Tag Archives: italian

Bulk Impulse Buys … Jarred Pasta Sauce

Freezer clear-out is going well with about eighty percent of the contents of the upstairs freezer having been transferred to the basement freezer. However, meals are going to be pretty unimaginative this coming week, as I scrounge out previously made and frozen mains and sides. The same old dishes are making an appearance so I thought I’d wax poetical on one of my recent big purchases.

Even though I usually make out a grocery list for my week’s shopping, late Wednesday evening when the online grocery store flyers are posted, impulse buys are my weakness. Sometimes though, you have to take advantage of an unexpected really GOOD sale.

Recently, I had occasion to visit a nearby Freshco grocery store for a few odds and ends, since it is conveniently located at the same mini mall where I just got my hair cut. While walking down the pasta/sauce aisle, I spotted a sale on my favourite pasta and pizza sauce … Prego. Since this brand isn’t available at Food Basics, at all, and there was none at Metro, my usual place to buy this, on my last visit, I decided to snap up a few bottles. Especially since the price was $1.99. Usually, this is product is $3.49 or even more. A sale price of $2.49 is really good and this was even better than that.

As I was checking out, the cashier noted the four bottles she was ringing in and asked if it was a good product. Of course, I said yes and she mused that at 99 cents she should pick up a jar or two herself. 99 cents?? A DOLLAR 99 cents, I corrected her … to have her point out that it was ringing in at 99 CENTS.

I took my groceries to the car, turned around and went back in for six more bottles and a wedge of Parmesan cheese as well as a few other things that I knew I could use.

Convenience and good flavour at a great price is worth going over your planned budget if possible.

Here are a couple of quick dishes made recently using the jarred sauce:

Tagliatelle using whole wheat pasta … for a meatier topping, add some cooked hot Italian sausages (previously bbq’d and frozen, in this case) to the sauce when warming it up to add to the pasta.

Individual pizzas made with sourdough flour tortilla

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Affogato Espresso

Ported from my LJ

This was a day when I really wanted/needed a shot of espresso and something sweet to go with it. And I had no desserts in the house except for a tub of French vanilla ice cream in the freezer.

An “affogato” is a coffee based vanilla ice cream or gelato dessert. I used espresso, or rather espresso made with instant espresso powder, for a fast dessert that wasn’t overly sweet.

Affogato Espresso – serves 1

1 shot (1 1/2 oz) espresso
2 scoops (1/2 cup) French vanilla ice cream

Note: Since I don’t have an espresso machine, I made my espresso by combining 1 tsp espresso powder with 1 1/2 oz of water that had been brought to a boil. If you like a stronger espresso, use 1 1/2 tsp espresso powder but the lower amount was plenty for me.

For company, serve each person a bowl of ice cream and a freshly brewed shot of espresso which they can pour over their own ice cream.

In a sturdy glass, add the ice cream and pour the shot of espresso over it..

Dig in with a teaspoon, cause you want to savour each mouthful.

You can freeze the ice cream in the bowl and pour cooled espresso over it, or, as I did, pour the hot espresso over the freshly scooped ice cream for an ice cream ‘float’.

Soup Duo … Vegetarian Friendly

Half an onion and four cups of stock (vegetable or chicken) form the base of both these soups. Your choice depends on whether you want the final product to be vegetarian or veggie-friendly. For some reason, both of my soups are in the orange-red colour palette.

First, an Indian flavoured vegetarian soup. The soup that inspired this used whole cumin seeds but I couldn’t find them in my pantry and I was out of ground cumin so I used a combination of curry powder and garam masala. For a middle-Eastern themed soup, you may used harissa paste or a dry harissa seasoning mixture.

Spiced Carrot and Red Lentil Soup

Spiced Carrot and Red Lentil Soup – serves 4

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
400 g carrots, peeled, trimmed and coarsely chopped
140 g split red lentils, rinsed and drained
4 cups/ 1 liter vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
salt to taste (start with about 1/2 tsp)

Yogurt for garnish
Warmed naan bread, to serve

In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute the onion in vegetable oil until it gets translucent and pick up some colour on the edges.

Add the curry powder and garam masala and toast for a few minutes to freshen the dry spice mix. Add the carrots, lentils, salt and the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil then cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

Puree the soup with a stick blender, in a stand blender (in several batches) or in a food processor until smooth.

Season to taste and adjust the thickness with more vegetable stock or water. Another option is to add some milk (coconut or regular milk) to thin down the soup.

Serve with a spoonful of yogurt and warmed naan breads, if desired.

