Cacio e Pepe (without Za’atar)

I finally made a cacio e pepe I am proud of! I’d tried several times each with a different approach and it was always a failure (clumpy, oily, gummy, whatever). Then I found a WaPo recipe for a za’atar variation, tried it, had much better results, and stole the technique. It’s the best cacio e pepe method I have found so far, so I’m sticking to it for next time.

Pro tips from last-night-me to next-time-me:

  • you gotta microplane that cheese as finely as possible
  • pecorino grates more easily than grana padano (which I subbed for the parm
    this time) or parmigiano
  • our cheapo IKEA stainless steel skillet was fine for boiling the pasta, but with so little water (to encourage the starchiness) it really can stick if you’re not careful
  • our 12″ cast iron skillet was a champ for everything else
  • the proportions below are scaled down by 50% from the original; that was plenty for two adults as a primo along with some roasted brussels sprouts — steamed broccoli would be a good choice next time, too

adapted from this WaPo recipe

Ingredients

  • 3.5 cups (800 ml) water
  • 3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for finishing to taste
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) dried bucatini (or other long pasta, cooking time adjusted if necessary)
  • 2 tablespoons (25 g) unsalted butter
  • 1.5 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 ounces (60 g) Parmesan cheese, very finely grated
  • 1/2 ounce (15 g) pecorino Romano cheese, very finely grated

Directions

In a deep, wide skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil, then stir in the salt. Cook the bucatini in that for 9 minutes (or per package instructions) until al dente, stirring every now and then so they don’t stick together or to the bottom of the pan, and to ensure they are submerged. Add hot water if necessary to keep the pasta just-barely covered. Drain, reserving all the cooking water. (You should have about 1 1/8 cups (265 ml) water; if not, add enough hot water until you do.)

In a large, high-sided, nonstick saute pan over high heat, cook the butter until bubbling, then stir the pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the reserved cooking water (carefully, watch for steam bursts), bring to a rapid boil and cook until silky and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Toss in the pasta and stir vigorously into the sauce. Add the Parmesan in two batches, continuing to stir vigorously as you go and waiting until the first half has melted before adding the next. Once all the Parmesan has melted, add the pecorino, continuing to stir, until it has also melted and the sauce is smooth and silky.

Serve hot.

Pumpkin Risotto

Pumpkin is pretty naturally sweet, so don’t be bashful with the salt and cheese.

4-5 c/1-1.25 L vegetable broth
2 T olive oil
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
500 g arborio or carnaroli rice
0.5 c/100 mL dry white wine
1 c/225 mL pumpkin purée
1 t dried thyme
1 t ground black pepper
salt to taste
2 T butter
1 c/225 g grated Parmesan, divided

Heat oil in large deep skillet to medium and bring broth to a low simmer. Sauté shallots and garlic until tender and fragrant. Add rice and stir until coated with oil and starting to smell toasty. Add wine and stir until mostly evaporated. Start adding broth by ladleful, stirring constantly. When the pan starts to look dry, add another ladle of broth. After adding about half of the broth, add the pumpkin, thyme and pepper. Taste and add salt, if needed. Keep adding broth until it’s gone. Once all broth is in, remove skillet from heat, stir in butter and half of cheese thoroughly, cover skillet and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve with cheese for sprinkling.

One-Pot Spicy Rigatoni

I’m not a full convert, but I do dig this whole one-pot recipe craze. Especially with pastas, I find the noodles are particularly infused with flavor. We were inspired by this recipe, but made a few changes. I imagine it’s great with the chicken, but we’ve only ever had it without and it has never disappointed.

2 T olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
2 roasted red bell peppers, roughly chopped
2 T tomato paste
1/2 c dry sherry
1 28 oz can stewed tomatoes
2 c water
2 T fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 2 t dried)
2 pinches dried red pepper flakes (3 if you like it spicy)
1/2 t salt
500 g Rigatoni (or other short pasta, tubes would be best)
1 T butter
10-15 basil leaves, torn
1/2 c Grana Padano, grated
3 T cream

In a deep pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté shallots and garlic until tender, then add peppers and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until it begins to smell caramelized, then deglaze pot with sherry. Add tomatoes and break them up with a spatula. Add the water, oregano, pepper flakes and salt and bring to a boil.

Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes or until almost tender. Turn heat down to low, add butter and basil. When butter is completely melted, add cheese and cream, stirring until integrated. Simmer for 5 minutes more, stirring all the time, then remove from heat. Let stand for a couple of minutes, then serve.

