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Pasta with Asparagus, Parmesan, and Crispy Prosciutto (or Bacon)

It seems as if I have just been posting sweets on this blog lately, but I promise we really do eat dinner every night!  We usually don’t eat dinner until later when the light isn’t as good, and we’re usually in too much of a hurry to eat for me to get good pictures!

A little while ago I picked up a magazine put out by America’s Test Kitchen called “Fast and Fresh” recipe collection.  Usually the words “fast” or “quick and easy” do not appeal to me when it comes to meals becuase it usually means that it’s a recipe for some awful, Sandra Lee-type, cream of crap containing dish.  But not this collection.  These recipes prove that you can have really delicious dinners that don’t require a whole lot of time and you don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of ingredients because you likely have most things on hand.  We’ve gotten so many amazing dinners from this magazine, and ones that are now part of our rotation that we will make again and again.

This pasta dish was no exception!  This was probably one of my favorites that we’ve tried.  I don’t like asparagus on its own, but in this pasta dish it was a wonderful addition.  This was such a delicious, creamy dish, and was right on for what I had been craving for dinner that night.  I used bacon because I already had it.  You could even leave it out altogether if you don’t eat meat and this would make a great vegetarian dish.  I wouldn’t change a thing about this recipe.  It was perfect, and I can’t wait to make it again!

Pasta with Asparagus, Parmesan, and Crispy Prosciutto

1 teaspoon olive oil

4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into ¼-inch strips (4 finely chopped slices of bacon can be

substituted for prosciutto)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper

1 pound fusilli or penne

1 pound asparagus trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese

¾ cup chopped fresh basil

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.  Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until just smoking.  Cook prosciutto until lightly browned and crisp, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to paper towel-lined plate.  Add garlic to pan and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in cream and lemon juice and simmer until slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta to boiling water and cook until just beginning to soften, about 8 minutes.  Add asparagus to pot and cook until bright green and tender and pasta is al dente, about 4 minutes.  Reserve 1 cup cooking water, drain pasta and asparagus, and return to pot.  Add sauce, ½ cup reserved cooking water, cheese, and basil to pot and toss to combine, adding remaining cooking water as needed.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle portions with crispy prosciutto.  Serve.

Serves 4

Source: America’s Test Kitchen

Gnocchi with Oregano-Butter Sauce (and my 100th post!)

I have never had gnocchi until I made this, but after seeing it on a Food Network show (I think it might have been Emeril), I knew I wanted to make it. I somehow just knew that I would love it. The only thing that stopped me was that I did not have a potato ricer. Finally, a few weeks ago, I picked one up at Williams Sonoma and knew that I could be on my way to making gnocchi soon.

I decided to try the version from Cook’s Illustrated because it seemed so straightforward. There were a few recommended sauces: a tomato-mint sauce, pesto, and a butter-sage sauce. I used the butter-sage sauce as inspiration and made it with oregano instead. Gnocchi is surprisingly easy to make. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect in terms of taste, but I was really to find out how delicious it was. David described it as being like potato dumplings. I was really glad he loved it too, because I hate when I love something and he doesn’t because I know that means it will be a long time before I make it again! I really liked the sauce I chose to use with this. It was great with Parmesan cheese on top. I can’t wait to try different sauces when I make this again- and I will most definitely be making this again and again!

Potato Gnocchi (Source: Cook’s Illustrated March 1995)

2 pounds russet potatoes (or other baking potato), washed

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon table salt, plus more for cooking liquid

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake potatoes until a metal skewer slides easily through them, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size.

2. Hold potato with a pot holder or kitchen towel and peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife (see illustration 1); rice peeled potato into a large bowl. Peel and rice remaining potatoes. Cool until potatoes are no longer hot, about 15 minutes.

3. Sprinkle 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt over warm potatoes. Using your hands, work mixture into a soft, smooth dough. If dough is sticky (which is often the case), add more flour as needed, up to 1 1/2 cups total.

4. Roll about one-quarter of dough into a long 3/4-inch-thick rope (illustration 2). If rope won’t hold together (illustration 3), return it to bowl with remaining dough and work in more flour as needed. Repeat until all dough is rolled.

