In terms of food, I do believe this is my favorite time of year. Summer. Aside from the two outdoor weddings photographed on 100+ degree days, she's been treating me well. Our local market is exploding with color and flavor; eggplant, tomatoes, peaches, melon and squash make it into our basket every Saturday. Our dinners are simple, inspired by the abundant fresh produce and the desire to keep it all as whole as possible. While I do love to cook, the idea of spending an hour preparing dinner over a hot stove is less than desireable in the middle of July. Which is why this recipe is my new favorite.
Sarah is my office mate, Beyond the Flavor partner, fellow food lover, and very dear friend. Nearly every afternoon we turn away from our computers and ask what the other is having for dinner. On Monday, when I was clueless about our evening menu but mentioned that I had a bowl full of beautiful, ripe tomatoes, she told me about this dish. It is about as simple as it gets, relying fully on the flavor of summer's best bounty. Tomatoes are chopped to bite-size pieces and tossed with sliced basil, minced garlic, and a generous amount of olive oil. The mixture is then refrigerated for at least an hour before being folded into hot, cooked pasta. Add some sausage (which we'd grilled the previous evening), salt, pepper and Parmigiano, and dinner is served.
Happy weekend, friends!
Summer Tomato Pasta
To make this dish vegetarian, remove the sausage and add red pepper flakes to your marinade.
3 large tomatoes
1 cup grape tomatoes
12 leaves fresh basil
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup good-quality olive oil
1 cup crumbled hot italian sausage, cooked
1 pound brown rice pasta
salt + pepper
fresh Parmigiano Reggiano
Chop tomatoes. Slice basil. Mince garlic. Toss all together in a shallow dish with olive oil and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Cook pasta. I like to bring my salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and then turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid. The pasta should be done in 8-10 minutes.
Drain pasta and add back to pot. Toss with tomato mixture and add crumbled sausage. Salt + pepper to taste.
Serve with shavings of Parmigiano and an arugula salad.
Goodness, I am not doing so well in the beauty department with the recipes I've shared in 2012. But again, this one is worth trying even with the overall brownness of the dish. It is relatively quick and involves inexpensive ingredients that we typically have every day. With little flecks of green parsley it is even more tasty and just a tad prettier but, as you can see, parsley wasn't in my fridge when I prepared this meal (for the 3rd time in a month, I'll add) and it was still really wonderful. Maybe not 'share with company' delicious, but perfect for a weeknight with family, or with friends who are family.
Virginia is in a weird, in-between phase of weather right now. One day we'll have sleet and snow dust and misty skies, the next sunshine and fluffy clouds and crocuses peaking from beneath fallen leaves. Mother Nature can't decide if she should buckle down and get serious about Winter or skip on ahead to Spring. I'll take either, but the back and forth is really throwing me off. I waver between wanting a thick + meaty stew for dinner or a light salad with citrus. Grocery shopping is nearly impossible since the chances of my craving what I actually buy are slim, given that the weather is bound to drastically change 2 days later. I am falling back on old staples; meals that have proven themselves worthy no matter the time of year. Like this one, which I'll either fill my bowl to the brim with (cold, Winter day) or pair equally with a fresh salad (warm, Spring day). Either way it's a winner, and sure to stay in our rotation year-round.
Ziti with Portobello Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, + Chevre
1 lb portobello mushrooms, stems removed, caps halved and then cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
3/4 lb ziti (we use brown rice pasta in our house...just as silky as semolina, but whole grain)
3 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled
3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
In a large sauté pan, melt 1 tbsp of the butter with 2 tbsp of the oil over moderate heat. Add the onions, 1/2 tsp of the salt, and the sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are well browned, about 20 minutes (I let them go for closer to 30). Remove from the pan.
In the same pan, melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter with 1 tbsp of the oil over moderate heat. Add the mushrooms and 1/4 tsp of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and brown, about 8 minutes. Add the reserved onions, the parsley, the remaining 1/4 tsp salt, and the pepper.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the ziti until just done. Reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta water and drain. Toss the ziti and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water with the mushroom mixture, the remaining 1 tbsp oil, the goat cheese, and the Parmesan. If the pasta seems dry, add more of the reserved pasta water. Serve with additional Parmesan.