Orzo Asparagus Salad

Spargelsaison is fun, but it can be a little one-note if you don’t have a variety of preparations for the stuff. If you’re lucky enough to have grilling weather while the asparagus is as its peak, this is a fantastic way to serve it alongside burgers or sausages. I found the original here and have posted my version below.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
250 g orzo pasta
at least 500 g green asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces
about 300 g artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1-1/2 cups sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, julienned
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

In a small skillet, heat olive oil to medium. Add shallot and garlic and cook until tender and fragrant. Set aside.

Cook orzo in salted water for 1 minute less than package directs. Add asparagus to orzo for last 2 minutes of cook time but no more! You want the asparagus to be bright green and still a little crispy when you drain the pasta. After draining the orzo and asparagus, run cold water over it immediately, agitating it frequently to make sure there are no pockets of heat. After draining and cooling, pour orzo and asparagus into a large salad bowl. Add artichokes and tomatoes to orzo bowl.

Remove shallot & garlic to a small deep bowl. Add lemon zest and juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to bowl. While whisking, drizzle in olive oil. Pour dressing over salad, stir thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Stir again before serving.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans)

It is possible to eat too much pizza. For me, at any rate.

On our last jaunt through Italy, I kept meaning to order something that wasn’t pizza and failing spectacularly. Every region has different specialty toppings! I might miss out on something!! But when my body finally said NO MORE, I went for Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans) instead. And my goodness, was it ever rewarding. Borlotti beans are the creamiest, most flavor-absorbing beans I’ve ever come across. I plan to try making it sometime with dried beans, but this canned version comes together in a flash.

100 g diced pancetta or bacon
2 T olive oil
1 large or 2 small yellow onions, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 c/100 ml white wine
1/4 t red chili flakes
1 large sprig fresh rosemary leaves
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 t ground black pepper
4-5 c/1-1.25 L weak chicken broth
3 15 oz/400 g cans borlotti (cranberry) beans, drained and rinsed
1 generous c/250 g short pasta
1 c/200 mL boiling water (optional)
1/2 c/100 g grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/4 c/50 g chopped parsley

Heat deep soup pot to medium heat. Add pancetta or bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until a little fat renders, then add olive oil. Turn heat to medium-low and add onions and garlic, stirring frequently until tender and translucent, but not browned. Add white wine, chili flakes, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and black pepper, stirring until wine is mostly evaporated. Add chicken broth and beans and allow mixture to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and turning down heat if necessary.

After 10 minutes, remove bay leaves and strip rosemary and thyme leaves from sprigs, returning the leaves to the pot. Either mash some of the beans with the back of a spoon or briefly use a stick blender, making sure to leave about half of the beans intact. Add the pasta (if there’s not enough liquid to cook the pasta or the soup is already too thick, add the extra water) and cook until almost done. Remove from heat and cover for 5 minutes. Serve with grated Pecorino or Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Garlic Lemon Cream Pasta

I’ve been on the hunt for a creamy lemon sauce for years and have tried a few that just didn’t do it. They either weren’t lemony enough or had way too much cream (Cliff has no gall bladder – too much cream or butter does him in). This one finally has the right balance of flavor and creaminess. Here’s the original, with my version below.

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
2 c chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup capers
Juice of 1 lemon
1 c artichoke hearts
1/4 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 t herbes des Provence
1 lb broccoli florets (optional)
1 lb pasta

Heat butter and oil to medium in a deep skillet. Sauté garlic, shallots and lemon zest until tender and fragrant. Add broth and simmer until reduced by half and syrupy*. Add capers, lemon juice and artichoke hearts and stir until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in cream and add salt, pepper and herbes. Set aside sauce. Cook pasta and broccoli to desired doneness, drain and toss with sauce.

*I wasn’t happy with the ‘syrupy’ texture and wanted the sauce to be a little thicker, so I added a cornstarch slurry (1 T cornstarch and 1 T water whisked until smooth). Pour the slurry into the simmering sauce and stir well until thickened, then proceed as above.

Cilantro Citrus Rice

Originally taken from here, but it wasn’t limey enough for my tastes. Also, if I crack open an orange or lemon, I’m going to use all its juice.

This is great as a side or as burrito filling.

