Spaghetti Squash

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There’s a special place in my heart for spaghetti squash. I love all squashes, and my locally available winter squashes like butternut and acorn are great for stuffing or for soups. But spaghetti squash can be used like noodles! After cooking the squash, you use a fork to scrape out the strands of spaghetti, except they’re actually squash strands.

Now I have nothing against pasta, but of course a vegetable, even a starchy squash, will always be healthier, especially over traditional white pasta. Plus the texture is fun and different. It’s just an option. And you don’t need a spiralizer!

There are many ways to cook a spaghetti squash, but I’ll show you the one I now stick with because it’s foolproof.
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And I mostly love it served spaghetti and meatball style!

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Baked Spaghetti Squash

1 large spaghetti squash
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a cleaver, cut the squash lengthwise in half. (My halves aren’t perfectly matched, but I am always concerned for my fingers when I’m wielding a cleaver!)

Remove all of the seeds from inside the squashes. Then place cut-side up in a baking pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

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Cover with foil, and bake for about 1 1/2 hours. If you want the squash to brown a little, remove the foil from the pan and continue baking for about 15 minutes.

Let the squash cool, then scrape at the squash halves with a fork to free up the lovely spaghetti strands. That’s it!

Try spaghetti squash as you would spaghetti, or with a Puttanesca, or underneath grilled chicken and peppers.

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Or you can stuff the squash halves!

I prefer spaghetti squash used as noodles. You can stuff other squashes!

Cambozola Sauce

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I remember the conversation like it was this morning, instead of twenty-something years ago. My mother and I were discussing cheese on the phone, and she brought up blue cheese. I immediately told her that I was not fond of it.

She proceeded to tell me that I knew nothing about blue cheese, and being like other Americans, my only familiarity with blue cheese was soapy-tasting blue cheese dressing that was ever-present at salad bars, which she claimed beared no resemblance to real thing.

Well, she was right. I was in high school when I began eating salads, and not being a huge vinegar fan as of yet, I didn’t eat my mother’s vinegary salads at home. I ate them instead at diners with salad bars – places you go for lunch in high school. I remember the dressing choices well. There was blue cheese, French, green goddess, and thousand island. They were all pretty terrible. Especially the blue cheese.

In any case, my mother took charge. She said, “I’ll send you a good blue cheese, and you’ll see the difference.” She did, and I did. Thank you, Mom.

The cheese she sent me was Cambozola – a triple cream blue cheese from Bavaria. Now triple cream cheeses are almost like cheating, because tripling the creaminess guarantees goodness. But this cheese was fabulous. The name stems from the fact that the cheese is like a cross between Camembert and Gorgonzola.

To this day, Cambozola remains one of my favorite cheeses. My husband and I both love it, just with crackers, or as part of a cheese platter.

Recently my husband asked me to make a blue cheese sauce for his birthday steaks, and I immediately thought to use Cambozola. I made the sauce simply with cream, and it was wonderful. I didn’t blog about the dinner because my husband, especially being his birthday, wouldn’t have appreciated the delay for the photo documentation!

I don’t typically smother good food with sauces. But just for fun, I thought asparagus would be good with a little of my Cambozola sauce.

Here’s what I did:

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Steamed Asparagus with Cambozola Sauce

wedge of Cambozola, see details in recipe
1/4 cup heavy cream
Asparagus

Unwrap the cambozola. Then trim the rinds; I didn’t think they would dissolve in the cream. What I ended up with was just a little over 4 ounces of Cambozola.

Pour the cream in a microwave-proof bowl. Yes, I’m seriously going to use the microwave for this sauce! Heat the cream gently, but get it hot. Crumble up the Cambozola as best you can and place it in the hot cream.

Let it sit for about a minute, and then whisk it.

The cheese should soften completely. I was fine with a few little blue cheese blobs in the sauce. Set aside.

Meanwhile, trim the asparagus. Good spring asparagus doesn’t typically have really woody ends, but it’s good to check in any case.

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Place the asparagus in a steamer basket and steam over simmering water for 5-7 minutes. The time will depend on how thick your asparagus spears are. Place the cooked asparagus on a paper towel to dry slightly.