A dozen home made ravioli (sweet potato, ricotta and Parmesan cheese) stretched to serve four in this hearty soup which is put together quickly with the help of a liter of stock and a cup of jarred marinara (or spaghetti) sauce. If you have fresh tomatoes, you can peel, seed and dice them and add them to the soup instead. For a vegetarian version, omit the sausages and use vegetable instead of chicken stock as a base.

Ravioli and Vegetable Soup

Ravioli and Vegetable Soup – serves 4

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup fresh corn kernels, cut from a whole cob (diced zucchini are another vegetable option)
3 links hot Italian sausage, removed from casing (optional)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsp dried basil or Italian herb mix
4 cups/ 1 liter vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 cup/250 ml marinara or spaghetti sauce
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 dozen frozen ravioli, home made or purchased

Frozen sweet Potato, ricotta and Parmesan cheese ravioli

In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute the onion in vegetable oil until it gets translucent and pick up some colour on the edges

Crumble the sausages over the surface of the pan and cook until no longer pink. Try to break up the sausage as much as possible. Add the minced garlic, corn kernels and dry herb mixture and saute for a few more minutes.

Pour the chicken stock and marinara over the vegetables and sausage. Add about half of the salt and the ground black pepper and bring the soup mixture to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Add the frozen ravioli, making sure that they’re submerged in the broth and cook covered for 5 minutes, then flip the ravioli and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Serve.

Fast and Easy Duck Breast Ragu

By using leftover duck breast, from a duck roasted back in February, I cut down on some of the cooking and preparation time for this dish. And it ended up being a very economical meal, as one large duck breast made enough ragu for three servings.

Duck Breast Ragu

Duck Breast Ragu – serves 3

300 gm dried fettuccine or spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

NOTE: For a low/no-carb version, substitute well drained/squeezed spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles or cauli-rice for the pasta.

1 tbsp unsalted butter or olive oil
1 large leftover duck breast
1/2 cup (1 medium) onion, finely diced
1/2 cup (1 medium) carrot, finely diced
1/2 cup (1 stalk) celery, finely diced
1 cup crushed tomatoes*
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1 dried bay leaf
1-2 fresh sage leaves, or 1 large dried sage leaf
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp apple cider vinegar**
2-3 cups of water, divided
salt and pepper to taste
~1 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

* About a cup of tomato products may be used in the ragu. ie. 2 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced or 1 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes with liquid, 1 cup marinara sauce or 1 cup of crushed tomatoes. For an extra hit of tomato, add a tablespoon of tomato paste as well.

** In place of 1/4 cup of white wine, I added the apple cider vinegar to the chicken stock

If your duck breast was frozen on the bone, remove it and cut the breast in half horizontally, to minimize the thickness of the breast, and reduce cooking time.

In a large saute pan, over medium-high heat, melt the butter and saute the onion, carrot, celery and garlic until the vegetables are softened and the onion is transparent. Add the crushed tomatoes (start with the tomato paste first, if using, and cook a couple of minutes to bring out the maximum flavour) and then add the chicken stock and apple cider vinegar scraping the bottom to free up any bits stuck to the pan.

Add the dried bay leaf, the sage leaves and the duck meat, including the bones that the breast was attached to for extra flavour.

 

Add another cup of water, or as much as is needed to cover the meat. Add about 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/8 tsp of ground black pepper. The amount of salt added depends on how salty your chicken stock was. Remember, the liquid will reduce so go easy on the salt. Bring the contents to a boil, cover and then reduce the heat so that the ragu mixture is just simmering. Simmer for one hour, checking after half an hour and then every 15 minutes to make sure that there’s still some liquid left. Stir to prevent sticking as the contents reduce. Add more water if need.

After one hour, test to see if the meat is tender enough to be shredded. If it is, remove to a shallow bowl, shred, and then return the meat to the saute pan. Discard the bones. (If there was any meat left on the breast bone and ribs, pick them off and return to the saute pan … or eat it. It’s the cook’s treat.) If not, simmer for another 10-15 min and check again, adding more water if needed.

NOTE: Bring a pot of water to the boil, season with a generous tablespoon of salt and cook your pasta, until it still has a bit of a bite to it (al dente). Drain, rinse with cold water, return to the pasta pot and cover.

Continue cooking the ragu, with the lid off, until it’s as thick as you like. Taste for salt and pepper level.

Add the reserved cooked pasta to the ragu, stir through and serve.

Garnish with a teaspoon of grated Parmesan cheese.

Italian Easter Ham Pie

This Italian Easter ‘pie’ has many names and several variations as to crust and fillings. This is the version that I decided to make, but if you want to look for others, here are some names to look for:¬† Italian Easter Ham pie, pizzagaina (or chiena,chena,cena), pizza rustica, pizza ripiena, pizza piena.

