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Addictive, easy, produce-rich pasta. July 16, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, produce season is in full swing. Green and yellow wax beans are ripening faster than we can pick them; our basil, thyme, sage, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, and oregano are exploding. The farmers’ markets are full of fresh corn. Our own hot and bell peppers and tomatoes are coming on strong, and we have high hopes for our tomatillos and sweet potatoes. Snap peas, garden peas, and lima beans are available at every grocery, along with yellow summer squash, broccoli, kale, and spinach.

And that’s just scratching the surface. But it’s plenty to start with when planning a luscious summer pasta dish. Here are some tips for taking your summer pastas over the top:

* Use long pasta. I like spaghetti or fettucine, rather than the penne, shells, or elbows I enjoy with other dishes. The longer pasta just seems to go better with the veggies and sauce. And skip the flavored pasta to let the delicate flavor of the fresh veggies and herbs shine. The exception is artichoke pasta (such as DeBole’s), which adds protein thanks to its Jerusalem artichoke component without distorting the flavor.

* Blanch these veggies. Rather than tossing some veggies raw into your pasta, blanch them to get the perfect degree of tenderness. Dunk broccoli florets, chopped green and yellow wax beans, yellow summer squash slices or dice, and shredded carrots in boiling water briefly to soften them before adding them to a pasta dish.

* Saute the savories (plus). Saute diced sweet onion, minced garlic, mushrooms, and frozen white shoepeg corn kernels or fresh corn cut off the cob in butter, extra-virgin olive oil, or a mix of the two before adding them to the pasta. Ditto for the fresh herbs and greens like chopped kale or baby spinach. In fact, it’s far better to stir the pasta into them immediately before serving.

* Chop the fresh and canned stuff. Dice fresh red, orange, and/or yellow bell pepper. Don’t cook it at all, just spoon it in before serving. There’s no need to cook olives, pickles, or artichoke hearts if you’re planning to add them, or fragile herbs like cilantro or green onions (scallions). Just chop everything up and add at the last moment. But don’t forget that the oil from canned or jarred treats like artichoke hearts can enrich the pasta.

* Now for the sauce. When the pasta’s al dente and the veggies, herbs and etc. are ready, it’s time to make sauce. Drain the pasta; if you’ve sauteed veggies, you already have the base for a sauce. If you haven’t, it’s time to add olive oil, butter, or a mix, folding in the pasta and steamed veggies, with fresh-cracked pepper, salt (we like RealSalt, sea salt, Himalayan salt, or Trocomare), and the finish.

* Finishing touches. To make the sauce that you want, you’ll need to add something to your base. For a sauce that lets you see all the ingredients and tastes light and luscious, add dry white wine. For a rich sauce, add cream. For a creamy sauce that’s not quite as rich, add plain Greek yogurt. For a sauce that adds a surprising depth of flavor, add your favorite salad dressing: vinaigrette (not balsamic in this case), ranch, blue cheese, Caesar, green goddess. (Just make sure the dressing isn’t sweetened.) If you need a touch of heat, the finest-shredded jalapeno or a dash or two of chipotle pepper sauce would do the trick, but remember, this is pasta, so use a very light hand.

* Don’t forget cheese. Adding fresh bufalo mozzarella, or the shredded cheese of your choice (mozzarella, white Cheddar, Italian mix, Mexican mix, Parmesan, whatever), is a great way to bump up your pasta’s flavor and oomph.

This is pasta, not salad, so I would say no citrus, no fruit, no nuts, no seeds, much as I love them on salad. In fact, they’d be great on a salad that accompanied one of these pasta dishes. And again, let me just note that citrus and melon make luscious, low-cal desserts that are perfect after a summer pasta dish.

Yum! Now I’m hungry.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Red, white and gold pasta. June 13, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve posted this original recipe before, but it’s such a great, easy pasta recipe and such a crowd-pleaser that I thought it was time to offer it again. Like pesto pasta and pasta primavera, it’s a good summer pasta with a big, crunchy salad, and it’s great the rest of the year, too, with a side of broccoli, broccoflower, sauteed kale or spinach, carrots, or what-have-you. (Just don’t forget that crunchy salad!) So easy, so good.