3 cups jasmine rice
appropriate amount of water for 3 cups of rice in your rice cooker
2 bay leaves
3 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons canola oil
juice of 4 limes
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 orange
all the cilantro, fresh and chopped

Do the rice in your rice cooker with the bay leaves and salt. Remove the bay leaves when the rice cooker thinks it’s done. Don’t worry if the rice is still a little chewy at this point; it’ll soften up some more if you keep it hot in the rice cooker (the warming setting, or just don’t break the seal). Fluff up the rice and stir in the juices and oil. Add in the cilantro just before serving.

In-Laws’ Baked Beans

This recipe came to us, in its original form, from my father-in-law’s sister-in-law’s mother-in-law (no joke!), from a region in the USA famous for its baked beans as a side dish to barbecue. I’ve modified it slightly to reduce the amount of sugar and up the mustard and cider vinegar to give it a little more zing.

For the last two years at a local July 4th party, there have been no left-overs.

Ingredients

3 medium cans (15oz. or 425g each) VanCamps Pork&Beans – excess liquid drained, but not rinsed
1 big handful brown sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) ketchup – or to taste, I usually add more
4 or 5 strips bacon
1 medium onion, diced
1/3 cup (75ml) white corn syrup
2.5 tablespoons cider vinegar
1.5 teaspoon yellow mustard

Instructions

  1. Fry up the bacon until it’s crispy but not completely burnt, keeping the grease in the pan. Chop the bacon into bits.
  2. Sauté the onion in the bacon grease — you want to cook the squishy crunch out of them, but not take them all the way to caramelization.
  3. Mix the onions, bacon, drained beans and everything else together in a large bowl, and bake uncovered at 350 °F for 1 hour in a 9″ x 9″ (23cm x 23cm) baking dish. If you’re scaling up the recipe, a 9″ x 13″ works well. In any case, stop baking when the texture has firmed up significantly from first having mixed the ingredients but bubbles are still burbling up from the lower layers.
  4. Let them cool in the pan and serve at room temperature.

Creamy Lemon Asparagus Pasta

SPARGELZEIT!!1!

It’s that time of year again. While the locals are losing it over the white stuff, I’m partial to green asparagus (more flavor). This will definitely make another appearance before the fleeting season ends. Here’s the original, my version is below.

500 g/1 lb pasta (whole wheat pasta would be great here)
500 g/1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces (you could easily double this)
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk or cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small shallots, minced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Cook pasta in well salted water. For last 3-4 minutes of cooking time, add asparagus pieces. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.

Whisk together mustard, flour, milk or cream, salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned. Whisk in mustard mixture and bring to a simmer, cooking until thickened. Stir in lemon zest and juice and half of the cheese. If sauce gets too thick, loosen it by stirring in a little pasta water or more milk.

Combine pasta, asparagus and sauce, tossing until well coated. Serve and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Creamy Goat Cheese Tomato Pasta

I am a total sucker for a creamy tomato sauce. Unfortunately, they tend to be a little disappointing. This is the exception.

The goat cheese flavor is pretty pronounced, so if you’re not a fan, this one isn’t for you. The original is here, but I made lots of changes (chief among them: cutting out the bacon – sundrieds really fill that meaty, umami slot for me). That said, the technique is the same and I might employ it in the future. As a plus, this comes together very quickly.

2 shallots, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
100 g (roughly) oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained and sliced thin, oil reserved
2 T white wine
1 14.5 oz/400 g can stewed tomatoes
1 small pinch salt
1 small pinch sugar
1/4 t dried oregano
1 large pinch dried red pepper flakes
1 lb/500 g short pasta (1/4 c pasta water reserved before draining)
3-4 oz/100-125 g spreadable goat cheese (Ziegenfrischkäse)
lots of torn basil leaves

Heat a deep skillet over medium low heat and warm 1-2 T reserved sundried tomato oil. When oil shimmers, add shallots, garlic and sundried tomatoes and stir frequently until shallots and garlic are tender (3 minutes). Add wine and cook until 3/4 reduced (and the boozy smell is gone). Add canned tomatoes, salt, sugar, oregano and red pepper flakes and reduce heat to low. Stir to combine, crushing tomatoes with spoon. Allow sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, then remove from heat and set aside.

Cook and drain pasta, returning it quickly to the pot off the heat. Add goat cheese to pasta and stir well to coat. When goat cheese is well distributed, pour in tomato sauce, again stirring very well. If sauce seems too thick, add a little pasta water to loosen it to your desired texture. Add torn basil and stir until just distributed. Serve immediately.