Staples: Pasta Puttenesca

2011/02/23

I’m sure this has happened to you before. You look in the fridge and proclaim there is nothing to eat. Maybe you were out of town and haven’t made it to the store yet. Maybe you went shopping without a list and therefore didn’t get everything you needed for the week. Whatever the reason, nothing in your fridge goes with anything else. Don’t worry; it happens to everyone. But you don’t need to reach for the takeout menus just yet. All you need is a strategically stocked pantry.

Every year at about this time, the end of winter (hopefully), I like to go on a pantry fast. I buy less food at the store, to force me to clean out my freezer and cabinets by eating the food that has been accumulating in the corners of my kitchen that I don’t see as often when there is so much fresh food available (like in the spring, summer, and fall). However, some things I like to keep around are the ingredients for vegetarian Pasta Puttenesca.

This dish is very simple and easy to make. It never tastes exactly the same way twice, but that is mostly because I don’t ever measure anything when I make it. First, I heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Then, I add an onion and a few cloves of garlic and cook until the onion turns translucent. Then I add chopped olives (black or kalamata, preferably jarred, not canned), chopped capers, some red pepper flakes, dried oregano, salt and pepper.

When this starts to smell really good, I add a pint jar of tomatoes and stir. Then I just let it cook down, stirring occasionally, while I boil the pasta.

When the pasta is almost done, I drain it and add it to the sauce to finish. I like to do this because the pasta will really soak up a lot of good flavor.

I like to shave pretty curlicues of Parmesan on top (just scrape at a hunk of it with a y-shaped vegetable peeler) and serve with a green salad and warm baguette (not pictured). However, since we had a friend over that night, I also put out an appetizer of a small piece of fontina cheese and a bowl of antipasto.

By the way, if you eat fish, the only other thing you need to keep on hand is some tinned anchovies or a tube of anchovy paste. Just add it in with the olives, and then you have authentic Puttanesca.

I don’t know about you, but at the end of a long day, I do not want to fight the crowds at the supermarket and then still have to come home and put together an elaborate meal. That is when I make things like this. I always have pretty much everything I need on hand, and popping into the store for bread and maybe a head of lettuce is far less of a hassle then trying to put together a whole meal. And it is a lot less greasy than takeout.


Pizzas from Trader Joe’s

2010/04/06

Some of you may know that I broke my foot last Thursday night. I was on crutches all weekend, but I saw the doctor today and got a walking boot. However, that doesn’t mean I am going to be on my feet in the kitchen cooking dinner at night. Tonight Ian and I had pizzas from Trader Joe’s.

This was my pizza, the 3 plus Blue Flatbread with Mozzarella, Grana Padano, Parmesan, and Gorgonzola Cheeses. This is what it looked like cooked:

However, I wasn’t satisfied with this, so I dressed it up with parmesan, crushed red pepper, oregano, fleur de sel, and pepper.

I didn’t make anything else, and I was really hungry because I missed my afternoon snack,  so I ate the whole thing. The bites with blue cheese were really good, but the bites without were a little boring.

Ian had a Pizza Margherita.

He really likes this pizza, and thought it was great, like always. He added a little fleur de sel, but nothing else.


Pasta Peperonata

2010/03/28

I hadn’t felt well earlier today, so I just wanted to make a simple dinner tonight. Earlier this week Ian had requested pasta and garlic bread, so I thought that sounded good. I had 3 bell pepper halves left over from the fajitas last week, so I decided to make pasta peperonata. This was actually the first meal I ate in Russia, because my first flatmate there was Italian, and she made it the night I arrived.

Pasta Peperonata:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 of a sweet onion (Ian really likes onion so I used more like 3/4)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 bell peppers (I used 1/2 each of yellow, orange, and red)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic vinegar)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Warm a large frying pan over medium heat, then add the olive oil. When it is warm, add the onions and garlic, and sweat them until the onions are translucent. Then add the peppers, and continue to cook until the peppers are soft. Add the basil, salt, and pepper. When the pan starts to get sticky, add the balsamic vinegar.
  2. Meanwhile, boil half of a box of penne pasta in salted water. When it is al dente, drain, but safe a few tablespoons of the pasta water to add to the peppers. Add the pasta to the skillet and stir to combine. Plate and top with parmesan cheese.

