Category Archives: pasta

Boring Friday

I’m bored again and in the mood to ramble. (Lucky you if you’re reading this.)

After a warmish week which culminated in a HOT Thursday, I woke up to rain and a much cooler Friday.

School/work is done as the last class was yesterday and the chance of getting a call during exam week is slim. Just got my VISA bill, and though expected, the hit is a bit of an ouchy due to the plumbing bill. At least now I can use the upstairs tub after a good snaking out and the downstairs tub won’t be dripping hot water … and money. It’s the last of the big bills (knock wood) til I get my 2nd set of city taxes. Still, it means I have to be very frugal until October when I would be getting my first paycheque of the new school year.

I need to go to the library and pick up a book that I’ve got on hold, but other than that, I have no reason to go out.

So, I guess I’ll do some cooking or rather, baking.

Speaking of … I’ve been scavenging through the fridge and freezer again for meals or components to go with recent purchases.

A bit under two pounds of fresh asparagus for $3.50. Enough for four servings with minimal wastage.

A tray of five boneless and skinless chicken breasts, picked up for 40% off, means I ended up with five top cutlets. One of the cutlets became an asparagus roll-up which was crumbed and baked, along with fifteen chicken tenders from the bottom of the breasts, for supper. The other four cutlets and ten of those tenders went into the freezer. Pretty good for $10. The KFC flyer has a bucket of 8 chicken tenders (ok, they’re bigger pieces) for $10. I laughed.

PS: The bread crumbs used for the cutlet and tenders were made with my own sourdough bread.

The combo pack of six pork chops for under $10 gave me two great comfort meals of pan fried pork chops, baked asparagus, mashed potatoes and pan gravy and there are four more chops for the freezer.

With a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream, my fudgy chocolate cupcakes made for a great fast dessert.

The scraps of pasta from my ravioli became tagliatelle and were combined with beef stroganoff from the freezer. Enough for three meals. I’m glad I didn’t throw away those scraps. And, a beautiful fresh mango became a mango lassi when combined with milk, sugar and some yogurt.

I HAVE baked … a tray of sourdough cinnamon rolls, most of which are looking for a good home.

It’s been a productive week in spite of not working at all.

Spinach Malfatti or “Poorly Made” Spinach Dumplings

Sometimes you run across the most interestingly named dishes while browsing through cookbooks or surfing the internet. Malfatti, or “poorly made”, refer to a type of rolled spinach and cheese dumpling, and like the cookies brutti ma buoni or “ugly but good”, also from the Italian, the result is much tastier than the name would suggest.

Although they’re commonly served with a browned butter and fresh sage sauce, I’ve also found a version served with a marinara sauce and one with halved and sauteed grape tomatoes.

The dish is tasty but also an example of frugality … stretching a bit of cheese, spinach from the garden, and leftover bread in the form of bread crumbs, into a tasty and filling meatless dish.

Spinach Malfatti – I forgot to add the lemon zest to the dumpling mixture so I sprinkled it over the cooked dumplings instead. It was still tasty.

Regional naming variations:
ravioli nudi or gnudi (naked ravioli), gnocchi or ravioli verdi (green dumplings or ravioli), gnocchi di ricotta e spinaci (ricotta and spinach dumplings), strozzapreti (priest stranglers)

Spinach Malfatti (‘Poorly Made’ Dumplings) – serves 4

1 pound of fresh spinach (or a 10 oz/300 gm package of frozen spinach)
1/2 pound (8 oz, 225 gm) ricotta
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
zest of one lemon, lemon reserved for sauce
flour for rolling the malfatti (all purpose or tipo “00”)

Sage Butter Sauce

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz, 113 gm) unsalted butter
2 tbsp fresh sage, whole, torn or chopped as preferred and depending on the size of your sage leaves
1/4 cup cooking water from the dumplings
lemon, reserved for juice

Blanch the spinach in boiling water and then finely chop. Remove all the excess water out of the spinach by squeezing it really well in a dishtowel. (For convenience, a thawed 10 oz/300 gm package of chopped frozen spinach that has been squeezed dry may be used.)