5. Cut rope of dough into 3/4-inch lengths (illustration 4). Holding butter paddle or fork in one hand, press each piece of cut dough against ridged surface with index finger to make an indentation in center. Roll dough down and off ridges and allow it to drop to work surface (illustrations 5, 6, and 7). (Gnocchi can be placed in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerated for several hours. Or, baking sheet can be placed in freezer for about 1 hour. Partially frozen gnocchi can be transferred to plastic bag or container, sealed, and frozen for up to 1 month.)

6. Bring 4 quarts of water to low boil in large pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt or to taste. Add about one-third of the gnocchi and cook until they float, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (about 3 minutes for frozen gnocchi). Retrieve gnocchi with slotted spoon and transfer to warm, shallow serving bowl or platter. Repeat cooking process with remaining gnocchi; see related recipes for topping suggestions.

For Sauce:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

12 whole fresh sage leaves, cut into thin strips, (other fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, chives, or marjoram can be substituted)- I used oregano

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for passing

7. For Sauce: Melt butter in small skillet. When butter foams, add sage. Remove pan from heat and set aside until needed.

Penne alla Vodka

I had been craving a good pasta dish. We hadn’t had pasta in a while, which is very unusual for us. I love pasta and could probably eat it even more than I already do 🙂 I had been wanting to try this dish for a long time, and I decided to finally go ahead and make it. We really liked this meal. It was very similar to Penne a la Betsy, which we both enjoyed not too long ago. I really like cream and tomato sauces, and this one was perfect. Sometimes sauces have too much cream and not enough tomato, or vice versa, but this sauce had a perfect balance between the two. The red pepper flakes gave the sauce the perfect amount of flavor. The only thing I would do differently is cut back on the onions just a bit because there was just a little bit too much in there. Other than that, this was a great dinner that I would definitely make again.

Penne alla Vodka (Cook’s Illustrated November 2006)

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion, minced (about ¼ cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
¼ to ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
Table salt
1/3 cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Puree half of tomatoes in food processor until smooth. Dice remaining tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine pureed and diced tomatoes in liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1 2/3 cups). Add reserved liquid to equal 2 cups.

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are light golden around edges, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove pan from heat and add vodka. Return pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until alcohol flavor is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower heat to medium if simmering becomes too vigorous. Stir in cream and cook until hot, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven. Add sauce to pasta and toss over medium heat until pasta absorbs some of sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in basil and adjust seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls and serve immediately, passing Parmesan separately.

Penne a la Betsy

This recipe has been popular on the cooking board I frequent lately, although I remember seeing it for the first time on Annie’s Eats. This recipe is from the popular blog The Pioneer Woman Cooks. I really like this blog because she takes pictures of the meals as she is cooking it. I loved reading her story about cooking with her younger sister Betsy- obviously this is where the dish gets its name!

David and I both loved this. I really like tomato-cream sauces, and I found that this one had a pretty good proportion of tomato and cream. It wasn’t too heavy like some cream sauces tend to be. And as always, I loved the shrimp. I can never get enough shrimp 🙂 Another great thing about this recipe is that is takes very little time to make. It’s a great recipe for those times when you want a great homemade dinner but don’t have a lot of time. I will definitely be making this again.

Penne a la Betsy

Ingredients:
¾ pound penne pasta
3 tablespoons butter, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound large shrimp
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup white wine
1 (8-ounce) can plain tomato sauce
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
basil leaves, to taste

Directions:
Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, while water heats and pasta cooks, make the sauce. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add the shrimp and cook for a few minutes, until opaque. Remove to a plate to let cool. Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally. While the onion and garlic are cooking, chop the shrimp into small, bite-sized pieces. Add the wine (or chicken broth) to the pan and allow to reduce for a few minutes. Chiffonade the basil leaves and set aside. Stir in tomato sauce. Add the heavy cream and stir well to combine. Add shrimp back to the skillet and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the parsley and basil and mix well.

Drain pasta and return to pot. Add the sauce to the pot and stir well to combine. Serve.