This recipe will feed about six, or four if they’re really hungry and keep going back for more. Oh! I call it “Red, White and Gold Pasta” for the red and yellow bell peppers and the button mushrooms that are key ingredients.

Silence’s Red, White and Gold Pasta

1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla)
1 large (16-ounce) carton button mushrooms, or more to taste
1 large red bell pepper
1 large yellow bell pepper
1 16-ounce carton sour cream
1 package shredded sharp white Cheddar
2 tablespoons Italian seasonings (dried rosemary, thyme, oregano and basil)
1 tablespoon Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt)
Fresh-ground pepper, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
Vegetable stock, as needed
1 box spaghetti (thick, not thin, spaghetti)

Heat water for the spaghetti in a large, heavy pot. (We prefer thick, or “regular,” spaghetti, for this, because it holds up better to the thick sauce than thin spaghetti.)

While the water’s heating, pour the olive oil into the bottom of a large, heavy pot to fully coat it. (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens for this.) While the oil heats, dice the onion, then add it to the pot. Slice and dice the mushrooms and add them to the pot. Add the Trocomare or salt and the herbs and pepper. Core and dice the bell peppers and add them to the pot. If the pot begins to dry at any point during this process, add a splash of veggie stock as needed.

Once the veggies have cooked down, add the sour cream. Your goal is to create a thick, creamy sauce, and this may take a while, so don’t put the pasta in the boiling water until you’re satisfied with the sauce’s consistency. (This is a great time to make that crunchy salad, and since the pasta sauce is rich, a simple olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette is a good counterpoint.)

When the pasta is al dente, turn off the burners and add the shredded Cheddar to the sauce, stirring well to melt it in, then plate up the pasta and sauce, give everyone a big bowl of salad, pour some Cabernet, and enjoy! This is THE most-requested meal at our Friday Night Supper Club.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Celebrate pasta. October 25, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Today, October 25, is International Pasta Day, and as devout pasta fanatics, our friend Ben and I plan to celebrate. Won’t you join us? I’ll help you out with four of our favorite pasta recipes, from mind-numbingly easy to “yikes, this is taking hours” (but I promise it’s worth every minute!). Mangia!

                  Pesto Pasta

Hands down, the all-time easiest pasta to put together is pesto pasta. We like to use spaghetti or fettucine for this, and often use artichoke pasta (that would be Jerusalem artichoke pasta, such as DeBoles’, not globe artichoke pasta) to up the protein content. Cook your pasta ’til it’s al dente, drain, and stir in a container of pesto, keeping the pasta on the heat over a low flame. Add shredded Parmesan and lots of fresh-cracked black pepper. If you want to boost the flavor, add chiffonaded fresh basil (that’s basil leaves rolled tightly into tiny cigars and then chopped horizontally into little strips).

The second the Parmesan melts, your pasta is ready. Serve with broccoli (we like ours boiled, drained, and shaken hot in the pan with butter, lemon juice, salt, such as RealSalt, and cracked black pepper) or asparagus (cooked the same way as the broccoli) and a crunchy salad and you’re good to go. Yum! Talk about a dish that tastes decadent for less effort than it takes to cook up that bright orange mac’n’cheese from a box.

                   Creamy Pasta

My second pasta is almost as easy as Pesto Pasta, the main difference being that you’ll have to stand over the stove and stir a few minutes until the sauce sets on the pasta. Creamy Pasta is one of those rich, dreamy indulgences that’s perfect for cold weather when you feel like a luscious treat is in order. Unlike Pesto Pasta, Creamy Pasta is definitely a side dish—no matter how good it tastes, you definitely don’t want to down a whole plateful! But fortunately, a little goes a long way.

To make it, boil pasta (we like shells for this, since they hold lots of sauce) ’til al dente and drain. Return to a low flame and add lots of butter, sliced as though for toast, and a cup of sour cream. Season with lots of fresh-cracked black pepper and herb-seasoned salt (such as Herbamare or Trocamare) and continue to cook over a low flame, stirring constantly to prevent burning, until all liquid has evaporated and the sauce enrobes the pasta with a thick coating.

Serve Creamy Pasta as a side with baked sweet potatoes or curried carrots and green beans, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or spinach (or kale or collards) and a yummy salad. I can’t say a single good thing about the nutritional value of Creamy Pasta—it’s pure indulgence, plain and simple.

