I loved coming home to find a pot of Mac-Raff n’ Cheese bubbling away in the oven. My stepdad, Sean, would make it in our giant Corning Vision Ware pot (Do you guys remember those? The glass pots that came in a couple of colours? Ours was brown.), so if I peered through the oven door I could see the tomato sauce simmering up to mingle with the cheese-coated pasta.

For a long time I thought it was a creation of Sean’s, him being the head chef in our blended family. And what a chef he was! We were well-fed kids because that man knows his way around a kitchen. Lamb and mint sauce, chicken and rice with cream gravy, roast beef with all the fixings. There’s a reason I love to go home, even today. But when I was home a few months ago, my mum revealed that she was actually the mastermind behind the recipe.

She’s a Macdonald; he’s a Rafferty. So we were the Mac-Raff household. Hence the name of this dish.

It is a smart meal from a parent’s perspective. Quick, filling and can be assembled during the day and left at the ready to bake closer to dinner time when everyone is home and getting hungry. As an adult, I’ve also found it to be fantastic as a freezer meal. Since I generally make enough for a family of six (apparently, I am incapable of cooking for one or two like a normal singleton. But it’s OK because I love leftovers.) I have got into the habit of splitting the mac n’ cheese into two casserole dishes and jamming one into my freezer for later.

Mac-Raff n' Cheese III

I made it a couple of months ago when the days were still crisp and cold. Then it warmed up and I wondered if people’s appetites for hearty, homemade macaroni and cheese had waned, so I kind of put it on the back burner (nyuk nyuk). And then we had another, delayed, blast of winter. Oh! I thought, a second chance! And then, uh, well, let’s just say I lost track of time.

But I think this is a good recipe to have on hand. Although there is no official recipe. I, like my parents, kind of make it up as I go along each time depending on what I have lying around. But, fundamentally, it is macaroni and cheese with tomato sauce on the bottom that is all baked together in a casserole dish with a layer of cheese on top.

And it is far greater than the sum of its parts. Tomato sauce = good. Pasta doused in cheese sauce = good. That layer where the two mix = perfection.

I like to take a couple of big spoonfuls and top with some cracked black pepper, then eat it with a spoon.

But the real beauty of this is that it is infinitely adaptable. Don’t like the cheeses suggested? Use what you’ve got or what you like. Don’t have fresh herbs? Use a pinch of dried basil. Use your family’s own secret tomato sauce recipe for that matter. This is about using what you’ve got and experimenting with what you think it will taste good.

Tomato Sauce I

Tomato Sauce II

Grated Cheese

Pasta and Cheese

Oven ready

Hot from the oven

Mac-Raff n' Cheese II

Mac-Raff n’ Cheese

Tomato Sauce base:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • pinch sugar
  • 1/4 cup basil (or combination of mostly basil and some parsley), roughly chopped.
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. When hot, add onion and saute until transluscent. Add garlic and stir for about a minute until fragrant. Using the can lid, drain the tomato liquid from the can of whole tomatoes into the pot. Let the liquid reduce by half and then add in the tomatoes. I dice them one by one in my palm using a basic dinner knife as I like small chunks of tomato. Another trick is to use kitchen scissors and just cut them up in the can. Add to the pot. Then add the crushed tomatoes. Stir in sugar and balsamic and let simmer until it has reduced and thickened. You don’t want it too thick because it will reduce further in the oven. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in herbs.

Macaroni and cheese:

  • 500 grams pasta (penne, macaroni or whatever tubular pasta you have sitting around)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 5 cups grated cheese, divided (I like a combination of asiago, cheddar, provolone and a bit of Parmesan; but I’m not afraid to use what’s already in the fridge.)
  • 3 cups milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. As the pasta boils, start on the cheese sauce. Melt butter over medium-low heat in a pot. When frothy and bubbling, add flour and mix with a whisk until well blended. Continue cooking for a couple of  minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. After it has thickened slightly, add 4 cups of the grated cheese. (I usually switch to a wooden or plastic spoon at this point.) Stir until melted, then add salt and pepper to taste. (If it is too thick, splash in a bit more milk.) Remove from heat.

Drain cooked pasta and return to pot. Top with cheese sauce and mix together.

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 425F.

Put tomato sauce in base of casserole dish. Top with macaroni and cheese and then sprinkle over remaining one cup of cheese. Bake covered for 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the size of your casserole dish). Remove lid and bake another 10 to 20 minutes until cheese is bubbling on top.

