Time for a little guilty confession: we throw away stale, expired or otherwise past-their-prime fruits, vegetables and other foods more often than I like to admit. Cooking portion-friendly meals for just the two of us can be difficult at times, considering how many recipes are intended for at least four to six servings. We cut recipes in half often, freeze extra portions for later and/or reheat leftovers for lunch when we can, yet sometimes still end up with too much of a certain ingredient or leftover to use or consume before it goes bad. We feel terrible throwing away food, so this particular recipe is a direct result of making sure we used up a container of arugula before it spoiled. Whenever we have a particular ingredient in mind but can’t think of a recipe, Epicurious is our go-to site to begin researching. I found this recipe there by doing an initial search for “arugula,” then refining the results by specifying arugula as the main ingredient (the site also has several other very useful ways to refine the results, including by meal/course, cuisine and “dietary consideration.”) This pasta dish is a quick, easy and satisfying way to use up at least two cups of arugula, tossed with sauteed leeks, fettuccine, green onion, Parmesan, prosciutto and lemon zest. And it’s good enough to justify the purchase of arugula in its own right, rather than waiting until we have leftovers.
We always appreciate the one-dish-wonder type of dinner — a meal that incorporates all the basics (protein, vegetable and starch or carb) into a single recipe. Such meals are especially useful during particularly stressful and/or busy times, such as when one is settling in at a brand new job in a new city and state, preparing to move to said new location, and selling a house and many of its contents in the old job’s location. Or maybe that’s just us. Wait, that actually IS us, right now. Hectic as things may be, all is going well and we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Amidst the chaos, it’s usually a lot easier to run out for a quick dinner at a restaurant or, even easier, order dinner delivered rather than cook. But taking the time and making the effort to prepare a home-cooked meal is something we’re trying to make a conscious choice to do more often during these transitional times, as one kitchen gets packed up and the other is currently very sparsely outfitted. For us, cooking and enjoying a meal together is what helps make a house feel like home, no matter the zip code (or fact that we may have to eat dinner sitting in patio chairs with paper plates on our laps.) This recipe is a good reminder to slow down, spend some quality time in the kitchen, and enjoy the smells of roasting tomatoes and sauteeing mushrooms, onions and garlic. Layering in some chicken, feta and parmesan cheeses and pasta adds comfort-food heartiness to the dish. Finish with a little wilted spinach for color and nutritional value, and you’ve got a delicious and healthy meal that not only represents the major food groups in one pot, but also defines the “home” in “homemade.”
Continue reading “Penne w/ Roasted Tomatoes, Chicken & Mushrooms”
Summer is a good time to cook with leftovers. When the weather is hot and the days are long and activity-filled, it’s nice to have a dinner that is quick and easy to prepare with a protein that has already been cooked. If we grill steak during the summer, we often grill an extra one or make sure they are big enough that we will have plenty left over for steak salad. A pork tenderloin easily creates two separate meals — the first one maybe grilled and served with pico de gallo; and for the second meal we might make pork fried rice. We also love to cook a whole chicken (either roasting it or grilling it, beer-can-style) on the weekend, then transform the leftovers into any number of second dishes, from casserole to salad to pasta. When we recently had some leftover chicken, we consulted one of our go-to quick and easy cookbooks (they have an entire chapter called “Starting with Leftovers”), “The Best 30-Minute Recipe” for a new way to transform cooked chicken. We added kalamata olives to further enhance the Mediterranean flavors from the fresh oregano, feta cheese sauce and tomatoes, and liked how combining the chicken, pasta and spinach made for a single-bowl, square-meal dinner. And with minimal effort involved (cutting up the chicken, blending the sauce ingredients and boiling the pasta), it’s an ideal way to end a hot and lazy summer day.
As everyone does, we try to make the most of our weekends — attempting to find the perfect balance between to-do lists and errands versus “lamping” (Dan and his brothers’ term for sitting around, doing nothing — as a lamp does) and having fun. Sometimes you just don’t have enough time to hit up both Home Depot and Bed, Bath & Beyond on a Saturday. For us, enjoying a lazy Saturday morning while still managing to feel productive usually involves planning our menu for the following week while watching HGTV or cooking shows. (Dan occasionally sneaks in a Star Wars or superhero movie as well, especially if we’ve already seen whatever home improvement or cooking show happens to be on at the time.) One of our favorite Saturday cooking shows is “Easy Chinese,” which features Chef Ching-He Huang touring local markets and restaurants in the Bay Area (sometimes other places too) for the best fresh ingredients and (mostly Asian) dishes, which she then makes her own by showing viewers how to easily recreate her versions at home. This Italian soba noodle salad is one of the easiest we’ve ever seen her make. When we made it, we didn’t even consult the full recipe — we just cooked it from the notes I jotted down during the show. We made a couple of changes, but that’s another thing that is great about the recipe — you can adapt the ingredients to suit your taste preferences. And with its fusion of Italian (sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, olive oil and arugula) and Asian (soba noodles, sesame oil, mirin, rice vinegar, soy and shiitake mushrooms), this salad is as delicious as it is easy.