Italian Easter Ham Pie for Two – makes 2 4-inch diameter mini deep dish pies

pastry for a pie crust bottom only

140 gm dry curd cheese or cottage cheese or ricotta**
40-50 gm grated Mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten, 1 tbsp removed for egg wash
1/2 tsp dry parsley
1/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6-8 slices diced deli meat (pepperoni, Genoa salami, capocollo or smoked ham)

Egg wash – 1 tbsp beaten egg and a splash of cream or milk

** Home made paneer cheese (an Indian dry curd cheese) was used. I got 290 gm (10.44 oz) of drained cheese from 2 liters (8 cups) of milk and 1/4 cups of white vinegar.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roll out two bases (8 inches in diameter) and two tops (5 inches in diameter) and line two deep dish disposable aluminum pie tins with the bases. Set aside the tops.

Mix together the filling ingredients and fill the pie tins. Press down a bit on the filling to compact it.

Moisten the edges of the bases, put on the tops, seal and, with the tines of a fork, seal again. Place the pie tins on a baking sheet for convenient transfer to the oven.

Brush the top of the pies with the egg wash and bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the two pie tins to a cooling rack. Cool for 30 minutes to set the filling.

The pies may be eaten warm, room temperature or cold with a salad for a complete meal or on their own for a snack.

Creamy Avocado Pasta and a Quick Asparagus Spaghetti Carbonara

Cooking for one can be a chore, but these two pasta dishes need few ingredients, and can be made at the end of a tiring work day. In fact, waiting for the water to boil takes longer than actually cooking/assembling the dish. You can use leftover pasta warmed in very hot tap water if you’re in a hurry. (Or heat 2 cups of water to a boil in the microwave and dilute with a cup of tap water.)

The creaminess of the sauce for this dish owes nothing to cream, butter or even cheese, just a whole avocado mashed with a fork, a bit of lemon juice to cut through its bland richness, and salt and pepper to taste. I’ve seen recipes that add whole kernel corn, diced whole or halved cherry tomatoes but I was too lazy to thaw the corn and didn’t have (nor do I like) raw tomato.

Avocado Pasta

Creamy Avocado Pasta – serves 1

100 gm/3.5 oz dry fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti pasta, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water, barely warm
1/2-1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of garlic powder
1 small avocado
1 green onion, top only, thinly sliced on diagonal (for garnish)
2-3 cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
2 tbsp fresh corn kernels, or thawed and drained (optional)
dry red pepper flakes (optional, for garnish)

Slice the avocado in half, pit and scoop out the meat into a medium sized bowl. Add 1/2 tbsp lemon juice, a pinch each of salt, pepper and garlic powder and use a fork to mash the avocado into a fairly smooth paste. (I like to leave some smaller chunks for texture.) Add the cooked pasta and 2 tbsp of the reserved pasta cooking water and stir together. Taste. If the sauce seems bland, add a bit more lemon juice. If it’s too thick, add some more reserved pasta cooking water. Adjust salt and pepper amounts to taste.

Sprinkle the tomatoes and corn over the pasta and stir in. Sprinkle on the green onion and red pepper flake garnishes, if using.

Serve immediately as it will not keep.

I’ve made spaghetti carbonara before but am repeating my ‘recipe’ for one person, with the addition of asparagus, cause I had some in the fridge. Delicious, creamy without using ANY cream and fast to put together.

Asparagus Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara – serves 1

100 gm/3.5 oz dry fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti pasta, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water, barely warm
6-8 asparagus stalks, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
3-4 strips bacon**, fried until crispy and cut into 1/2 inch pieces, reserve some of the fat to cook the asparagus  and add to sauce
1 tbsp bacon fat**
1 egg yolk
2-4 tbsp ground Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

** Vegetarian Option: In place of the bacon/bacon fat, use 1/4 cup coarse seasoned breadcrumbs and olive oil to saute the asparagus and toast up the bread crumbs.

Cook the pasta just before assembling the dish or rewarm by dipping in some very hot water, if using leftover pasta. Drain.

In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk, Parmesan cheese, 1/2 tbsp bacon fat and a couple of tbsp of the cooled pasta cooking water.

In a large saute pan, over medium high heat, saute the asparagus, just until tender using the remaining 1/2 tbsp of the bacon fat. Sprinkle some salt and freshly ground black pepper over the asparagus.

Add the diced bacon strips and re-crisp if using leftovers.

Add the warm pasta and stir to combine and to warm through the pasta.

Take the saute pan OFF the heat and pour the yolk mixture over the hot pasta. Stir well to coat the pasta with the mixture. The grainy mixture will smooth out and become creamy and slightly thickened. Add additional warm pasta cooking water if needed. Season with more salt if needed.