This is fantastic with a nice green salad.

Note: To make ahead, assemble the entire dish but stop just before baking it. Wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, this can be stored in the freezer. To cook later, let thaw and then bake as directed.

Pasta with Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

I eat one brussels sprout a year.

At Christmas.

Under duress.

Brussels Sprouts

It’s a family rule, though it punishes only me — the sole holdout in a family of sprout fanatics. With enough gravy to dunk the sprout in, I can power through the yearly ordeal.

This year, however, no one seemed to notice that my plate remained sprout-free. But it made me think: was there a way I could learn to love my vegetable nemesis? The short answer is yes.

The longer answer is yes, and it involves spaghetti and bacon’s Italian cousin.

Behold, Pasta with Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta.

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta I

Once I made the decision to try this recipe out, I made a shopping list. Somehow sprouts failed to make it onto the scrap of paper: it seems my subconscious couldn’t believe I really did want them.

At the Italian deli where I bought my pancetta, I wasn’t paying enough attention either. I think the idea was to use a couple of thickish slices of the cured meat that could then be sliced into matchsticks. My slices were thinner than regular bacon, so I just chopped it into small pieces. Considering thinner slices meant better pancetta distribution, I didn’t really see a problem.

Pancetta

I also didn’t notice the clerk was slicing up “hot” pancetta. But I kind of liked the kick of heat to this dish. If you like a little spice and can find hot pancetta, I say go for it. Otherwise, if you still want some heat, you can probably add a pinch or two of red pepper flakes.

The original recipe suggests using the slicing blade of a food processor to thinly slice the sprouts. The photo on the web-site shows lovely green pieces of sprout. I ended up with vegetable confetti. If you’re looking for pretty, I’d suggest trying the mandoline route. Otherwise, the food processor is fine.

While waiting for the spaghetti to finish cooking, I took a test bite of the sprout mix and couldn’t stop myself from eating more. Sure, any vegetable cooked with pancetta, pasta and pine nuts is probably going to be fantastic, but I really did enjoy the flavour of the sprouts.

Sauteed sprouts and pancetta

A quick saute with garlic and shallots, rounded out with just salt and pepper, brought a nice simplicity to the dish. And because the sprouts don’t cook for long, they were tender, not mushy.

Perhaps this is the start of a whole new, sprout-loving me.

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta II

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta IV

Pasta with Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

From The Kitchn

  • 1 lb (500 g) brussels sprouts
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 6oz (170g)pancetta, diced or cut into strips
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) chicken broth
  • 1/2lb (250g)spaghetti
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) pine nuts, toasted
  • salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Season generously with salt. Trim the ends off of the brussels sprouts and remove the toughest outer leaves. Shred them in a food processor, using the slicing attachment, or slice them carefully on a mandoline or as thinly as possible with a knife.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, until fairly crispy and cooked through. Clear some space in the middle of the pan and add the shallots. (If you don’t have enough room in your pan to create space, you can remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and add it back in when you add the sprouts.) Cook for about 5 minutes, until the shallots are soft. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute or so.

While the shallots are cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.

Add the brussels sprouts and the chicken broth to the large skillet, season with salt and pepper, and toss all of the ingredients together. (Go easy on the salt initially because pancetta can be quite salty.) Cook, tossing occasionally, until the brussels sprouts are tender but not too soft, about 5 minutes.

When the pasta is finished cooking, drain and add it to the skillet. You can add a splash of the pasta water (or more broth) if the mixture seems dry. Add pine nuts, toss everything together, season to taste and serve. Serves 3 to 4.

Pasta Carbonara

I have had great need of comfort food lately.

And for me that often means cheese and cream and pasta. Emphasis on cream. Sure, throw bacon in there too. So, no, this is not going to be low-fat or healthy or in any way, shape or form good for you, unless you have a severe bacon deficiency. (And wouldn’t that be wonderful?)

This is a totally bastardized version of Pasta Carbonara. Yes, I sometimes make the real stuff. No, this isn’t it. Yes, it’s still good.

Pasta Carbonara

I’ve loved pasta carbonara since I was a kid when my grandfather would make it for me.

I like the contrast of the salty bacon and the slightly sweet onions and the smooth creaminess bundled with the slight chew of a wide, flat pasta. (Why do I always delay so long in writing blog posts. I’m killing myself right now, having eaten the last of this for lunch.)

