Tag Archives: Pasta

An Italian-Canadian Christmas Tradition: Feast of the Seven Fishes, plus a seafood fra diavolo recipe {Canadian Food Experience Project}

Seafood fra diavolo with pasta

My (Italian) Canadian Christmas Tradition: Feast of the Seven Fishes

Christmas Eve just might be the most magical night of the whole year. The electricity in the air is palpable, and everyone seems to possess a sparkly energy in anticipation of the next day.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Christmas Eve tradition observed by Italian Americans (and also Canadians) that consists of a multi-course seafood meal.  The tradition is based on the  Roman Catholic practice of avoiding meats and dairy on the evening before religious holidays including Christmas.

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Orecchiette with Brussels sprouts, prosciutto & walnuts

Orecchiette with Brussels sprouts, prosciutto & walnuts

Every once in a while a dish comes along that makes me wonder why I even bother eating at restaurants. This orecchiette with Brussels sprouts, crispy prosciutto and toasted walnuts is one of those dishes.

It’s not overly impressive by any means–quite the opposite actually! –but it has a restaurant quality feel to it and is better than anything I’ve had dining out in a long while.

The orecchiette (Italian for “little ears”) act as tiny cups to hold on to the garlicky oil, chewy toasted walnuts and crisp prosciutto. Brussels sprouts are probably my favourite green vegetable, and their nutty, ever-so-slightly bitter flavour really sings in this dish.

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Butternut squash mac ‘n’ cheese recipe

Butternut squash mac and cheese

I can’t believe how fast October has gone by.  Halloween is just a week away, and as soon as that has passed we’ll be inundated with Christmas ads, music and decorations.  Is anyone else freaked out by this notion?!

Now would be a good time to breathe. Continue reading

Acini di pepe with tomato sauce recipe {what to eat on a rainy day}

Acini di pepe with tomato sauce (2)

I truly love a rainy day, especially in the fall.* The continuous pitter-patter of raindrops is comforting, and the earthy aroma of damp autumn air stirs up memories of playing amongst fall leaves.

Cooking is one of the most enjoyable ways to pass the time when it rains (that and cracking open a good book, of course). There are the usual suspects: homemade tomato sauce, meatballs or meatloaf, chicken soup, chili. Even homemade pasta and bagels have made appearances on such days. Continue reading

Rigatoni recipe with roasted butternut squash, goat cheese & pumpkin seeds {four seasons pasta salad}

Rigatoni with butternut squash, goat cheese, pepitas and chives

Butternut and other winter squashes steal the culinary spotlight during the fall and winter months but are a welcome treat when warm weather rolls around. Sure, they’re not in season locally, but I couldn’t help buying just one little butternut squash last week. Continue reading

Pistachio-parsley pesto recipe {plus 5 other pesto recipe ideas}

Pistachio parsley pesto

Let’s have a pesto party!

Sorry, got a little overexcited there.  I just really love pesto and couldn’t wait to share this recipe with you. Continue reading

Orzo with pesto & walnuts

Orzo with pesto & walnuts

Spring is the perfect time of year to get things in order. Over the past few weeks I’ve re-organized the spice drawer, re-arranged the food cupboard and gone through my makeup stash (not food related but still important). All tiny tasks, but when you add them up it seems like a decent chunk of tidying.

It was during one of these cleaning sprees that I found a nice unopened bag of orzo tucked away at the back. Continue reading

Mexican beef & black bean pasta with all the fixin’s

Mexican beef and bean pasta with vegetables

Oh pasta, I can never tire of you.  You’re so versatile.  Not only can you jive with just about any type of sauce, vegetable, meat, legume, herb or spice, but you work so well with other cuisine styles that it’s hard to imagine sticking only to Italian flavours. Continue reading

Spaghettini with garlic & chili oil {a.k.a. the world’s easiest pasta}

Spaghettini with garlic and chili oil

Spaghettini with garlic and chili oil

I love dishes that are so simple they don’t need a recipe. You know the ones – you turn to them time and time again when you’re too tired, lazy or uninspired to come up with something more imaginative.

