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Brussels Sprouts with Leeks, Lemon and Pasta

brussels sprouts with leeks, lemon and pasta

One of the great troubles I find in cooking is getting good side dishes to go with whatever else I’m serving. With few fresh vegetables available from local sources, you really don’t have a lot to choose from. But this one, you can serve either as a light main serving or as a side, depending on the situation, and the Brussels sprouts with leeks and pasta are very good in both cases.

I saw the first such recipe on a Bon Appetite site and after researching it, found several others that were similar, and decided to make my own version, with a little bit more pasta and a lot more lemon and garlic. You can play with this recipe a good bit without ruining it, and come up with your own version, if you like. It’s really that easy. And I love the nice brownness that really makes the Brussels sprouts come alive.

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Sausage and Tortellini Soup

sausage and tortellini soup

A good sausage, a little beans and some very good cheesy tortellini are about as much as you could ask for an “Italian style” soup, one that sticks to your ribs and makes you want to go out and tackle the world. Alright fine. Maybe you don’t want to kick the world’s butt this morning, but it does fill you up and does kind of make you want to at least let the world know you’re alive. This sausage and tortellini soup does that, and more.

Better yet, this is another one of those soups that, depending on how you finish it off, you can have most of the soup made, add the tortellini at the end along with some spinach and you’re ready to go as soon as the tortellini is ready. Nice things about good soups is that they’re often flexible like that. You can get them close to finished and then unleash them at just the right second.

This soup uses some good tortellini made with three cheeses and a lovely mild Italian sausage. You can, of course use a hotter sausage and even add a few crushed red peppers to get the spice where you want it.

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Basil Alfredo and Chicken (Sous Vide)

basil Alfredo

This recipe, which uses sous vide chicken and a lovely basil Alfredo sauce amped up with a bit of fresh basil is one of those things that every now and then, you just have to have. Add some crusty bread and a really nice white Italian wine and you honestly have all you could want for a meal. And honestly, folks, if you’ve never made a real Alfredo sauce, this is something you really have to do. And soon.

Let’s start with the chicken. For a lot of reasons, I really don’t want my chicken breasts overdone. And I happen to have a sous vide machine, so that’s the way I do it. The chicken breasts come out perfectly done and by the time you add it to the pasta and warm it up a shade there, it’s perfect. (If you’re a real stickler about cooking the chicken until it’s 165, you can do that, but you’re running a kind of risk on overdoing the chicken and at 150 to 155 degrees, left for an hour or so, you’re actually fine without overcooking the chicken.) You can also use grilled chicken for this, but if you do this, the chicken can easily get over cooked, and there’s nothing I like less than overcooked chicken.

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Pappardelle with Caramelized Corn

There is something about corn and pasta, and this pappardelle with caramelized corn may be the best I’ve ever made. When you’ve got your hands on fresh corn, good bacon, and some very nice home made pasta, you really can’t do much better than that. 

If you’ve never had freshly made pasta, that’s the first thing you want for this dish. Yes, it does work just fine with dried pasta. But it just works so much better with a wonderful pappardelle or riccioli that I promise you, you’ll always go for the freshly made stuff once you’ve had it. And yes, you can also do this without fresh corn, too. Once again, you’ll be glad you can do this with good locally grown corn, however.

I know the original recipe for this came from a cookbook, newspaper or maybe a magazine. I just can’t honestly tell you where that was, but I can tell you that we’ve increased the bacon a bit from the original recipe and probably have done some other things over the years we’ve been making it.

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Home Made Vodka Sauce

vodka sauce

Vodka sauce is maybe the best quick-fix pasta dish you can make. And now that fresh tomatoes are starting to show up, I can use my last little bit of tomato puree (from last year) to make it just for you. No, you can use a good tomato puree if you don’t happen to have one from last year ready, but hey, I’ve got it so why not use it, right?

I’ve been told by many Italian cooks that you’re not supposed to make a pasta sauce with both onions and garlic. Here — at least — I’m breaking that rule. Sorry, but the garlic and onion together make such a nice taste, I’m not going to give that up. Oh, and yes, the vodka. Now, while I can’t say go out and buy the best vodka you can find for this dish, I will say that something of good quality is important. Please. Please use something reasonably good for this. Your palate will thank you.

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Linguine alla Puttanesca

linguine ala puttenesca

There almost certainly someone in Italy who will claim that linguine alla puttanesca is a dish made by ladies of the evening to refresh themselves after a long night. There are plenty of others who claim — probably correctly — that the puttanesca they got was made by a restaurateur who gave it it’s name out of fun. Either way, a great linguine or spaghetti done like the puttanesca style is a real winner.

No matter how puttanesca came to be, it is perfect for a light summer dish with a nice pile of tomatoes ready for using. I am often sad about the way that tomatoes are grown in the U.S. Even the best of them (not counting a good farm market) are pretty sort of useless. They look great stacked high on the produce table, but they are grown first for their ability to stay (looking) fresh on the produce market and only way down the list does taste ever come into it. So unless you have some good access to a great farm market, the truth is to use canned tomatoes (from Italy if you can get them).

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Baked Meatballs and Rigatoni

Meatball Sausage and Rigatoni

Today we’re going to talk about one of the oldest and best known rigatoni and meatball bakes probably ever invented (by who knows where) you’ll ever come across in the U.S. Now it is entirely possible this came from Italy, and I’m sure someone over there will let me know if that’s the case, but it seems like such an American dish, I’ll bet on it having originated here. 

The thing is, it comes in essentially three things — the sauce, the meatballs and the rigatoni. The wonderful news is that all three can be made a day or even two ahead of time and simply baked in the oven when the time comes. And that, can be a wonderful thing. The other great idea is it’s a wonderful dish for taking to a pot-luck or something similar where people can just help themselves.

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