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Meaty (Meatless) Mushroom Pasta Sauce

19 Feb


Three things:

  1. The first thing DH asked me after he took a bite of this last night was whether there was meat in it. Answer: No. But the texture is just like a very hearty meat sauce. And my kids, who won’t touch identifiable mushrooms, ate some. Which was awesome.
  2. The next thing he said was that it may be the best pasta sauce he’s ever eaten. Score, ladies and gentlemen. Score.
  3. It’s super easy, very fast, and uses stuff you probably already have in your pantry. And it’s healthy.

I cannibalized this recipe from one in the defunct Gourmet magazine, which I miss very much and wish like heck would come back on paper or the iPad (did you know the iPad version is dead too? Sad, sad, sad.). Their recipe had chicken and rosemary and arugula and whole tomatoes and fancy-schmancy gourmet mushrooms and seemed like a bigger pain than necessary. I didn’t want chicken last night. I don’t like arugula despite its current trendiness. God made chopped tomatoes in cans and boxes for a reason (have you seen the boxed chopped tomatoes? My new favorite thing–they are amazingly good). I am a tightwad. And I don’t keep rosemary in the house. So improvisation was necessary.

We had this with pappardelle pasta, which is my favorite noodle of all time. The kids think it’s fine and DH isn’t much for it. You can’t win them all. This would work well on ziti or rotelle or shells, too. I am having more for lunch today, and am already smiling thinking about it–it’s really yummy.

pasta sauce

To make this, you need:

3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a small onion, diced (I like Vidalias, but whatever makes you happy will work)

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

8 oz mushrooms, roughly chopped (I started with sliced button/white mushrooms and cut them into quarters).

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (you can use water if you don’t have this, but the broth gives it a hint of extra yummy)

2 tsp dried basil, divided

1 28-oz can or box diced tomatoes, undrained

Pasta of your choice

Grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a large pan over medium heat and coat the bottom with the olive oil. Cook the onions until they’re soft but not brown–about 2 or 3 minutes if your pan is hot.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook until the mushrooms start to brown. They’re going to shrink and they’re going to give off their liquid. Do not panic. It’ll soak back up after a few minutes. When the mushrooms look like they’re starting to cook, stir in the chicken or veggie broth and let it go for a few minutes.

Once your mushrooms are brown, use the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan (stir it in and scrape up all the yummy brown bits o’ goodness up and into the mushrooms). Cook until the vinegar is thick and sticky, which is only a minute or two.

Stir in the tomatoes, pepper, and 1 tsp of the basil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens up a little bit. Stir in the rest of the basil, adjust salt and pepper, ladle over your cooked pasta, and top with grated Parmesan.

Old-Fashioned Meat Sauce

31 Jan


Know what’s weird? If you go to a restaurant and order spaghetti with meat sauce, the sauce is red. Buy it in a store? Red. I’ll even wager a guess that if your mom made meat sauce at home back in the day, it was red too. The meat sauce we all love (well, that I love, anyway) is red and tomato-y and comforting and the epitome of what Americanized Italian food is all about.

But. If you go online or to a cookbook and look up “meat sauce,” you’ll get a recipe for something that’s brown. Something that tastes more like seasoned beef than what we all know as spaghetti sauce. Bolognese, they say. It’s lovely, if what you’re looking for is a rich sauce that’s mostly meat. But in my house, we call that “smashed hamburger,” and it does not belong atop pasta.

We’re sophisticated like that.

So the other night, I cannibalized a few brown meat sauce recipes and came up with a red one that tastes like it should. It’s full of tomato and garlic and oregano and meat, and makes my Americanized palate very happy.


This is not a fast recipe, but it is mostly hands-off. Make it on a day you have a few hours it can simmer on a very low burner. Totally worth it. This also makes a lot of sauce–the four of us had it for dinner twice, and I still have another dinner’s worth stashed in my freezer. It’s long, but it’s very simple. And it’s red. Which is good.

You need:

Olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef (use ground chicken if you don’t eat beef–it mimics the texture of beef much better than turkey does)

2 tbsp oregano

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup evaporated milk (I used low-fat. You could also use cream or half and half)

1 28 oz can or box crushed tomatoes

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

3 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup basil leaves, pretty finely chopped (you don’t want big chunks o’ leaf in your sauce)

Heat a large pan or pot over medium heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil, throw in your onions, and cook them until they’re soft and golden (not brown). Once that happens, stir in your garlic and let it cook about 1 minute, keeping it moving in the pan so it doesn’t brown.