Source: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Chicken Cacciatore

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This dish used to be in our regular rotation but we haven’t made it in a while.  The recipe is originally from Emeril, but as I have prepared and eaten it, it has been adjusted to my personal tastes.  Last week I decided that I wanted to make it again and since this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge was Pressure Cookers, Dutch Ovens, and Crockpots, I knew it was a good time to fix it.  I love this dinner because it has so much flavor and it’s very easy to prepare.  I made a few changes to the recipe.  I only used boneless skinless chicken breasts and pounded them thin and sauteed them after adding the seasonings.  I have found that this works better than cooking them in the sauce because the sauce tends to make the coating soggy.  I also use double the amount of mushrooms because I love mushrooms in a red sauce and I didn’t think this one had enough.  I also added a few dashes of red pepper flakes to make it a little bit spicier.  This is a great recipe and one that I always enjoy making, and I am submitting it to this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge, hosted by Lis of La Mia Cucina.

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4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
Cayenne, paprika, salt, and pepper for coating chicken
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups mushrooms (I used cremini)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chiffonade basil
1/2 pound cooked fettuccine or spaghetti
4 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Season the chicken parts with desired amounts of paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken in flour, coating completely.  Saute chicken in olive oil until done, and place in warm oven until ready to serve.
In a large Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, add the oil. Add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to saute for 2 minutes. Stir in the wine, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the red pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and basil. Add the chicken back to the mixture. Reduce the heat to medium and cover. Simmer until sauce is of desired consistency and flavors are blended together.
Serve over pasta, garnished with cheese and parsley.

Source: Adapted from Emeril Legasse, originally in  New New Orleans Cooking, published by William and Morrow, 1993

Lasagna

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Lasagna is one of my favorite dinners. It’s such a nice classic dinner and it’s hard not to like it. I hadn’t had it in a while, so the other day I decided to make it. It’s hard to find the perfect recipe for the sauce. After searching tons of lasagna recipes, I came up with my own combination of flavors to create a really tasty sauce. I love how all of the flavors blended together. I let it cook on the stove all afternoon to get the best flavor.  I think this would also be very good with some Italian sausage.  I don’t like ground beef in my lasagna, but I do love sausage! I will definitely stick with this recipe. It’s definitely a keeper!

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Lasagna

½ cup chopped onion
1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons basil
¼ teaspoon ground fennel
½ to 1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon oregano
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons parsley
8 lasagna noodles
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 to 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese
½ cup Parmesan cheese

In a Dutch oven, cook onion until browned and tender. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and water. Add sugar, basil, fennel, marjoram, oregano, salt, pepper, and parsley. Simmer, covered, for at least one to two hours (the longer the better), stirring occasionally.

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. In a small mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with the egg and a small amount of oregano and parsley, and the salt. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble: spread 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of an 8×8-inch pan. Arrange noodles over sauce. Spread half of the ricotta cheese mixture on top of noodles. Top with 1/3 to 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Spoon ¾ cup sauce over the mozzarella with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Cool before serving.

Penne with Pancetta (or Bacon), Spinach, and Buttery Crumb Topping

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Another great recipe from Cooking Light! Their recipes never seem to let me down. I have had my eye on this recipe for quite some time and finally decided to make it the other night. I was sure glad I did! This was a great pasta dish and wasn’t too difficult to make. I really liked it because it was slightly cheesy due to the small amount of Parmesan, but not rich like an alfredo sauce. The French bread was also a great addition and was a nice change in place of ordinary bread crumbs. I will definitely be making this again.

8 ounces French bread
Cooking sray
¾ cup (3 ounces) chopped pancetta (I used bacon because I already had it)
¾ cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 ¾ cups 2% reduced-fat milk, divided
¼ cup half-and-half
6 cups chopped fresh spinach
½ cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
8 cups hot cooked penne (about 1 pound uncooked tube-shaped pasta)
¼ cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 4 cups; set aside.

Heat a large nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat with cooking spray. Add pancetta, onion, and garlic’ sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Place flour in a small bowl; gradually add ¾ cup milk, stirring until smooth. Add flour mixture, remaining 3 cups milk, and half-and-half to pan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Add spinach; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, salt, and pepper, stirring until cheese melts.

Place pasta in a large bowl. Add sauce mixture to pasta; toss well. Spoon mixture into a 13×9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Combine breadcrumbs and butter; toss well. Sprinkle over pasta mixture.

