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This is one of those simple but incredibly delicious dishes that taste like they could be from a restaurant. You know those kind? They’re kind of ridiculously easy and only have a few simple ingredients, but they come together into gorgeous, soul-satisfying dishes.

This one is definitely good enough for company, but it’s easy enough that I could make it as a complete cooking novice in college. I don’t know where the original recipe comes from, but I’ve kind of adapted it along the way anyway, so basically it’s my own creation.

What makes it so great is all of the grape tomatoes. Fresh, bright, and consistently flavorful, grape tomatoes are my go-to tomato of choice when I don’t have tomatoes growing in my garden (which is most of the year). I’m lucky enough to have a bit of an overwhelming bounty of grape tomatoes (and regular tomatoes, for that matter) coming in from my back yard at the moment, so I’ve been searching for recipes to use them up. This old standby of mine came to mind right away.

I used a good amount of those lovely yellow grape tomatoes, which is why the sauce in the photos is the color it is (it kind of blends in with the color of the pasta)- if you use all red tomatoes, the sauce will be pinkish.

It’s so easy – cook up some sweet Italian sausage, onion and garlic, slice a whole bunch of grape tomatoes in half and throw them in the pot, cook it down, and finish with some cream and basil. Easy peasy. And oh so yummy. One note – I used whole wheat spaghetti this time, which is fine, but because it’s such a chunky sauce, it really works best with a shorter pasta like farfalle, rotini, or gemelli.

Creamy Pasta with Grape Tomatoes and Sausage

From: unknown/me!

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 pints grape tomatoes, halved (I used a mix of red and yellow grape tomatoes

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound pasta (short pasta works best)

1. In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, cook sausage and red pepper flakes. Sauté about 5 minutes, breaking up the sausage into small pieces, until the sausage is no longer pink. Add the onion and garlic and cook a few minutes more, until the onion is soft.

2. Add the grape tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are collapsed and very saucy, 5 – 10 minutes. Add cream and parmesan and simmer 5 minutes more. Stir in basil.

3. Meanwhile, cook pasta in well-salted water according to package directions. Drain and serve pasta with the sauce and more parmesan cheese.

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All together, now: yummmm!

This was a yummy, hearty, delicious bowl of comfort food goodness. And it was healthy! I used whole wheat penne and the dish is loaded with veggies. Plus it’s meat-free, but you won’t notice it – my husband was shocked when I pointed out that there was no meat. He didn’t miss it at all, and this is a guy who needs meat to consider it a complete dinner. This pasta is extremely satisfying and filling and very flavorful. It’s one of those rare pasta dishes that you can eat your fill and thoroughly enjoy each delicious bite and walk away without feeling bloated or heavy.

I’ll say it again: yum! I need to make this again soon. It’s a perfect fall dish and comes together very easily, but it’s so complex and flavorful that you’d think it came from a restaurant.

Penne alla Norma

Adapted from Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast
Serves: 4 to 6 Prep time: 20 minutesTotal time: 20 minutes
 

Coarse Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound penne rigate (I used whole wheat)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch chunks

2 pints grape tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 cup water, plus more as needed

1/2 cup firmly packed torn fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

  1.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente – I set my timer for one minute less than the shortest time in the directions. Drain pasta and return to pot.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add eggplant; season generously with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook until eggplant begins to release its juices, about 5 minutes. Uncover; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes (if mixture begins to brown too much on the bottom of the pan, add up to a few tablespoons of water, and scrape up bits with a wooden spoon).
  4. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and 1/4 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add tomato mixture and basil to pot, and toss with pasta; briefly reheat over medium-low if necessary. To serve, divide among bowls; top each with a dollop of ricotta, and garnish with additional basil and a couple grinds of black pepper.

I don’t repeat recipes very often – there are too many new and interesting recipes out there to try! – so the fact that we have had this many times should tell you something. It’s a delicious soup for a cold winter night, hearty and healthy and very satisfying. It’s definitely one of our favorite soups. It’s extremely flavorful and interesting and different from any other chicken noodle soup I’ve ever tasted, unique and impressive enough for company but still simple to prepare.

Swiss chard is so, so good for you and it’s delicious too – it’s a mild leafy green similar in taste and texture to spinach. It’s packed full of iron, vitamins A, C, and K, magnesium and potassium, and fiber. Chickpeas are loaded with fiber, protein, and vitamin B6. This is one healthy soup!! And trust me, you’ll enjoy this soup so much you won’t even notice how good it is for you.

Another reason I love this soup: it’s cheap eats. I always keep canned beans, chicken broth, and egg noodles in our pantry (I’m a big fan of having a well-stocked pantry), and a bunch of Swiss chard will go for about $3, so it’s not an expensive dish to make. You don’t have to pay a lot to eat well. And you don’t have to eat a lot of processed foods to eat cheaply.

