I’m a sucker for a quick and easy weeknight meal. When I ran across a recipe for Spaghetti alla Siciliana, consisting of pasta tossed with olive oil, sundried tomatoes, parsley and parmesan, I knew I had to try it out. What’s not to love? Plus, pasta is one of the only foods for which my 3-year-old is pretty much universally enthusiastic. That is, as long as it doesn’t have too much “stuff” on it.
I mean, seriously. Can you believe this beautiful plate of pasta took a mere 20 minutes to get on the table? And it was twice as delicious as it looks. This will definitely be making it into our weeknight rotation.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, or until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Saute the garlic and crushed red pepper until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the sundried tomatoes and half the parsley and stir for an additional couple of minutes.
When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan with the sundried tomato mixture. Toss, adding a little of the pasta water if necessary, to combine. Add salt to taste.
Serve topped with the remaining chopped parsley and parmesan to taste.
Here’s the deal with dinner lately: I don’t really cook it. It’s not that we don’t eat dinner at home… it’s just that the way our family life works right now sort of preludes me from being the primary chef at dinnertime.
Amelia has an early bedtime, so I have to start her bath at 5:45, do her bedtime routine (which includes nursing, so it’s my job) and then she’s down by 6:30 most nights. Nora, however, doesn’t go to bed until around 8 pm. We used to eat dinner at 6 and then play outside for a little while afterward, but since we like to eat together as a family,* we had to switch it up a bit. At first, we tried eating before I started Amelia’s bath, but it ended up being too early for everyone but her… and she was always on the verge of meltdown that close to bedtime, so it wasn’t working out. Our current solution is to eat at about 6:45, so I have time to put Amelia to bed and everyone can sit down together without throwing off Nora’s bath-and-bedtime routine.
*Well, minus the not-yet-eating-solids member of our crew.
Of course, if you do the math, that usually means someone other than me has to cook dinner, or at the very least do the final steps and get dinner ready to go on the table. And that means that the hubby has been primarily in charge of dinner lately. Sometimes I make the meal plan for the week, and other times we just wing it. Truth be told, I am still a little sleep deprived and unmotivated, so winging it wins out more often than it probably should. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s freezer meals!
Anyhow, blah, blah, blah, get to the good stuff. I made a delicious dinner the other night (on one of my more motivated days) — and I accomplished it by prepping everything ahead of time (while the babe was napping), and then having the hubby finish it off right before we sat down to eat. This recipe for parmesan and spinach orzo has been floating around Pinterest, and I decided it sounded like a perfect weeknight meal — with some slight modifications, of course. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t be me.
I had high hopes for this one, and it did not disappoint. My only regret is that I really thought Nora would love it — and she did, for a few minutes. She chowed down until she realized that there was green stuff in it, and then proceeded to tell me she didn’t like “the kale.” Everything green is kale nowadays, and despite the fact that I have photographic evidence of her former love of actual kale, nothing can convince her that it isn’t gross. Plus, there were onions. Although basically undetectable to the adult palate (except for the lovely flavor they add), there were in fact onions in this dish, and that was apparently unacceptable. Sigh.
Regardless, the hubby and I scarfed ours down, and finished off her leftovers, too. Her loss, our gain!
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and add the orzo. Cook until al dente, according to package directions (around 8 minutes).
Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in another saucepan.* Saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the flour to the onion and garlic mixture, and stir to coat. Gradually add the milk, whisking to eliminate any lumps. Heat, stirring, until bubbly and thickened, 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.**
Stir in the parmesan and spinach and heat until the cheese is incorporated into the sauce and the spinach is wilted.
Add the orzo to the sauce and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
* Or, if you're like me and prefer to minimize the mess, cook the pasta first, drain it in a colander, and then wipe out the same pan to use for the sauce.
** If you're making this ahead, you can stop at this step, and refrigerate the pasta and sauce separately (keeping the sauce in the saucepan for simplicity's sake). When you're ready for dinner, gently reheat the sauce on the stovetop, and then proceed with the recipe.
Not long ago, I made a meal (this fantastic baked ziti) for a friend who just had a baby. Several people did this for me when Amelia was born, and I like to pay it forward. Having a newborn is a hard gig! However, I am still a little sleep deprived myself, so while I was making the ricotta cheese for two batches of baked ziti, I had a math fail. Long story short, I ended up with twice as much ricotta as I actually needed.