Crumble in the ground beef and cook until it’s browned. Add the oregano and hot pepper flakes. Stir in the evaporated milk and let that cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every so often, until the milk has mostly evaporated.

When you don’t see the milk in the pan anymore, add in the tomatoes, sauce, tomato paste, and wine. Stir everything together, reduce the heat to low, put a cover on your pan, and let the sauce simmer gently for a long time–I let mine go four hours–giving it a stir every once in awhile so the meat doesn’t start to stick to the pan.


About a half-hour before you want to eat, uncover the pan and let it keep simmering. Just before serving, stir in the basil and adjust your seasoning. Serve over pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.

Super-Fast Friday: Cheesing your Pasta

21 Oct

Happy Friday, gang! We made it!

We haven’t done Super-Fast Friday in awhile (mostly because I feel like every day has been super fast lately), but I wanted to share this trick I learned from Everyday Italian on the Food Network. Yes, I watch and learn from it, and the food snobs can just shut it because there’s a lot of great stuff for real at-home cooks on that network. We don’t all earn five diamonds or want to spend hours figuring out ingredients we can neither pronounce nor find in a regular grocery store.


So I was watching Everyday Italian and heard Giada say she puts Parmesan on her pasta before she adds sauce. Hot pasta goes into a bowl or onto a plate, grated cheese is stirred in, and then hot sauce goes on top. This, she said, gives the cheese a minute to melt onto the noodles, and then the sauce has something to stick to. I tried it, and guess what?

The flavor difference is pretty amazing, even to my untrained taste buds. I started cheesing before saucing and have never looked back.

Give it a shot and see if you notice a difference. Have a great weekend!


Crockpot (Spaghetti with) Meat Sauce

15 Sep

Fly-by today, gang–it’s one of those mornings. This came from reading a bunch of recipes that had too much stuff in them I didn’t want, and then making up my own. It’s simple and quick and delicious and perfect for our hurricane days. I may have to make it again today.

You need:

1 pound ground beef (ground chicken would work fine; ground turkey gets chewy)

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (you can use diced or sauce if you prefer)

2 tsp Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp tomato paste

Heat a large skillet over a medium flame. Swirl the oil over the pan and then add the onions. Cook them until they start to soften (not brown, but soften), and then stir in the garlic. Keep it moving for a minute, until you start to smell the garlic (it’ll burn and bitter if you let it sit still). Stir in the ground beef, crumbling it up as you add it in, and cook until that browns. Remove the pan from the heat and drain off the fat.

Coat your slow cooker with nonstick spray or more olive oil, and then stir together all the ingredients in it. Cook on low 4-8 hours. Adjust seasoning before you serve, as they can get pretty mild in the Crockpot.

(If you like your sauce sweet, stir in a tablespoon or two of sugar halfway through the cooking. If you like it rich and restaurant-like, stir in a tablespoon of butter right before you serve it and let it melt throughout the sauce.) Serve over noodles with Parmesan cheese.


Recipe Redux: Fettucini with Lemon (and Asparagus)

19 May

Sorry for the radio silence, gang. My new gig is gearing up for its annual meeting, and I am living and breathing all things association right now. My house is a wreck (really–very sad). My children are neglected. I haven’t made a real meal in almost two weeks, which is horrifying on a number of levels. Things should get back to normal late next week–please don’t abandon me! 🙂

Last night, I made dinner for a neighbor who’d just had a baby, and I doubled it to give my ignored husband and children a decent meal too. I shared with you a recipe for pasta with lemon sometime last year (I’d link it, but I’m flying through) from Giada De Laurentiis, and while it was good, this is better. It’s her recipe, just ramped up a bit.

DH, who was decidedly lukewarm on the original version, said “This is EXCELLENT” last night. Now, that could be due to his living on Cinnamon Toast Crunch for the last 14 days (told you–very sad), but I’m going to choose to believe that it really was that good. Still super simple.

