March – 3 Pepper Pasta with Garlic

March – 3 Pepper Pasta with Garlic

Sometimes the best recipes come out of necessity, this time the need for a quick dinner with minimal ingredients (the fridge was almost bare). We were away over the weekend, arriving home on Sunday night hungry from a long drive. Something was required almost instantly before true bad humor hit. This recipe will do it for you…it literally took only 15 minutes from the time the pasta water came to a boil. Apart from pantry staples (a box of dried pasta, garlic, olive oil, parmesan, black pepper, salt, and red pepper flakes) only 2 sweet fresh red peppers are required. Don’t have red peppers in the fridge? Use Brussels sprouts or cabbage or winter squash (you will need to peel and cut them into quite small cubes) or red onion or fresh tomatoes in summer. If you have fresh herbs on hand or in the garden, toss them in at the end. What about basil with tomatoes, mint with carrots or peas, cilantro with frozen corn? Be inventive! It’s nice to have a color contrast but certainly not required.

3 Pepper Pasta

The 3 types of pepper in this recipe come from red peppers, a good pinch of red pepper flakes, and a generous grinding of black pepper.

You will have dinner on the table faster than it would take you to run to the deli for takeout.

3 Pepper Pasta with Garlic – serves 4 to 6 generously

Ingredients:

  • Dried pasta of your choice, I used a 1 lb. box of fusilli
  • 2 fresh red peppers, cored and seeded, then cut into julienne sticks
  • 4 – 5 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • kosher salt
  • Pinch or about 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (more if you want spicy)
  • Generous grind of black pepper, or about 1/2 teaspoon
  • Chopped parsley or other herb (optional), about 1/2 cup
  • Freshly ground parmesan or other hard cheese

Method:

  1. First bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a couple of teaspoons of salt. Pasta water should taste like the sea.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, slice the red peppers and mince the garlic.
  3. Once the water comes to a boil, add your pasta and set a timer. The fusilli required 13 minutes for al dente. Since I planned to cook it with the red peppers at the end, I wanted a little bite left in it.
  4. Put a saucepan, large enough to hold the cooked pasta, over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until it starts to shimmer.
  5. Add the fresh red pepper and pepper flakes, saute until it begins to soften (about 5 minutes)
  6. Add the garlic, turn down the heat as you want the garlic to soften but not brown.
  7. When the pasta is cooked, reserve about 1 cup of cooking liquid and drain the rest.
  8. Add the pasta to the saucepan with the peppers and garlic. Turn up the heat a bit and stir, add the reserved cooking water by tablespoons until the pasta softens a bit more and glistens. (You will probably not need the full cup.)
  9. Drizzle with more olive oil, grind the black pepper over the top, add the parsley and grated parmesan.

Dinner is served!

Add the red peppers to the hot pan along with the red pepper flakes

Softened Red Peppers

Add the pasta to the red peppers

Chopped Parsley

Pasta with red peppers, black pepper, garlic and parsley

Finish with freshly grated cheese

This recipe is similar to one of my very first posts for pasta with peas, another pantry staple this time from the freezer.

I am taking this to share with fellow bloggers at Fiesta Friday, over at Angie’s. Can you believe it is #163! Click on the link to see what everyone else is bringing to the party.

October – Pasta with cauliflower, artichokes and parmesan oil

October – Pasta with cauliflower, artichokes and parmesan oil

Sometimes the best things happen by accident. I’m talking about the inspiration that hit when a bag of frozen artichoke hearts fell out of the freezer, that kind of “ah-ha” moment. You laugh, but cooking to me is an art. It’s one that is unselfish and fleeting (unless it is captured on the pages of a blog), it’s designed to bring pleasure to others but is gone in a few hours. And so, like a good painting, I don’t really have a recipe. This recipe was completely spontaneous; I made it up as I went along. If you always cook from a recipe, try it sometime. It is very freeing. Pasta is one of those dishes that will lend itself to this kind of spontaneity because it is a blank canvas. Of course there are many wonderful classical dishes, but then those last minute “clean out the fridge or freezer” dishes can also be delicious.