But, hey, that’s definitely not a bad problem to have. I pondered what to do with the extra, and landed on a quick and easy meal of spinach and artichoke pasta. Since we have plenty of spinach growing in our garden these days, it was easy to pop outside and pick some, sauté it, combine it with some chopped marinated artichoke hearts, the ricotta and a little cream, and toss it with pasta. Voila! Dinner is served.
I do like my pasta pretty saucy, and this is no exception — so if you like yours with more pasta than other stuff, well, just make more pasta.
Fold a length of cheesecloth so that it's four sheets thick, and set it in a colander in the sink.
Bring the milk, buttermilk and cream to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Keep watch over the mixture, stirring occasionally, until you see the curds start to separate. When this happens, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Keep scooping under all you've got left is a light-yellowish liquid (whey).
Sprinkle the cheese with a little kosher salt and let it drain for about 5 minutes. Use immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container.
We all have those days… You know, where everyone is running late to everything, dinner doesn’t get prepped like you planned, and the easy way out is to just pick something up. I will admit having succumbed to the takeout impulse plenty of times, but a little while ago, after having one of those days, I shot down hubby’s suggestion to “just get takeout” and set about improvising.
Sometimes improvised meals turn out to be the best. We had chard growing in the backyard (it’s the gift that keeps on giving!), stuff to make a batch of homemade ricotta, and I always keep pasta in the pantry and good-quality parmesan in the fridge. That was all I really needed to make this delicious pasta with a creamy sauce happen, and, guess what? It was better than takeout, not to mention healthier. Win!
Now, can someone please remind me of this next time we have one of those days?
Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of the pasta water.
Heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the chard and cook until wilted but still bright green. Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for a couple minutes more.
Stir in the cooked pasta along with the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil and a nice splash of the pasta water, and add the parmesan.
Lower the heat and stir until the cheese is incorporated and a thin sauce coats the pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste.
I have something to admit: My house is messy. I just thought you should know.
My darling neighbors were over playing with Nora yesterday, and, in that frantic space in the five minutes before dinner where everything is coming together and everyone wants your attention, I dropped something out of one of my cabinets. The four-year-old, being a four-year-old, pointed out that I had dropped it, and I, being a little short of patience right at that moment, might have responded a bit curtly.
“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s a messy house.”
The thing is, I spend a lot of time cooking, and running after a two-year-old (who doubles as a wrecking ball). But really, those are just excuses. I’d like to have a clean house — really, I would — but I like more to sit down for a few precious minutes at night before I crash in bed.
This has been making the rounds, and it is truth:
(I wish I knew where it originally came from, so I could give proper credit, but I pulled this from Momcom Life’s Facebook page.)
But, the thing is, it bothers me. Because I try to keep a clean house, but life gets in the way. I even have a cleaning schedule, for goodness’ sake! So, for a neighbor kid to catch me at the very messiest moment of the week and make a cutting observation… well, I won’t lie. It hurt. Even if she didn’t mean anything by it, it did.
I am going to take a moment to pat myself on the back, though. I am a good mom. I have a brilliant, sweet, beautiful daughter who gives me hugs and kisses (sometimes), has her alphabet down pat, is fully potty-trained and happy as a clam (usually). I make nutritious and delicious meals for my family nearly every night. I am starting a new career in a tough field and making a go of it (my first honest-to-goodness article in a print magazine is coming out soon!), and I have a wonderful, supportive husband with whom I am madly in love. But yeah, I am stretched a little thin at times.
I’m not perfect. I hope I never put forth the pretension that I am. I’d hate for anyone to think this is one of those glossy “lifestyle” blogs designed to make you feel bad about yourself. I really just like to write, I like to cook and I get a kick out of sharing recipes and stories with you lovely people. That’s it. And I have a messy house. Just thought you ought to know.
As your reward for reading my little sob story (that is, if you haven’t just skipped straight to the goods), please accept this delightful recipe for a fresh-from-the-garden early spring pasta.
