Tag Archives: pasta sauce

Foraging-Pantry Style

16 Feb

Holidays were so busy this year. I had house guests throughout the season. I dearly love a bustling holiday crowd, but let’s face it-it’s work. Now the holidays have passed with warm happy memories lingering, warming even the coldest of winter days. But I am tired. Which is why I foraged in the kitchen for dinner tonight. It was an epic win. Why? No trip to the store. Created from items on hand. It was easy. And delicious.

It began as a late afternoon (post catnap…isn’t that what weekends are for?) scattered thought-what sounds good for dinner tonight? So I meandered off of the couch and went to the freezer. Score! There was some ravioli that was fresh but had been tossed into the freezer. I pulled it out. It was the starting point. On to the pantry.

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It is a time saver to get fresh pasta. It cooks much more quickly than dried. Don’t have time to cook it? Toss it in the freezer for later!

After flipping the pantry light on and gazing somewhat absentmindedly (my brain may still have been in nap mode!) at the shelves, I silently willed inspiration to come. The ravioli was my center of the plate star, but it needed sauce. Something interesting, fun, different. And above all, quick and easy.

I found a can of artichoke hearts, diced tomatoes, olive oil, and a couple of garlic cloves. The fridge had some fresh celery, butter, half and half, and some leftover chicken stock. I could work with this. So (a lazy) dinner prep got underway.

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This is what I foraged from the pantry and fridge.

I took out a sauce pan, put it on a medium heat, and added about 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. While the butter melted into the oil I roughly chopped some celery stalks and leaves. Listen y’all, there is no reason not to use the entire celery stalk for a sauce. I chopped the garlic as well.

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Start with extra virgin olive oil and good quality butter.

When the butter and oil were hot, the celery garlic mixture went into the pan to sizzle for a couple of minutes. I stirred and kept it on a medium low heat-garlic can burn quickly so it must be watched and stirred.

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The garlic and celery filled the kitchen with delicious aromas. Don’t forget to use the celery leaves!

In between stirs, I drained the artichoke hearts. They were packed in water so after they were drained I squeezed them upside-down over the sink to remove excess liquid between the leaves. After a rough chop I added them to the sizzling garlic and celery. Mmmmmm. The kitchen smelled wonderful.

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Drain your artichoke hearts to control the seasoning in the sauce.

Next in went a can of diced tomatoes, juice and all. Mindful to layer flavors, I added salt and pepper. I keep a salt cellar of a high quality salt and pepper mixture next to my stove. This makes it easy to layer in seasonings as I cook.

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Keeping a salt cellar on the counter is an easy way to layer flavor as you cook.

If adding salty ingredients such as capers to a sauce, I go directly for the pepper and leave the salt out until the last minute, adding if necessary. No capers here, so salt and pepper were a must.

The juice in the tomatoes needed a fresh minutes to reduce and thickness slightly. The heat was still on medium and it took about 8 minutes for this lovely sauce to thicken up. Time to layer some more flavor. A few splashes of chicken stock was sounded yummy.

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Any kind of broth will do for this easy recipe!

After adding the broth, I added a few red pepper flakes as well.  I just can’t stop myself from adding a heat layer. Since this was a recipe for two and Denis is not as fond of heat in a sauce as I am, I went light with just s few flakes. A good stir incorporated all of these lovely flavors.

The sauce was simmering beautifully. Time for the creamy. I added about 1/2 cup of half and half. If you are lactose intolerant you can leave this out. The sauce will still be thick and lovely.

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Oh the creaminess of half and half!

With a good stir and the heat lowered to medium low, this fragrant sauce needed only a few minutes to heat through. I had put a pot of water for the ravioli on, and it was boiling. Time to get the ravioli cooking. It had defrosted and was a fresh pasta. It cooked up in a snap.

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Add a heaping Tablespoon of salt to your pasta water. This not only helps add a bit of flavor to the pasta, the starchy water will thicken any pasta sauce.

Before draining the pasta, I gently removed about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and slowly stirred it into the pasta sauce. A little cooking hint for you-starchy pasta water helps sauce thicken and cling to the pasta. It is a step that is worthwhile to incorporate.

Time to plate this up.  I had opened a can of green beans to cook up quick as a side dish. I chopped up 2 small peppers I’d found in the fridge and added those to the green beans.  Goat cheese crumbles were on hand, so those were lightly sprinkled onto the green beans. Again, this was all foraged from the pantry and fridge. No trip to the grocery store tonight!

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I use my Christmas plates long past the holiday. They just make me happy, so it is usually mid January (okay truth be told maybe even a little later than that) by the time they get put up. Here is the finished super easy dinner. Look at how that sauce clings to the pasta perfectly.