I accidentally used beet greens in this soup this last time, and I didn’t even realize it until I went into the fridge for my bunch of beet greens and found a bunch of Swiss chard instead. So feel free to substitute with beet greens or even spinach, if you like. Beet greens will turn your noodles pink after sitting in the fridge overnight, though! My other change to this recipe is that I add about a cup of cooked chicken at the end. I’ll use leftover chicken breast meat, or shredded rotisserie chicken meat, or this last time I roasted two chicken thighs on the bone in the oven with just salt and pepper and cut up the meat. It’s not necessary, but James enjoys the extra meatiness.

You could also easily make this vegetarian by omitting the chicken meat and using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

Tunisian Soup with Swiss Chard and Egg Noodles

Adapted, just barely, from Batter Splattered

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (I use 1 teaspoon ground cumin)

1 bunch Swiss chard or beet greens, stems and center ribs chopped and leaves coarsely chopped (reserve separately)

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

5 cups chicken broth

1 to 2 tablespoons harissa or other hot sauce,to taste (I use 1 tablespoon of Tabasco sauce for a nice kick without being too spicy)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 (19-ounces) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well

4 ounce fine egg noodles (about 1 1/2 cups)

Accompaniment: lemon wedges

About 1 cup shredded chicken breast meat, optional

If using seeds rather than powder: toast cumin seeds in a dry small heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium heat, stirring, until deeply fragrant and dark brown (be careful not to burn). Cool, then grind to a powder in grinder.

Cook chard stems, onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin and salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add stock, harissa (or Tabasco sauce), and lemon juice and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Add chard leaves, chickpeas, chicken (if using), and noodles with 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer, covered, until tender, about 7 minutes.

Serve soup sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper and remaining cumin.

Chili is one of the best meals for the cold dark days in the middle of winter. They’re hearty, spicy, flavorful, and comforting.I used to make chili from those packets of chili mix that you can get at the grocery store, the ones that are full of MSG and preservatives and who knows what kinds of scary chemicals. I used them because I thought they made making chili easy. HINT: making chili is easy anyway. I mean, how much harder is it to measure out a teaspoon of this, a couple tablespoons of that, than ripping open an envelope of mystery powder? There are so many benefits to mixing the spices yourself rather than relying on the packet: you can adjust the flavors to your liking, you avoid consuming nasty chemicals like MSG, the spices in your cabinet are probably fresher and better tasting than a packet that’s been sitting in the grocery store for who knows how long.

Stepping down off my soap box…

This recipe caught my eye because it’s unlike any chili I’d ever had – it includes cocoa powder in the list of spices and it’s served over spaghetti. I guess this is pretty common in Ohio, but for this Jersey girl, it sounded very unusual and intriguing. The cocoa powder adds a subtle dark chocolatey note to the chili that’s really delicious.

This recipe has a long list of spices, so it could be expensive to make this if your spice cabinet is rather small, but I had everything except for the chipotle chili powder so it was a very reasonably-priced meal. Plus none of the spices in this recipe are uncommon, so if you do have to invest in some spice jars to make this, you’ll easily find other recipes to use them in. The long list of spices gives this chili a deliciously complex spicy flavor.

So here’s the cast of characters: a lot of spices, salt, cocoa powder, canned crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, an onion, some garlic, and of course BEEF. This is a very beefy chili, and the beans are served as a garnish.

You start by chopping up an onion.

Then throw your beef into a big pot.

Add your chopped up onion…

And the minced garlic…

And cook it all up until the beef is browned and the onion is soft.

Now, you’re supposed to add the chili powder with the onion and garlic and cook them all up together, but I forgot so I added it at this point and let it cook up a bit before going on to the next step. It was fine, but: don’t be like me! Follow the recipe!

After you drain the fat from the beef, add the tomatoes. I used crushed tomatoes, but you could also used diced.

Here are all the beautiful spices and the cocoa powder all in one little dish. I measured these all out in advance because mise en place makes my life so much easier. Plus I love having all my ingredients all set up, chopped and minced and ready to go in their own little dishes, because other than making the cooking flow much better, they all look so pretty in their raw stage. And I get to pretend I’m on a cooking show.

Stir in the spices,  cocoa powder, salt, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, and let it simmer for an hour covered, and another half hour with the lid off. And that’s all there is to it! Chop up an onion, mince a few garlic cloves, measure out some spices, mix everything together in a pot and then just sit back and let your house fill with yummy smells. Easy peasy.