We’ve made orecchiette with broccoli rabe before, and enjoyed it as a quick and healthy vegetarian meal. Broccoli rabe (also known as “rapini”) is a leafy green packed with nutrients, including calcium, vitamins A, C and K, potassium and folate, just to name a few. It’s known as one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. So why not negate all that nutrition by adding sausage to your rapini dish? The Italians do it, so that is good enough for us. Of course — even with the sausage — you still receive all the health benefits of broccoli rabe, and the method of roasting the sausages according to Ina Garten’s recipe in her book “Foolproof” makes them seem at least a little less unhealthy. Adding the sausage and a tomato sauce elevates this pasta dish in terms of both flavor and texture, and makes it a lot more appealing (to us anyway) than the vegetarian version. We still appreciate the meat-less meal, but really like the addition of sweet tomato to counter the somewhat bitter rapini flavor. We’re also curious to try a version using turkey sausage sometime, to keep the dish a bit more on the healthy side, without sacrificing the meaty component. But when in the mood for a hearty, comfort-food meal that we would imagine an Italian grandmother making, this recipe is the way to go.
Although it is officially Fall (hooray!) and the first day of October (already?), you may still be able to find heirloom tomatoes at your local farmer’s market or grocery store. But if you can’t find any, regular tomatoes will still work — heirlooms just taste better, and this recipe is a great way to showcase them, in addition to end-of-summer fresh herbs. This easy side dish is a fresh and fitting way to appreciate the conclusion of a bountiful growing season before temperatures drop and gardens go dormant.
If you’re like us and have a bounty of tomatoes and basil from your garden (or your local farmer’s market), this is the perfect meal to take advantage of these summer staples. And the recipe, from America’s Test Kitchen, is as easy as the Italian island of Capri (the supposed birthplace of the caprese salad) is beautiful. It’s so easy that it barely even constitutes a “recipe” in the strict sense of measured ingredients and detailed instructions. The most important take-away from the recipe is the technique of freezing the mozzarella cheese before adding it to the hot cooked pasta to keep the cheese from melting into a gooey mess. The rest is simple: whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, a shallot and salt & pepper for the dressing and marinate the tomatoes in it; boil the pasta; combine the pasta, mozzarella and tomatoes; then add the basil just before serving. The flavor combination of vine-ripe tomatoes, creamy mozzarella and homegrown basil is as fresh as it gets. Adding al dente pasta provides a hearty texture and elevates a simple side salad into an ideal summer main course.
Again with the Greek food? Apparently, once we try cooking a certain type of food and have some success, we continue to roll with it. Unlike Souvlaki, and Greek-spiced Shrimp, this dish is not one we immediately recognized as Greek cuisine. But once we tasted it, we could easily imagine it as a signature comfort-food recipe handed down through generations of Greek families. But this version, found in Cook’s Illustrated’s “Light & Healthy 2012” magazine, is probably a lot more low in calories and fat than one a grandma likely used to make. Pastitsio is typically made with a beef- or lamb-based meat sauce, pasta, a rich béchamel sauce and cheese. This healthier version replaces the beef/lamb with ground turkey, incorporates a béchamel made with low-fat dairy ingredients and reduces the amount of cheese. Although this recipe is the only version we’ve ever tried, we certainly did not miss any of the more fatty, higher-calorie ingredients in the finished product, which was plenty rich and hearty. Just like (a calorie-conscious, red-meat-abstaining) Grandma used to make.
Here’s another one for vegetarians or anyone avoiding meat on Fridays during Lent. Not being much of a vegetable eater, I wasn’t so sure I would enjoy a dish made with just pasta and veggies. Turns out that with the right sauce and vegetables, I’m a fan. We adapted this pasta primavera recipe by using veggies that we already know we like and beefing up the sauce (so to speak) with tomatoes. We also left out the chicken called for in the original recipe, but adding some leftover cooked chicken if you’ve got it would be a welcome addition of protein. This is an easy and flavorful dish with a creamy tomato sauce that has a hint of spice and complementary textures from the sauteed veggies and cooked pasta. It’s worth a try with whatever veggies you happen to like for a relatively quick and healthy weeknight meal.
Surprisingly, broccoli rabe is not actually broccoli, nor is it related to broccoli. This leafy vegetable, also known as “rapini,” is classified in the same subspecies as the turnip. Rapini stalks have large leaves that surround clusters of green buds that look like small heads of broccoli — hence the name. Prior to this dish, we had never cooked or eaten broccoli rabe and weren’t quite sure we would like it. But we knew rapini is common in Italy (where everything is better) and is packed with vitamins and nutrients. Since we’re always looking for healthy — but still delicious — vegetarian meals, we decided to give this pasta and broccoli rabe dish a try. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed the nutty, slightly bitter flavor of the rapini combined with the garlic & olive oil pasta. We also liked how quick and easy this meal is to make, with just a few ingredients: broccoli rabe, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, orecchiette pasta and Parmesan cheese. As we often do with first-time cooking attempts, we consulted the folks at Cook’s Illustrated (specifically, their book Italian Classics) for a no-fail recipe.