Tag Archive for tomato

Eggs in Purgatory

Necessity is the mother of invention.

True in the world of technological advances. True also in the world of the kitchen.

Because, on those nights when there doesn’t appear to be anything in the cupboards and the fridge is down to just the basics, there are still meals to be made.

Such was the case the other night when I found myself hungry and with only the very basics in my cupboards and fridge. (Eclectic basics due to my bizarre impulse grocery shopping skills, but basics nevertheless.)

Among them, a can of diced tomatoes I’m sure I bought for a Bolognese that never ended up getting cooked, a chunk of Parmesan, part of a red onion, some rapidly wilting herbs and eggs.

In short, all the ingredients for a dish known as Eggs in Purgatory.

(It’s sometimes also known as Eggs in Hell, though I’d argue that’s for a spicier version than I can handle.)

Eggs in Purgatory II

There are millions of variations for this recipe, but they all start with the basic concept of cooking eggs in a tomato sauce. Beyond that, it can be as creative as one wants or dependent on what one has on hand: wilt in some greens like spinach or kale, add sausage, spicy chorizo or strips of prosciutto, sauté onions and garlic to give the sauce more flavour. Make a more “hellish” version by throwing in some chopped jalapenos or chilies while sautéing the onions. The options are limitless.

With my limited supplies, however, I kept it pretty basic. Thankfully, basic doesn’t mean boring.

With only 10 minutes and a very small amount of effort, I had a flavourful and filling dinner. The rich eggs with slightly runny yolks are a nice foil to the spicy tomato sauce. I mopped it all up with a crusty piece of bread slathered with some butter.

Using just one pan to make a meal means this dish is near perfection.

Next time, I probably won’t wait until necessity forces me to make this for dinner; I’ll make sure I have the ingredients for Eggs in Purgatory.

Eggs in Purgatory I

Eggs in Purgatory

For a spicier version, add more red pepper flakes or add some diced jalapeno. For some more green, wilt spinach or kale just as the onions have softened before adding the diced tomatoes.

  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) diced onion, about ¼ of a small onion
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) red pepper flakes
  • 1 13.5-oz (398 mL) can diced tomatoes
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan
  • ¼ cup chopped herbs

In a pan over medium heat, warm the oil and then add the onion, letting it sauté until softened and slightly transluscent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about a minute longer. Pour in the diced tomatoes and juice, stir and let come to a simmer. Add the salt and a few grinds from the pepper mill, then let the tomato sauce cook until the liquid reduces and the sauce thickens slightly. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt or pepper as needed.

Using the back of a spoon, make two divots in the sauce and crack the eggs into the spaces. Sprinkle the parmesan over the sauce and egg whites.

Cover with a lid and let the eggs cook until the whites are set and the yolk is slightly runny (or to your desired doneness).

Remove from the heat, then sprinkle with the chopped herbs.

Serve immediately.

Serves 1 to 2.

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.

Quinoa Tabouleh

Some people impulse buy gum.

I impulse buy five-pound bags of quinoa.

Oh sure, I thought it was a lovely idea in that moment, romanced by all the things I could do with this versatile, healthy, nutritious ingredient chock full of protein and fibre.

Especially after I saw on the back of the hefty bag that I can cook quinoa in my rice cooker. (Cooking rice and rice-related ingredients? Not my forte. I blame it on a year living in Japan where my apartment came equipped with a rice cooker.)

And then I got the family-sized bag home, jammed it into my cupboard and kind of forgot about it as it occupied valuable real estate in my kitchen. I finally unearthed it many weeks later, concocting a biryani-style salad with currants, chickpeas and a curry-lime dressing.

And then I forgot about it again.

Since then, there has been a bit more experimenting with quinoa.

But there is also something to be said about going back to basics — honest-to-goodness classic dishes that remain in the cooking repertoire for a reason.

Things like tabouli.

Or tabbouli. Or even tabouleh.

Or however you want to spell it.

Quinoa Tabouleh III

In theory, this is a salad I should like. Mint and parsley, lemon juice, tomato and cucumber. All those herbs with that zip of acidic lemon, the crunch of cucumber and umami taste of tomato? I like all those things. A lot.

What I don’t like is bulgur, the grain traditionally used in tabbouleh salads.

I made a huge bowl of it once using a recipe that called for bulgur and then had to eat it for two days to get through it, hating it the entire time.

I didn’t like the taste or the chew and forcing myself to finish the thing, which had taken a bit of time and effort to prepare, did not help the situation.