I served this with garlic bread (which probabaly could have used a few more minutes in the oven and a little more butter, but it was still good). It is really good comfort food that is also easy to make.


Simple Spaghetti with Tomato-Kale Sauce and Cheesy Breadsticks

2010/03/11

After last night’s heavy dinner (and leftovers for lunch today) I wanted something lighter for dinner tonight. I had bought some very pretty, green, curly kale at the farmers’ market last Saturday, so I decided to cook it down into a pasta sauce.

I started by sauteeing onion and garlic in onive oil on low in my large frying pan. Then I added the kale, with the stems removed and torn to pieces (I wasn’t feeling fancy), and cooked it down for about 7 minutes.

I added a few generous pinches of salt, some black pepper, dried red pepper flakes and dried oregano. Then I added a jar of tomatoes (1 pint) and cooked it down for another 15 minutes until the sauce reduced. Meanwhile, I boiled half a box of spaghetti. When the spaghetti was al dente, I drained the pasta and added it to the sauce and tossed. I plated the pasta and topped it with a little parmesan.

However, I knew this would not be enough for Ian, who likes a little more heft to his dinners. When I looked in the fridge, I saw a bag of pizza dough that I had bought at Trader Joe’s last weekend. This variety has a pesto flavor, and I thought it would make good breadsticks. I also remembered I had some Italian Herbs flavored cheese curds from Field of Grace farm (find them at the Arlington farmers’ market).

Now stay with me here because I forgot to take pictures of the process. I rolled the dough out into a longish rectangle, and then cut it into 8 even(ish) pieces. I then wrapped a few small pieces of cheese in the dough and rolled it into a breadstick shape. I put them on a oiled baking sheet, topped them with melted butter, garlic powder, and parmesan cheese. I then baked them at 4oo F for 7 minutes.

The cheese in these was melty and the bread was doughy and tasted strongly of basil. Ian and I both thought they were very good, but the pasta didn’t have quite enough sauce for them. Next time I might make them their own sauce. Oh well.


Hedgehogs for Dinner!

2010/02/22

No, don’t worry, we did not eat my beloved Keshmesh (for those of you who may have stumbled across this blog without actually knowing me, I own a pet hedgehog). Instead, we had scrump-diddly-uptious mushrooms cooked into a sauce for pasta.

These lovely darlings, which I bought from the mushroom lady at the farmers’ market last Saturday are Hydnum repandum, also known as hedgehog mushrooms. They got their name, because instead of having lines on their undersides like most mushrooms, these have spikes that look very much like the quills of their namesake.

This one even kind of looked like a hedgehog.

Since they are wild mushrooms, they were a little dirty, so I had to clean them before cooking. Yes, of course, I used my veg-hog vegetable brush.

Unfortunately, the only thing I measured while cooking tonight was the butter (2 tbsp), so I will have to give you a non-recipe, but this wouldn’t be hard to replicate. After cleaning them, I cooked them in my favorite fashion the only way mushrooms should ever be cooked: sauteed with butter and a little onion. I added enough white wine to make a sauce and let them simmer.

This smelled very, very good.

Meanwhile, I started boiling a pot of water. When it reached a full rolling boil, I dumped in a package of pesto tortelloni from Trader Joes. When the pasta was just about done, I added some coarse Sel Gris de Guerande (grey French sea salt), crumbled in some goat cheese, and finished with fresh black pepper. The sauce thickened a bit more than I wanted, so when I was straining the pasta, I added some pasta water to the mixture. Then I tossed the tortelloni with the sauce, plated, and sprinkled some shredded parmesan cheese on top.

Voila! If I didn’t have to clean the mushrooms, this would have only taken 15 minutes. The pasta wasn’t bad, but the sauce was excellent.

I wonder what he would think?