We have a special category for certain types of meals in our house: BHubb meals. As in, 'that's a BHubb dinner', which tranlates to 'that's the kind of dish that makes Brian, aka BHubb, a happy man'. Typically a BHubb meal is rich and heavy, and most often has some sort of pork product involved. Examples of BHubb meals from the past include Slow-Cooked Carnitas, Pappardelle with Spicy Pork Ragu, and Bacon Garlic Marinara with Homemade Meatballs. You see, sometimes I get on a salad kick, or a soup kick, and there will be weeks where most of our meals are one or the other. Those are most definitely NOT BHubb meals, because once Brian leaves the table he is rummaging for more sustenance in the pantry within half an hour. I am trying to be better about the balance between AHubb and BHubb meals in our house, and I must admit that I get a lot of satisfaction out of Brian's vigorous nod of approval after his first bite of a dinner made specially with him in mind.
I knew going in that this Orecchiette Carbonara would get such a nod. Brian already expected something delicious when he got home last night, as I'd asked him before he left for work to slice 6 long strips of bacon from the cured pork belly we had waiting in our fridge. His eyebrows went up as he said 'bacon, huh?!?', and happily got to work carefully releasing slice after slice from the slab. And once at the dinner table, true to form, with his mouth still full Brian looked to me, pointed at the bowl in front of him, and gave me that content bob of his head letting me know that this, for sure, was a Bhubb meal.
This is a dish that I feel certain will make a frequent appearance at our table. We almost always have each of these ingredients on hand, aside from perhaps the leeks which, in a pinch, could be substituted with sweet onion. Orecchiette can occasionally be difficult to find, but is worth the effort if you do. The tiny ear-shaped pasta is perfect for catching the peas and bits of bacon. If you have trouble, substitute shells or bowties.
6 slices high-quality, thick-cut bacon
2 medium leeks, white + pale green parts only, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/3-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
10 oz orecchiette pasta or small shells
2 large, high-quality egg yolks, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp fresh parsley
Cook bacon until crisp. We like to cook our bacon in the oven at 400° for about 15 minutes on a rimmed baking sheet, but cooking it in a skillet on the stove top is fine, too. Transfer the cooked bacon to a paper towel to drain, and set aside. Reserve 2 tbsp of the bacon fat, keeping it in the skillet or pouring it from the baking pan into a skillet. Once the bacon is cool, break it into small pieces.
Add the leeks and garlic to the skillet with the bacon fat, and saute' over medium heat until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the peas and stir to heat evenly. Set aside.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Whisk the egg yolks, parmesan, and cream together in a medium bowl. Gradually add 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Add the pasta to the leeks and stir to mix over medium heat, just until all is heated through and the leeks are just starting to sizzle again. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour egg mixture over pasta. Stir until the sauce is just creamy and eggs are no longer raw, about 2 minutes. You can return the skillet to very low heat if the egg mixture is still runny, but be careful not to overcook. If the pasta needs to be moistened, you can add some of the reserved pasta cooking water back to the pan.
Stir in the bacon and parsley, blending well.
Serve with additional cheese and freshly ground black pepper.
Tomato season is coming to an end, a time which, for me, is bittersweet. I am at the same time sad that I'll have to wait another ten months for full-flavored, raw tomatoes to grace my plate, and pleased that this sign brings Autumn (and the cooler weather that comes with her) just a little bit closer. To remedy these mixed feelings, I've been making and canning lots and lots of sauce. The ritual of washing dozens and dozens (and dozens x10) of tomatoes, passing them through the Sauce Master (best. tool. ever. thanks Joe!), and cooking the resulting puree down to half its original volume with onions, garlic, peppers, and herbs has been a weekly routine since mid-July. It brings me great pleasure to know that soon, when the air is brisk and the leaves have fallen, we'll be able to tap into a bit of Summer with one of the 30+ pints of marinara we've got stored away.