But sometimes an indulgence (in moderation) is just what the doctor ordered. And when you couple it with the loads of beta-carotene in sweet potatoes or carrots (not to mention the anticarcinogenic properties of the turmeric in curried carrots), all the vitamins and minerals in your green veggie of choice, and all the good fiber in your salad (plus the benefits of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar if you dress your salads as we do ours), you can look at that luscious pasta on your plate with anticipation rather than guilt.

Just don’t go back for seconds! It reheats beautifully, like all these pastas, so save those calories for another day. It will give you something to look forward to! If OFB, who hates lima beans, isn’t around, I’ll heat up some big, meaty butter beans and add them to my portion of creamy pasta—yum!!!—then go for broke and make two other dishes OFB hates, beets and roasted Brussels sprouts, to eat as sides with the pasta. Pure heaven!

                    Silence’s Red, White and Gold Pasta

This dish (which gets its name from red bell peppers, and yellow or orange bell peppers and yellow sweet onions, and white button mushrooms) requires a few more steps than Pesto Pasta and Creamy Pasta, but it’s so delicious it’s worth it. Read on and you’ll see why!

1 large red bell pepper, cored and diced

1 large yellow or orange bell pepper, cored and diced

1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla), peeled and diced

1 16-ounce box button mushrooms, washed, stemmed and sliced

1/2 stick butter, sliced

1 16-ounce carton sour cream

1 package shredded white Cheddar cheese

dried Italian herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme)

salt (we like herbamare, Trocamare or RealSalt)

fresh-cracked black pepper

pasta (we like spaghetti with this)

Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil. When the butter has melted, add the diced onion and cook ’til translucent, then add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Add herbs, salt, and pepper. Add diced bell peppers. When they’re just soft, add the sour cream, stirring well to blend, and turn heat to low.

If the pasta water is boiling at this point, add pasta and cook ’til al dente, stirring often to prevent clumping. Once the sour cream has cooked down and the sauce has thickened, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the shredded Cheddar to the sauce and stir until the cheese is just melted, then stir the sauce into the pasta and serve. We love Red, White and Gold Pasta with a side of lemon-buttered broccoli and a Caesar or Romaine-endive-radicchio salad, something with a lot of crunch and a slightly bitter undertone to offset the creaminess of the pasta. 

                    Silence’s Ultimate Spaghetti Sauce

Okay, this is about as far from toss-and-serve Pesto Pasta as you can get. To make it, you’ll need a minimum of 2 uninterrupted hours standing at the counter and stove. But trust me, it’s worth it. It’s even vegan! But one bite and every omnivore in creation will be clamoring for more. And the leftovers make the perfect sauce for lasagna, stuffed shells, pizza, eggplant parm, ratatouille, you name it, not to mention a great omelette filling or polenta topping. Or, say, a second round of spaghetti! Cook once, heat until it’s gone. It only gets better.

To remain upright during the initial preparation, I recommend three things: 1. Pour yourself a glass of wine before beginning. 2. Put on one of your favorite CDs. 3. And get everybody else out of the kitchen. (If I need a second glass of wine, OFB is happy to act as sommelier, and I always set out a couple more CDs so I can dry my hands and race out to switch them off when the initial one is over.) 

Ready? Let’s go:

1-2 large sweet onions (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla), peeled and chopped

6 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and minced

1 16-ounce box button mushrooms, washed and sliced

1 large green bell pepper, washed, cored and diced

4 large or 6 smaller zucchini, washed, sliced, and diced

1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 12-ounce can tomato paste

extra-virgin olive oil

Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa sauce

dry red wine, such as chianti

1-2 tablespoons sugar

1-2 tablespoons Italian herbs (dried basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary)

1 teaspoon salt (we like RealSalt, Herbamare or Trocamare), or more to taste

1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, or more to taste

spaghetti

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large, heavy pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water to bring it to a boil.

Add diced onion, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper to the olive oil, and saute until onion clarifies. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Add green pepper and cook until it softens. Add diced zucchini and cook, stirring often, until it softens. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and stir well to combine. Add sugar and Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa, stirring well. Add wine in a circle just inside the outer rim of the pot. Stir the wine into the sauce.

