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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


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,