So, as I was sorting through my cupboards the other day and stumbled across the still half-full bag of impulse quinoa, I was struck by a thought: why not make tabbouleh with a grain-like ingredient I actually enjoy?

And I pulled out my rice cooker and did exactly that.

Quinoa Tabouleh II

(As a result of cooking it this way, I can offer you no suggestions or guidelines for cooking quinoa, other than tell you what I was also told: give it a bit of a rinse or a soak – say about 10 minutes or so — before cooking, which should alleviate any of the bitterness you might taste otherwise.)

With the exception of using quinoa and the addition of a red (or orange or yellow) paper for a bit of additional colour and crunch, this recipe holds quite true to traditional tabbouleh.

It’s the abundance of herbs, slight onion bite from the green onions and generous amount of lemon juice that gives it such a refreshing and light taste.

It’s the substitution of quinoa for bulgur that makes it no hardship to finish it off pretty quickly.

And, thankfully, I still have plenty more quinoa to make this again.

A trio of peppers

Mint

A Cup of Tomatoes

Quinoa Tabouleh I

Quinoa Tabbouleh

  • 4 cups (1 L) cooked quinoa
  • 1 red, orange or yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 to 4 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 2 mini cucumbers, halved, seeded and sliced
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) mint, chopped
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) extra virgin olive oil

Cook quinoa according to directions. Let cool and place in large bowl. Add red pepper, tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, mint and parsley. In separate bowl, mix lemon juice, salt and pepper. Whisk to dissolve salt. While whisking, slowly drizzle in olive oil to emulsify. Pour about ¾ of the dressing over the salad and toss. Add the remaining dressing if the salad seems dry.

Serves 4.

This piece originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more great recipes and stories, head to the Herald’s food page at CalgaryHerald.com/life.

Roasted Tomato Tart

(I am so proud of this post because it marks my first food article in the Herald’s revamped Sunday edition. My photo of my little roasted tomato tart was on the cover of the ‘mix’ section. For those that haven’t seen the new Sunday edition, that means the photo was the entire front of the ‘mix’ section. Yay! And a warning, this post is photo heavy! What can I say? I had a hard time paring it down.)

And now, back to the article.

I have an unabashed love of tomatoes. Meaty slices of them wedged between two pieces of buttered toast with a sprinkle of salt and pepper is my idea of comfort food. Roma tomatoes drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar and good olive oil make a simple side dish. And I love that burst of seeds and flavour that comes when biting into a plain cherry tomato.

Tomatoes II

I once bought a perfume called Tomato because it smelled like the aroma given off after brushing up against the green stalks of a tomato plant — that verdant scent of heat and summer. A few spritzes on my wrist could transport me back to being a kid and visiting my grandparents on one of the Gulf Islands where I sometimes helped in the garden.

Enclosed in chicken wire to protect it from ravenous deer, the garden produced sweet tiny carrots I ate straight from the ground after a quick rinse from the hose, grape vines that tangled their way along trellises, and rows of tomato plants.

I would use a plastic watering can to fill the coffee tins with water, from which my grandfather had removed the bottoms, nestled into the earth next to the plants — a trick that allowed the water to get right at the plant’s roots. And I would brush up against the stalks, filling the air with that distinct smell.

If any were ripe, I’d pull them sun-warmed from the dark green plants and eat them unadorned.

There is no taste like a vine-ripened tomato.

Tomatoes

But sometimes I like to roast them to intensify their essence and bring out more of their natural sweetness.

Baking halved Roma tomatoes in the oven with a few unpeeled garlic cloves is an excellent base for a good tomato soup.

Cherry tomatoes, when roasted, shrink and wrinkle to softish pouches of concentrated tomato flavour. I’ve made simple pasta sauces like this, topped only with shaved Parmesan and a sprinkle of basil or parsley if I have them lying around.

Roasted Tomato Tart-round

I thought recently — after seeing a clamshell package of multicoloured cherry tomatoes at the farmers market — that they would make a good savoury tart, particularly if paired with a hearty crust.

When I began imagining a roasted cherry tomato tart, I thought there was potential in adding a few handfuls of Parmesan cheese to the dough to bring out a nice nutty, rich taste when baked.

A little research led me to realize I wasn’t the first person to think of this, but I didn’t love any of the recipes I came across. I am by no means a pastry expert, but was willing to give myself a chance to experiment.

Using ideas from several different recipes, I decided to create a hybrid pastry that used cream instead of water and a cup of Parmesan cheese, finely grated and blitzed with the other ingredients in the food processor.