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Holiday gift idea: Minestrone soup in a jar

homemade minestrone soup

I had a lot of fun making these minestrone soups in a jar for Christmas gifts. I found the concept and recipe in a few different places on the internet, but the one I used was from a website called Prep Ahead & Dine In.

It’s a neat DIY gift idea if you’re feeling crafty and is perfect for anyone who enjoys food and cooking.

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Pasta with spicy meat sauce

Pasta with meat sauce

The holiday season is quickly approaching (or is already in full swing depending on your traditions).  This time of year can be stressful with all the holiday parties, cocktail hours and potlucks, last-minute shopping, office gift swaps and family get-togethers.  So much to do, so little time.

In the days leading up to Christmas, Continue reading

Cheese cappalletti with roasted butternut squash and sage in a cream sauce

Cheese cappalletti with roasted butternut squash and sage in a cream sauce

Butternut squash is my favourite variety of winter squash by a long shot. It is mild enough that it can be easily incorporated into a wide variety of different dishes including soups, sides and desserts, yet its sweet, nutty notes allow it to take on bolder flavours like curry, garlic and rosemary.

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Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano

It’s no secret that pasta is one of my favourite foods. It’s hearty, filling and comforting–exactly what I’m craving on a chilly fall evening. A simple bowl of spaghetti or pasta fagioli just seems to warm your insides. Mmm.

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5-vegetable farfalle toss

This pasta is quick, easy and bursting with flavour from the aromatic basil pesto, subtly briny artichoke hearts and sweet sun-dried tomatoes.  Enjoy with soft bread and extra virgin olive oil (for dipping, of course) on the side.

Ingredients:

  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ cup marinated artichoke hearts, quartered
  • ½ cup marinated sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
  • 10 asparagus spears, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ white onion, chopped
  • 1 handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1½ cups farfalle pasta (Note: if this doesn’t seem like enough pasta simply add more; I like to have a higher vegetable-to-noodle ratio in this dish)
  • 3 tbsp pesto
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook to al dente.  Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan and add the asparagus, peppers and onion, cooking until asparagus is bright green and tender.  Reduce heat and add the pasta, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes to the pan.  Add the pesto and toss until combined.  Serve immediately.

Note: this dish can also be served as a cold pasta salad.  Just remember to slightly undercook the pasta as the noodles will soak up extra liquid over time.

Baked stuffed shells with beef, spinach & tomatoes

When I walk through the grain aisle at the grocery store I’m usually on the lookout for whole grain pasta.  My go-to noodles include spaghettini (great in Asian dishes), penne, farfalle (my fave for pasta salads), macaroni and rotini (love how they really cling to tomato sauce).

Maybe it’s because most people still prefer traditional white pasta, but I have a hard time finding less mainstream shapes like manicotti or bucatini in whole grain form.  I’m not against white pasta or anything, but I really enjoy the slightly nutty flavour of whole grain noodles as well as the extra ‘bite’ they have when cooked to al dente.

That being said, the other day I decided to go back to basics with some white pasta, specifically jumbo shells (which are known as conchiglioni–I had to look that one up!).  Why?  They don’t come in whole grain, at least not at my store, and I just had to have ‘em for dinner that night.  I had intended to make a seasonal pumpkin-stuffed version with ricotta and sage but opted for a more hearty meat, spinach and cheese version instead.  I’m glad I did…they were a hit!

I started by cooking the shells and letting them cool on a pan in a single layer (they’ll stick together otherwise).  Next, I browned some lean ground beef in a pan and added canned diced tomatoes, finely chopped onion, baby spinach, chicken stock, salt, pepper and minced garlic.  In another bowl I combined ricotta cheese with a little grated cheddar plus some fresh basil and more salt and pepper.  Once the shells were cool enough to handle, I stuffed each one with a spoonful each of the beef and cheese mixtures and nestled them in a baking dish on a layer of canned tomato sauce.  When all the shells had been stuffed, I poured more sauce over them, sprinkled with more cheddar and baked at 375°F for approximately 45 minutes.

I don’t often eat white pasta, but this time it was welcome treat.  But I’m still on the lookout for whole grain conchiglioni…

Homemade meat-a-balls!