And, what better accompaniment to homemade tomato marinara than homemade meatballs? It had been awhile since the last time we made meatballs at home, but I'm thinking (and know that Brian agrees) that they should make a more regular appearance on our menu. They are so easy, and for us the epitome of comfort food when paired with fresh pasta and rich sauce. It may seem odd to have made a dish so warm and hearty during the heat of mid-August, but to me seemed an appropriate invitation for Autumn to hurry herself along.
Even if you're not set up to can tomato sauce, I still recommend doubling or tripling the sauce recipe and freezing the leftovers. And, while you're at it, go ahead and double the meatball recipe, too. They freeze well, and will be so delicious with the extra sauce come October...
Pasta with Bacon Garlic Marinara and Homemade Meatballs
sauce by Bella Eats, meatball recipe from Bon Appetit, October 2010
2 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
6 large heirloom tomatoes (about 3 pounds), blanched, peeled, and cored (keep the seeds)
salt + pepper
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French or country-style bread
1/3 cup whole milk
8 ounces ground beef (15% fat)
8 ounces ground pork
1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 pound of fresh pasta (we love linguini)
First, get the sauce going (it will take about 2 hours). Saute the bacon in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over high heat until starting to brown. Add the onion, garlic, and red pepper and saute for an additional 2 minutes, stirring pretty constantly. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you put them into the pot, and scrape the brown bits off of the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer for 1.5-2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Immediately start the meatballs once sauce is simmering. Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl, stirring until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Place beef and pork in a large bowl and break into small clumps. Add the parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper.
Whisk together the eggs and the garlic cloves in another small bowl. Pour over meat mixture.
Using your hands, squeeze the excess milk from the breadcrumbs, reserving the milk. Add the breadcrumbs to the meat mixture. Using your hands, quickly and gently mix all ingredients together until everything is evenly distributed, taking care to not overmix. Chill at least 15 minutes and up to one hour.
Moisten your hands with the excess milk, then roll the meat into golfball-size balls. You should have about 16 meatballs.
Using an immersion blender or regular blender, puree the sauce to the desired consistency. Return to a wide, shallow saucepan and bring back to a simmer. Add the meatballs in a single layer, and continue to simmer for about 20 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. You'll want to turn them about halfway through, but be careful not to break them apart before they are ready to move.
Cook pasta and drain. Remove meatballs from sauce. Add pasta to sauce pan and toss to coat. Serve with meatballs and shredded parmesan cheese.
I really like cookbooks. Sit me down on the couch with a glass of wine, sticky notes, and a thick book full of beautiful and evocative culinary images and I am one happy girl. Dissecting recipes can entertain me for hours, methods and timing dancing through my head as I imagine this ingredient melded with that one. But it is a very special book that holds my attention for the space between recipes, where the author's true voice emerges in the stories behind the dishes compiled. When my stepfather, Joe, handed me his copy of The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and said "You can borrow it, but only for a little while. And you MUST read the chapter about tomatoes." I had a feeling it would be just that kind of book. I immediately curled up in the corner of my parents' L-shaped couch and sank into that tomato chapter, which begins like this:
"I must begin this chapter with a confession: There is nothing, absolutely nothing that pleasures me more than a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce. When I want to reach out with all my love to my husband, a dish of pasta and tomatoes is almost always in my hands. When I am worn out and the world isn't such a nice place to be in, I make tomato sauce and pasta. When time is short but dear friends must be fed with joy and not pressure, I make pasta with tomato sauce. Never are any two of these pastas alike, because for me, this is the food of instinct."
And...I was hooked. My own copy arrived back home in Virginia the very next week and I immediately began plotting an "Italian Month" on Bella Eats. It didn't happen because, well, life got busy, but we've cooked and loved several of the recipes and I've very much enjoyed getting lost in the spaces between them.
I made this lasagna last month for very good friends we hadn't seen in many weeks and I must say, it was the perfect dish for a mini-reunion. Simple ingredients create a complex marriage of flavors and textures that you just can't stop eating. We sat around our table for hours catching up, the pan of lasagna between us enticing each of us to a second serving.