Here’s what I did:

1 pound fettucini, cooked to al dente

3 lemons at room temperature

1/2 cup olive oil (this is down from 2/3 in the original, and I think you could use even less)

About 1/8 cup very finely diced onion (I diced up two nice slices of one onion)

1 clove garlic

1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup diced fresh basil leaves

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook your pasta. Add the asparagus to that pot (with the noodles) for the last minute or two of cooking time, and drain. That’ll get you crisp-tender, which is YUMMY!

Get a saute pan nice and hot and add your olive oil. Stir in your onion and let it cook over medium until it starts to get soft and sweet (not brown). While that’s happening, zest one of your lemons and then juice all of them into a cup or bowl.

Either finely dice up your garlic clove or grate it with a Microplane (that’s what I did) into the oil/garlic mixture. Stir it together and then stir in the lemon juice and zest. Remove this mixture from the heat.

Stir together pasta, asparagus, sauce mixture, diced basil, and cheese. Enjoy!!

Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce and Sausage

11 Apr

We revived the big Sunday dinner last night, and I have to tell you, by the time this was all cooked up and ready, I was singing. Out loud, with wild abandon, completely content and happy.

Tell me that doesn’t rock.

It was a busy weekend. School fundraisers and baseball games and neighborhood parties and family commitments (and I had a few hours of real/paying work to do) and all sorts of things that led to my feeling like I couldn’t breathe by about 2:00 on Sunday. We were in a trillion different directions all weekend, and when DH came home from an outing after lunch and asked me where we’d go to dinner, and I realized I had one more meeting yet to attend last night, I grabbed the car keys and headed out to the store.

“I’m cooking,” I said. And I did–a big, traditional Sunday dinner that I made up on the fly based on a dish DH told me he’d had while visiting a friend in Florida a few weeks ago. Said friend epitomizes everything you’ve ever heard about New York Italians, and with him in my head, dinner was born.

Friends, it was spectacular. If I do say so my darned self. We all gathered around the table and connected, chatting and just breathing for a little while. And the chopping and cooking and stirring while listening to my kids shooting hoops out in the driveway was completely cathartic. Just what I needed.

DH proclaimed this delicious, and we all really enjoyed it. Next time you need to bring the family together over a simmering meal, I highly recommend this one. You need:

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes (I like Furmano if you can find it)

1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes (or fresh-diced ‘maters in season)

About 1/3 cup diced onion (I used half of a sweet Spanish onion)

3 cloves of garlic, diced

1 tsp dried oregano

About 1/2 pound of hot Italian sausage (I used three sausages out of a one-pound, five-sausage package), cut into bites

About 1/2 cup of fresh basil, chopped finely

1 pound spaghetti noodles

In a large pot of salted water, cook your spaghetti to al dente. Drain.

In a large skillet or medium saucepan, heat the olive oil until it shimmers, over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften. Stir in the garlic, give it a minute, and then add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s browned on the outside. Stir in oregano.

Pour the crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes (drain them well) into the onion/sausage mixture, stir well, and lower the heat to low. Let this simmer as long as you can–mine went about a half-hour. Just before serving, stir in the basil. Serve over the hot spaghetti.

We had this with my super-simple garlic bread–I’ll show you that one tomorrow!


Shrimp and Broccoli Lo Mein

21 Mar

I started Friday thinking we’d have Shrimp Pad Thai for dinner. As the day went on, thought, I realized something. I just wasn’t in the mood.

It happens, right? You meal plan and shop and prepare, and then at the end of the day, you’d just about rather eat anything other than what’s on the menu.

The beautiful thing about being a grown-up, of course, is that you then get to decide whether to stick with the plan or move along to something else. I won’t tell you about the night DH and I had ice cream for dinner simply because the wait was too long at our favorite restaurant and  we just could (*ahem*), but there are perks to being taxpaying, crazed adults.

I didn’t want to waste the shrimp I’d defrosted, and I didn’t want to let my green onions to go waste. A quick search found a lo mein recipe that worked, except that it had a bunch of stuff in it that I either didn’t have (red peppers, fresh ginger, and a bunch of other stuff) or people here wouldn’t eat (carrots). So I improvised with what was in the pantry and my freezer. Which is another huge perk to being an adult. It’s playing with your dinner, yes? Playing is fun!

This turned out well. I loved it. DH would have liked it more had the sauce been a bit more subtle, but he’s a subtle sauce kind of guy. The kids had some without comment, which is a victory in my book, and it was even better the second day. That said, I recommend it for a quick meatless meal. I did eat this so fast that I totally forgot to take a photo–mea culpa.