Serve immediately with additional freshly ground pepper over the top.

February Wrap-Up Pt. 2 – Roast Duck and 3 Pepper Pasta

Yes, I know … I thought I was done too. And then I remembered there were a couple of dishes that I forgotten to share.

Spatch-cocked Roasted Duck

I spent $12 for this frozen duck and after thawing and spatch-cocking (remove the backbone and flatten), I sprinkled the top and underside with salt, pepper and some paprika for colour, and roasted using the cooking instructions/time on the package. Both the breasts were removed, wrapped up well and frozen for the future.

While roasting the duck, the fat was drained off periodically so I ended up with a bit over a cup of clean duck fat for future roasting and baking. BONUS!!!

Roasted duck leg, asparagus and boxed stuffing with duck gravy made from pan juices.

Home Made Semolina Pasta

I remembered I had some dried home made 3 pepper pasta noodles in the pantry so I cooked them up. The sauce was jarred Classico tomato and basil spaghetti sauce and hot Italian sausages. Another fast meal that didn’t cost a lot.

Broccoli Rabe Duo

Lesson Learned… AGAIN: When you buy perishable greens like spinach or arugula, use them as soon as you can. They will hold up for a while, but there are limits, and they’ll yellow, wilt and go bad. Even a sturdy green like kale will yellow, and end up having to be discarded after a week or two.

Just before Christmas, I saw some beautiful bundles of Andy Boy broccoli rabe, on sale, at the grocery store and, although I had no clear idea of what I was going to do with the greens, I brought one home.

Then, I got distracted by other cooking projects, and my poor broccoli rabe got wilted and yellow. Still, I trimmed off the worst of the leaves and used up the last of the rabe in these two dishes. The first is an Italian inspired breakfast or lunch dish. It can even end up on your dinner table. The second is a Chinese/Japanese inspired side dish which can become a main with the addition of sauteed shrimp or even some grilled tofu.

Broccoli Rabe and Ricotta Frittata

The recipe for this frittata is a combination of elements from recipes by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich. Frittata recipes are often written for 4 people and can use eight to twelve eggs, but for a single person, that’s too much to deal with, so I scaled it down. With the basic recipe below, you can add fresh ingredients and odds and ends of leftovers so each frittata will be a bit different. Instead of whisking in the ricotta, it’s dolloped over the frittata so it stands out.

3 Egg Basic Broccoli Rabe and Ricotta Frittata for One

3 eggs**
1 tbsp butter or olive oil
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp finely chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup (3-4 stems) cooked broccoli rabe
2-3 tbsp ricotta
1 tbsp diced sauteed onions
salt and pepper, to taste

Add-ins (amounts are approximations)

3-4 grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 sweet pepper (red, orange, yellow, green) cut into strips and sauteed briefly to soften and remove excess moisture.
2-3 medium mushrooms, sliced, sauteed briefly
2-3 strips bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled

** If making this frittata for two, use 4-6 eggs, depending on how hungry you are.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 deg F.

In a medium sized bowl, break the eggs and whisk in the grated Parmesan cheese, sauteed onions, oregano, a pinch of salt and a grate or two of black pepper.

In a 8-9 inch cast iron frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and stir gently to distribute the ingredients.

Lay the strips of cooked broccoli rabe over the frittata and distribute the ricotta evenly, a rounded teaspoon or two at a time. NOTE: You may want to do this off the heat so that the eggs don’t set before you’re finished. (If using the tomatoes, distribute them, cut side down, evenly over the frittata. The other add-ins may be added to the egg mixture.)

Cook until the eggs begin to set. Transfer the frying pan to the oven and bake for 3-4 minutes, or until the frittata is set. (A minute or two with the broiler on will brown the top, if desired.)

Turn the frittata out onto a plate and serve.

Serving suggestion from Lidia: For a dinner portion, add a green salad and roasted baby potatoes or potato wedges.

Broccoli Rabe Peanut Ramen Noodles

Broccoli Rabe Peanut Ramen Noodles – serves 2

2 (85 gm) pkts ramen noodles**, cooked according to directions and drained

1/2 pound broccoli rabe
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
sesame seeds for garnish
2 wedges of lime, if desired.

Peanut sauce

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp water or dashi stock
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced (or a few shakes of dried garlic powder)
a shake or two red pepper flakes, plus more for garnish

** 180-200 gm soba, udon or wheat noodles may be substituted

Prepare the peanut sauce by whisking together all the ingredients in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. It will look curdled at first, but keep whisking and it will all come together. Set aside.