You may notice that I put a pound of bacon in the ingredient list. I cook up a pound but can guarantee nothing near that actually makes it into the dish. A lot of bacon snacking goes on. I consider it part of the cooking process.

Oh, and I cook it in the oven. This may seem like a weird extra step, but it means I’m not standing around watching it cook in the pan (read: I can go mess around on the computer) and it makes relatively quick work when doing an entire package of the stuff.

Since I make enough for a family of six, I typically have a lot of leftovers. Let me offer you one tip when it comes to reheating: add a bit of milk or cream to the bowl/tupperware container. It will help steam and revitalize the noodles and sauce instead of frying it.

So, now that I’m drooling, I’m not going to keep waxing poetic on how good this is. Trust me. Make it. And don’t feel guilty about it. Sometimes life needs a bit of cream and bacon and pasta.

Diced onion

Bacon

Cream and Onions

In the pan

Pasta Carbonara

  • 500 gram package of pasta (linguine, spaghetti, fettucine)
  • 1 pound bacon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (plus more for sprinkling)
  • salt
  • pepper

Feel free to cook the bacon as you prefer. Though, seriously, give this method a try.

Preheat oven to 400. Place bacon on cookie sheet/on rack over cookie sheet/on broiler pan (heck, I’ve even used a casserole dish; it just takes extra draining after). Cook bacon for 15 to 20 minutes or until crisp. (Err on the side of crisp because it will soften in the cream sauce later. Limp bacon will get limper. *Shudder*) Set on paper towels to drain, then set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into smaller pieces. I usually do them a centimetre or two wide.

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat, add onion and a pinch of salt. Saute onion until transluscent, but not brown. Add whipping cream and cook until it has reduced by about a third. It should be super thick and rich. (I usually have a little extra cream or half-and-half around just in case it reduces too much.)

While the cream is reducing, cook pasta according to the packages directions. Drain.

Mix together the cream sauce and the pasta, adding in the Parmesan cheese and tossing until mixed. Add bacon and toss again. Season to taste. (Wait until the end to season because the bacon and cheese are salty and you don’t want to oversalt it.) Serve with fresh cracked pepper and more Parmesan, if desired.

Fettucine with Roasted Tomato Sauce

The actual title of this blog post would have been far too long:

Fettucine with Roasted Tomato Sauce and Balsamic Reduction, as well as testing out the new KitchenAid pasta attachment.

Roasted tomato sauce on fresh fettucine

It’s a bit of a double barreled post, really. Call it multi-tasking.

Actually, that’s a bit of a lie too. The actual, actual title of this post should have been:

Fettuccine with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Sauce and Balsamic Reduction, as well as testing out the new KitchenAid pasta attachment.

But I’ve realized I really don’t like eggplant when I cook it and, in the end, did not end up eating any of it. You will notice its absence in the final photos, but had to include a photo of the palm-sized eggplants because they were just so darn cute.

Baby Eggplants

Which pretty much illustrates the fact that I make the worst impulse food buys known to man.

At any rate, a couple of months ago I was approached by a marketing company asking if I’d be interested in reviewing the KitchenAid pasta kit on my blog. As a huge pasta fan, I was definitely intrigued.

I’ve typically shied away from making it homemade, even though the boxed stuff pales in comparison to the tender noodles that come from real pasta.

The real issue here is my inability to knead properly. Unsure if that’s because I’m impatient, don’t have a feel for it, or just generally have no idea what I’m doing. But whether one of these reasons or a combination of all three, it basically adds up to me never quite reaching the smooth, elastic stage needed to make bread or pasta.

Full disclosure: I was sent the KitchenAid pasta kit, as well as the mixer required to run the attachments, by the marketing firm in order to review them. This is my unbiased review of the kit. I am not required to return the items (which, really, makes sense. I mean, what are they going to do with a used mixer, pasta roller and cutter?).

The mixer and kit arrived a few weeks after some back-and-forth emailing and I set aside an afternoon to give it a whirl.

The kit itself includes two boxes of pasta dough mix (just add water), a pasta roller, fettucine cutter, cleaning brush and cooking utensils. The roller and cutter attach to the front of the stand mixer and are powered by the appliance.

Pasta Mixes

Roller and Cutter

Roller and Cutter

Cleaning brush

Making the dough was pretty simple. Add water, mix, produce crumbly dough and mush it together.

As always, I was nervous from the get-go that I had done something wrong. But I divided the dough into about eight pieces and then gave them each a quick knead before powering up the roller attachment and letting the dough slide through.