To serve, I placed the hot asparagus on a plate, and poured on some of the warm sauce, which had thickened nicely.

Just for fun, I also topped the asparagus with caramelized shallots and toasted pine nuts.

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If you don’t want this sauce with asparagus, toss it with pasta, cooked potatoes, or pour it over just about any meat.

If you can’t find Cambozola locally, you can purchase it at IGourmet.com. There is also a black label Cambozola, much more expensive, which can be purchased at IGourmet and at http://www.murrayscheese.com/cambozola-black-label.html. I cannot wait to try that!

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts

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Inspired by a photo I spotted on Nigella Lawson’s blog, I decided a pasta with Brussels sprouts would be fabulous. Doesn’t that sound like a perfectly comforting combination?!!

I happen to love Brussels sprouts. My husband thinks he hates them. Until he eats them. Then he makes a comment like, “These are pretty good!” But he refuses to remember that he makes this comment after eating them. But if he refuses this pasta, there will be more for me.

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Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Comté

12 ounce package pasta
1 pound Brussels sprouts
4 ounces butter
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
Approximately 14 ounces Comté or Gruyère, diced

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. If your pasta is very glutinous, you might want to toss it in a little oil in a large bowl to prevent sticking while you’re working on the rest of the recipe.

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This is the pasta I used. Funny packaging, huh?!! We’re not gluten free in this house, but I like to try pastas made from different grains, and this brand never fails to please. It’s actually a 16 ounce bag, but I only used 12 ounces of the pasta.

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Trim the Brussels sprouts. I normally cut large ones in half, but these were all about the same size.

Typically I steam Brussels sprouts, but I decided to use the pasta water. They were cooked just until tender, then drained. Let cool.

Meanwhile, using a large shallow pot, melt the butter over medium heat. A little browning is fine.

Add the garlic and have the cream nearby. For me, garlic is perfectly sautéed just when you begin to smell the garlic. That’s within about ten seconds. But I don’t like the taste of burnt garlic; some people do.

At this point, pour in the cream and stir in the salt and white pepper.

Simmer gently for about 30 minutes or so. The sauce should reduce by about half.

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Dice up your cheese. I chose Conté, but Gruyère or Fontina would work well.

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Set up your food processor to slice the Brussels sprouts. I just bought a new food processor, and I had to get the manual out to put the slicing mechanism together properly. My old one was a Viking brand and it was terrible, so hopefully this new one will do the trick for many many years.

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Slice the Brussels sprouts and add them to the pasta.

When the cream sauce is ready, remove the pot from the heat source and gently stir in the pasta and sliced Brussels sprouts.

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Lightly grease a deep serving dish that is oven proof. Place about half of the pasta in the dish, then cover with half of the cheese.

Add the remaining pasta and repeat with the cheese.

Place the serving dish in the oven and let the cheese melt and the pasta heat through. The pasta is done when the top is golden brown.

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The pasta isn’t as photogenic as I thought it would be. I thought you’d be able to see more of the Brussels sprouts’ leaves. But it is good.

It’s not overly rich, either. I considered making a bechamel to toss the pasta in, but I’m glad I made it simply with cream.

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Of course ham would be delicious in this pasta, or just little bits of Prosciutto. But I like it just with the Brussels sprouts, because it can be eaten as is, or as a side dish to just about any kind of protein.

And by the way, my husband finished off this pasta.

Beet Ravioli

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I’ll probably never dine in London again. Not that I wouldn’t want to, but because our younger daughter lived there for the last four years, we have been lucky enough to visit multiples times, taking advantage of London’s fabulous gastropubs and restaurants.

We visited her this past July, to get our last opportunity to see her in situ before she moved back to the states. So then there was the matter of picking the final restaurant destination for our last meal in London.

The restaurant-choosing burden is always on me, which is probably because I’m controlling when it comes to planning the restaurant itinerary when we travel. Also, no one else in my family understands the concept of making reservations. But in any case, this was a difficult decision.

My daughters had given me a little book called “Where Chefs Eat” for Christmas a while back, and I turned to this book for inspiration.

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And that’s how I came about to choose Bistrot Bruno Loubet for our final London meal.