Combine the spinach with ricotta, breadcrumbs, grated nutmeg, lemon zest, grated Grana Padano cheese, and eggs.

Flour your work surface, and divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a log, about an inch thick. Cut each log into dumplings about an inch wide. Toss the dumplings with a bit of flour if you’re not going to cook them right away.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil then add the dumplings and cook until they float to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes. Before you drain them, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

The bar shaped dumplings are most often called ‘malfatti’ while the round ones are what seem to be called ‘gnudi’

Making the sage-butter sauce

Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add fresh sage, and cook until the butter just begins to brown. Then whisk in about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, gradually, so it emulsifies with the butter. Add your drained dumplings to the butter and shake the pan gently to coat.

Just before you serve the dumplings, squeeze some lemon juice over them and grate a little more grana padano cheese over the top.

Sweet Potato and Ricotta Ravioli with Prosciutto and Pea Sauce

I haven’t made ravioli from scratch in a while but after picking up a pound of ricotta cheese from the local Italian grocery store and with a medium sized sweet potato sitting on the counter in the kitchen, I had my inspiration. An economy ($2.31 for ~3.5 oz) package of prosciutto ends and a cup of frozen peas made for a tasty sauce.

Word to the wise … don’t start rolling out pasta late in the day when your kitchen is hot and you’re cranky and tired. Cause you end up rolling the pasta too thin, and then forget to cover it so it dries out. And trying to turn your thin drying pasta into sacchettini (little purses) when the tortellini shaping isn’t working out. Well, it’s not pretty. I ended up with some misshapen sacchettini and free-form square ravioli which I froze for bagging. Then I dropped the package. Cooked them anyway and covered them with the sauce and grated cheese and ate them anyway in protest.

Broken free-form ravioli covered with sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano – It was delicious.

I made a couple dozen ravioli in my molds with the last of the filling, boiled them up, as well as the sacchettini, tossed them with the sauce and then froze them away for work lunch and two future meals.

RECIPE … well, here’s a list of ingredients, anyway

Pasta – 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt and 3 large eggs make 1 lb of pasta, enough for 4 people

Filling – 1 cup cooled mashed sweet potato, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tsp dry minced onion, 1 large egg, 1/4 tsp dried thyme, pinch or two dried garlic powder, salt (1/4 tsp) and ground black pepper (1/8 tsp) to taste. Enough for about 4 dozen ravioli at 1 tsp filling for each.

Sauce – 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 3-4 oz prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut into strips, 1 cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed

Prosciutto and pea sauce combined with the broken ravioli … pretty all on its own.

I have the trimmings of the pasta in the fridge and may make plain noodles later today. Or maybe not.

PS: Ended up with 200 gm of tagliatelle noodles.

I made some duck fat brioche dough and turned it into hamburger buns and hoagies earlier that morning for a planned bbq the next day. Watch for pictures.

Quinoa Goes South of the Border

Cooking for one is a challenge.

On the plus side, you don’t have to cook as often. So the preparation and cooking time for one dish (which will give you six to eight meals) is reduced overall. On the negative side, especially with new dishes, what happens if you don’t LIKE the result? You end up having to eat it for six to eight meals. And some things don’t freeze well. If you’re smart, you halve the recipe to make that particular dish. But then, you often end up with half cans of sauces, beans, veggies etc that are needed for the dish.

Another negative is that you sometimes end up having to buy pre-packaged perishable foods for the dish you’re making that you don’t always use up before they go bad.

This past weekend I brought home a lot of pantry items. Some of them were intended for dishes in which the remaining quinoa in my pantry would be used. And then, I ran across a 900 gm package of white quinoa which was reduced to about 45% of its regular price. So I bought the bag planning to save the pricier tri-colour quinoa for dishes where appearance mattered. Luckily, such items have a long shelf life. But I ALSO bought a hard taco kit cause I have had a Tex-Mex craving for a while. And my Cinco de Mayo meal was just … sad. And it was on sale. 🙂

I DID have to buy some ground beef to put in the tacos, though, because I didn’t have any in my freezer. And old cheddar cheese because I was low on that too. Luckily the cheese was a dollar off.