On its widest setting, the roller can actually be used to knead the dough. I sent one chunk through, then folded it in half and let it run through the rollers again. I did this about five or six times until the dough was shiny and elastic and stretched out into a long rectangle. Then I started on the next chunk of dough.

Pasta first run

Once that was all done. I then put the roller onto a thinner setting and ran them all through again. And then again on a thinner setting. And so on.

When it was thin enough, I exchanged the roller attachment for the fettucine cutter and watched as the flat sheets of pasta were cut into perfect (albeit extremely long) ribbons.

Fresh Fettucine

It was, all in all, astonishingly easy. And a bit hypnotic.

I liked that I could forego all the annoying kneading and with relative ease make a batch of homemade pasta. I liked the chew of the noodles I made and how quickly it cooked.

The next test, of course, will be to make my own actual dough.

While I loved the roller and cutter, I was initially not 100 per cent sure I would have been tempted to buy the entire kit. Most food lovers are already going to have their own slotted spoon and pasta server and probably would enjoy the challenge of making their own dough rather than using a boxed mix, I reasoned.

I would, however, definitely be tempted to buy the roller and cutter separately.

Roller

Fettucine cutter

Then after a bit of research, I found the kit is not a bad deal considering a pasta roller, motorized drive and a fettucine cutter is going to cost roughly the same as the KitchenAid’s kit, which comes with the utensils, dough mix and cleaning brush. If you already have the stand mixer, it’s not a bad way to go.

The pasta kit retails for about $180.

And here’s what I did with the noodles. The recipe is not so much a recipe as much as me just fiddling around, but, since it turned out so well, I’m going to recommend it anyway.

Roasted tomato sauce on fresh fettucine II

Fettucine with Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • 1 pound tomatoes, cut into 1 or 1/2″ chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, whole, unpeeled
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper
  • pasta
  • parmesan
  • balsamic reduction

Set oven to 375. Chop tomatoes into roughly 1/2″ to 1″ pieces (depending on how chunky you want the sauce to be), place in baking dish, scatter in unpeeled garlic cloves, then drizzle with olive oil, balsamic and sprinkle on kosher or sea salt and pepper. Bake for about 30 to 45 minutes until tomatoes are starting to carmelize and break down.

Cook pasta according to directions or, if using fresh, cook in boiling, salted water for just a few minutes until al dente. (Depending on the thickness of noodle, this can take anywhere from about three minutes and up.)

Slip cloves of garlic out of their peels and then mush with fork into tomatoes. Scoop sauce onto cooked pasta, sprinkle with grated parmesan and fresh chopped parsley (if you have any). Drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic reduction.

Penne alla Vodka

I don’t cook much with alcohol.

Vodka

Sure, there’s been the odd wine reduction sauce, a shot or two of brandy to a roasted tomato soup to round out the taste or a splash of sherry in my chicken tetrazzini. But the goal in these recipes is to add that hint of flavour, to enhance the other ingredients, not to dominate the dish.

So, I was a bit intrigued the first time I heard about Penne alla Vodka. There was no way the liquor was taking a back seat in this recipe; it’s in the name, after all. But how would the drink I associate with martinis and Caesars work over a plate of steaming pasta?

Vodka II

Let me be frank: it worked like a charm. So charming, in fact, I made it twice in one week–the sign of any good recipe, as far as I’m concerned.

I was a bit worried at first, because the instructions call for the vodka to be poured over the hot drained pasta instead of letting the alcohol cook out in the tomato part of the sauce. I feared it would be like eating a Bloody Mary for dinner with a scraping of Parmesan over it.

The tomato sauce

But a strange sort of alchemy happens once the butter starts to melt over the hot pasta and mingle with the boozy vodka.The flavours smooth together. (Because, yes, for experimentation purposes I did try a piece of penne with just the butter and vodka. You know, for scientific reasons and certainly not because I was getting hungry and curious.)

Adding the butter

Dumping in the tomato mixture, delicately perfumed with garlic and scattered with bits of soft, slightly caramelized onions, transformed some very basic pantry ingredients into a rich, guilty-pleasure type dish.

It should be said here that I like it saucy–as in, the pieces of penne should merely act as sauce conveyors. Spiked on the end of my fork, the pasta is swept around the bowl to pick up the last bits of onion and tomato, the last dribble of rich sauce.

