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National Pasta Day. October 25, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Celebrate! Today, October 25th, is National Pasta Day!

Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love pasta, be it my super-intensive homemade spaghetti sauce or our favorite storemade pesto over penne (with, of course, a side of greens like broccoli or sauteed spinach and garlic and a big, crunchy salad). So I thought I’d give you all a few quick, easy ways to celebrate pasta and enjoy its comforting warmth on these unnaturally cold, wintry days.

* Creamy pasta. This is my go-to when true comfort food is needed, and fast. It’s so much simpler than Alfredo and so much better. The trick is to balance it out and enjoy a very moderate portion, so you can delight in every creamy, buttery, decadent forkful. I cook shells to al dente, then drain them and add sour cream and butter and return them to low heat. I add salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) and cracked black pepper, and stir until the sour cream/butter topping has cooked down and thickly coated the pasta. You can add shredded sharp white Cheddar or grated Parmesan at this point, if you want. I like the pasta as is, served in small portions alongside roasted or baked sweet potatoes and broccoli with butter and lemon and preceded by a crunchy mixed salad. Or enjoy it for lunch with baked beans and coleslaw (we love Bush’s Grillin’ Beans).

* Pesto pasta. My local supermarket’s refrigerated housemade pesto beats every expensive gourmet jarred pesto I’ve tried, so when I’m craving a quick pesto pasta, I get a carton and either pick some fresh basil from my garden or (if it’s out of season) buy a bunch at the produce aisle to brighten the flavor. I’ll cook up some spaghetti al dente, drain it, then stir in the pesto and minced fresh basil. Serve this up with some broccoli raabe roasted with olive oil and garlic and a Caesar salad and you’re good to go anytime!

* Mushrooms and Marsala. Such a simple, rich, luscious pasta dish. All you really need are button mushrooms, though you can add any others you like to deepen the flavors. Saute a diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) in butter with salt (see above) and fresh-cracked black pepper. When the onion clarifies, add sliced or diced mushrooms (your preference) and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms release their liquids. Add a healthy splash of Marsala (or Madeira) wine, and, if you’d like a more deep, robust flavor, a splash of port or bourbon, and cook the sauce down. Serve over fettucine with a Caesar salad.

This dish is rich enough so that, instead of sides, you could simply add an appetizer, such as my famous endive boats, if you wish. To make endive boats, buy one or two heads of firm, fresh Belgian endive. Separate, wash, and dry each leaf. Fill each leaf with crumbled blue and/or feta and/or gorgonzola cheese, some dried cranberries (“craisins”), crumbled pecans, and fresh-cracked black pepper. Serve them up as a luscious but not too sweet or filling appetizer. Your guests will love them!

* Go Greek. Saute diced sweet onion and crushed minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil. When the onion clarifies and the garlic is fragrant, add sliced mushrooms, broccoli florets, and/or halved thin slices of summer squash (yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, and/or yellow and green zucchini) to taste. Saute with oregano, basil, and thyme, along with plenty of salt and pepper. Just before serving over spaghetti or fettucine, add crumbled feta cheese and green or kalamata olives.

*A Mediterranean melange. Our local farmers’ market has one of the best pan-Mediterranean stands going. I can never get enough of their tzatziki, baba ghannouj, fava bean hummus, fresh-made feta, luscious halvah, bean salads, spiral spinach-and-feta pastries in phyllo dough, you name it. But one of their dishes that I love is pasta-centric. It contains macaroni elbows, spaghetti, rice, chickpeas, lentils, and lots of crispy fried onions. Yum! I love this super-comfort food heated up with their, for lack of a better word, juicy and garlicky housemade feta, the best and freshest I’ve ever had. If you have just a little elbow macaroni, spaghetti, and rice in their respective containers, this is a delicious way to go. Otherwise, just pick one and go with it! If you can’t face crisping the onion, you can simply sautee sweet onion dice in olive oil instead. Add some sliced or diced mushrooms and take this dish to a whole new level!

If you’re lucky enough to live near a source of flavorful artisan pasta, as we are, there’s always the option of simply cooking the pasta and tossing it in butter or olive oil. Cracked pepper and salt, and maybe a few curls of grated Parmesan or aged Asiago, and you’re set! Whether you’re indulging in garlic and basil penne or harissa-infused fettucine, you’ll love the bright, vibrant flavors. Pair them with a bare-bones salad: endive, escarole, radicchio, Iceberg (to tone down the bitterness of the other greens), chopped scallions (green onion) and diced tomato or halved cherry tomatoes and a simple extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.

Yum! Happy Pasta Day!

‘Til next time,