Trim the broccoli rabe by cutting off the thickest parts of the stem (over 1/4 inch in diameter). Trim the outer branches so you have individual stems.

In a large saute pan, over medium high heat, add the olive oil and when a drop of water added to the pan bubbles and hisses and then evaporates, add the rinsed broccoli rabe. Sprinkle some salt over the broccoli rabe, toss gently to coat rabe with some of the hot oil. Cover and cook for a couple of minutes. Toss the broccoli rabe again to make sure that the top leaves and stems get a chance to contact the hot pan bottom as well. Cover and continue cooking until the leaves are wilted and the stems are barely tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Fill a sauce pot with at least 4 cups of water and bring to the boil. Add the ramen noodles and cook, breaking up the rectangles of noodles as much as you can as they soften. Cook as per directions (about 3 or 4 minutes) and drain. Rinse in cold water to stop the cooking and drain again. Reserve until needed.

(You may leave the noodles in the cold water until your broccoli rabe is tender.)

Add the noodles and peanut sauce to the saute pan with the cooked rabe. Toss until the noodles are coated with the sauce.

Transfer to a serving bowl or individual bowls and top with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a pinch of red pepper flakes if you wish. Serve the wedge of lime on the size. The squeeze of lime juice will slightly offset the richness of the peanut sauce and the sweet/sour tang complements the bitterness of the broccoli rabe.

NOTE: I’ve made a similar sauce using tahini (sesame paste) and added cooked shrimp for a heartier, one dish meal.

The broccoli rabe peanut ramen noodles may be served on their own or as a side dish with something like the teriyaki pork chop below.

Calzone … a Pizza Alternative

Getting tired of making the same old pizzas??

Make a calzone instead, using the same basic pizza dough. In whatever size you like … 4, 6 or 8 inch.

NOTE: For another alternative to pizza, see the Buffalo chicken stromboli I posted a while ago.

Serve with a bowl of marinara sauce for dipping

I decided to make a regular sized (12 inch/20 cm diameter) pizza for work lunches and divided the rest of the dough into three 8 inch/20 cm calzone which can each serve one hungry person, or two moderately peckish people. I used a generous 1/4 lb (115-130 gm) of dough per calzone.

Filling amounts:

4 inch – 1 tablespoon
6 inch – 1/3 cup
8 inch – 1/2 cup

Broccoli rabe, ricotta and Parmesan cheese filling – fold over and seal the edges by crimping or with the tines of a fork

Brushed with extra virgin olive oil and baked at 450 deg F/230 deg C in a pre-heated oven for 20-25 min. Make vent slits in the top of the calzone before baking. These were marked with the initials of the fillings … R (broccoli rabe), BR, B (bacon)

Regular pizza … pepperoni sauce, sweet peppers (red, orange, yellow), bacon and mozzarella cheese.

Spaghetti Squash … Various

I remember trying spaghetti squash at least five years ago and not being impressed. As I recall, I microwaved the squash and served it very simply with a marinara sauce on top. I thought it was watery and fairly bland. Not really a substitute for pasta, but it was part of my attempt to introduce new vegetables to my diet.

A few days ago, I went grocery shopping and decided to give spaghetti squash another try.

I stabbed the small, whole squash (<800 gm) with a paring knife and then par-cooked it in the microwave for 5 minutes. Then I cut the squash in half, removed the seeds, sprinkled it with some salt, and baked it, cut side down, at 375 deg Fahreheit for 30 minutes, until a fork inserted into the squash met little resistance.

After letting the squash cool, I used a fork to scrape out the flesh.

First impression: The resulting squash strands looked fine but there wasn’t a lot of them. A scant 3 cups, I’d estimate. Of course, I had picked the smallest squash on the pile ($1.49) so you have to take that into account.

Spaghetti Squash topped with jarred spaghetti sauce (sausage and pepper) – Tasty but still a bit watery. Possible solution is to drain the spaghetti squash strands a bit and make sure the spaghetti sauce is thicker. At least now I know it’s not JUST due to the cooking method ie. microwaving.

Spaghetti Squash topped with cheese, sour cream and chili con carne with beans – After hand squeezing the remaining half of the squash, about 1/4 cup of liquid was expelled. The resulting dish was much less watery than the previous serving with meat sauce.

Baked squash seeds for snacking

The seeds were picked free of the surrounding squash flesh, rinsed and simmered for 10 minutes in salted water. I used paper towels to get most of the water off the seeds, placed them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and drizzled them with a bit of canola oil and sprinkled them with fine sea salt and a shake of paprika. Then the seeds were baked at 350 deg Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, turning them over after 5 minutes, to ensure as even baking as possible.