Bake at 425 degrees for 6 minutes or until crumbs are lightly browned.

Yield: 8 servings (505 calories and 16.1 grams of fat per serving; serving size is 1 ½ cups)

Source: Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2007

Fettuccine Alfredo


I love Fettuccine Alfredo but had never really found a good recipe. Unfortunately, this is a very rich meal and is often loaded with calories and fat so I don’t have it that often, but I was excited when I saw this recipe in Cooking Light. This way I could enjoy one of my favorite pasta dishes and eat a relatively healthy meal at the same time. One great tip that I can pass along from my experiences making this recipe is to save some of the pasta water from cooking the fettuccine and add it to your plate after you serve it. This makes the sauce creamier and smoother. I also added a little bit of extra Parmesan cheese on top as well as some parsley and pepper. I will definitely make this many more times! Here’s the recipe from Cooking Light:

1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups 1% low-flat milk
1 ¼ cups (5 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
2 tablespoons 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups hot cooked fettuccine (8 ounces uncooked pasta)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cracked black pepper

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in flour. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk. Cook 6 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, cream cheese, and salt, stirring with a whisk until cheeses melt. Toss sauce with hot pasta. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and chopped parsley. Garnish with black pepper, if desired. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings (serving size: 1 cup)
399 calories and 13.5 grams fat per serving


Shrimp Fra Diavolo


I came to the conclusion that David and I were in a food rut. We always have good dinners, but we were too restricted to the same foods in our rotation. We couldn’t think of what we wanted or didn’t look for new ideas. I decided that it was time to get out of our rut, so I went through my Cooking Light magazines from the past year and tore out pages of recipes for us to try. We both decided that it was time to try something new. We are going to make it a goal to try as many new recipes as possible. The first new recipe I decided to make was Shrimp Fra Diavolo. According to Cooking Light, “fra diavolo” is Italian for “brother devil.” It is a sauce that is usually tomato-based and always spicy. It does not traditionally have mushrooms, but the mushrooms really add to the flavor and texture of the dish. I liked the spiciness of the dish, but if you like really spicy food, you can definitely add more red pepper. David loved this meal and declared it his new favorite shrimp dish. We are big shrimp lovers, so this comment meant a lot to me. I will most definitely make this again. I’m glad our first new dish was a success. Here’s the recipe from the October 2007 issue of Cooking Light:

8 ounces uncooked spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups cremini mushrooms (about 10 ounces)- *I used portabello mushrooms
2 1/2 cups marinara sauce (I used my own homemade version)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt (I used kosher salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
Parsley sprigs, optional (I added dry parsley to the sauce)

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; keep warm.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms to pan; saute 6 minutes. Add marinara, red pepper, salt, and black pepper (and parsley if you add it here like I did); bring to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes. Add shrimp; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done. Serve over pasta. Garnish with parsley sprigs, if desired.

YIELD: 4 servings (serving size is 1 1/4 cups shrimp mixture and 1 cup pasta)
439 calories and 8.5 grams fat per serving

Macaroni and Cheese

I love macaroni and cheese. I’ve never gotten sick of it. I was searching for a recipe that would be a bit different, and I came upon this one from Emeril. I love the way the Essence adds some kick to the topping and the bread crumb and cheese mixture adds a lot of crunch to the texture. I don’t measure the Essence exactly, but use spices according to my personal tastes to determine how much I use. This mac and cheese also freezes well. I often make half of the recipe because it makes so much. Here’s the wonderful recipe:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ pound elbow macaroni

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne

2 ½ cups grated Cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)

½ cup fine bread crumbs

1 teaspoon ESSENCE

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 2-quart baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Drain well.

Melt the remaining 5 tablespoons butter in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, being careful not to let the flour brown. Using a whisk, add the milk in a steady stream and cook, whisking constantly, until thick and smooth, 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the salt, pepper, cayenne, and 2 cups of the cheese, and stir well. Add the noodles and stir well. Pour into the prepared dish.

In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining ½ cup of cheese with the bread crumbs and Essence. Sprinkle evenly over the macaroni and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings

ESSENCE:

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container. This makes about 2/3 of a cup, but I never actually make it like this. I just add the spices to the cheese and bread crumb mixture the way I want them.