Mm, that’s some beefy, spicy deliciousness right there.  Now, to be clear, when I say “spicy,” I don’t mean that this dish is anywhere near a 4-alarm type of chili. It has a nice kick to it but the flavor is a complex melding of spices. This isn’t a hot-hot kind of chili.

And here’s your secondary cast of characters; don’t forget about these guys! Cook up the spaghetti. Drain, rinse, and heat up the beans (I nuke mine in the microwave). Grate up the cheddar cheese. And, well, open up the sour cream.

Serve the chili on top of the spaghetti and then add the toppings of your choice – I like to add the beans, then the cheese, and then the sour cream. You can also serve it with chopped onions, but James and I aren’t big fans of raw onion.

This is a delicious dish! And it makes a lot – James and I probably ate it for dinner for four nights. But we never got tired of it because it’s so good.

The recipe comes from Rachel at Coconut & Lime, so please head over to her blog to get all the details and then MAKE THIS CHILI. It’s so good. You’ll be so glad you did.

I love Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine. My cousins gave us a subscription as an engagement present about two years ago and ever since then I’ve been hooked. So when I found out that there’s an Everyday Food app for my iPhone, and that it was only a buck, of course I bought it. And I generally only stick to the free apps, so you know this was special.

The app isn’t perfect, but it gives me easy access to recipies from issues that came out before I was a subscriber, and that makes me happy. And it stores an alphebetized list of the recepies I’ve saved, so it’s easy to find my favorites again, which is extremely helpful. On more than one occasion there has been a frantic search for a missing issue of Everyday Food that had a recipe I wanted to try, or – even worse! – a recipe I already tried and loved but didn’t copy down yet. So hopefully the app will cut down on that, although it doesn’t seem to include recipes from the latest issues.

Plus it has a “dinner tonight” tab, which gives you a new recipe every day, so I’ve discovered some tasty-looking recipes that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. I love that each recipe has a pretty photo of the food, just like the website or the magazine. I hate not knowing what the dish is supposed to look like.

And you can search through the archives for a particular ingredient. I wish it had a browsing feature though, I’d like to just scroll through their archives without narrowing it down by an arbitrary ingredient.

It was through this app that I discovered the recipe for gemelli with sausage, swiss chard and pine nuts. It looked interesting and very very easy, but it had so few ingredients I didn’t really expect much from it. I wanted to try it because it was something new (and it looked like it be a cinch to throw together), but I thought it’d be one of those recipes that I try and then forget about.

Obviously, I was wrong. It was fantastic. I was actually blown away. The flavors were surprisingly complex for so few ingredients (I think we have the sausage to thank for that), and it was very savory and satisfying. I couldn’t stop raving about how much I enjoyed the dish, and I don’t usually compliment my own cooking that way. I was just so surprised at how tasty this was, given how ridiculously simple it was to put together.

Gemelli with Sausage, Swiss Chard and Pine Nuts

From Martha Stewart Everyday Food (unfortunately the app doesn’t say which issue)

Serves 4

Ingredients

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 tablespoon olive oil

3/4 lb mild Italian sausage, casings removed

1 lb Swiss chard, tough stems removed*, leaves cut into thin strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and Pepper

1 lb gemelli or other short pasta

3/4 cup raisins, plumped in boiling water and drained**

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I think I used 1/2 cup) ***

Directions

1. In a large skillet, toast pine nuts over medium-high heat, shaking the pan to toast evenly, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from skillet.

2. In the same skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage, and cook, breaking it up with a fork, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add chard, garlic, and pepper; cook, tossing, until chard wilts, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover to keep warm.

3. In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions, about 12 minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain pasta. Return pasta to pot.

4. Add sausage mixture to pasta with 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, raisins, toasted pine nuts, and cheese; toss to combine. Add more cooking water if pasta seems dry. Serve with more Parmesan.

*and feed to your guinea pig if you have one!

** I almost left the raisins out, and I’m so glad I didn’t. They added a pleasant sweetness to the dish, and they really complimented the sausage. I let them sit in the boiling water for a minute or two before draining and adding them to the dish.

*** I use freshly grated Asiago, which is cheaper than fresh Parmesan (especially Parmesan imported from Italy) but I really can’t taste the difference. I wouldn’t recommend the pre-grated parmesan in a green can – it just wouldn’t give you the awesome flavor that the fresh cheese will.

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Mm, attractive.

I first tried spaghetti carbonara last month when my in-laws visited for a week. We went to dinner at a fabulous restaurant in the North End, and, feeling brave, I ordered the spaghetti carbonara.