To make it, you’ll need:

8 ounces uncooked spaghetti

1/4 cup dark sesame oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped green onions

8 oz shrimp, peeled, tails removed

16 oz broccoli florets (I used frozen)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon grated ginger powder

In a large pot of salted water, boil spaghetti noodles until they’re on the tough side of al dente. Drain.

In a wok or large skittle, cook the onion, garlic, and green onions in the sesame oil over medium-high heat until you start to smell it–two or three minutes. Add shrimp and broccoli (I tossed mine in still frozen) and cook until the shrimp are about done and the veggies are softening a little.

Stir together cornstarch and the broth in a small bowl. Add that mixture to the wok and stir gently until it starts to thicken up, about a minute or two. Stir in the remaining sauce ingredients. Once everything’s combined, pour your spaghetti in and stir it all around over the heat, letting the noodles finish cooking in the sauce. Enjoy.

Tomato Sauce with Mushrooms

9 Feb

I had every intention of making chicken cacciatore in my slow cooker yesterday and then telling you all about it today. But the day got crazy fast and a head cold hit (I’m waiting for the Day Quill to kick in as I type) and the chicken was in the freezer, and before I knew it, lunchtime had passed and thawing and chopping and cooking to done was just too much to think about.

You know those days? It honestly might have been a pizza day except that I had a gorgeous package of sliced mushrooms in my fridge, and I knew they’d be icky if I didn’t cook them.

This all came together in the time it took to boil a pot of pasta. The kids did homework, I made noodles and sauce, and dinner was ready in what felt like no time, with zero real effort. DH deemed the sauce “awesome.” DS ate it without comment, which is a victory in my book. And DD doesn’t like tomato sauce **eye roll** so she had her pasta with butter. We’ll definitely have this again.

To make it, you’ll need:

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 an onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced (I used three frozen Dorot garlic cubes)

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

1/3 cup red wine (cooking wine is fine if that’s what you have)

28 oz crushed tomatoes

2 tbsp sugar

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

pinch each of salt and pepper

16 oz box of pasta, your choice

Boil a large pot of water, cook your pasta to al dente, and drain it.

While that’s happening, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Saute the onion with the salt and pepper until the onion turns translucent and soft–about 3 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and onion and cook about 4 minutes, until the mushrooms have started to brown up a bit.

Stir in the red wine and cook about 3 minutes. Then stir in the tomatoes, sugar, and spices, bring to a boil, and simmer the whole mixture until the pasta is finished. Sprinkle with Parmesan if desired, and enjoy.

Fettuccine with Asparagus and Salmon

24 Jan

It’s nine degrees as I type this. Nine. And it was a very, very cold weekend–DH took our son to a Boy Scout event and the poor kids’ dishwashing water was frozen.

You’d think I’d break out the Crockpot for a steaming bowl of chili or chicken and sausage. I, however, wanted something lighter. Maybe I’m living out some summer fantasies at the dinner table, but when I came across a recipe for a very light pasta, fish, and veggie dinner, I had to try it.

This started out differently–I substituted broth for water, added lemon (and then more lemon), upped the asparagus-to-noodle/fish ratio substantially, and tossed in some fresh basil that wasn’t called for in the original recipe. I also cooked the fish differently than the original recipe called for (they wanted you to nuke plain salmon–um, yuck) and spiced it up a bit.

The result was good. It could use a little something, though. Next time, I’ll toss in a pint of halved cherry tomatoes. I added some more lemon when I reheated this on night 2 and that helped a lot, so I’ve adjusted the recipe accordingly.

We got three dinners out of this, which makes me happy on a weekend. I served it with some steamed broccoli and a glass of red wine. Knowing it’s diet-friendly is our little secret. 😉

This is a great, simple dinner that’s perfect any time of year. I would absolutely serve it to company with a side of hearty garlic bread (adding in those cherry tomatoes). To make it. you’ll need:

1 pound fettuccine

2 pounds asparagus, cut into one-inch pieces

2 tsp olive oil

5 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (these will not make this hot–I promise!!)