I had never heard of Bruno Loubet, but his bio is impressive. He opened the restaurant, in the Clerkenwell district, in 2010. After only four years, the restaurant needs some spiffing up and somewhat of an upgrade, but the space itself is really nice, with a beautiful bar and various seating areas, including one outside.

This is a shot from the website of the bar area in its heyday. Now the chairs are pretty scuffed up and fabric is worn.

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Knowing me, it’s probably the shot of those purple bar stools that made me want to go to this restaurant, other than it was recommended by other chefs and the menu looked fabulous.

So Bistrot Bruno Loubet is where I enjoyed Mr. Loubet’s beet ravioli, which turns out is one of his most popular dishes. I discovered this tidbit because after getting home to the states, I ordered his cookbook “Mange Tout,” which translates to eat everything! And there was the beet ravioli recipe in the cookbook. Yay!

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This is the photo of my ravioli at the restaurant that evening. Gorgeous, isn’t it? I started with grilled octopus, and ended with these. Seriously a fabulous menu.

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Now, I know that food bloggers aren’t sitting around wondering why I haven’t had a fresh pasta post on my blog, but I haven’t. And it’s not because I don’t know how to make fresh pasta. Honestly, It’s because I got tired of making it.

When I was a personal cook for a family for 8 years, I made tons of pasta. And I think I burned myself out. Plus, I also lent my pasta maker to a neighbor and never got it back. That didn’t help. Or perhaps I said, “Keep it. I never want to see it again!”

But to prove to you that I actually used to make pasta, I want to show you this photo that my daughter will hopefully not see because she will be mad at me. But she’s 8 years old and making her own pasta. She looks like a cross-eyed nut, but she was a great pasta maker. She loved to choose flavors, like thyme and cayenne.

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I’m so happy that Mr. Loubet’s beet ravioli inspired me to buy another pasta maker, because these ravioli are exquisite. This could be my last meal, if I had a choice in the matter, and hopefully not because I’m on death row.

The recipe is quite involved. Not difficult, just involved. But because I remember how good these ravioli were, I wanted to follow the recipe as closely as possible, and this is what I did.

Beet-Filled Ravioli
based strongly on Bruno Loubet’s recipe in Mange Tout
makes about 40 ravioli

3 beets, washed, dried, trimmed
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 ounces cream cheese (the original recipe called for ricotta)
4 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan (the original recipe called for 2)
Salt
Pepper

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets in foil and bake them in the foil package for 2 hours. Let them cool.

Peel the beets, then chop them up.

Place the chopped beets in a food processor and pulse 4-5 times. You want finely diced beet, not mush.

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Place the beets in cheesecloth in a colander over a bowl. Tie up the beets, then weigh down and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day you will have about 1/4 cup of beet juice.

Pour the beet juice into a small pot, and add the balsamic vinegar. I also squeezed out the cheesecloth to get a bit more juice into the pot.

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Over very low heat, reduce the beet-balsamic mixture until it’s almost like a syrup; set aside. It will eventually look like this:

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Empty the cheesecloth and place the beets in a medium bowl.

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Meanwhile, add the cream cheese and grated cheese to the beets and stir well. When the beet-balsamic syrup has cooled, add about 1/3 of the amount, or about 1 tablespoon, to the filling and stir well; set aside.

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The next thing to do is make the pasta dough. I don’t want to have a pasta-making tutorial because it would make this post too long, plus there are plenty out there. Go to Stefan’s blog Stefan Gourmet for his tutorials. He’s got a really light hand when it comes to making pasta – especially filled pasta. Plus it’s really challenging to take photos with dough and flour on your hands.

The pasta dough recipe I made was about 2 cups flour, 2 eggs plus 2 yolks, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Use a little water, if necessary, to make the dough the proper consistency. You can always add flour to dough, but you can’t add water to it.

Stir the egg and olive oil mixture gradually into the flour until the liquid is completely incorporated. Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead a minute, then wrap up in plastic wrap and let sit at least 30 minutes to rest.

Hook up your pasta maker and make sure it’s stabilized. You don’t want it moving around while you’re rolling out sheets of pasta.

If you’re new to using a pasta maker, it’s important to start with the widest opening, which is typically the #1 position. As you knead the dough and work on it to make it thinner, move the position narrower and narrower by adjusting the number. You don’t have to make the pasta sheets the thinnest possible, but I did because I’m making ravioli.