I had spinach fettuccine in my pantry, plenty of chard and delicate broccoli crowns in my garden, and even a few baby leeks to add to the mix. I whipped up a quick creamy sauce to tie it all together, and voila! Just ignore the mess in my kitchen, please.
2-3 baby leeks (or 1 regular leek), sliced thinly (white and light green parts only)
1 bunch chard, stems removed and reserved for another use*, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 cup cream or whole milk
½ cup parmesan, grated, plus additional for serving
½ tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leek and broccoli and stir for a couple of minutes, until beginning to soften. Add the chard to the pan and saute until wilted. Add a splash of the pasta water if the pan seems dry. Set aside.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan, and then add the flour, stirring until bubbly. Gradually add in the milk, stirring well to remove any lumps.
Allow the mixture to simmer until it thickens slightly, and then turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Add the garlic powder and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss the pasta with the cream sauce and the chard-broccoli mixture, adding splashes of pasta water if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve topped with additional parmesan, if desired.
* I usually freeze mine and use them in a batch of vegetable stock. Hate to let all those good nutrients go to waste!
Spaghetti with cracked pepper and parmesan is one of my go-to weeknight meals when everything else falls through and I need to get dinner together in 20 minutes. I can throw it together with stuff I have on hand, and it’s always delicious.
Make sure to use good-quality parmesan, since that’s where the flavor comes from. I like whole wheat pasta not only because of the nutritional content, but also because it has a heartier, nuttier flavor that holds its own in this dish. I served it the other night with a quick salad of wilted spinach, avocado and some balsamic vinaigrette.
And that was that! It was a delicious weeknight meal with a minimum of fuss. That’s just how I roll.
This pasta is so sublime, it needs a better name. Sure, it is orecchiette with kale and breadcrumbs… but that doesn’t tell you how creamy, garlicky and delicately spiced it is, and it doesn’t evoke a pasta that made me yearn for seconds. And that is what it is.
It’s also a great entrée to kale, if you are phobic. The kale is cooked down and chopped so finely that you’ll practically never notice it’s there, if you’re not into that sort of thing. Which my 2-year-old isn’t… and she still gobbled this up. Mostly from our plates rather than hers, but I’ll take what I can get!
1 lb lacinato kale (about 2 bunches), tough stems removed
5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed, divided
1 lb orecchiette (little ear-shaped pasta)
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp tomato paste
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook the kale until tender, about 4 minutes. Remove the kale and transfer to a rimmed cutting board. Cool slightly and press out the moisture, then chop.
Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs and 1 clove of the garlic and toast, stirring and tossing often, until golden brown.
Return the kale cooking water to a boil and add the orecchiette. Cook until al dente, per the package directions. Drain, reserving 1½ cups of the cooking water.
In a large saucepan (preferably the pot you just got done cooking the pasta in), melt the butter and the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add the tomato paste, crushed red pepper, the remaining 3 cloves of garlic and a healthy pinch of salt.
Stir until fragrant and mixed, and then add the chopped kale and ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Simmer until the kale is warm, about 3 minutes.
Add the cooked pasta, another ½ cup of the pasta cooking water, half the toasted breadcrumbs and the parmesan cheese. Stir over low heat until well mixed and then add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve warm, topped with the remaining breadcrumbs and additional parmesan cheese.
I have a new favorite use for cauliflower. I know I say that often this time of year, but cauliflower really is so versatile. I’m always mystified when people tell me they can never find a good use for cauliflower — I have dozens!
Admittedly, it’s kind of a boring vegetable on its own (although I do love it simply roasted with some olive oil, salt and pepper), but it’s also a chameleon that can fit into all kinds of cuisines. I have several standby cauliflower pasta recipes, but this new one is definitely my favorite, owing not only to its tastiness (I do love a creamy sauce), but also to its use of chard, something I have in spades right now. Hooray for winter veggies!
4 cups cauliflower florets (about half a medium head)
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ bunch chard, coarse stems removed and leaves roughly chopped or torn
6 Tbsp heavy cream
4 Tbsp sour cream
grated parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.
While the pasta is cooking, preheat the broiler. Toss the cauliflower florets with 2 Tbsp olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and broil, tossing a few times, until nicely browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and smoked paprika and stir until fragrant, taking care not to let the garlic get too brown. Add the roasted cauliflower to the skillet and stir to combine. Add in the chard and sauté until wilted but still bright green.
