Category Archives: Pasta

Macaroni and Many Cheeses

Cheese is one of my favorite foods.  It is not an exaggeration to say that it is immensely more difficult for me to find a cheese that I don’t like than it is for me to find a cheese I enjoy.  It is hard for me to share a cheese tray, it is rare for me to pass by a free cheese sample, and I cannot resist loading up on cheese at a gourmet shop or grocery store.

That leads to a very full cheese drawer in our refrigerator at home.  My husband also enjoys cheese, but he sometimes does not understand why I come home with yet another wedge of gouda when we already have a seemingly reasonable amount of havarti, provolone, and cheddar.

Our refrigerator’s full cheese drawer and my attempt to create some space led to this recipe.  It is my mother’s basic macaroni and cheese in which you can use just about any type of cheese and even several varieties of cheese at once.  I used up some smoked mozzarella, provolone, colby, and herbed goat cheese for this version.

Macaroni and Many Cheeses
Serves about 8

1 lb dried macaroni
6 Tbsp butter
6 Tbsp flour
2 1/4 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry mustard
between 8 and 12 oz of mixed cheeses, shredded/grated

Cook the macaroni in boiling water according to package directions.  Drain well and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, begin to prepare a white sauce.  Melt butter in heavy skillet.  Stir in flour and cook over medium heat.  Keep stirring until smooth.

Before you add the milk to the flour butter mixture, heat it separately until it is almost boiling.  Then, gradually stir it in and continue stirring until it thickens.  The sauce stays smoother by adding warm milk to the other warm ingredients.

Add the salt and mustard, and simmer for no more than 5 minutes.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 3 quart baking dish.  Pour about half the cooked macaroni onto the bottom of the dish.  Cover with half the white sauce and almost half the cheese.

Pour the remaining macaroni and cover with remaining white sauce.  Then distribute the remaining cheese.  I always aim to have the top layer of cheese be a little heavier.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes or until you can see the sauce bubbling on the sides.  Then, I like to turn on the broiler for about 3 minutes to brown the top nicely.

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What a Meat Market for Lamb Sausage Marinara

Here in Washington, DC most of the vendors at our local farmers’ markets sell produce. In the winter, they sell veggies that they have been able store after the winter growing season – things like carrots, potatoes, turnips, beets, onions, apples, cider and radishes. During early April you can really feel the energy and anticipation of the produce vendors building. They are planning, seeding, and quite a few are able to offer spinach and other fresh greens that they grow in their greenhouses.  The spring crops should be rolling in to our markets very soon.  I can’t wait!

While the winter vegetables are delicious, I also enjoy the meat vendors at the market this time of the year.  They offer things I can’t get at my local supermarket, and I like learning about the way the animals are raised.  In my last visit, I picked up some delicious lamb sausage.  I already had some preparation ideas, but I overheard the farmers teaching other customers about the different cuts of lamb meat and recommending ways to cook it.  So don’t be shy to experiment with new items at your local market, folks there can help make it easier.

Lamb Sausage Marinara

Serves 4

2 – 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 – 1 1/2 pounds lamb sausage
1 onion
1 green bell pepper
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz can of tomato sauce
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
Cut the sausage into bite-size pieces.  Saute in skillet with about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Once it is very slightly browned, set aside.
Dice onion and bell pepper.
Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot, and add diced onions and peppers.  Lightly saute.
Add sausage.  Cook, stirring occasionally for another two minutes, or until vegetables are softened.
Add tomatoes, sauce, and paste.  Stir.  Add spices and stir again.
Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Serve over pasta – we liked it with whole grain spaghetti.  It also reheats well.

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Filed under Lamb, Pasta

Meatless Mondays

My friend Trish recommended that some of my readers might eat less meat than my husband and I and would therefore appreciate more veggie dishes.  Great point, Trish!

I’ve been following the movement among public health leaders to encourage individuals to cut out consumption of meat at least one day of week with Meatless Mondays.  In our household, we are trying to eat less meat and increase our vegetable intake, this dish fits the bill.

Baked Penne
Serves 4

12 oz can tomato sauce
1 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 bell pepper (any color), diced
1/2 tsp fresh basil, chopped
1/2 tsp fresh oregano
1 tsp garlic, minced
13.25 oz dried whole wheat penne
16 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/8 cup parmesan cheese, finely shredded

Chop vegetables and herbs.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a pot and simmer for about 10 minutes.

While the sauce and vegetables are simmering, you can boil the pasta, according to package directions.  Drain the pasta and combine it with the sauce.  Mix well.

Pour about a third of the pasta and sauce mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 9 baking dish.  Top with about a third of the mozzarella.

Repeat the layers with the remaining pasta and cheese.  I usually make the top layer of cheese a bit thicker, so plan accordingly.  Top finally with parmesan cheese.

Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for about half an hour, or until the sauce is bubbly.  To create a nice looking top, pop the casserole under the broiler for no more than 5 minutes.

