Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta

Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta

Spring Training Whole Grain Penne

Spring Training Whole Grain Penne

Spring Training is in full swing — and to celebrate the return of summer sports, I thought I would share a great, light and healthy pasta dish that is sure to please.

Spring is a great time to go outside and do long distance exercise, whether it’s long walks, bike riding, running or cycling. Since many of my friends are marathon runners, I’ve become accustomed to their high carbohydrate dinners the night before a race. Carbohydrates have long been a favorite for distance runners because they have a “slow-burn” effect on the body, meaning, runners have more energy to go longer distances.

My friend, Tyler, the goofiest marathon runner!

My friend, Tyler, the goofiest marathon runner!

What we’ve recently discovered is that fortified pastas, such as multi-grain or whole grain pasta, have added fiber, which increases the slow burn and is even better for the body. The only problem is the taste and texture. Not everyone seems to enjoy the extra bite and chewiness that comes with whole grains, and some people refer to the pasta as “eating cardboard” when compared to the mild taste of durum or semolina noodles.

My Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta seeks to change that thought and attitude simply by changing the way we look at pasta dishes. Who says every plate of noodles has to be covered in tomato sauce and cheese? The truth is, if you hold onto that kind of mental block, you’ll surely notice the change in pasta. But if you leave out the acidic tomato sauce, and concentrate on fresher flavors, you may find your mouth longs to bite, while the vegetable sauce complements the texture and nutty flavor of the pasta.

Give it a try and let me know your thoughts. Here’s to the athlete in all of us!

Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta
Serves 6

I use whole grain penne rigate pasta

I use whole grain penne rigate pasta

1 lbs. whole grain pasta (such as penne or rigatoni)
1 lbs. fresh turkey Italian sausage (casings removed)
4 strips center-cut bacon (low-sodium), diced
1 small yellow onion, quartered
3 small carrots, peeled
3 stalks of celery, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large stockpot with lightly salted water to boil. Cook the noodles until desired tenderness. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Set aside.
  2. At the same time as the noodles, use a food processor or other chopping device, and add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Pulse until there is a chunky sauce, but not paste like. You should see tiny cubes of each vegetable. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, add the olive oil and diced bacon over medium high heat. Once the bacon begins to crisp, add the sausage and break into small pieces. Cook thoroughly and drain any fat.
  4. Return pan to heat and add the vegetable mixture, along with the seasonings. Mix well to incorporate, and stir until the vegetables soften, about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the white wine and cook until fully evaporated. Add the chicken stock and do the same as the wine.
  6. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings as desired. Discard bay leaves.
  7. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce until well incorporated. If the sauce is to dry, incorporate the reserved pasta water. Serve with cheese if desired.
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Linguine with Garlic and Clams: Slice and Dice

Linguine with Garlic and Clams: Slice and Dice

Linguine with Garlic and Clams

Stop the garlic abuse!  When it comes to garlic, it seems we have a dysfunctional relationship.  We say we love it, but we beat it, chop it, mince it and even pulverize it into paste.  I realize I’m exaggerating a bit, but honestly, is there any reason to smash garlic as much as we do?

I found myself wondering about this while making a plate of linguine with clams.  I stopped myself from mincing the garlic — instead, I opted to do long, thin, teardrop slices.  Because clams and garlic compliment each other so well, I decided it would be much better to slice the garlic then dice the clams.  The resulting dish was simply fantastic.

Sliced garlic

I have since re-named my recipe Linguine with Garlic and Clams.  The trick is to simply saute the garlic, to the point where it becomes fragrant and do no more.  Raw garlic is pungent and strong, so you do want to cook it.  The best technique is to sweat the garlic — simply stir it into a hot environment and keep stirring.  Don’t allow your garlic to brown or caramelize as this will result in a bitter taste.  When garlic sweats in a little bit of oil then simmers in white wine, it turns buttery, soft and rich, a perfect match for salty sea flavored clams.

If you need to chop something, chop the clams.  While clams in shell are lovely visuals, they don’t actually do much for me at home.  I suggest shucking the clams first and chopping the meat, then creating the creamy sauce.  If you only have access to canned clams, you may certainly use them, but I find fresh seafood to be the best.  Use a good, drinkable, dry white wine when cooking and serve the same chilled wine with the pasta.  Of course, you should have a glass (or two!) while cooking.