Have a small bowl of water handy, and a cookie sheet or platter sprinkled with a little bit of flour for your ravioli. Then cut your pasta dough into 4 even pieces; you’ll be using one at a time.

Begin putting your dough through the pasta maker, folding it over, which essentially kneads it and smooths it out. Work the sheet thinner until you’re happy with it. Use a sprinkling of flour if you feel it’s necessary.

Once you’ve made a couple of sheets, and they’re not sticking to your workspace, place evenly-sized blobs of beet filling, evenly spaced, on one length of the pasta sheet.

Dip your 5 fingers into the water bowl, and then tap the water around each beet filling. You can also give the lengths of the pasta edges a little water. This just helps make the pasta stick together. Fold over the sheets lengthwise, and press the dough together, trying to avoid air pockets. You can make square ravioli, but I chose to make round.

I placed the just-cut ravioli on the platter, then continued with the remaining pasta sheet. Half of the dough made about 20 ravioli.

Have a large pot of water on the stove already warming, and now is the time to turn the heat to high. Have a cloth-lined platter nearby for the cooked ravioli, and a spider sieve for catching them.

When the water is at full boil, slip about half of the ravioli into the boiling water. Within 3 minutes they will rise to the surface, at which point you can remove them with the sieve and place them to drain on the platter. Repeat with the remaining ravioli.

I only prepared 20 ravioli, because I’m the only one who eats beets. In fact I shared them with my neighbor. With the other half of the dough I made fettucine for my husband. Isn’t it pretty? I think I have a renewed outlook on making pasta!
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To finish the recipe, here’s what I did (double the amount for all 40 ravioli):

2 ounces butter
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
Finely grated Parmesan
Coarsely grated black pepper
Finely grated Parmesan
Leafy greens
Red wine vinegar
Truffle oil, or olive oil

Melt the butter and brown it in a large skillet. Add the bread crumbs and stir well.

Quickly but gently add some ravioli to the butter mixture and toss them. Place them on a serving plate, and continue with the remaining ravioli.

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Sprinkle them with coarsely grated pepper and some Parmesan.

Because Mr. Loubet’s presentation was so beautiful, I did something similar. I used spinach leaves and chiffonaded them, to produce little ribbons, and put them in a small bowl. I added a few drops of red wine vinegar, and a few drops of truffle oil. Using my fingers, I tossed the ribbons in the vinaigrette, then placed some of them in the middle of the circle of ravioli. And I added salt.

There was something about the beet flavors, the browned butter, and the truffle oil that just went fabulously together.

The filling is very beety and creamy. And it’s pretty.

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Oh – and something else. After you’ve made up your plates with the ravioli, salad, and toppings, drizzle on the remaining beet-balsamic syrup over the ravioli. That’s the piece de resistance!

note: The recipe calls for wild rocket instead of spinach, but I would have no idea how to get my hands on some. Plus, He also sautés sage leaves to top these ravioli. Since I use sage in a lot of pasta recipes, I decided to see what all this would taste like without the sage. And to me, it’s not necessary.

Sweet Potato Pasta

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A while back I mentioned that I have a lot of respect for dried pasta, and always try to pick up a few different shapes and flavors when I’m shopping at a gourmet food store. That’s how I ended up with olive pasta recently for dinner, and also mentioned I’d purchased sweet potato pasta.

Here’s a photo of the box. The brand is Viviana, and it contains 8 ounces of fettucine. Cooking time 11 – 14 minutes.

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I didn’t want to smother the pasta in a red sauce, because I wanted to enhance the sweet potato flavor. So I decided on a simple ricotta cream sauce, with the addition of Italian sausage, plus peas to make it an all-in-one meal. Easy, and easily made within 20 minutes.

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Sweet Potato Pasta with Italian Sausage in a Ricotta Cream Sauce

8 ounces sweet potato fettucine
1 cup ricotta whole-milk ricotta
1/3-1/2 cup heavy cream
12 or 16 ounces Italian sausage
4 cloves garlic, minced
Frozen peas, optional
Grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to package directions. I cooked the pasta more al dente, because I wanted it to absorb the lovely cream sauce. Drain the pasta.