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Filed under Pasta, Vegetarian

Welcome Home Macaroni

Dear Jamie,
What a lucky little girl you are!  You have been given two of the coolest parents.  They have intelligence, wit, great taste, and are overwhelming kind and generous.  With them supporting you, I can’t wait to see how smart, funny, and charming you will become.
You are a week old today.  I’m grateful to have seen you every day for the first five days of your life.  It was great to see your folks and see the changes in you.  I’m away for a while, but I hope you know that no matter where I live I will always be there for you, just as I am for your amazing parents.
Hugs and kisses….Auntie Katie
Our friends Dave and Wendy just had a beautiful baby girl.  I am thrilled for them and wanted to show my affection for them by bringing them food.  But what to make?  I wanted something that would be fine to leave in the refrigerator for a few days, if needed and would taste good re-heated.  I wanted something comforting and filling.  I wanted something that they could share with other guests.  My go-to dish includes meat and cheese with pasta in a spicy, garlicky sauce, but that didn’t seem to be good for a nursing mother.  Oh yeah, how about macaroni and cheese?  I modified a recipe that comes from James Beard via my mother.

Macaroni and Cheese
Serves plenty

3/4 lb dried macaroni
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp hot sauce (optional)
10 oz shredded cheese

Cook the macaroni in boiling water according to package directions.  Drain well and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, begin to prepare a white sauce.  Melt butter in a heavy skillet, stir in flour.  Cook over medium heat, stirring smooth.

Before you add milk to the flour-butter mixture, heat it separately until it is almost boiling.  Then, gradually stir it in and continue stirring until it thickens.  The sauce stays smoother by adding warm milk to the other warm ingredients.  Add the salt, mustard, and hot sauce, and simmer for no more than 5 minutes.

Butter a 3 quart baking dish or casserole.  Put a layer of cooked macaroni on bottom, cover with some of the white sauce and cheese.

Repeat layers until dish is full, ending with a slightly heavier layer of cheese on top.

I used sharp Cheddar and a little grated Parmesan, but it can be good with whatever cheese you like or have on hand.  I don’t recommend too much soft cheese, though.  Also, depending on how much cheese you like, you can use between 8 and 12 ounces.

Bake in 350 oven for 20 to 25 minutes until you can see the sauce bubbling on the sides.  Then pop it under the broiler for about 3 minutes to give it a nice color on top.

NOTE:  I gave this casserole to the new parents before cooking it, so they could have it fresh, but it also reheats well in the oven or microwave.

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Angry Clams

We like things spicy around here.  By that I mostly mean, we like to eat spicy foods.  In fact, we add peppers and other spicy elements to just about everything we eat.

I was craving pasta and figured I would make us a quick arrabiata sauce.  Arrabiata means angry in Italian, and describes a simple tomato sauce liberally doused with red pepper.  I changed tack after seeing some cans of clams in my pantry.  Perfect – linguine and clam sauce with some crushed red pepper to make it angry.

Linguine with Spicy Clam Sauce
Makes 4 servings

12 oz linguine pasta
3 Tbsp butter
5 Tbsp olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, minced
3 10-oz cans chopped clams, drained, all juices reserved
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp red pepper flakes
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley

Cook pasta according directions on package.

Meanwhile, melt butter with oil in heavy large skillet over low heat.  Add garlic until fragrant, probably about a minute.

Add reserved juices from clams, wine, carrot, oregano, and red pepper.  Increase heat to high and boil until reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, between 10 and 15 minutes.  Stir in the clams and the parsley.  Turn down the heat and simmer for about another minute.

Drain linguine well; add to skillet of hot clam sauce and gently toss to blend.  Serve immediately.

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Filed under Pasta, Seafood

Garlicky Goodness

My mother came for a visit this weekend and while she was in town my brother requested she make one of his favorite dishes – Garlicky Chicken.  Think breaded chicken pieces, pasta, and a butter sauce loaded with garlic…This is not a diet dish.

This is a dish that Mom created for us when we were kids and it was a hit from the start.  It was no different this time.  If you love garlic, you are gonna love this.

Garlicky Chicken
Serves 6 to 8

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 eggs
3/4 cup water
4 to 5 cups of breadcrumbs
5 cloves of garlic or more to taste
olive oil
butter
1 lb spaghetti
4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Slice chicken into small pieces.  Be careful not to make the pieces too thick because it will take them longer to cook through and the outside breading will get too dark.

Beat eggs, and mix with water.  Dip chicken pieces in egg mixture.  (You may need to add one more egg and a bit more water for your batch.  Have the eggs on hand.)  Then, dredge in breadcrumbs.  Again, you may need to adjust the amount of breadcrumbs to ensure adequate breading for your chicken.  NOTE:  My brother likes to season the breadcrumbs and my mom does not.  You decide for yourself.  That is the joy of being a grown-up.