Linguine with Garlic and Clams
Serves 2

Littleneck clams in garlic, parsley and wine

1/2 pound linguine noodles (I like a trio of whole wheat, spinach and semolina)
1 cup chopped clams (I recommend littlenecks or razors)
1 tablespoon clam juice
1/2 cup diced pancetta
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 leek, white and light green parts only, sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 1/2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and White Pepper to taste

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the noodles.
  2. Cut the leek in half and wash thoroughly.   Slice into thin semi-circles and separate.  Do the same with the shallot.
  3. When the noodles go into the water, heat a large saute pan with the olive oil.  Over medium heat, add the pancetta and allow to brown and crisp, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the leek and shallots and allow to sweat, but do not brown.
  4. Add the garlic slices and chopped clams.  Stir frequently, until the garlic becomes fragrant, about one minute more.
  5. Lower the heat and add the white wine and clam juice.  Loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Stir in the creme fraiche until incorporated, then cover and allow to simmer over low heat, about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Using tongs, remove the linguine noodles from the boiling water and add to the pan.  Fold into the sauce until well incorporated.  If more sauce is needed, use some of the leftover salted pasta water.
My Favorite Meat Sauce: Bolognese alla Chris

My Favorite Meat Sauce: Bolognese alla Chris

Ambrosia Salad from EasySaladRecipes.com

“Ambrosia!”
Celeste says with laughter, “she wanted ambrosia!”

We finished watching The Help, and while wiping away tears and relishing in the story, Celeste, Liz and I marveled at all of the food featured in the movie. When ambrosia was mentioned, we laughed and turned up our noses. Ambrosia is a jell-o recipe, featuring cool whip and canned fruits. It was popular in the 50’s and 60’s but has since fallen out of favor.

“Of course,” says Liz, “who wants to eat processed food anymore?”

Bolognese alla Chris

It’s so true. I’m happy to say many of us have mature taste-buds that yearn for real food made from real ingredients instead of artificial colors and flavorings. I thought about this as I stood over my stovetop today, stirring a bolognese sauce.

When the weather cools down, I break out my cast iron enamel casserole pot to make hearty soups, meaty stews and flavorful sauces. These are recipes that call for slow-cooking: lots of simmering and stirring, while filling the house with the most wonderful aromas.

Classic bolognese sauce typically mixes ground meat with prosciutto, wine, tomatoes and milk. Authentic recipes also include sauteed chicken livers which add a certain richness to the sauce. In my version, I keep the wine, tomatoes and milk, but substitute economical strips of bacon for the prosciutto and use Italian styled sausages to flavor the sauce.

Simmering away

I let the sauce simmer and reduce for at least 90 minutes. When the cooking is finished I like to enjoy the sauce over large rigatoni noodles. Because I love adding vegetables to pasta dishes, I often place a layer of roasted acorn or butternut squash with the noodles then top with the sauce. During summer, yellow or green squash works well, but since bell peppers are currently at their peak, a quick pan saute of orange and yellow peppers is quite delicious.

This sauce freezes well, but in my house, it’s gone within days. Mangia!

 

Bolognese alla Chris
Serves 6-8

Bolognese with Rigatoni

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 strips of thick-cut bacon, diced
1 small yellow onion, small dice
3 carrots, peeled and finely diced
3 celery ribs, fine dice
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound fresh Italian sausages, mild, casings removed
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken stock
1 28 ounce can pureed tomatoes
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Heat a large dutch oven over medium high heat with the olive oil. Add the bacon and allow to brown. Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Sweat the vegetables but do not brown, about 2-4 minutes.

2. Add the meats. Using a wooden spoon or heat resistant spatula, break up the meat until it has crumbled and cook through, about 6 minutes. Be sure to combine the meats well. Drain grease if desired.

3. Once the meat has browned, add the wine. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for two minutes. Add the chicken stock and the milk and stir well to combine. Stir in the tomato puree then add the bay leaves and Italian seasonings. Lower heat to medium and allow to simmer, un-covered, for an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so.

4. Lower the heat even more. Add salt and pepper to taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. The sauce should reduce to become very thick. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Serve over vegetables and rigatoni noodles if desired.

With my dear friends, Liz and Celeste

A Good Friday Fish Recipe: Tuna Noodle Casserole

A Good Friday Fish Recipe: Tuna Noodle Casserole

Ooey, gooey, tuna noodle casserole

Whenever I travel, I fall into certain habits — rituals, actually — that I must complete:  I check-in online and monitor my flight status.  I put all of my travel-sized toiletries in a clear, plastic bag.  I plan all of my outfits around two pairs of shoes.  I grab a stack of magazines so I have plenty of reading material.  And I always, always, empty my refrigerator but leave some type of dish for my return.

I love dishes that freeze well and re-heat to perfection.  Tuna Noodle Casserole is one of those recipes you can make well in advance then have plenty to enjoy whenever you feel like it.  Instead of baking the casserole in one large container, I opt for several smaller dishes, portioned for just one or two servings, and are freezer, oven and microwave safe.