1/2 cup hot chicken broth

1/4 tsp salt

2 6-oz salmon fillets, skinless

2 tsp lemon pepper

The juice of 2 lemons

A handful of fresh basil leaves

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the lemon pepper all over the salmon, coating both sides, and place it into a small casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Bake it for 15 minutes or so, until it’s cooked through. Let cool. (I did this step in the morning and set it in the fridge all day).

Get a large pot of water boiling, salt it liberally, and cook fettuccine until it’s al dente (start on the sauce while this goes). Drain well.

In a large skillet (I used my Calphalon Everyday pan), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute about 2 minutes–don’t let the garlic brown! Add asparagus and saute about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add hot chicken broth and salt, cover pan, and let cook about 2 more minutes. Uncover, let it go one more minute, stir in the lemon juice, and remove it from the heat.

Use your fingers to break the salmon apart into chunks. Add to sauce mixture. Return fettuccine to its cooking pot and pour sauce over it. Toss together and serve with a little grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Not Your Mom’s Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

6 Jan

I told you the other day that I’m re-introducing beef into my diet after 13 years. I made cheeseburgers for New Year’s Day and couldn’t think of a better way to use an extra pound of ground beef (I bought one of those big value packs at the grocery store and froze the leftover) than spaghetti and meat sauce. There are days I have the palate of a five-year-old, and what five-year-old doesn’t love pasketti?

That said, this recipe for meat sauce has some grown-up flair. I’ve added some balsamic vinegar to it, which gives it a little sophisticated oomph. This isn’t the sweet sauce you’ll find at your local Italian chain restaurant. It’s a bit cacciatore-ish, and I think that’s a very good thing.

There are a few tricks to this. First, if you have one, use your food processor to pulverize your onions. I learned that trick when I complained to a friend that my husband hated anything with chunks of onion. She had the same issue, and taught me that giving them a spin in the Cuisinart turns them into bits so small that the most onion-hating hater out there won’t know the veggies are in the recipe, but you still get their flavor. In this case, softening them for a few minutes makes them wonderfully sweet.

You’ll see that once the onions and spices and garlic are yummy and soft, you remove them from the pan, crank the heat, salt it a little, and put the meat in. You want the meat really brown. Caramelized. It gives the sauce a wonderful texture–far from mushy or boring–and a heartier taste. Don’t mess with the meat too much. Lay it in the pan, let it brown up, and then simply flip it over and brown the second side. Then break it up and stir.

I made this sauce at lunchtime, sealed it up in a Rubbermaid container, and let it sit in the fridge until dinnertime, and then I made the pasta and combined our servings together. That few hours makes a remarkable difference in the flavor–it mellows and matures in the cold box. Just don’t mix everything together in one shot if you want leftovers–the spaghetti will get mushy by day 2. Put the pasta on plates, top with sauce, and mix together each serving individually, and then store the pasta and sauce separately for the second meal.

Now, just because I’m eating beef again doesn’t mean you have to. If you’re not a cow-ivore, use ground chicken in this recipe. It mimics the texture of beef better than ground turkey and absorbs whatever flavor you cook it with. It’ll taste just about the same as the beef version.

This is both young and mature, comforting and intriguing, and really delicious. My son loved it and had two servings. My daughter doesn’t like spaghetti (freak) so doesn’t count. DH liked it but probably would have preferred a sweeter, more traditional red sauce–that may be my fault for not warning him about the difference before he started eating. I thought it was really good. I hope you’ll try. You’ll need:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium or 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped very fine

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tsp Italian seasoning, divided

3 cloves of garlic, minced


1 pound ground beef

28 oz canned crushed tomatoes

2 tsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, 1 tsp Italian seasoning and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook about 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

Remove onion mixture from pan into a bowl. Set aside. Raise heat to medium-high to high, depending on your stove’s power.

Sprinkle the pan with salt. Crumble ground beef into the pan in a single layer and leave it alone for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the bottom side is a deep golden brown. Carefully use a spatula to flip the beef over (you’re not stirring), and let the second side brown.

Break up the beef with your spatula. Stir in onion mixture and second teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, and balsamic. Lower heat to low and simmer about a half-hour, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. Put in a glass or plastic container and refrigerate until dinner. Serve over hot cooked pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.

I marked this as gluten-free because the sauce itself is–you’d obviously have to use GF pasta to get the whole recipe that way. 🙂

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