Cover the pot with a splatter shield and monitor, stirring every few minutes. Monitor the pot of boiling water, adding more water as too much evaporates out. Meanwhile, make a colorful, crunchy tossed salad. Slice a ciabatta loaf, brush each slice with olive oil, sprinkle with diced Kalamata and/or green olives, dried Italian herbs, salt, and lemon pepper, and run them under the broiler (topped with shredded Parmesan if you’re not a vegan). Or brush each slice with olive oil, run briefly under the broiler ’til just crunchy, and top with bruschetta mix or fresh salsa.

When the sauce has thickened and the water is boiling, add spaghetti and cook. Rather than adding the sauce to the pasta, in this case, I like to lift out each person’s pasta with pasta tongs, top with the sauce, pass around grated or shredded Parmesan, and serve the spaghetti, salad, bread and wine all at once. We don’t have dessert when we eat this—it’s just too rich—but I could see heading out for some tiramisu (my fave) and coffee a few hours later. Mmmmm!!!

So, how will you celebrate Pasta Day?

                ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Greek pasta. June 27, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, with a dish from our recent travels. While in Asheville, NC, our friend Ben and I ate at a modest Greek-Italian restaurant just down the road from our beloved Log Cabin Motor Court. We ordered Greek salad, warm Greek pita with tzatziki sauce for dipping, and what the menu referred to as “Greek pasta.” The Greek salad and pita with tzatziki were excellent, and by the time the pasta arrived, OFB and I were full. Which was a good thing, since the pasta, spaghetti with olive oil and feta, was bland, to say the least.

However, I saw an excellent opportunity here. Taking our pasta to go (and adding ample sprinklings of crushed red pepper, black pepper, and salt), we stashed it in the fridge in the small but fully functional kitchen of our little log cabin. After a quick trip to the nearby Ingles market the following day, I set about turning our leftover “Greek pasta” into a delicious dinner.

Here’s what I did: I cooked broccoli florets until just tender in boiling water while sauteeing minced onion and crushed garlic in a little extra-virgin olive oil. The second the broccoli was fork-tender, I turned off the heat, drained the broccoli, and rinsed it with cold water. Once the onions had clarified, I dumped in the pasta with its crumbled feta, added the broccoli, stirred well to blend, and topped the dish with flaked Parmesan. I slapped the lid on the pan, turned the flame to its lowest setting, let the pasta heat through, and served the dish with a salad and wine. Yum!!!

The modified dish was so good that I’ll add this pasta to my permanent repertoire. But with a full kitchen, pantry, spice selection, and fridge at my disposal, I’m planning to try some more modifications until we find our favorite. Adding artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and strips of red, orange, and/or yellow bell pepper to the onion/garlic saute instead of the broccoli should make a delicious dish. Sauteed mushrooms and bell pepper strips with onions and garlic, feta and flaked Parmesan, crushed red pepper, black pepper, salt, and Greek oregano would be delicious, too. You could saute sliced mushrooms with the onion and garlic and add the just-cooked broccoli instead of the pepper strips. If you eat meat, you could add grilled or rotisserie chicken, or beef or shrimp hot off the kebab. You could add Greek yogurt to make a creamier dish, or anise liqueur (in this case, skip the peppers, broccoli and olives, please) to give the dish more depth. Yum! The possibilities are endless.

Greek salad and warm Greek pita (which is quite different from a thin, dry Middle Eastern pita, in fact, more like a rich Indian naan) with tzatziki sauce are great accompaniments to this pasta. I like a simple Greek salad: Romaine lettuce, quartered ripe paste or whole ripe cherry tomatoes, slivers of red onion, chopped scallions (green onions), chopped bell peppers (any color or a combination), kalamata olives, and crumbled feta cheese with a dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar. Fresh herbs—basil, thyme, mint, and/or cilantro—added directly to the lettuce before adding the toppings creates a delicious, fresh salad. Grilled artichoke hearts are fabulous on this, too.

Check your local grocery’s freezer section for Greek pita. We can find Greek pita at our local farmers’ market, too. To make tzatziki sauce, buy Greek plain yogurt (or strain regular plain yogurt to drain off the whey and make a thick, cream-cheese-like yogurt) and mix in crushed garlic and minced fresh cucumbers to taste.

Try this meal, you’ll like it, I promise! And if you come up with variations of your own, please share them with us.