Up until a couple years ago, I had a strong aversion to bacon and all things pork. This is a direct result of taking AP biology senior year of high school.  We dissected fetal pigs for weeks, it seemed, and kept the preservative-soaked corpses on trays around the room that whole time. Or maybe they were kept in buckets, but I think it was trays. Anyway, the air in that room was thick with the nauseating perfume of dead fetal pig flesh, and I had to breathe it in for 45 minutes a day. It’s a peculiar and distinctly porky smell, and it lingered in my nose for months afterwards. Even years later, the smell of a pork roast or bacon would turn my stomach.

Then I met my husband.

James loves bacon. And he cooks it really, really well, so that it crumbles and dissolves in your mouth. Needless to say, with some patient guidance/prodding/coaching  from James, I slowly overcame my bacon aversion. Then we visited his parents for Easter, and his mom served ham. Ham! I could handle smoky, crispy bacon, but ham? I wasn’t sure, but I had to try. I had to be polite! So I had some ham, and it was good! I guess avoiding pork for years helped disassociate edible pork from preserved fetal pork. From that point on, I didn’t have trouble eating bacon, and I even cooked up a couple of hams (oo, I’ll have to share that recipe sometime!) but every once in a while the specter of fetal pig smells comes back to haunt me. I cooked up a pork roast this spring and I could hardly touch it, it was so fetal-piggy.

So I’m still a bit nervous about different applications of pork, which is why I’d never tried spaghetti carbonara, whose flavor comes mainly from bacon. And I was a bit anxious that I wouldn’t like it, but oh boy, was it good. Rich and savory and yes bacon-y, but in a fabulous non-fetal pig way.

James tried it and loved it too, so I knew when I spotted a recipe for it  in my America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook that I’d have to give it a whirl.

This recipe was a little bit tricky, but it probably would have been less so had I actually read it thoroughly beforehand. My biggest flub was the bacon – you cook in in olive oil (which I inadvertantly omitted) and then in wine, which you reduce down. Well, I set my husband to cooking the bacon just like he always does (for some reason I always overcook bacon so it’s just best if he handles it) and after five or so minutes I actually read the bacon instructions. First, it should be chopped! Stike one. It should be cooked in olive oil! Strike two. After a bit of cooking, you add the wine to reduce. Almost strike three – I read that just in time and dumped the wine in so it could reduce down without cooking the bacon to death. After it cooled off a bit, I chopped the bacon on a cutting board and I don’t think I lost too much of the juices, so it turned out fine in the end.

IMG_4342

Oh wait, that should be chopped…

Also, I underestimated the size of the bowl. The one I chose held all the pasta with no room leftover. I should have chosen a bigger bowl so that I could stir the eggs into the pasta quickly without flinging bacon and noodles around the room. The bowl needs to be big enough to hold a full pound of pasta with plenty of room leftover, and it needs to be ovensafe enough to be heated at 200 degrees.

IMG_4341

The bowl turned out to be crucial. After you drain the pasta and put it in the bowl, you have to stir the bacon mixture and the egg and cheese mixture into the pasta – quickly. That’s the key to getting the eggs to cook into a creamy sauce without scrambling, and since my bowl was awkwardly small, I had to stir carefully and the sauce turned out a bit chunkier than I think is ideal. I was pretty fed up and frustrated at the end, and dumped it all into the biggest bowl I own even though it wasn’t warm (apparently having the bowl warm is also key to getting smooth sauce) and continued stirring until it was evident that the little chunks weren’t magically disappearing, at which point I threw my hands up in frustration and served it.

IMG_4344

So it didn’t turn out pretty, but it sure was tasty – rich and creamy despite the chunky bits. And you know, I didn’t even notice the little chunks. And while the bacon flavor is definitely noticeable – you get it in every bite, even if you don’t get a piece of bacon – it’s subtle and smoky goodness. It adds a rich depth of flavor to the sauce without being overwhelmingly bacon-y. I definitely want to try this again, because I’d like to master the egg-stirring before attempting it for guests. This recipe is definitely a keeper – no surprise, coming from America’s Test Kitchen!

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara

From America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Serves 4

Start to finish: 30 minutes

3 large eggs

1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (3/4 cup)

1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese

3 garlic cloves, minced

8 ounces bacon (8 slices) chopped fine

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 pound spaghetti

Pepper

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a large serving bowl on the rack, and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil  in a large pot for spaghetti.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, cheeses, and garlic together and set aside.

3. Cook the bacon and olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until the bacon is crisp, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until it is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cover.

4. When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the spaghetti. Cook, stirring often, until the spaghetti is almost tender but still a little firm to the bite.

5. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water then drain the spaghetti, leaving it slightly wet. Remove the warm bowl from the oven and add the spaghetti. Immediately pour the egg and bacon mixtures over the spaghetti and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.  Add the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce before serving.

Suzi

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