(The JOYS of grocery shopping.)

Anyway, at this point, I had decided on a Tex-Mex menu for the weekend.

To spare you further headaches of the mental gymnastics I went through, my Sunday cooking ended up being beef tacos, a quinoa enchilada casserole and some mac and cheese (leftover pasta shells) as a side to one of my future weekday meals.

Quinoa Enchilada Casserole – serves 4

2 cups cooked quinoa (1/2 cup rinsed and drained quinoa, 1 cup chicken stock and 1/2 tsp salt, though you can use vegetable stock)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen and thawed corn
1/2 cup black beans (if canned, drained and rinsed well)
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced finely
1/2 cup grated old cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend

Enchilada sauce

1 clove garlic, smashed and sauteed over medium heat in 1 tsp vegetable oil til golden, discard garlic retaining the seasoned oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper
1 tbsp chipotle in adobo
1-2 tbsp water, as needed

Topping

1/2 cup grated old cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend

Garnish

1-2 diced Haas avocados
1/4 cup green onions thinly sliced on diagonal

Preheat oven to 350 deg Fahrenheit.

Lightly oil a medium sized casserole or other baking dish.

In a large sauce pan, combine the seasoned oil, tomato sauce, cumin, salt and pepper, chipotle and 1 tbsp water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add additional water if sauce is too thick.

Combine the quinoa, corn, black beans, jalapeno pepper and cheese in a medium sized bowl. Turn out into prepared baking dish and press down lightly.

Spoon the enchilada sauce over the top. Sprinkle the 2nd amount of cheese over the top.

Cover tightly with a sheet of aluminum foil, or the lid if using a casserole dish.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Let stand for 5-10 minutes and serve, garnishing each individual portion with diced avocado and green onion.

Expect to see more quinoa recipes … soon.

December 2016 Cooking Wrap-Up

Cooking wise, if not in other respects, 2016 has been a successful year.

I made a second sourdough starter with canned pineapple juice and whole wheat flour and then made some great breads with it. I thickened it up quite a bit compared to the one I made in 2105 and that may have accounted for some of the success. Experience helped as well, as I’m less hesitant about trying new sourdough recipes. I did revisit the old stand-by, regular yeast, and made a delicious honey challah just before Christmas. Definitely something I’ll be repeating next year.

Bacon, Cheddar Cheese and Cracked Black Pepper Sourdough loaf and round Honey Challah

Crumb of the challah

Cooking on an even stricter budget than ever before resulted in having to be creative with simple ingredients bought on sale, like chicken, pork and ground beef, or leftovers, and the results were mostly successful. You’ll have to scroll back through the posts to see them. I do miss fish, seafood and steak however. I’m also grocery shopping less often and there’s less wastage as I try to use up what’s most perishable first. I’m also going back to basics with the dishes I’ve been making such as cookies and fudge. I haven’t been buying as many jarred sauces as in the past, while using up the ones I already have in things like stir-fries.

The meat sauce I made recently with a simple spaghetti sauce base was delicious as well as economical.  One pound of ground beef was stretched to make eight cups of sauce.

I turned some leftover mashed sweet potato into muffins with raisins for added sweetness using a recipe found on Rachel Ray’s web site.

And because I missed seafood … I bought a package of mussels in garlic sauce on sale, and one of cooked shrimp, and made this pasta dish with the spaghetti sauce.

Post Thanksgiving / Pre-Christmas Doldrums in Cooking

If it weren’t for bread and soups, I wouldn’t be doing much new cooking at all these days. I’m not counting the six kinds of fudge I’ve made since Thanksgiving.

These are no knead sourdough breads where gluten development comes about from letting flour, water and starter autolyse for a long time at room temperature. Unlike high hydration doughs, which develop their gluten through a series of stretches and folds, and produce artisanal loaves full of large holes, the crumb of these loaves is more dense and you get lovely sandwich type breads as a result.

SweetDried Cranberry, Honey and Orange Zest

You can use various fresh or dried fruit, nuts and zest to make each loaf different.