So, frozen artichokes in hand, I went searching for what else might be lurking about needing to be added to my work of art. The fridge had half a head of cauliflower, a red pepper, and some Parmigiano Reggiano, the counter a jar of Parmesan oil, and in the cupboard I found half used packages of penne and fusilli. I always have onions and garlic available. Ready to go.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Artichoke Hearts, and Parmesan Oil

  • 1 package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and drained well on paper towels
  • 1/2 large head of cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil – divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • About 3/4 pound of pasta of your choice. I had 1/3 box of penne and 1/3 box of fusilli left in the cupboard.
  • Parmesan oil, or good olive oil for finishing

    Parmesan Olive Oil

    Parmesan Olive Oil

  • Freshly grated Parmesan for serving.
  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat for your pasta, start this first since the rest will cook fairly quickly.
  2. When boiling, add your pasta. If they have different cooking times, stagger adding them so they finish at the same time. Turn down the heat if it looks like it will boil over (the starch in the pasta sometimes does that). Cook to al dente. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water before draining, do not rinse.
  3. Meanwhile, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on medium high heat in a very large skillet.
  4. Add the chopped onions and cook until softened and beginning to turn golden, about 10 minutes. Turn down the heat if it is browning too quickly.
  5. Turn the heat down to medium (if you haven’t done this already) and add the garlic, sauté for about a minute, then add the red pepper. When the pepper begins to soften, turn the contents of the skillet into a large heatproof bowl.

    Sauteed onions and garlic

    Sauteed onions and garlic

  6. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet on medium high heat. When shimmering, add the cauliflower. Cook for about 5 minutes or until beginning to caramelize. Add the red pepper and continue to cook for a few minutes until they soften. Turn the cauliflower and red pepper into the bowl with the onions.

    Sauteed cauliflower and red pepper

    Sauteed cauliflower and red pepper

  7. Add the artichoke hearts to the skillet. Move the artichoke hearts down against the bottom of the skillet so they begin to brown. You may need to add a touch more oil at this point. Cook for anther minute or so.

    Sauteed artichoke hearts

    Sautéed artichoke hearts

  8. Add the onions, garlic, cauliflower, and red pepper back to the skillet. Stir.
  9. Add the pasta. Toss again and slowly add some of the reserved cooking water to moisten the mix. You don’t want it swimming but don’t want it to be dry. The starch in the cooking water will help bind things together.
  10. Turn into a warm serving bowl.

    Pasta with Cauliflower. Artichoke Hearts and Parmesan

    Pasta with Cauliflower. Artichoke Hearts and Parmesan

  11. When serving, drizzle with Parmesan oil or good quality olive oil and shred some fresh parmesan on top of each.

    Pasta with Parmesan Olive Oil

    Pasta with Parmesan Olive Oil

Serve with a tossed green salad.

Pasta with Parmesan Oil

Pasta with Parmesan Oil

I’m taking this to share on Fiesta Friday #91. Come join the fun at a virtual blogging party hosted by Angie of The Novice Gardener. The co-hosts this week are Juju @ cookingwithauntjuju and Indira @ I’ll Cook, You Wash.

November in the kitchen – Pasta Puttanesca

November in the kitchen – Pasta Puttanesca

When my husband and I were first dating we had a favorite Italian restaurant in Berkeley called Café Venezia. It was a tiny place with murals on the walls, laundry hanging from the ceiling, and Italian opera singing in the background. They didn’t take reservations and there was always a line out the door, or scrunched in the tiny entryway (if it was cold and wet). We had a trick for bypassing the line. They had a sister restaurant called Restaurant Venezia across the street; it was much fancier with white tablecloths, live music, and a bar. We would put our name on the list for the tiny Café, take a large card with a number on it, go across the street to the bar in the restaurant, and have a glass of wine. When our table was ready, the cafe would post a matching card in their window (we could see it sitting in the bar). The remainder of our wine (if there was any) was poured into a paper cup, and we crossed the street to dinner.

Do you have a favorite menu item with wonderful memories?

We were very sad when that café and restaurant closed. They made the best Pasta Puttanesca we have ever tasted. My husband still orders the Puttanesca when we go out, and is almost always disappointed. So, since he requests this for every birthday dinner, I set about creating a recipe for Puttanesca like the one from Café Venezia. It took a few dozen tries to get the right balance of ingredients, but I think I have it (he agrees).

It’s his birthday this weekend and I will be making this pasta dish for him.