There was just a few ravioli left, so into the fridge they went. My daughter nabbed them the following morning after a long run. Dare I say they were better the next day? Pasta always is! What can you make from your pantry? Send me a postcard and let me know. I love hearing from you!

Artichoke Tomato Sauce

  • 1 Tablespoon each olive oil and butter
  • small stalk celery, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 14 ounce can Artichoke hearts in water
  • 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 4 ounces chicken stock (can substitute vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
  • 4 ounces half and half (may omit for vegetarian option
  • Cooked pasta of choice-enough for 2 people
  • 4 ounces pasta cooking water
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Add butter and olive oil to pan and heat on medium. When sizzling add celery and garlic and turn heat to medium low.  Stir and let cook for about 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, drain and roughly chop artichoke hearts. Add to the pan and stir. After 4 minutes, add tomatoes with the juice. Add salt and pepper. Stir and simmer for 8-10 minutes until slightly reduced and thickened. Gently stir in the stock. After well incorporated, add the half and half, if using.

Let the sauce simmer. Add to pasta and enjoy.

NOTE-If a keto or gluten free diet is your thing, this sauce is also wonderful spooned over a piece of chicken or fish instead of pasta. If this needs to be a vegetarian sauce, leave out the half and half and use vegetable broth. For the dairy intolerant, omit the butter and the half and half. How is that for a flexible sauce? Gotta love that!  Let your imagination run wild with this sauce and let me know what you create!

 

 

 

Epicurean Evenings

29 Oct
My education and career trajectory is in clinical nutrition, dietary management, and healthcare business strategy, but cooking is definitely my passion. I love the creativity of decadent ingredients, plate presentations, fresh flavors, and lingering over home cooked meals filled with spirited conversation.  My enthusiasm for food, at times, mingles with my love of writing, and that dwells in the core of my spirit.
I have several outlets to feed that need, and at one point I spent time writing for a food and wine magazine. Sometimes my editor (and friend) Katherine would come over to chat about upcoming assignments. I was not inconvenienced by having to answer the door when Katherine stopped by. Always welcome and with a quick “hello I’m here” knock, in she came.

A few years ago on a cool fall afternoon she popped in. A few steps in the door she stopped, her head slowly floated back as her eyes closed, and drew in a deep breath. Then her eyes slowly opened and she said “I just love coming into the house of an epicurean. It always smells so good!”

At the time I wasn’t completely sure what an epicurean was. When I finally understood what it meant, the comment from Katherine turned into an intuitive compliment-one that I savor to this day. What is an epicurean? If you go to the dictionary you will find something like this:

adjective
1. fond of or adapted to luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures; having luxurious tastes or habits, especially in eating.
Yup, that describes me. I am an epicurean. But what was I cooking on that cool fall afternoon that elicited such a reaction from Katherine? I was teaching myself how to make a brown butter sauce. Dinner that evening included wild mushroom ravioli, and I had decided to stretch my skills by learning a new sauce.
Want to know how to make a brown butter sauce? You’ll be happy you did-it has endless possibilities! High quality European butter is the key here. I always use unsalted for 2 reasons: Salt is a preservative, so unsalted butter is fresher, and I like to adjust my own seasonings.

So here is what I did. Into a heavy bottomed sauce pan, I started melting a half pound of lovely french butter on low heat.


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Soon the butter started to brown. I began removing the foam to clarify the sauce. The aroma that began filling the house was amazing. Warm, nutty, rich!

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My sauce continued to deepen. The flavors were concentrating. And the scents wafting around the house were incredible. I kept stirring.

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Do not walk away from this sauce, as it can burn quickly. Let it deepen slowly and keep your eye on it. But that is it. Simple.

The real beauty in this sauce is the ability to adjust it to any taste. You can add garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, almost anything to customize it to your taste. Add it at any point while browning the sauce. How easy is that? Fabulous!!

The first time I made the sauce, I drizzled it over wild mushroom ravioli and sprinkled it with some fresh parmesan cheese. Since I like acid, I also drizzled a balsamic reduction over the ravioli as well. A garnish of fresh basil perfected the balance. I added a salad and some crusty bread. It was a decadent dinner.

I continue to use the brown butter sauce for a variety of finishes. What can you do with it? Send me an email and let me know!

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Snap

13 Jun

Want dinner in a snap?  I think it is possible to put a healthy dinner on the table in less time than going to the drive thru.  Yes, a healthy dinner can be on the table in about half an hour.  With planning.

Sure it takes planning.  But that can be done while standing in line, waiting for a dentist appointment, or waking up with that morning cup of coffee.  It can be as simple as jotting down notes.  I use my smart phone to make my grocery list, and that advance planning helps me get through the store in a snap.

Sometimes planning is just a simple trip to the freezer to pull something out in the morning to cook in the evening.  Let me tell you how simple planning helped me with a healthy home cooked meal last week.