Melt butter in large skillet with olive oil and garlic.  Notice I didn’t provide measurements.  It depends on how large your skillet is, how long you are cooking the chicken, and your personal taste.  You want to make sure the bottom is generously covered and you need to decide if you want more butter than olive oil or vice versa.  Add the garlic after the butter is melted or it will burn.  Brown chicken in garlic seasoned oil and butter.

Set aside on paper towels to drain.  Before you are finished with all the chicken pieces, start cooking pasta according to directions on package.

Once you brown all chicken, add a bit more butter, garlic, and olive oil to skillet.  Before you start, you may want to remove the skillet from the heat and wipe it clean if there is a lot of breading debris in the bottom of the pan.  If you leave it in there, the breading crumbs will turn black and it make your dish look unappetizing.  Heat this long enough to melt butter and slightly brown the garlic.

Heap cooked and drained pasta on a large platter.  Spoon half of the butter, olive oil, and garlic mixture over the pasta.  Add the chicken pieces then drizzle with remaining butter mixture.  Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.

Thanks, Mom!

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Orzo Salad is Best Served Cold. Like Revenge.

While our grilled London broil was quite tasty with a side of LeBron revenge, we also enjoyed it with a cold orzo salad.  My mother-in-law makes a very delicious orzo salad, and she served as my inspiration when I whipped this up over the weekend.

Orzo is Italian for barley.  Also known as risoni (big rice), it is a form of pasta in the shape of a grain of rice.  I like orzo because it is a versatile pasta that can be served hot or cold, with a sauce, in a soup, casserole, pilaf, or salad, like I mentioned.  While it was originally made from barley, orzo is now made with durum semolina wheat, as especially hard variety of wheat.   Pasta made with durum wheat is more resilient through the cooking process, and won’t easily become mushy, even after being baked or simmered in broth.  I used a plain variety of orzo, but you can also find varieties colored or flavored with vegetables, like spinach.

I don’t think I tasted orzo until adulthood.  It wasn’t unfamiliar to me, but I just cannot recall ever eating it until my twenties.  Too bad for me.

I encourage you not to wait too long before trying it out for yourself.

Orzo Salad
Serves plenty

1 lb dried orzo (plain or flavored will work)
1 pint grape tomatoes, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup sliced black olives
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 – 1/3 cup olive oil
4 – 8 oz feta cheese (depending on your preference)

Cook orzo according to package directions.  Drain and mix with chopped veggies and herbs.

Whisk together lemon juice, salt and pepper, dried oregano, and olive oil to create dressing.  Drizzle it over pasta and vegetables and lightly mix.

Add feta cheese and lightly mix.

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Filed under Pasta, Salad

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Comfort in Food

My gorgeous friend Kristina is a bit under the weather this week, so my husband and I decided to make some food for her and her husband.  We just wanted them to have a hassle-free evening with something tasty and easy in the refrigerator waiting for them.  The most comforting choice?  A casserole with macaroni, tomatoes, ground beef, and lots of gooey cheese.

It was very easy and we made it up as we went along.  We made enough to not only give them a casserole, but keep one for ourselves as well.  And, I was very grateful that was the case when we decided to have some folks over to watch the Cavaliers basketball game.  It made for a very easy dinner for our guests.  We just popped that casserole in the oven, chopped a few veggies for a salad, slathered some garlic butter on a baguette, and whipped up some brownies.

And, oh, did we need some comfort in our house.  Needless to say, the game did not go as we had hoped, but dinner was just what we wanted.

Comforting Casserole
1 Tbsp each, canola oil and olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (adjust to suit your taste)
2 1lbs ground beef (you could substitute turkey, if you prefer)
24 oz can of whole tomatoes (you could replace with diced, if you prefer)
15 oz can of tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb (1 box) of macaroni (you could replace with another compact pasta)
3/4 cup cheddar, shredded
3/4 cup mozzarella, shredded

Heat the mixture of canola and olive oils in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until no longer opaque.  Add the garlic and in less than a minute so the garlic doesn’t burn, add the meat to the skillet.  Slightly brown the meat and break it up into crumbles.

Add the whole tomatoes, breaking them slightly, juice and all.  Add the tomato sauce and spices.

Stir and turn down heat.  Let it simmer until it thickens, it took about half an hour to get to the consistency we prefer.

Meanwhile, follow the directions on the box of pasta and boil until preferred consistency.  Drain the noodles and place in the bottom of a casserole dish.  We had enough pasta for two casseroles – a 9 x 13 and a 8 x 8.  Pour or ladle the meat sauce on top of the pasta.

Then top with the mixture of cheese.

You can bake it right away in a 400 degree F oven for about 30 minutes or until the cheese looks a little brown and bubbly.  Or, you can refrigerate for no more than 3 days (or freeze for no more than a week) while covered.  If you want to freeze it, I suggest you don’t add the cheese until you are ready to bake.

VARIATIONS: This would also be good with various vegetables (think bell pepper or zucchini), different cheeses, other spices, or other flavorings like mushrooms.  Experiment with ingredients you or your lucky recipient will enjoy.

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Filed under Beef, Pasta