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Meanwhile, whisk together the ricotta and cream in a large bowl, large enough to hold the finished pasta dish. Add more cream if you want the sauce less “stiff.”

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Add the hot pasta to the cream and toss gently but enough to coat the strands of pasta with the ricotta cream sauce.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the sausage. Slowly begin cooking the sausage. If you start slowly, no other oil is required. Once the sausage renders some fat, you can turn up the heat to get the sausage browning.

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At least once while you’re cooking the sausage, give the pasta a gentle stir. Add a little more cream if necessary.

Then add the garlic, give the sausage a stir, and remove the skillet from the stove.

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Add it to the pasta, as well as peas, if you’re using them.

 

Serve with grated Parmesan.

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The sweet potato pasta really shined served in this way. I’m going to buy some more because it’s so pretty and tasty.

Pasta and Zucchini

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A few years ago, I visited my London-living daughter in May. Because my birthday had just occurred, and of course she couldn’t just fly home to help me celebrate, she surprised me with two gifts.

One was a cookbook, and the second was a dinner at a restaurant. The cookbook was The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, and the restaurant she took me to was The River Cafe in London.

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The restaurant itself is in a lovely location right on the north bank of the River Thames. The inside of the restaurant is surprisingly modern. It’s a very open space, and the chefs can be observed in action, which is always fun.

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If I’d known I’d have a blog one day I would have tried to get a better photo, but you get the idea. It’s got a lot of chrome and aqua glass, which is very striking, although I personally wouldn’t have designed a traditional Italian restaurant in the same matter. But maybe that’s the point. Notice the pizza oven in the middle of the spacious dining room. There’s a bar and more space for dining room looking the other way, and the river side of the restaurant is solid windows, so the view is beautiful. There’s outside seating as well.

I remember my daughter and I had a lovely wine and wonderful antipasti. I had squid and my daughter, grilled asparagus with fonduta. So far so good. Then we both ordered a main course. Because of the restaurant’s reputation, we had grand expectations.

The River cafe opened in 1987 Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. Neither were chefs; they were simply two women who had deep passions for all things culinarily Italian. They eventually earned a Michelin star ten years later. This restaurant was also the training ground for future famous chefs Jamie Oliver, Sam and Sam Clark, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

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For the sake of this post, I just looked up The River Cafe on Zagat, and the food was rated 27, which is extremely good. On vacations, I take these ratings very seriously. 27, out of 30, is high, and although service is also important to me, the food rating is certainly more important to me, than say, decor. Think Indian restaurants, for example.

My daughter ordered some kind of fish, and I ordered a lamb chop. I try to get my lamb fix when I’m not at home, since my husband won’t eat it.

Unexpectedly, both of our proteins were overcooked. It was nothing we needed to complain about, as everything else was cooked to perfection, but it was indeed a little disappointing. Perhaps we had the understudy chef that night. But overall it was a lovely experience, made even more special by my daughter.

The two ladies of The River Cafe, Ruth Rogers on the left above, Rose Gray on the right, now deceased, wrote 6 cookbooks together. I’m very happy with the cookbook that was gifted to me, published in 2009. This pasta recipe is from my cookbook. It shows how simple cooking can be, especially Italian cooking, with delicious results.

In the amount of time it took to cook the pappardelle, this pasta dish was complete. Following is my take on their recipe, although I didn’t alter the ingredients at all. See below for the changes I made.

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Pasta with Zucchini

8.8 package of your choice of pasta
2 large zucchini, or 4 small zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, slivered
Butter, softened, about 3 ounces
Grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, slice the zucchini into equal thicknesses. The recipe called for 1 cm thickness, but I’m sure that’s a misprint. Mine were more like 3 mm. No cooking time for the zucchini is mentioned, so perhaps they did really recommend thick slices, but they took much longer to cook. I used a mandoline, with my heavy duty glove, to get the uniform slices.

Add oil to a large skillet; I used my wok. Heat the oil over medium heat.

Add the garlic, give it a stir, and then immediately add the zucchini slices. The recipe says to only have the slices in one layer, but that would have to be done in many multiple batches. I opted to add all of the zucchini.