And this sauce is dangerously good — enough to make you want to lick the bowl when no one else is looking. Ahem, not that I’m condoning that. So, I’ve adjusted the recipe slightly to al-low for my preference for more sauce. Feel free to add more pasta if desired.

Before the mixing

Unexpectedly, this is fantastic cold the next day. Perhaps it’s be-cause vodka is best when straight from the freezer? I ended up eating most of the leftovers straight from the fridge rather than waiting for the workplace microwave to be freed up. After all, with a dish like this, who would want to delay taking a bite?

Penne alla Vodka

The original Nigella Lawson recipe calls for garlic-flavoured olive oil. I don’t tend to keep that around, so I’ve adjusted accordingly. Of course, if you do have it, just go ahead and use it and skip the part about sauteing garlic in the first step.

Penne alla Vodka

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons (25 ml) olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons (25 ml) whipping cream
  • 1 28-oz (796-ml) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 lb (500 g) penne
  • ½ cup (125 ml) vodka
  • 4 tablespoons (60 ml) unsalted butter
  • Parmesan

Add olive oil to large frying pan and bring up to medium-low heat. add garlic and saute for one or two minutes to flavour the oil. don’t let the garlic burn.

Remove the garlic and add the onion, along with a pinch or two of salt. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally until soft and just starting to caramelize. add the can of tomatoes and let simmer so the liquid has reduced. (this took about 10 minutes when i made it, so i put the pasta on to boil as the sauce was cooking.) when the sauce has thickened, remove from heat and stir in whipping cream.

Add pasta to salted, boiling water and cook as instructed until the noodles are al dente. drain and return the pasta to the pot. pour vodka over pasta and add butter and another pinch or two of salt. stir until the butter has melted, then add the tomato mixture. toss all together until coated evenly, then check for seasonings. add more salt if necessary.

Serve with fresh parmesan serves 5.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.

Pasta Bolognese

I grew up in a family of six (four kids, two parents). I like to think this is why I’m completely incapable of making meals for just one or two people. It just never really occurs to me to halve a recipe. Or when I’m just creating something, it never looks to me like I’m making too much. Mostly, it’s not a problem. I, unlike most, like leftovers. I like them for breakfast or lunch or dinner. (There is nothing like pasta for breakfast. Mmmmm.) And, since I tend to cook big, I can usually feed myself for all three of those meals based on whatever I made for dinner the night before.

In the last year or so, though, I’ve finally come to appreciate my freezer. Sure, it was always a happy home to ice cream and the odd frozen pizza. Now I tend to freeze some leftovers for those crazy times when work is insane and there is a strange absence of groceries and I’m contemplating a dinner of peanut butter on crackers. And this Bolognese sauce is the perfect thing to have stashed away for dinner emergencies.

Ready to eat

I got it out of Real Simple magazine; the only magazine I’ve subscribed to since Chickadee and Owl when I was a kid.

So, I used to make this with fettuccine and then one time when I went to buy pasta there was no De Cecco fettuccine. But there was fettuccelle. Sure, that’ll do. But it was so much better than that. It’s now my pasta of choice. It’s flat like fettuccine, but better. Thicker, I think. Or something. Sigh. Just better; let’s leave it at that.

Pasta

There is nothing more comforting than a big bowl of hot noodles (al dente, please!) with thick, rich sauce all chock full of tomatoes and beef that’s been simmering for an hour or so. So, I’m happy to make the whole batch of this, freeze half in ziplock bags and then eat the rest for a handful of meals. Then, the next time a craving comes, I still have my freezer stash.

And let me offer this handy ‘recycling’ tip. Don’t throw away the heels of your parmesan wedges. Throw them in as the sauce simmers; they will add a nice richness. (When I’m down to the heel of the cheese, I throw them in a ziplock and into the freezer so they are ready to go when I make the sauce.)

As usual, this is with my adaptations. (These are, for the most part, another carrot — yeah for more vegetables — and no pancetta. I have nothing against pancetta — mmmm bacon-y goodness — but I don’t typically have it on hand and can’t be bothered to go get some for this recipe as I generally have all the other ingredients. Oh, and I add the garlic later than they suggest. There is nothing worse than burnt garlic, so adding it with the celery and carrot seems a bit premature.)