There are at least two stories about how this pasta dish came about. Both involve ‘ladies of the night’. In one story this a quick pasta dish to put together between customers, in another the smell of the sauce is supposed to draw in customers. It’s convievable that both are correct! This dish is vegetarian and vegan without the anchovies or cheese.

Pasta Puttanesca (serves 2-4)

  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1 28 oz. can Italian chopped tomatoes
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 15 black kalamata olives, cut in half
  • 1 small can of anchovies, about 10, chopped, save the oil
  • ½ lb. of fettuccini or linguini
  • For serving: grated Parmesan cheese or crumbled fresh goat cheese

Sauce

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook until soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Watch your skillet (every stove is different) carefully, you want to cook the garlic till is is honey colored or light brown. If it burns it will turn bitter.
  3. Add the tomatoes, capers, oregano, chili flakes, and olives.
  4. Cook on low heat for 20 minutes.
  5. After the time is up, add the chopped anchovies and the reserved olive oil from the can to your sauce.
  6. Keep the sauce on low heat while the pasta is cooking.
Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta

  1. While the sauce is simmering for the 20 minutes, start the pasta.
  2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil (the water should taste like the sea).
  3. Add your pasta to the boiling water, bring it back to the boil and cook for the time suggested on the package.
  4. When cooked, reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water, and drain your pasta. Do not rinse.
  5. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet with the sauce and reheat all.
  6. Add the pasta water by tablespoons if it seems too dry.
  7. Taste carefully for salt, it probably won’t need any since it contains so many salty things.

Grate fresh Parmesan over each serving, or top with crumbled goat cheese.

Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca

We think the trick is the last minute addition of the oil from the anchovies.

I like mine with goat cheese.

Pasta Puttanesca with Goat cheese

Pasta Puttanesca with Goat Cheese

October in the kitchen – Pasta with Peas

October in the kitchen – Pasta with Peas

Ok, so I don’t have any fresh peas from my garden yet. I don’t expect to see any until next spring. There is, however, a trusty package of frozen baby peas in the freezer. And, I have also been pinching the very tops of the snap and snow peas to encourage bushiness (the flowering sweet peas get pinched as well but they are not edible). Those trimmings can be tossed in a salad or used as a garnish for the following pasta dish.

I’ve been using the young fava bean leaves in salads. I don’t grow favas for the beans but rather for their ability to fix nitrogen and improve the soil, they are called a cover crop. The leaves have the subtle flavor of favas and are a lot less trouble than the beans. Because I want their energy to go back into the soil and not into making beans, I cut dig them in when they start to flower. Meanwhile the young leaves are delicious.

Pasta with Peas (Serves 6-8)

Pasta with peas and pea shoots

Pasta with peas and pea shoots

The following recipe uses 4 of the ingredients from the basic 20:

  • Pasta – 1 lb. (regular or gluten free), your choice of shape
  • Olive oil or softened butter – 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup)
  • Parmesan – grated, about a cup plus more for serving
  • Salt
  • Pepper to taste

Additions:

  • Frozen peas – ½ package defrosted
  • Fresh herbs from your garden – mint, parsley, thyme – a good handful, minced
  • Optional – Pea shoots from pinching your plants or the store (I’ve seen them at Trader Joe’s)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt (kosher) until it tastes like the sea. Toss in your pasta and cook according to the package directions, tasting to make sure it is done to your liking. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Do not rinse.

Add the olive oil or butter to the warm pot; add the peas and heat for about 30 seconds. Dump your pasta back in the hot pot, add the herbs and toss until well mixed, add a little of the hot cooking water if it looks dry, then the cheese and toss again. If the mixture still looks dry, add a bit more cooking water. The cooking water contains starch, which turns butter and cheese into a creamy sauce. Don’t add too much as you don’t want it to be watery. Taste to see if it needs more salt. Turn into a warm serving bowl or individual plates. Garnish with the pea shoots and grate some additional cheese on the top.

Yum!

20 essential items for your pantry – Pasta with Butter and Cheese

20 essential items for your pantry – Pasta with Butter and Cheese

It is amazing how many meals you can create if you have the following 20 pantry items on hand. You don’t need a fancy kitchen, pots, or ingredients. Wonderful cooks have been producing four-star “every day” meals with just these staples. If you add good bread, and a few fresh ingredients from the garden (see my post on the 10 plants to grow in pots) you have a feast. Simplify your kitchen and therefore your life.