Gently toss the zucchini and garlic in the wok, without using a spoon. It will gradually brown.

At this point, add the softened butter and lower the heat. Continue cooking, and gently tossing, until the zucchini has all softened.

Then add the pasta to the zucchini and gently mix together.

To serve, add some grated Parmesan. I also added coarsely ground pepper, which is the only ingredient not in the original recipe. Crushed red pepper would also be good.

I ate this pasta as my dinner, but I served it to my husband alongside a pork chop, as a side dish.

It could certainly be meatified with the addition of Italian sausage, grilled chicken, or flaked salmon. But on its own, it a lovely, subtle-flavored pasta dish.

note: If you want to make the original recipe, here is the ratio of zucchini, butter, and pasta:
8 ounces zucchini (I used twice that amount)
5.2 ounces butter (I used 3 ounces)
11 ounces pasta (I used 8.8 ounces)
I love butter and I’m certainly not afraid of using it, but over 5 ounces seemed like way too much, although granted I used a slightly less amount of pasta. The butter browns as you’re browning the zucchini, and it’s all utterly fabulous in flavors at the end.

Asparagus Pesto Pasta

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Recently I shared that I’d dreamed up an asparagus version of pesto, and the recipe I came up with is quite remarkable, if I say so myself. There were so many choices with the pesto ingredients, but I decided on almonds for the nuts, and to keep the pesto herb-free. I thought about a little fresh mint at first, but I decided to just let the fresh asparagus shine.

And shine it did. It’s not a super strong pesto, especially compared to a basil variety, but it full of flavor from the almonds and garlic as well. I’m very happy with the recipe. I could just spread it on warm bread and eat it like that.

But it’s probably not surprising that I chose to toss this pesto with pasta. But I did something a little different. I’d just made some fresh ricotta the day before (yes, it will be in a future post), and I decided to mix the pesto with the fresh ricotta. It turned out perfectly. The pasta would have been delicious simply tossed with the ricotta-less pesto, with lots of grated Parmesan, but I just wanted to treat this pesto differently.

Asparagus Pesto-Ricotta Pasta

1 – 12 ounce package of your choice of pasta
Approximately 10 ounces of asparagus pesto
An equal amount of fresh ricotta or farmers’ cheese
Grated Parmesan

Cook your pasta according to package directions. Have you ever used one of these gadgets? It’s a rubbery thing that you place on top of your pot and it keeps the water from overflowing. Since I invariably boil over water when I cook pasta, I’ve gotten pretty good at always using this thing.

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Drain the pasta and set aside.

In a large bowl, add the asparagus pesto and the ricotta cheese.

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Mix them together with a spoon. I didn’t try to blend them together too much; I like the texture of the ricotta.

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Add the warm pasta and toss to coat the pasta completely.

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I served the pasta sprinkled with grated Parmesan, alongside a pan-fried salmon steak.

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The combination was really good.

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I think I could have also chopped the mint leaves and sprinkled them on top as well, but I didn’t.

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verdict: I will make asparagus pesto again, and again. The only difference is that the pesto by itself could taste a little more like asparagus. So I might add a little more asparagus next time, but keep the other ingredients the same. Mixed with the ricotta, the pesto is just a creamy, flavorful mixture with a hint of asparagus. It’s quite delicious, and would be a wonderful side dish to any protein, or simply served as is, with a tomato salad.

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Asparagus Pesto

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Do any of you ever dream up recipes? Well this is one of those for me. I remember seeing a plate of salmon steaks topped with a green pesto, but that’s not far fetched for me because I spread basil pesto on just about everything. It’s really good on chicken. But my husband would probably eat shoe soles if they were schmeared with my home-made pestos.

But this one was different, because in my dream I realized that it was a pesto made with asparagus. I woke up and realized that this pesto was something I’d really have to follow through on, because it sounded so unique. It helps, of course, if you love asparagus.

I tend to serve fresh, springtime asparagus either steamed or roasted. I don’t get too carried away with fancied up recipes, because I really like treating something like asparagus, at its peak of ripe perfection, very simply. It’s my same attitude I have with fresh fish. If it’s really good quality fish, I do very little to it. I just really want to taste the fish.