Carrots, onions, celery and garlic

Parmesan heels

mirepoix

Beef, carrots, garlic, onions and celery

A good use for parmesan "heels"

Pasta Bolognese

Pasta Bolognese

  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diceed
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2  pounds  lean ground beef
  • 1  cup  dry white wine
  • 1  cup  milk (I use 1 per cent)
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 14-ounce (398 mL) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4  teaspoon  red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 1/2  teaspoons  kosher salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground nutmeg
  • Parmesan heels (if you’ve got them)

In a Dutch oven or large, solid frying pan (I use one with straight sides), heat the oil. Add the onion and saute until they start to go transluscent, about three minutes. Add the celery and carrot and cook for five minutes more until they too start to soften. Add garlic and saute until you can smell it, about a minute. Add beef and cook until browned. Add wine, milk and the rest of the ingredients. (Don’t fret, the milk is going to look like it’s curdling a bit. It’s not.) Add the cheese heels and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over hot, drained pasta with fresh Parmesan.

Mustard-butter Broccoli Pasta

I have very particular feelings about condiments. These may verge a bit on condiment OCD.

Growing up, I refused to eat — in no particular order — mayo, mustard, relish, chutney. And mushrooms. Not a condiment, I know, but it was something I refused to eat. My burgers were dry except for ketchup and that was just fine with me. Except, oddly, McDonald’s hamburgers with their thin scraping of yellow mustard. Somehow that was OK with me.

Nowadays, things have relaxed slightly. I still ask for no mayo, if it’s just straight-up, out-of-the-jar, spread. Bring on the pesto, lemon, dill, herb, curry variations. I won’t go out of my way to add relish or mustard, but I enjoy them on my burger. (Oh god, when I decided to finally try a White Spot burger — the real ones from B.C., not these faux Alberta versions —and had the Triple O sauce? Damn, that is good condiment.)

(Ketchup is good, but belongs only on fries, hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages. That is all.)

And the turning point may have been Mustard-butter Broccoli Pasta.

Until I had this, I was certain I didn’t like Dijon mustard. I was wrong. Oh, so, very wrong.

Broccoli

This is a wonderful summer pasta, partly because of the bright colour and fresh taste, but also because it requires but one pot. And, if you’re quick on the ball and plan ahead, you can use the summer heat to soften butter, which is one of the “sauce” ingredients. Of course, if you’re a bit forgetful (like me), there is always the microwave. That said, softening the butter naturally is much tastier. (Full disclosure: I have used Becel to make this and it’s still good.)

My Mum first made this many, many years ago, then photocopied it for me while I lived for a summer in Kitimat with her own notes neatly written out in red pen. And this recipe has become one of those comfort ones that has followed me as I lived in teeny-tiny towns across B.C., slogging my way through jobs at teeny-tiny newspapers, and over to Japan where I lived for a year. Sure, finding Dijon was tricky, but it was doable. And, more importantly, it was worth it.

I like to use penne with this because then it’s super easy to eat, plus the penne rigate’s ridges pick up more sauce. Of course, the big carriers are the broccoli spears; they become sponges for the mustard-butter sauce. And, frankly, I’ll use whatever pasta I have on hand. Case in point: tonight’s dinner was farfalle.

Mustard-butter sauce

All in the pot together

Mustard-butter Broccoli Pasta

I’ve made some changes from the original recipe, so this is the version as I make it.

Mustard-butter Broccoli Pasta

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 4 tbsp. Dijon mustard (I use generic — gasp! — Safeway brand. I like it better than Grey Poupon.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced (I use my lovely, lovely rasp.)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Herbs (chives, parsley or green onion tops), about 4 tbsp. total (And if I don’t have them, I don’t worry about it.)
  • 2 or 3 cups broccoli florets, from two crowns
  • 3/4 pound pasta

Let the butter soften, then mix in the mustard, herbs and pepper. Check for seasonings before adding more salt. Set a huge pot of water on the stove to boil. When it comes to a rolling boil, season liberally with salt, then add the pasta. Cut the broccoli florets off the stem and set aside. When the pasta is about two or three minutes from being cooked to al dente, throw in the broccoli and stir to let it cook with the pasta. Drain when the pasta is tender and the broccoli is still green. Throw back into the pot and stir in the mustard-butter mixture. The heat from the cooked pasta and broccoli will melt the butter mixture. Check for seasonings and serve.

Note: I usually hold back some of the mustard-butter. Often you won’t need all of it. But when I put away the leftovers in containers, I spoon a bit of the mixture on top. That way, when you reheat it the next day (or whenever) in the microwave, it’s still a bit saucy.