Archive for the 'pasta and noodles' Category


Lidia’s Meat Sauce Bolognese

I first made Lidia’s Bolognese almost five years ago, the night before Jeff and I ran our first half marathon. My friend Anne Marie drove in from Kansas City to run with us, and the three of us ate this Bolognese with linguini and garlic bread. Meat and carbs. How perfect. And how delicious.  Anytime we’ve got a big race, this is what we eat the night before, and it never fails. It’s also great when the cold weather and short days leave you strangely famished.

There are hundreds of versions of Bolognese. This one is incredibly meaty. It’s part ground beef, part ground pork. However, it doesn’t have the milk or cream that you find in most Bolognese ragus. The aromatics are merely onion, carrot and celery, with three bay leaves thrown in. Hand-crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and red wine give it acidity.

Aside from the taste, one of my favorite things about this sauce is how well it freezes. The recipe makes enough to dress about 1 1/2 pounds of pasta. Double the recipe, freeze part of it and you’re set for several days down the road. Another great thing about this Bolognese is that prep time is minimal. Once ingredients are in the pot, however, the sauce does need to simmer on the stove for at least two hours. The longer the better.

A lot has changed since we first had this Bolognese. Jeff and I bought a house. We graduated to marathon running. And these days, an irresistible little toddler helps me cook.

Lidia’s Meat Sauce Bolognese
barely adapted from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, peeled and minced (or finely shredded)
1/2 cup minced celery, with leaves
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes with their liquid (crush in a bowl with your hands)
3 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups hot water, or as needed

1 1/2 pounds dried or fresh pasta, such as linguini or penne

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat the olive oil in a wide 4- to 5-quart pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onion, carrot and celery, season lightly with salt and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Crumble in the ground beef and pork and continue to cook, stirring to break up the meat until all the liquid the meat has given off has evaporated. Cook until meat is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the wine is evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook a few minutes longer. Pour in the tomatoes, toss in the bay leaves, and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is dense but juicy and a rich, dark-red color. This will take about 2 to 3 hours — the longer you cook it the better it will be. While the sauce is cooking, add hot water as needed to keep the meats and veggies covered. A layer of oil may float to the top. It can be removed with a spoon or reincorporated into the sauce.

To serve 2, boil 8 ounces of fresh or dried pasta. To serve 4, boil 16 ounces of pasta. Boil pasta according to package instructions. While pasta is cooking, heat sauce if necessary. Drain pasta, add to sauce, stirring to coat. (If making a smaller amount of pasta, put a smaller amount of sauce in a different sauce pan for this step.) Remove from heat and stir in grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to taste.


Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

We’re on Week 2 of what seems like constant snowfall. At least five inches fell about 10 days ago. Then eight inches fell last week. Another two inches or so fell today. Yesterday afternoon, I rushed out to the store with the rest of St. Louis to stock up on bread, milk, eggs, and — ahem — cannelloni noodles.

When it snows, we stay in. Gabi started walking last month. She’s not exactly ready to go bounding out into the snow. So, we spend a lot of  time pointing at it from inside.  Today, while Jeff and Gabi played in the living room, I cooked. I baked cinnamon raisin bread (post will follow later this week). I took my second stab at vanilla yogurt. And, I make this spinach cannelloni for dinner.

I’ve been thinking about this dish since summer. I bought this Jamie Oliver cookbook when the weather was quite hot — too hot for cannelloni.  It’s been in my head ever since. There are several reasons to try this one. First, this is a pretty simple cannelloni recipe. No bechamel sauce is necessary. Boiling the noodles isn’t either. And, the end result is wonderful in every way. The cannelloni is warm, melty, delicious. The noodles are a bit crispy on top. The spinach and ricotta make a light and super yummy filling. On a snow day like today — it is perfect.

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
adapted from Jamie’s Dinners: The Essential Family Cookbook

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
handful of fresh oregano or marjoram, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
8 large handfuls spinach (about 3 large bunches), thoroughly washed
handful of fresh basil, stalks reserved and chopped, leaves torn
28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved
salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch of sugar
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
16 cannelloni tubes
7 ounces mozzarella, broken up

For the white sauce
1 cup creme fraiche
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Find baking pan large enough to fit cannelloni in one layer, if possible.

In a medium saucepan, heat butter on high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil, one of the sliced garlic cloves, a handful of the chopped oregano or marjoram, and the nutmeg. Saute for about 2 minutes. Add spinach in batches. Use tongs to turn it over, and add more as it cooks down.