All of the following 20 will keep well in the pantry or refrigerator. Use them to make quick delicious meals for your family, or guests. I’ll be using all of them in future posts with menu ideas.

  1. Salt – I like grey salt and sea salt for flavoring, having kosher on hand is also nice (keep it close in a jar by your stove)
  2. Onions – brown or white, plus red for salads
  3. Garlic
  4. Fresh ginger
  5. Lemons
  6. Olive oil – extra virgin
  7. Neutral oil such as canola or sunflower or coconut
  8. Butter
  9. Rice wine vinegar
  10. Wine vinegar – red
  11. Dijon mustard
  12. Soy sauce
  13. Coconut milk
  14. Sesame oil
  15. Parmesan cheese (whole piece, not pre-grated, best you can afford)
  16. Dried pasta
  17. Canned tomatoes
  18. Various canned or dried beans
  19. Chocolate bars
  20. Sugar and/or honey

The following classic dish is difficult to beat with only 4 out of the above 20 ingredients.

Picture these two scenarios…you just got home from work, it was a long day with no time to go to the grocery store. The train or bus was late, and traffic was bad. Your family is grouchy and hungry (and you aren’t far behind).

Or, maybe you get a call from an old friend who is in town for just one night. They want to meet your family. There is no time to do anything elaborate and besides, again, you haven’t had time to go grocery shopping. You want to make something delicious and classy but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen.

If you have a well stocked pantry (plus some herbs and greens in pots on the deck, and bread in the freezer) you are in for a gourmet treat.

Relax; pour yourself (and your guests) a glass of wine.

Menu:

  • French breakfast radishes, sweet putter, flaked salt, crisp baguette
  • Pasta al Burro con Parmigiano: Pasta with Butter and Cheese
  • Salad de la casa 
  • Chocolate bars, assorted types

For the starter: Go out to those herb and veggie filled pots on your deck or patio (or your garden) and pull some radishes (see “10 herbs and veggies you can grow in pots”). Wash them, cut off the root and trim the tops to an 1 inch. On a plate arrange the radishes with some sweet butter and flaked salt. If you have a baguette wrapped in foil in the freezer, it can be ready in 20 minutes. Heat your oven to 400 degrees, place the frozen foil wrapped baguette on a rack and cook for 15 minutes, remove the foil for another 5 minutes to crisp.

IMG_0084

This is a classic Italian pasta dish. While living with my family in Rome as an 8 year-old, I lived on it. At that stage of my life Italian food was not my cup of tea, with the exception of Pasta al Burro con Parmigiano. It was standard fare at every restaurant.

IMG_0069

Pasta al Burro con Parmigiano: Pasta with Butter and Parmesan Cheese (serves 6-8)

1 lb. pasta of your choice

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving

8 tablespoons butter – 1 stick cut into 8 pieces and softened to room temperature (not melted)

Salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt (kosher) until it tastes like the sea. Add your pasta and cook according to the package directions, tasting to make sure it is done to your liking. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Do not rinse! Dump your pasta back in the hot pot, add the butter and toss until melted, add a little of the hot cooking water if it looks dry, then the cheese and toss again. If the mixture still looks dry, add a bit more cooking water. The cooking water contains starch which turns butter and cheese into a creamy sauce. Don’t add too much as you don’t want it to be watery. Taste to see if it needs more salt. Turn into a warm serving bowl or individual plates. Grate some cheese on the top.

Serve with extra cheese on the side.

Olive oil can be substituted for the butter. This is the basic version, you could add fresh herbs, a few chili flakes, a handful of frozen peas (defrosted), some toasted breadcrumbs, toasted nuts, etc. Need some meat? What about crumbled crisp bacon, slices of Italian sausage browned in olive oil, or left over rotisserie chicken. Let your imagination go wild! But, this dish is delicious just as it is, with only good butter and cheese.

Fix a salad from your pots, make a simple vinaigrette.

Salad pickings from the garden

For dessert pull out those chocolate bars, break them into pieces, put them on a pretty plate, serve with pride.

IMG_0087

Pasta, salad, bread, chocolate…dinner, perfecto!

What’s in your own pantry is considered an essential?