The pasta, cheese, and canned tomatoes were purchased at our local pasta shop, Mona Lisa Pasta. It shouldn't be a problem for you to find them in most grocery stores, but do seek out the highest quality cheeses and tomatoes you can. The simplicity of this lasagna allows their flavors to shine. I did a little happy dance when those sheets of fresh pasta were brought out to me in the shop, soft and supple and brushed with semolina. I'd been contemplating making my own, but with limited time was pleased to have this option. If you can, use fresh pasta, but if not dried will do as well.
Also, the sauce is delicious. It is worth keeping a can of san marzano tomatoes in your pantry for an emergency batch of fresh sauce whenever it may be needed.
1-3/4 to 2 pounds high-quality, creamy ricotta cheese
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
8 scallions, trimmed of root ends
2 tightly packed tbsp fresh basil leaves
1 tightly packed tbsp fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 tsp fresh oregano leaves
2 cloves garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium large onion, cut vertically into strips about 1/4 inch wide
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (optional)
extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound dried lasagna pasta (or, homemade pasta. or, if you're very lucky, fresh pasta from your local pasta shop.)
Prepare the tomato sauce by mincing together the herbs and chopped onions. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onions and herbs to golden brown. Add the garlic and cook a few seconds, then stir in the cherry tomatoes and the canned ones with their juices, crushing them with your hands as they go into the pan. Boil, uncovered, over high heat until thick, stirring often. Add the water and cook a few moments more. Stir in the sugar and season with salt and black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Cool briefly, then pass the sauce through a food mill or puree in a processor or blander. Cover and set aside.
Holding pack 2 tbsp of the parmesan, blend the cheese in a bowl. Mince together the scallions, basil, parsley, oregano, and garlic. Stir into the cheeses, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss the onion strips and mushrooms with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Heat a saute pan over high and saute until the onion is starting to brown and the mushrooms have released their liquid. Turn out of the pan.
If you're using dried pasta, cook in fiercely boiling water, stirring often, until barely al dente (it should be underdone). Drain in a colander and hold in a bowl of cold water. Fresh pasta does not need to be cooked.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a shallow 2-1/2-quart baking dish. Drain the pasta and pat dry. Moisten the bottom of the dish with sauce. Cover with a single layer of pasta. Daub with one quarter of the cheese mixture and one quarter of the browned onions + mushrooms. Moisten with one sixth of the remaining sauce. Top with a layer of pasta and continue layering, topping the fifth layer of pasta with the remaining sauce. Cover lightly with foil.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until heated through. Sprinkle with the reserved 2 tbsp parmesan. Let rest 10 minutes in the turned-off oven with its door open, then serve.
I have a confession to make. I’ve been keeping this utterly delicious dish from you for, oh, 2 months or so. What happened you ask? Bella Eats Pie Month, that’s what. Just as I was about to share this recipe for fresh, egg-laden pasta tossed with a homemade tomato sauce and spicy chunks of Italian sausage, I had this crazy idea to bake a different kind of pie each week for 5 weeks. And then, I needed a break. So I apologize, dear readers, for the delay, knowing full well that I’ve kept you from enjoying this warm and comforting meal as Winter starts elbowing its way into the last half of Autumn.
Last week we had an especially dreary few days with rain and winds sweeping through Charlottesville, dropping our temperatures into the 30’s and 40’s. It was the kind of weather that had me wearing my scarf while sitting behind my computer at the office, drinking hot tea every hour while thinking about thick stews and hearty casseroles. This dish popped into my head several times, the memory of silky pasta laced with tomato sauce prepared and frozen at the peak of summer causing my mouth to salivate and my belly to warm.
It is the hearty, homey, comfortable meals that I crave when the air temperature transitions from brisk to downright cold. Unlike the summer months, when we'd rather be lazily sipping vino verde on the back deck while munching on a quickly assembled salad, Brian and I spend a significant portion of Winter in our kitchen, not minding the extra heat the stovetop produces in order to simmer a pot of soup for hours or the labor required to roll out thin sheets of freshly made pasta for a pan of bubbly lasagna. With chilled darkness falling well before we leave the office, our kitchen is a welcome source of warmth waiting for us at the end of each day, providing a space for us to pour energy into meals that will warm our bodies from the inside out.