Made with peppers, capers and hearts of palm

My love for tuna noodle casserole is two fold: it’s a comfort food as well as a budget saver.  I love the soft creaminess of the noodles with hearty chunks of tuna.  I also love how cheap it can be to make!

I must admit, my version of this classic recipe is anything but traditional.  I don’t use peas and I don’t top it with breadcrumbs.  I do, however, add freshly sliced bell peppers, tangy caper buds and slices of crunchy hearts of palm.  Also, instead of canned pack tuna, I prefer the type that comes in a pouch.  Rather than being packed in water, I buy tuna that is sealed in olive oil, as it yields a much better flavor.

Individual dishes make reheating easy!

I’ve been able to keep this casserole for 30 days in my freezer without a problem.  It re-heats beautifully in the oven,  and in a pinch, it will do well in the microwave.  Once you’ve made a casserole, it’s pretty easy to change up the ingredients based on what you have leftover in your fridge.  Simply swap the tuna for chicken or ham and use other types of vegetables and you’ve got a whole new dish!

If you enjoy Meditteranean style dishes, or are just looking for a little bit of zest for dinner, give this a try.  I have a small container of tuna noodle casserole waiting for me in my freezer — and I can’t wait to heat it up when I get back!

Tuna Noodle Casserole (alla Chris)

  • 1 pound wide egg noodles (cooked just before al dente in salted water)
  • 2 red bell peppers (ribs and seeds removed), thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 pouches tuna in olive oil, drained
  • 1 jar (3.5 ounces) non-pareille capers, drained
  • 1 cup hearts of palms, sliced into small circles
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Use a cooking spray to lightly grease your baking dishes.
  3. In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat butter over medium heat. Add bell peppers and stir. Cook until just tender about 4 to 6 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer.
  4. Turn off the heat and add tuna, hearts of palm, capers and noodles. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Divide mixture between prepared baking dishes sprinkling with Parmesan cheese. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 15 minutes.
  5. To freeze, allow each dish to cool completely.  Seal and place in freezer.
Spinach Macaroni and Cheese – So Good!

Spinach Macaroni and Cheese – So Good!

“Wow, this looks yummy!”

Spinach Mac and Cheese: Thanks Everyday Food!

Tyler and I are thumbing through the April edition of Everyday Food  Magazine, packed with all kinds of fantastic, easy and quick recipes.  He stops on the Spinach Macaroni and Cheese recipe and asks if I’ll put it together for him. Of course I would! 

Regardless of how advanced your palate is, if you grew up in America, you understand our love affair with macaroni and cheese.  We start with the blue box, the funny shaped elbow noodles cooked to a rubbery consistency then mixed with a gritty orange powder (and we loved it!)  Most of us, however, graduate from that, moving towards baked casserole versions topped with crisp bread crumbs and made with real cheese.

My preference is the stove top version, one that starts with a roux and ends with a fondue-like cheese sauce.  I love using a blend of sharp English cheddar as well as Gruyere cheeses, as they melt nicely and compliment the pasta with a richness that only real cheese can provide.  Grate your cheese at home, as the pre-grated cheeses do not melt as nicely.

Fresh spinach adds great flavor to macaroni and cheese

In terms of pasta, most people use traditional elbow macaroni, but I like penne rigate, cooked al dente, so I have plenty to bite into.

Finally, my adult tastebuds long for an additional layer in macaroni and cheese — a layer of fresh vegetables.  I have used spinach, tomatoes, butternut squash and even chile peppers with plenty of success.  Onions are a must, as the sweetness they bring enhances the roux.  I recommend using yellow onions.

Since the best recipes always seem to encourage your own personal twist, I suggest you try the Everyday version then give my rendition a go or twist it your own way.  Tyler used corkscrew pasta and garlic in his, and I used a mixture of cheeses and a pinch of nutmeg.  Eat up and enjoy!

Spinach Macaroni and Cheese (my way)

1 pound penne rigate pasta (cooked al dente in salted water)
4 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk (I use 2% but Tyler recommends Whole Milk)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/4 cups grated Gruyere
1 1/4 cups grated English Cheddar
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large heavy pot or dutch-oven, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions and allow to sweat gently, without browning.  Stir often with a wooden spoon, about 3-5 minutes, until onions are tender and clear.

Coat the onions with the flour and stir.  Using a whisk, slowly add the milk, just a few tablespoons at a time.  Continue adding and whisking until all the milk is used and a nice thick roux has formed.  Switch back to the wooden spoon, as the roux should cover the back of the spoon nicely.  Stir in the cheeses until melted, and add the nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Add the pasta and spinach until well combined.  Serve immediately.  Then tweet a pic to me and let me know how you fared!

Anything for Tyler!