But back to asparagus, the idea of the asparagus pesto really stuck with me. Here’s the recipe I created:

Asparagus Pesto
Makes about 12 ounces

1/2 cup whole almonds, about 2 1/2 ounces
6 ounces asparagus
1/3 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Toast the almonds in a cast-iron skillet. I think a little toasting adds more of the almond flavor. Set them aside to cool.

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Meanwhile, remove the ends of the asparagus spears and place the 6 ounces of asparagus in a steamer basket.

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Steam until tender, about 5-6 minutes over boiling water. Then place them on paper towels to drip dry.

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Don’t throw away the asparagus ends. If you want a really enriched asparagus soup, use the ends to make an asparagus stock, that you then can use it in the asparagus soup. I have a recipe here that describes the process.

In a blender jar, place the cooled almonds, the olive oil, and garlic.

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Blend until smooth. Add a little more olive oil if necessary, but you don’t want your pesto too thin.

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Add the asparagus, salt, and lemon juice. Notice I didn’t include Parmesan in the recipe.

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Process until the pesto is smooth.

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So just like in my dream, I spread some of the delicious pesto on two salmon steaks and baked them.

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The pesto is fairly mild, but it baked up beautifully and held its shape. It was really good with the salmon.

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My Marinara

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I have to apologize. Seriously. To all of the people who followed me at the beginning when I was first writing this blog. I mean, I thought I was a good photographer. I really did. I had spent years taking pictures of my kids and my dogs. And I took lots of pictures on vacations. So that made me experienced, right?

Then came food photography, which comes along with having a cooking blog. I thought it would be fairly straight forward. Mostly because I was one of those who’d always taken photos of my food at restaurants, and photos at farmers’ markets. I certainly didn’t think I was a pro. But I didn’t realize how bad I was.

Maybe it’s for the best, because otherwise I maybe wouldn’t have pursued this blog. Because unfortunately, to have a cooking blog means you have to know how to cook, you need to be able to write, you must be a food stylist, and you have to take really good photographs. I had 2 out of 4 going for me. But like I said, ignorance is bliss.

I didn’t realize any of this until recently when I decided to look at some old posts of mine. And I nearly fell off my chair. I’m not kidding. I deleted at least 10 immediately, and then thought about perhaps saving some as future, upgraded posts. It wasn’t the subject matter, or the writing. It was those awful photos.

But my marinara really is so good, and so easy to make, that I decided to offer up a new post on my marinara, but with better photos. So here it is. Hopefully you never saw the old one.

Marinara sauce is a red sauce that can contain quite a few ingredients, although never meat. Of course tomatoes are the base for the sauce, but other ingredients can include onions, garlic, celery, carrots, wine, and so forth.

My marinara contains three ingredients. There might be some dead Italians rolling in their graves when I make my marinara sauce, but that’s ok. No two living Italians can agree on what a marinara is comprised of, so I’m off the hook. And I can talk about Italians, dead or alive, because I’m half Italian. Sicilian, actually, but I’m throwing them in the same proverbial Italian pot.

Here’s my recipe:

My Marinara

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil*
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces high quality tomato sauce
Pinch of salt

First, heat up the oil over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the garlic.

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Stir gently and wait just until the oil warms the garlic and you can smell it, then immediately pour in the tomato sauce. This should only take about 30 seconds. This is my technique for sautéing garlic because I do not like the taste of burnt garlic, and garlic can burn quickly.

Stirring gently, heat the sauce and let it cook for about 10 minutes. It will thicken a little. (An inferior, more watery tomato sauce will take longer to thicken. If it’s too watery, try adding a little tomato paste.) Add the salt and stir.

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And so, that’s it ! This sauce is fabulous for a chicken or veal Parmesan, simply with pasta, as a dip, or even as a pizza sauce.

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But it’s my favorite with any kind of pasta.

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And with chianti, because the San Genovese grape is perfectly with red sauce. Especially with this garlic-spicy one.

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If you don’t want to call it marinara, don’t. Just call it the best red sauce you’ve ever tasted. You’ll thank me!

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* Don’t be scared about the amount of olive oil in this sauce. It’s good for you and it adds a lot of good flavor, because you’re using good olive oil, right?