Cook spinach for 5 minutes. Then, put the spinach into a large bowl and allow it to cool. Return the pan to heat, add a bit of olive oil, the other clove of sliced garlic, basil stalks and the chopped tomatoes. Pour tomato juice from the can into the pan. Add about a cup of water. Bring to boil. Turn the heat down, add a pinch of salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until you have a loose tomato sauce. Take the pan off the heat and add the basil leaves.

Squeeze excess water from the spinach, but keep the liquid in the bowl. Finely chop the spinach and put it back into the bowl. Mix it with the liquid.  Add the ricotta and 1/2 cup Parmesan, stir to combine. Fill the cannelloni with the spinach mixture. You can do this with a piping bag, or fill a plastic sandwich bag, twist the bag so the filling is pushed into on corner,  cut a hole in the corner and squeeze. Or, use your fingers to stuff the noodles.

Pour the tomato sauce into the baking dish. Put the filled cannelloni on top of the sauce. Arrange in one layer so the noodles are snug.

To make the white sauce, mix together the creme fraiche and the cup of Parmesan with a pinch of salt and pepper. Loosen the sauce with a little water until you can spoon it over the cannelloni. Sprinkle withremaining Parm and te mozzarella pieces, and back for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling.

Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4


Baked Pasta with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Proscuitto

This topped off my weekend of cooking. In three days my parents arrive for Thanksgiving. I work most of this week, so cooking in advance was crucial to having a stress-free holiday. In the past two days I’ve made cranberry relish, mashed maple sweet potatoes, cornbread sausage and sage dressing, maple walnut ice cream and pie crust for the pumpkin pie. That leaves the turkey, green beans and pumpkin pie for Thursday. Not bad. It’s nice to have most of it done. But in the craziness of it all, I’m glad I took some time to bake this pasta, which should feed the three of us for a few days.

This recipe had been calling my name for weeks. It’s the kind of thing that’s appealing to us working stiffs who are short on time, but long on appetite. The creamy combination of cheeses aren’t as rich as you’d think. Gorgonzola gives it nice bite.  Mushrooms add heft. Proscuitto contributes saltiness. It’s comfort food at its best.

Continue reading ‘Baked Pasta with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Proscuitto’


Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio

A few summers ago I was obsessed with eggplant. Italian, Japanese, white — every variety appeared on our kitchen counter. I made eggplant parmesan (yum), crispy sauteed eggplant with garlic (yum), an Asian dish that Jeff and I chucked (blech!). There was a roasted eggplant dip that I would love to make again, if I could just find the recipe. And when eggplant was about to disappear from the farmers market, I made pastitsio.

Pastitsio is a Greek pasta dish which, when done right, outshines moussaka. A combination of tubular pasta, ground lamb, diced eggplant, crushed tomatoes and spices make the base. More pasta is tossed with a creamy feta cheese sauce — because what casserole doesn’t have cheese? –and spread on top. It is baked until it starts to brown and bubble. Suddenly, you’ve got something you’ll make year after year.

There are few things I like more than a fork full of meaty, pasta goodness with some sort of cheese. But truth be told, this isn’t as heavy as it sounds. It’s hearty all right, but won’t leave you feeling like you’ve had a plate of lasagna. Last year at this time, when Gabi was a bun in the oven and my ankles were canisters, I made enough pastitsio to fill two of those aluminum baking trays. I stacked them in the freezer, along with lasagna, tetrazzini and nine loaves of zucchini and bread. Yes, the nesting instinct had kicked in. And happily, we had enough pastitsio to get us through Gabi’s borderline colicky phase and part of October.

This time, I made another double batch. We ate one last week. The other went into the freezer for later this fall. I must warn you, pastitsio will make a mess of your kitchen. Pots are required for the meat and cheese sauces, and then a pot is needed to boil the pasta. The amount of active cooking time here is 40 minutes, and 2.5 hours start to finish (it’s worth it, trust me).

Continue reading ‘Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio’


Pasta Caprese

It’s tomato season. And that means raw tomato sauces.

Among my favorites: cherry tomatoes marinated in balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and tossed with arugula. Romas diced and tossed with lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Heirlooms chopped and mixed with olives, red wine vinegar and majoram. There are hundreds of ways.