In the morning, I pulled some chicken out of the freezer and popped in the fridge.  By the time I came home from work, the chicken was thawed.  I fired up the grill, lightly seasoned the chicken, ans tossed it on the grill to cook.  The chicken breasts were thinly cut, so I knew they would cook quickly.

In the meantime, I put a pot of water on the stove for some pasta.  Angel hair pasta cooks quickly, so I pulled that from the pantry. It would be perfect with the leftover pasta sauce in the fridge  I took some frozen asparagus from the freezer, and thought it would round out dinner nicely.

The pasta cooked in about 5 minutes.  I also tossed frozen peas (I warmed them with the sauce) into the pasta for a little color. The chicken was done in about 20 minutes.  I let it rest for a few minutes, then sliced the breasts thin.  (Culinary side note:  meat is more tender when allowed to rest.  I time my proteins to be done 10 minutes before everything else.  I then drizzle olive oil over the meat, cover with foil, and let rest). The asparagus went into the microwave.

With a little planning, I had a healthy dinner on the table on a weeknight in about 30 minutes.  what can you make with little time on a weeknight?

Dinner in a snap.  Grilled chicken, angel hair pasta with cheese pea sauce, and asparagus.  YUM!

Dinner in a snap. Grilled chicken, angel hair pasta with cheese pea sauce, and asparagus. YUM!

Roasted Pasta Sauce

21 Sep
Roasted baby peppers!  yum!

Baby peppers! Perfect for roasting! Yum!

Tonight I made pasta for dinner. I roasted the sauce. Yes, that’s right. And it was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous!

Here we go. I had a taste for pasta Primavera. A Primavera sauce is a vegetable sauce usually associated with fresh, or seasonal, chunky cut vegetables. I wanted a light supper.  Nothing heavy and fatty. I needed bright, light, and colorful.   Something not only packed with flavor, but loaded with beneficial nutrients too.

And as you know, I love to use what i have on hand. That is my creativity springboard.  For some reason, that absolutely energizes me.  I started pulling vegetables out of the fridge and pantry.  For a special flavor twist, I decided to roast my sauce instead of cooking it on the stove top.  I cut up my veggies  and dumped them into a big mixing bowl.  Next I sprinkled them with pepper, both red and black, salt, herb de Provence, olive oil, and a tiny drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

A good starting point.  Chunky chopped vegetables!

A good starting point. Chunky chopped vegetables!

Next, I gave the mixture a good minute of stirring with a big wooden spoon.  Then I put it into a glass roasting pan that was about 2″ deep.  I sprinkled the vegetables with a little more salt and pepper, and tossed the pan into a preheated 375 degree oven.

In the meantime, Denis popped open a bottle of wine.  We sipped a glass of a yummy big bold red, and chatted with my son a bit.  The boys set the table.  I put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.  We had fresh pasta that was in the freezer, and that cooks pretty quickly.

Into the oven it goes!

Into the oven it goes!

In 30 minutes, I pulled the veggies out of the oven.  They had cooked down, so there was a good bit of what my grandmother called “vegetable liquor” in the pan.  There was just enough liquid for a perfect sauce.  I poured it over the cooked pasta, and voila!  A super yummy light dinner was ready.  Onto the table it went with some crusty bread.  It was a colorful healthy vegetarian dinner.   I am sharing my recipe with you, but customize it using your own palate as a flavor compass.

Amy’s Pasta Primavera

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Then start cutting…

1 large zucchini, cut into chunky quarters

1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1 large container fresh bella mushrooms, sliced

1 large container button mushrooms, sliced

3 large or a dozen small bell peppers, deseeded and sliced

6 green onions, sliced in 1/2 inch intervals from the whites to the tip of the green

8 ounces arugula (2 big handfuls)

8 ounces baby spinach

1/4 cup olive oil

3-4 T. balsamic vinegar

2 T. Herb de Provence

salt and pepper to taste

Mix together in large mixing bowl.  Add salt,  pepper, red pepper flakes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Herb de Provence and any seasoning to taste.

Pasta of choice-cooked (I used fresh ricotta penne)

Bread of choice

Toss this on the table for an incredibly mouthwatering meal loaded with flavor and packed with antioxidants and nutrients!  The great thing about this recipe is that it can be totally customized.

I am a moody garnisher.  Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t.  It depends on the flow of my day and, as always, time allowed.  Sometimes my creative juices and energy match, other times I just need to get something, anything, on the table.  But with this beautiful bounty of vegetables, my creativity ran wild,  and I garnished with chunks of creamy mozzarella cheese, some shredded zippy parmesan cheese, and fresh from the garden basil with a chiffonade cut.  It was simply wonderful!

This is the dish headed to the table.  Pasta with roasted sauce.  Super Yum!

This is the dish headed to the table. Pasta with roasted sauce. Super Yum!