The dough was easy to work with and resulted in a golden crust that played nicely against the sweet, soft tomatoes.

(This would likely work just as well, though, with a regular pastry.)

Because cherry tomatoes are so juicy, there was a lot of liquid bubbling away as the tart was baking. (Truth be told, I was a bit nervous about just how much I could see as I peered through the oven door.) Some of it did cook off in the process, but there was definitely a thin layer of tomato liquor when I pulled the tart out. Some may call it soggy; I prefer to think of it as tomato-infused pastry. Either way, the base of the tart pastry was crisp and I liked the taste of it.

A sprinkle of basil gave it a nice fresh taste when added as the tart cooled slightly. (And yes, you’ll want to let it sit for a few minutes because cutting into the tomatoes will likely cause some to burst. Ouch.)

Chilled parmesan pastry

Pastry in tart dish

Tomatoes III

Tart pre-oven

Roasted Tomato Tart II

Tomato Tart and slice

Sliced Tomato Tart

Roasted Tomato Tart Sliced

Roasted Tomato Tart

  • 1½ cups (375 mL) flour
  • 7 tbsp (115 mL) butter, cold and cut into small cubes
  • ½ cup (125 mL) cream
  • 1 cup (250 mL) finely grated Parmesan
  • pinch salt
  • 1-1¼ lb. (500 to 625 grams) cherry or grape-sized tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) fresh basil, chiffonade (rolled like a cigar and cut into strips)

Add the flour and pinch of salt to the bowl of a food processor, then sprinkle the butter cubes on top. Pulse two or three times until the butter starts to break down, then add the Parmesan. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is in pieces no larger than a pea.

Add the cream slowly while pulsing until the dough starts to come together. (It will bunch up and the food processor noise will change.)

Empty the contents onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times to pull the dough together.

Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 F (160 C).

Toss the tomatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, 1 tsp salt and pepper. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1/3 inch to 1/4 inch (8 millimetres to 6 mm) thick. Press into tart tin (9 inch/23 cm round tin or a 14-inch/35 cm rectangular tin), stretching it as little as possible, and cut off excess. Arrange tomatoes in the tart tin.

Bake for an hour until tomatoes are soft and pastry is golden brown. Remove and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Roll basil leaves like a cigar and then slice them to make herb strips. Sprinkle over tart.

Serve while still warm.

Cook’s note: The amount of tomatoes will vary depending on how tall or fat they are and how well they fit together in the tart tin.

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

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.

White Bean Tartlets with Oven Roasted Tomatoes

This post is dedicated to my friend Elsbeth who is going to kick my butt for waiting two weeks to post. I could possibly be the most procrastinating-est blogger ever. It’s a curse.

So, Elsbeth, this one is for you.

Solo Tartlet

I had a little party on Friday two weeks ago to celebrate a blog milestone. The original plan was to have a few friends over for appies and wine to celebrate crossing the 100,000-views mark, but that didn’t work out because I ended up getting to that point faster than originally thought and the timing was off. (No, it was not procrastination related, for once.) Then I thought it would be cute to instead have people over for passing by 123,456 views.

So, that’s what it ended up being.

I sometimes get a bit of party anxiety, though. Will people have fun? Will there be enough food?

And, as usual, my fretting was all for naught. Besides having cheese, crackers, some salami and prosciutto, I also made two appetizers: prawns sauteed with chili, garlic and ginger served in wonton crisp cups and these White Bean Tartlets with Oven Roasted Tomatoes. And thankfully (with the addition of sending one care package home for a friend who couldn’t make it), all of the food was eaten! Frankly, that was the best part. Made me feel like everyone enjoyed the goodies. Plus, you know, less clean up.

(So, I’m making up for the lack of text here with bonus photos. Couldn’t narrow them down….)

Trio of tartlets III

I got the inspiration from one of my 8 million cookbooks, but adjusted the recipe quite a bit and figure that, at that point, it’s safe to call it my own. It was pleasantly garlicky and rich-tasting even though there was almost no fat involved. And, c’mon, they’re just so damn cute.

Thyme

Tomatoes and Thyme

Roasted Tomatoes with Thyme

White Beans pre-puree

Trio of Tartlets

Trio of tartlets II

White Bean Tartlets with Oven Roasted Tomatoes

  • 30 grape tomatoes
  • 30 tart shells or pastry to make 30 tarts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4-5 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 19 oz (540 mL) can white kidney beans
  • 1/2 cup white wine (can substitute stock or even water)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bake tart shells as indicated or blind bake homemade pastry until shells are completely cooked.