Stir in the cream and sour cream and stir until well incorporated and beginning to bubble. Add the cooked pasta stir well to coat it with the sauce. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, and serve topped with grated parmesan cheese.
When Nora was still a wee newborn, the in-laws came out to visit us. As I thought was prudent, I made it clear to anyone planning to visit us within the first few weeks that they would be there not only to see the baby, but to help take care of some cooking and cleaning, too.*
* I highly recommend this to anyone having a baby. You’ve got to make sure everyone’s expectations are the same or you may end up playing hostess with a newborn attached to you 24-7. Doesn’t sound like fun to me!
I fondly remember my mom making a batch of chocolate chip cookies from my recipe, since I had craved them for weeks. My mother-in-law made an absolutely delicious baked ziti from a recipe that we had clipped from the San Francisco Chronicle, but not gotten around to trying before we received our (slightly) early arrival. I have dreamed about it ever since.
Sweet dreams are made of this.
It was, to my mind, the perfect baked ziti. It had ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses mixed right into the sauce. Into the sauce, people! No less important, it turns out that it is also rather easy to make, especially when you do the heavy lifting ahead of time and then just slide it into the oven to bake when it’s almost dinner time. I finally got around to making it again last night, and I was not disappointed — memory had served me well. And now I’m going to have some leftovers for lunch. Glorious.
Author: Lightly adapted from this recipe published in the San Francisco Chronicle
1 28-oz can tomato puree (San Marzano preferred)
1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, halved
2 Tbsp butter
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 lb penne rigate or ziti (preferably whole wheat)
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ lb high-quality ricotta cheese**
½ cup heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
12 oz grated mozzarella (about 1½ cups)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Place a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and bring the tomatoes, onion halves and butter to a steady simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt, and add the oregano to finish. Discard the onion halves, cool the sauce slightly and set aside. The sauce can be made up to 2-3 days in advance.
Preheat the oven to 325°. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions until slightly firmer than al dente. Drain, and toss with all but 1 cup of the tomato sauce.
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, cream, egg, mozzarella and half of the parmesan. Fold the cheese mixture into the sauced pasta.
Spread the mixture into a 13 x 9 or similar-sized baking dish. Spread the remaining 1 cup sauce over the top, and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup parmesan. Cover with foil, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the foil, and place the pan under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the cheese on top. Serve hot.
** As ever, I recommend making your own. It's so easy, and you'll never go back to store-bought!
Sometimes the best culinary experiments are born out of necessity. The other day, I wasn’t able to run by the grocery store as planned, so I needed to make something for dinner out of what I had on hand. When you have good raw ingredients (thank you, backyard garden!) and a little inventiveness, I think that happens to be the best way to cook.
How could you resist?
Our rainbow chard is growing like gangbusters right now. We’ve already harvested twice, and it just doesn’t stop. Caramelized onion makes anything taste good, so it’s my secret weapon. Add a creamy sauce and you’ve got yourself a deal.
Chard and Caramelized Onion Pasta Bake
1 bunch chard
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 lb farfalle or other small pasta
1 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs butter, divided
2 Tbs flour
2 cups milk
1 cup parmesan, grated
1 cup mozzarella, grated
Remove the stems from the chard and finely chop them. Roughly chop the leaves. Heat the olive oil and 1 Tbs of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, then turn the heat down, add the chard stems, and continue cooking until the onion is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and the chard leaves, turn the heat up to medium high, and sauté until wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350º.
While pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and stir over medium heat until light brown and bubbly. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Bring just to a simmer, stirring, and allow to cook until thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss the pasta with the chard and caramelized onion mixture and the cream sauce and spread in a casserole dish. Top with the shredded mozzarella and bake until bubbly and starting to brown on top, about 20-30 minutes.
I’m a recovering lawyer-turned-freelance writer, aspiring domestic goddess, and mom to a spunky and demanding preschooler and a tiny and demanding baby girl. I love all things food and drink, and I’ve rediscovered a love for cooking now that I’m not spending most of my days locked in the office, but I often have to improvise, since having ankle-biters around makes it more challenging!