A few days ago, I used  romas from our garden and several heirlooms from our Fair Shares box to make this rustic raw tomato sauce. If you like caprese salads, you’ll like this. And if you have little time to make dinner, you’ll thank me for it, too.

It comes together in less than a half hour, and the ingredient list is small. The success depends on quality, like so many recipes that rely on a handful of fresh ingredients. Tomatoes must be in season. Your olive oil must be good enough to stand alone. Your mozzarella must be fresh, packed in water.

This is a nice way to use summer tomatoes. I ate the leftovers last week for lunch. It’s great at room temperature, or even cold, as a pasta salad.

Pasta Caprese
Cook’s Illustrated, July 2007

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 small shallot, minced fine
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and cut in 1/2-inch dice
12 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound penne, or other tubular pasta
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Whisk oil, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, garlic, shallot, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl. Add tomatoes and gently toss to combine; set aside. Do not marinate tomatoes longer than 45 minutes.

While tomatoes are marinating, place mozzarella on a plate and freeze until slightly firm, about 10 minutes. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain well.

Add pasta and mozzarella to tomato mixture and gently toss to combine. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in basil; adjust seasonings with salt, pepper and additional lemon juice. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 7.


Thai Chicken and Shrimp Noodle Salad

I hate goodbyes. Kim and Todd, and their 9-week-old baby, Zane, are moving to Minneapolis in a few weeks. Jeff and Kim have worked at three newspapers together, and he and Todd went to same high school in Houston. I met the two of them 10 years ago in Little Rock. Needless to say, we go way back.

We had them over for dinner last night. It was another brutally hot day in St. Louis, so I made this cold noodle salad as the main course. The last thing we needed in our house was a hot stove. The salad comes from one of my favorite issues of Bon Appetit, the one with the Sydney Opera House on the cover (see Linguini with Shrimp, Asparagus and Basil). There are still about a half dozen recipes that grab me each time I flip through its pages.

Prepping this salad takes a bit of time, more than it appears. However, you can do a lot ahead of time. I typically put the shredded chicken, sliced cucumber, basil, cilantro and mint leaves in a container and store in the fridge. About 20 minutes before Kim and Todd got here, I prepared the noodles, thawed the precooked shrimp, and tossed the rest of the salad ingredients in a large bowl. The dressing is quick and easy. I always add it before serving. I snapped the photo before adding the dressing.

The salad is awesome. It has all the key components of terrific Asian food — sweet, sour, spicy and salty.It’s light, but hearty. The cherry tomatoes and slivers of jalapeno make it even more beautiful. My favorite part — the fresh combination of mint, basil and cilantro leaves.

It won’t be the last time we’ll see Kim, Todd and Zane before they move. Jeff and I have decided that next summer we’ll be driving north for cooler weather and dinner at their house.

Continue reading ‘Thai Chicken and Shrimp Noodle Salad’


Pork Salad with Glass Noodles, Mint and Ginger

This recipe comes from Takeaway by Les Hunynh, and believe me, it’s a keeper. It took me about an hour to do all the chopping, slicing and  juicing. I’d hoped for 30 minutes, but oh well. The end result was worth it.

I said good night to Gabi, and then Jeff and I nearly scarfed down all of this salad. The combination of mint, cilantro, ginger, lime juice and fish sauce make it addictive. You won’t find anything better at a Vietnamese restaurant. Lime leaves can be found at international and Asian markets. I found them in the freezer section. If you can’t find them, by all means make this dish anyway. It will still be wonderful.

Cabbage is served to the side.

Pork Salad with Glass Noodles, Mint and Ginger
adapted from Takeaway

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 pound ground pork

5 1/2 ounces (150 grams) bean thread vermicelli (glass) noodles
1 handful mint leaves, torn in half if large
1 handful cilantro leaves
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons finely julienned fresh ginger
4 tablespoons roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
1 long red chile, seeded and julienned

2 small Thai chiles, sliced
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, preferably superfine sugar
4 tablespoons lime juice

To serve:
large wedges of cabbage

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Add the garlic and ork and stir-fry 3 to 4 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons water and simmer for about 2 minutes, or until the pork is cooked. Remove from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.

To make the salad, soak the vermicelli noodles in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain well, Cut the noodles into shorter lengths using scissors.

Combine all the dressing ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves. Combine the pork and noodles with the remaining salad ingredients, add sufficient dressing to moisten and gently mix. To serve, transfer the pork salad to a large serving bowl and serve accompanied with wedges of cabbage.

Serves 4


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