SavouryBacon, Old White Cheddar and Cracked Black Pepper

I decided to stick with just a few ingredients so as to let them stand out in this loaf but dried herbs, and inclusions like black olives, pickled or fresh peppers (jalapeno or serrano), seeds and grains and even caramelized onion can be added.

A basic soup includes a liquid like a stock or water, a flavourful vegetable mixture, a starch (potato, pasta or rice), a protein (meat or dried bean or lentil), herbs and seasonings.

Italian sausage tortellini in a marinara broth and Turkey and wild rice in a light chicken stock

Beef and pot barley soup and Creamy turkey, potato gnocchi and veggie soup

Odds and Ends

Breakfast of sunny side up eggs, bacon and toasted sourdough bread

Pan-fried pork chop, mashed potatoes and coleslaw and home made ricotta filled beet (root) pasta ravioli in browned butter, sage and pine nut sauce with garnish of grated Parmesan cheese

Eye of Round Roast – a bit overcooked but I made a lovely gravy with the drippings/au jus

Purchased mititei/mici (skinless Romanian sausages) as part of a quick meal including several dips … marinara sauce, tzatziki sauce and hummus

Ham, Potato and Corn Chowder, Chicken Breast Duo and Honeycomb

It’s fall time again and with the nip in the air, and my kitchen, I’m planning more substantial cooking projects that will warm me up.

Like this ham, potato and corn chowder I found on someone’s blog. The ingredients are similar to a previous soup I’ve posted, other than using a roux to thicken it up to the consistency of a chowder. You can add whipping or half and half cream if you want to add richness to the dish. And don’t mind the extra calories.

In the meantime, however, I thawed out the last of the boneless, skinless chicken breasts from my freezer (1 pound in total) and turned them into chicken and kale pesto spaghetti

… and a fast and tasty marinated Middle Eastern dish on skewers called chicken tawook.

Both are dishes I’ve made before so no recipes.

I recently got a late afternoon craving for something sweet and whipped up this variation on a peanut brittle. Honeycomb is a nut free toffee in which, similar to a brittle, baking soda is added to a caramelized sugar mixture. The sugar used and, most importantly, the amounts of baking soda added vary. The extra baking soda used in the honeycomb creates lots of bubbles resulting in a sponge-like texture that shatters in your mouth as your crunch down on it. I started with a brittle recipe but added an additional teaspoon of baking soda. Next time, I’ll make a traditional honeycomb with brown sugar and molasses in place of the white sugar and corn syrup I used.

NOTE: DO NOT disturb your molten sugar mixture once you’ve poured it out onto your buttered or greased baking pan in order to even it out. You’re flattening out all of those lovely bubbles if you do so.

Odds and End Meals

When cooking for one, you end up with a lot of leftovers especially if, like me, you make big pots of some dishes. When my freezer fills up to a certain point, I stop cooking and start putting together the odds and ends and come up with meals.

I try not to have too many desserts in my freezer, cause I snack when I’m bored, so I give away as much as I can of the more successful results. But this means I get stuck with some things that aren’t suitable for gifting. Like a tray of peach crumble bars that were mostly crumble and very little peach. A while back, I bought a clamshell of mostly bruised and tasteless peaches that I had to throw away. So I ended up with a lot less fruit than I needed … which I didn’t realize until I was in the middle of baking with nothing else to add in to make up the shortage. A bit of apricot jam (ran out of ice cream) is making the bars a bit more palatable, at least.

Right now, I’m adding soup as often as I can to my meals. Biscuits or bread are a good filler.

Of course, I DO make new dishes. I snagged a double package of sausage filled tortellini on sale and cooked one up in a blush sauce. On its own, the pasta dish isn’t very filling, and I didn’t have any greens for salad in the house, so I served it with a savoury plate of polenta.

The rest of the polenta was patted out into a buttered 8″ by 8″ glass dish and refrigerated, prior to being fried up as a base for a jarred spaghetti-pesto sauce.

Chicken drumsticks are often found on sale. A bit of Italian seasoning sprinkled on top and unattended baking time and you’ve got the start of a great meal.