Fresh pasta is one of those luxurious-sounding meals that seems as if it should be impossible to make at home, in the amount of time allotted for dinner preparation in busy lives. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. Requiring only 30 minutes of rest in the refrigerator before being passed through a pasta machine, the dough can be made in a mere 10 minutes' time. Your sauce can be simmering with whatever additions you've chosen to enhance it with as you turn the crank and catch the golden sheets of floured dough, fold them carefully and cut them into your desired shapes. After a quick dunk in a pot full of boiling water you are ready to garnish the silky strands with whatever mixture has been simmering on your stove, filling the air with the pungent aroma of tomatoes, garlic and herbs, or perhaps the sweet smell of browned butter and sage.
I assure you that, although fresh pasta requires more time and attention than opening a box of dried linguine to dump into boiling water, it is completely, totally, undeniably worth the effort. We'll be making it often these next few months, so I'll be referring back to this recipe in future posts, I'm sure. It can be used for any shape of pasta desired.
1-2/3 cups semolina flour (if unavailable, bread flour will do)
3 large eggs
8 egg yolks
Because this recipe is so egg-y, I recommend using eggs as high in quality as you can find. Ours came from Double H Farm outside of Charlottesville.
Place both flours on a clean work surface. Make a well in the center of the flours and add the eggs and egg yolks. Break up the eggs with a fork and slowly bring the flour into the well, incorporating the flour and the eggs until a dough starts to form. [I am AWFUL at this part, and always get egg all over my counter. Jamie says you can make the dough with an electric mixer or food processor, which I will try next time]. Knead with your hands until a smooth, silky and elastic dough forms. ** Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Remove your dough from the fridge and divide into 4 pieces, putting three of the four back in the fridge. Flatten the smaller dough ball into a disk and dust with flour on both sides. If you have a pasta machine (they are only about $40, I have one made by Atlas) run the dough through on the widest setting possible. (you can also roll out by hand with a rolling pin, but I've never tried it.) Fold the dough in half and run through the machine again, repeating this process several times on the widest setting to get an evenly textured sheet. Flour each side of the dough. Step your machine down to the next smallest setting and run the dough through. Repeat, flouring the dough each time you step down the setting on your machine until you get the pasta to 1-2 mm thick (#6 on my machine...).
Cut pasta into desired shapes.
**NOTE: The dough will be very wet at first, when all of the flour is incorporated with the egg. Start to knead, coating your hands with flour every minute or so to prevent the dough sticking too terribly. if after several minutes the dough is still very wet, add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, kneading well after each addition until the dough achieves a smooth, elastic consistency. It should take about 10 minutes of solid kneading, total.
Pappardelle with Spicy Sausage Ragù
one batch of Fresh Pasta (recipe above)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, removed from cases and cut into bite-size pieces (ours is fro Double H Farm, outside of Charlottesville)
3 cups of homemade tomato sauce (recipe below) or your favorite jarred sauce
parmesan for shaving over top
Cut your sheets of pasta to 12" lengths. Dust with flour on both sides and fold in half. Cut into thirds, so that you wind up with strips of pasta about 12" long by 1-1/2" wide. Set aside.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in nonstick skillet. Add sausage and brown for 2-3 minutes. Add onions, garlic and red bell pepper. Saute' for 8-10 minutes, until onions are translucent and sausage is cooked through.
Add tomato sauce to pan and heat through. While sauce heats, boil pasta until al dente, 5-6 minutes. Drain.
Serve pasta with a heap of ragù and shaved parmesan on top.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
I realize that tomatoes are out of season nearly everywhere at this time, and that most of us are left with pink, grainy globes that only resemble Summer's favorite fruit. This sauce can also be made with high-quality, canned, whole tomatoes.
Also, this recipe is approximate. No tomato sauce is ever exactly the same and should always be tweaked according to your tastes.