My batch of gorgeous little Italian meatballs ready to be fried

With our hot, steamy summer gradually fading into fall, I’m starting to crave some more substantial eats–like a nice batch of Italian meatballs to carry me well into winter.  Making freezer-friendly food in bulk has become one of my favourite pastimes, so whenever I come across a good make-ahead recipe–particularly something hearty, warm and filling–I’m all over it.

I recently decided to make a big batch of meatballs (David Rocco’s recipe, if you must know) just to have a quick, easy meal on hand after those long days at work.  I also made homemade tomato sauce in the same weekend–the ultimate comfort meal!

All you need is some ground beef and pork, Parmesan cheese, chopped herbs, eggs and seasonings. Then just get your hands in there and start mixing!

The recipe I used for my meatballs, courtesy of David Rocco's cookbook

I’m always amazed that something as simple and perhaps unappetizing as a raw meatball can be so beautiful.  But honestly, check out how gorgeous these glistening “meat-a-balls” look in the photos!

Time for your close-up! I don't think a meatball has ever looked better

I decided to pan-fry my meatballs to brown them, but you can just bake them instead

Look at these babies sizzle

Cooked and ready to be frozen on a tray before packing into a ziploc freezer bag

The ultimate comfort food: a steaming bowl of gnocchi and meatballs

A little while after I made this recipe I ventured out of my comfort zone and went for another type of meatball: a southwest-style chicken meatball with bacon, jalapenos, chili powder and cumin.  Sounds a little unconventional but boy were they good!

My signed cookbook from David Rocco. Thanks for the recipe--you really know your meatballs!

Pasta fagioli {pasta with beans}

Pasta fagioli

Warm,  filling, stick-to-your-ribs pasta fagioli (more correctly, pasta e fagioli, Italian for “pasta and beans”) is the ultimate comfort food.  Sorry, mac ‘n’ cheese!  So is hearty minestrone soup, for that matter, which is what I actually intended to make the other day.  Instead I ended up with a dish that looked and tasted a little more like pasta fagioli.  Hmm.

I grew up with my mom’s version of pasta fagioli which was a simple dish consisting of macaroni, homemade tomato sauce and what I think were navy beans.  Nothing fancy about it, to be sure, because my siblings and I wouldn’t have eaten anything with chunks of vegetable or even onion back then.  But the flavour was pure heaven.

Tucking into a bowl of pasta fagioli in the dead of winter–and I’m talking Timmins winter–was like wrapping yourself in a warm, toasty blanket.  I really think that my exposure to pasta fagioli was the beginning of my love affair with beans.

I initially wanted to make some sort of light soup the other day as a side to go with some leftover pizza.  I contemplated making gazpacho, but wanted to use up one of my many cans of beans.  So I immediately thought of minestrone, one of my all-time favourite soups, which would surely go nicely with a slice of pizza.

Pasta fagioli

I didn’t have any bacon or pancetta lying around, so I started by cooking onion and garlic in olive oil.  For fun I added fennel seeds and then poured in some canned diced tomatoes, red kidney beans and chicken stock.  After seasoning it and letting it simmer away for several minutes I tossed in some whole wheat macaroni along with a handful of chopped green bell pepper.

I was trying to follow a minestrone recipe but found myself making substitution after substitution and omitting key ingredients: green pepper instead of swiss chard, no potato, no bacon and no raw fennel, red kidney beans instead of cannelini beans, mixed herbs instead of just parsley.  Pretty soon the dish didn’t look anything like the recipe.  I guess I didn’t add enough liquid either, because the pasta soaked up so much of it that I was left with a chunky stew rather than a soup.  Instead of adding more stock, I just went with it and stirred in some chopped fresh herbs from the garden.

After topping it off with a bit of fresh Parm and a drizzle of olive oil, I dug in.  The dish ended up being so filling and aromatic and flavourful that I didn’t even bother heating up the leftover pizza.  Isn’t it great when a mistake turns into something even better?