A bit of barbecue sauce and a different starch, and you’ve got a new meal.

Things get a bit tight just before payday or in the case of supply teachers, with no paycheques for 3 months, so a tuna macaroni salad with pasta and canned tuna bought on sale is filling and tasty too. I’d usually throw some diced celery into my salad but in this case, diced raw carrots made for a nice, crunchy bite and a bit of colour too.

Whenever I have coleslaw in the house, I’m tempted to make okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake. Another inexpensive and filling dish.

Pesto … What kind do YOU make?

Nothing new about this post. I had intended to make a different kind of pesto but my poor basil plants have gone to flower, cause I’m neglecting them. The big leaves at the bottom are turning yellow and dropping off. At least I’m watering every day which is a necessity in this hot weather and a hot weather alert is coming up again. I made a couple of tasty things while dealing with the visit from the handyman (and his wife and daughter who help out) who is here to weed the worst of the back.

PS: They got 1/2 the lemon curd rolls, all the cherry braid and the rest of the ciabatta bread that I’d baked earlier that day.

* * *

Of course, the classic Genovese pesto of basil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese with extra virgin olive oil is familiar to most people but you can mix and match your herbs, the nut used and even the oil.

Basil picked from my plants … FINALLY

For a strong tasting meat, like a leg of lamb, make a pesto with fresh parsley, toasted walnuts and walnut oil if you have it handy  … or just a nice neutral vegetable oil like canola. Butterfly your leg of lamb, spread the pesto over the meat, then roll it up, tie it and roast. The pesto will flavour the meat and keep it moist. If you put your leg of lamb on top of some potato wedges, the juices will flavour the potatoes. (Sorry, I dont’ have any pics to share.)

That reminds me. I really need to pick up a leg of lamb.

If you don’t want to buy a whole leg of lamb and butterfly it, pan fried lamb shoulder chops with a mint-cilantro pesto pasta is amazing.

Pesto garlic bread – Combine equal parts softened butter and pesto. Add some grated Parmesan cheese to the mixture as well, if desired. Spread over your favourite crusty bread and place the bread on a baking sheet under the broiler just until the bread is crunchy and the butter is melted

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta – serves 2

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 3/4-1 inch cubes
1/4 cup whipping cream or chicken broth if you want to watch your calories
2-3 tbsp pesto
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
150-200 gm fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti cooked according to package directions

In a large saute pan, heat up the oil over medium high heat. Saute the chicken cubes until cooked through.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the pesto, whipping cream and cheese. Mix well and add the cooked pasta.

Add salt and pepper as desired.

Serve with crusty bread and a salad.

VEGGIE Add-ins: Steamed broccoli florettes or halved cherry tomatoes sauteed briefly in the same pan, after the chicken was browned. Sauteed pepper strips or sliced mushrooms would also be great.

Re-imagining Basic Recipes pt 2

I like recipes that you can modify for different dishes or presentations like the basic pasta dough recipe below. It’s based on the proportions used in the spinach pasta I made a while back.

A 10 oz batch of pasta coloured with 1/8 and 1/3 cup of beet puree, respectively. The colour isn’t dramatically different but I’m hoping the cooked pasta on the more concentrated batch will end up being much darker than in my first posts. And then maybe I can do a tricolour pasta dish.

 

Some adaptations are better than others. I used the last of my sourdough starter to make a batch of chickpea flour (besan) crackers. I added some nanami togarashi (7 spice chili blend) to flavour it. The crackers were tasty enough but I didn’t really taste the chickpea flour. The flavour may have been overcome by the all-purpose flour sourdough starter. Next time, I’ll use all chickpea flour and some baking powder for leavening.

The chocolate cookie cups were filled with various items from vanilla ice cream (topped with sprinkles) to homemade caramel sauce poured over chopped nuts (I used walnuts but pecans would be lovely) and then topped with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. And finally, mixed citrus curd lightened with whipped cream and topped with some more ice cream. I think a chocolate chip cookie (minus the chocolate chips), or even a gingerbread cookie, dough would give me a more versatile/neutral base for filling, but this was a good first attempt of the technique.