Preheat oven to 350. Put tomatoes in oven safe dish and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt and add the sprigs of thyme. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes until their skins have started to split. Set aside.

In a pot over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and minced garlic. Once the oil is hot and the garlic has started to soften, add the drained and rinsed beans and continue cooking until warmed through and the beans are starting to fall apart, stirring often. Add wine (or stock or water) and thyme leaves and cook until most of the liquid is gone. Remove from the heat. Dump the beans, garlic and thyme into a food processor and whiz until it forms a nice paste. If it appears to be a bit too dry, add some more wine/stock/water. Spoon into cooked pastry shells and top each one with a roasted tomato. At this point I also spooned any drippings from the roasted tomato pan onto the tartlets.

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.

Roasted Tomato Soup

Sometimes, my apartment is the place where tomatoes go to die. I buy them, forget about them, and the slowly grow old, wrinkling away in their clamshell package until I’m utterly baffled about what I can do with them.

And then I had a brainwave (triggered in no small part by a recipe I saw over at 101 Cookbooks and then combined with an article from one issue out of my random collection of Cook’s Illustrated): why not roast them and make them into a soup? Then it doesn’t matter if they’re wrinkled. Or if they are wintry supermarket tomatoes that have virtually no flavour. Roasting will take care of both problems, especially the lack of flavour aspect as their summery, tomato flavour will intensify in the oven. Throw a couple of garlic cloves in with the tomatoes while they roast and add a hint of buttery, roasted garlic flavour to the soup.

Roasted Tomato Soup

The first time I made this, there was a tomato emergency. The collection I had was rapidly going south and was going to have to be tossed soon if I didn’t figure out something to do with them. Of course, since I was just playing around in the kitchen, I didn’t bother documenting the process.

The soup was full of flavour and velvety smooth. It was definitely a keeper.

A civilized lunch

The second time I made the soup, it was almost as good, but I’m going to suggest not using as much stock as I did this round. The first soup, which only had about two cups of stock, had a much more intense tomato flavour, which is what made the soup so great. The second one, I used three cups of stock. The tomato flavour was duller and I won’t be doing that again.

Tomatoes

Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic

Diced Onion

Soup in blender from above

In the blender

Soup from the side

Roasted Tomato Soup

  • Six or seven tomatoes, cut in half or quarters depending on their size
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • one onion, diced
  • four cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1/4 cup brandy, optional
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup cream, milk or half-and-half
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375. Cut tomatoes in halves or quarters, depending on their size, and lay cut side up in a roasting pan. Throw in unpeeled garlic cloves amongst the tomatoes. Drizzle everything with one tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes until the tomatoes and garlic have started to caramelize.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat, then add the diced onion and saute until transluscent — about four or five minutes. Add brandy, if using, and cook for another minute or two. Add sugar, then stock. Bring to low boil.

Remove paper skins from garlic, then add the tomatoes and garlic into the pot with the stock. Let cook for a few minutes. Pour everything into blender and whiz until velvety smooth. Add cream or milk and whiz for another minute. Taste for seasonings. (Since there is salt on the tomatoes and in the stock, I advise waiting until the end before seasoning because you may not need to add anything.)

Guacamole

When the cravings for Guacamole come, they must be answered.

I love avocados. The pale green flesh, the rich buttery taste, the thwack sound the pit makes when I hit it with my knife. I like it sliced in salads or spread between two pieces of buttered toast with a little salt and pepper. But I really love it in guacamole with a handful of salty chips on the side.

The Ingredients

Sure, it’s high in fat, but I’m slightly mollified by the fact it’s a good fat and there are lots of vitamins and potassium in avocados. I also need that information to justify my decision to eat guacamole for dinner. (It’s flimsy justification, but justification nonetheless.)

The Ingredients

I like to make mine by cubing the avocados while still in their skins and then scooping the chunks out with a spoon before gently stirring with the other ingredients, so the meaty fruit retains some of its bite instead of becoming a paste. (You’ll see below that the instructions are slightly different. Obviously, do as you feel is best.)

Dicing the avocado

Red Onion

Ready to serve

It should come as no surprise that this recipe comes from my mentor, the Barefoot Contessa.

Guacamole

  • Four ripe Haas avocados (I just buy whatever is in the store)
  • 3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice — one lemon
  • 8 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced (I use a rasp — best kitchen gadget ever — so there are no large chunks of garlic)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and small-diced

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. (I use my hands.) Immediately add the lemon juice, Tabasco, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.