                 ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Amazing anise pasta. February 12, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s snowing, freezing, and generally miserable here, and I say, that calls for comfort food. As faithful readers know, I like pasta, and I like to create my own recipes. While I was trying to stock up on staples before our latest snowstorm, I saw that the grocery had penne pasta—the first time I’d seen it around here—and better yet, it had a ten packages for $10 deal on all its store-brand pasta!

All righty then. Since it seems like I can’t train myself out of an over-the-arm basket carrier (our friend Ben, by contrast, insists on grocery carts, more power to him), I only got two boxes, one of penne and one of spaghetti. Once home, I checked out the penne-making options, using produce and other ingredients we already had on hand.

Seeing that I had a pint of light cream and a package of fresh basil gave me an idea. I had both fresh baby bella and button mushrooms. Normally, penne pasta would have inspired me to make a baked pasta casserole with tomato sauce, mushrooms and onions, and lots of mozzarella. But if you’ve been reading our blog recently, you’ll know that something unfortunate has befallen our venerable Caloric gas stove and it’s now exceptionally difficult to fire up the oven. While we wait for repairs, I think it’s a better idea to see what we can do on top of the stove.

Now basil, as you know, has a strong licorice/anise flavor that I thought might work well with the mushrooms, penne, and cream. But why stop there? As it happens, I had a fennel bulb, also anise-flavored, and a bottle of Sambuca liqueur (also anise/licorice flavored) in the liquor cabinet. So why not make a sauce that combined the earthiness of the mushrooms and the creaminess of the cream and butter with the anise accents of the basil, fennel bulb, and Sambuca? Go for it, I say. This is what I made:

              Amazing Anise Pasta

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, or 1015 type), diced

small (8-ounce) box baby bella mushrooms, sliced

large (16-ounce) box button mushrooms, sliced

half a large fennel bulb (or a whole small fennel bulb), diced

bunch fresh basil leaves, minced (about 10 very large leaves)

1/2 stick butter or more as needed for sauteing

1 pint light cream

1 carton veggie stock (any brand)

1/4 cup or 1 small bottle Sambuca

Trocomare, RealSalt, or salt

lemon pepper

box penne pasta

Bring a large pot (such as a stock pot) of water to a full boil, then cover it and turn off the heat. Saute onion in melted butter in a heavy Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset) or other large, heavy saucepan with Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) and lemon pepper to taste. (Use cracked black pepper and a splash of lemon juice if you don’t have lemon pepper.) Once onions clarify, add mushrooms and fennel and cook, adding a little veggie stock as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan, until the mushrooms cook down. (I would have added shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, or any others to the mix if I had had them on hand, and certainly don’t think more mushrooms would hurt. Like all pasta sauces, this one is very forgiving.) Add minced basil and half the pint of cream and stir well. Reduce heat to low and allow sauce to thicken, adding more cream as needed and stirring frequently. Your goal is a very thick, silky sauce that will coat the pasta without being at all runny.

And speaking of the pasta, when you think the sauce is almost there, return the water to a full boil and pour the pasta into the boiling water and cook until al dente or your preferred degree of doneness (not too soft, though, please; it has to stand up to the mushrooms and fennel). Once you’ve added the pasta to the water, pour the Sambuca in a circle around the top of the sauce and stir it in. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings, drain the pasta thoroughly, pour the sauce over the penne and mix it in well so the pasta is thoroughly coated with sauce, and serve with a huge tossed salad.

Because this is a rich dish, I’d use full-bodied greens like Romaine, curly endive, arugula and radicchio in the salad, perhaps with a softer type like butter or Boston lettuce, and add red bell pepper, scallions (green onions), the rest of the fennel bulb (shredded like coleslaw) to echo the flavor of the pasta, and some shaved Parmesan. I’d serve it with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and, of course, a sprinkling of salt.

Note to all you meat eaters out there: Knowing how well baked chicken breasts pair with mushrooms and fennel seeds, you might want to try this with chicken. Just bear in mind that if you add the baked chicken directly to the sauce as opposed to serving whole breasts and using the pasta as a side dish, you’ll need to add more cream and veggie (or chicken) stock to cover it.

I hope you enjoy my latest creation! If you try it, please tell me what you think.

‘Til next time,

Silence