 

Cooking my way through the family cookbook, Part I

How my mother managed to cook dinner every single night, maintain a pristine household and take care of three kids while casually managing a simmering pot of pasta sauce on the stove, I will never know.  It is now 6 pm and I have been cooking since noon, something I’ve seen her do a million times.  So how come my feet ache, I have flour splattered all over my Lulu yoga pants and the kitchen smoke alarm is now dangling by its wires?

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m not an amazing cook; I just love doing it.  But I don’t think I’m a terrible cook, either.  At least I didn’t think I was before today.  Don’t get me wrong—the tomato sauce I made turned out great, as did the batch of Armenian pizzas I whipped up (more on that in an upcoming post).  But through trial and many an error this afternoon I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for women before my generation who slaved away in a hot kitchen for hours on end, day after day, to feed their families.  Thankless job, indeed!

I decided to start simple with my family cookbook quest, and homemade tomato sauce fit the bill nicely.  The family cookbook lists several variations made by different relatives, but I chose my mom’s recipe because it is the most familiar to me.  Plus, it’s quite simple and straightforward.  I won’t divulge the specifics here (it’s a family secret, after all), but all it called for was some chopped vegetables, canned tomatoes, herbs and spices and a browned pork chop for added flavour.  Easy enough, right?

Wrong.  The problem wasn’t the sauce recipe but the fact that I was trying so hard to make the most of my Saturday that I took on too many things at once—two, to be exact.  Number one: make sauce.  Number two: while sauce is simmering, make Armenian pizzas.

I started by heating some olive oil in the biggest pot I own, only to have it reach its smoke point by the time I could unwrap the pork chop.  Now that I think of it, I should’ve chopped the vegetables and opened the tomato cans before turning on the stove.  Rookie mistake.

I browned the pork chop while fumbling with my camera to get a nice shot of the hot crackling oil.  Bad idea: I was forced to take a brief time out to clean the oil spatter off my lens before I could move on to the next step.

In the only large bowl I could find I combined the vegetables with one tin of tomatoes and pulverized them with my immersion blender.  What a great invention, by the way—no muss, no fuss!  However, things did get a little messy when I attempted to flip the pork chop with my one free hand while blending the sauce at the same time.  My kitchen tiles were now speckled with red.

No matter.  I added another can of tomatoes, then another, and continued mixing until the bowl couldn’t hold any more.  I poured the mixture over the sizzling pork chop and reduced the heat to low.  It was only then that I realized I forgot to add the spices!  Good thing I thought of it when I did—that would have been one bland sauce.

Once the sauce was safely simmering I switched gears and starting making my Armenian pizzas.  About fifty minutes into the process—yup, that’s how long it took me to roll out store-bought dough into mini pizzas—I noticed that the sauce wasn’t bubbling as much as mom’s always did.  Should the temperature be higher or something?  My guess was yes, so I turned up the heat to medium-low.  After several minutes it no longer tasted tomato-y and overly acidic.  Much better!

I let the sauce work for about two hours, stirring it with my wooden spoon every once in a while.  And by every once in a while I mean in between rolling out balls of dough and fanning the smoke alarm with a tea towel.  Why one little blackened drop of Armenian pizza mixture sets off every single smoke alarm in my house is beyond me.

In the end I managed to cook a large batch of delicious tomato sauce which I froze in small containers for later use.  Even though I had a couple of mishaps along the way, I’m glad I made the effort to cook one of my family’s favourite recipes.  After all, what’s gnocchi without the sauce?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading upstairs for a hot bath.  Real cooking is hard work!

Zucchini “Linguine” with Tomato-Basil Sauce

This faux pasta dish was fun to make and as simple as whipping up a basic salad.  If you don’t own a mandoline, use a vegetable peeler to thinly slice the zucchini.  The noodles won’t be as uniformly shaped, but no matter—the dish will just look more rustic!

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 medium zucchinis, skin on, sliced lengthwise into ribbons with a mandoline
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce (homemade is ideal, but I bought mine for this dish)
  • 1 sprig fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup feta cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and onion and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and basil and heat for 5-10 minutes or until sauce is warmed through.  Add zucchini noodles to the pan and toss until coated with sauce.  Sprinkle with feta cheese and freshly ground black pepper and serve warm with garlic bread.