Pasta


The BFF and her boys get home from two weeks of holiday travel today, so I want to be sure that settling back in is as stress-free as possible. And, because I’m southern, the answer to that is making a casserole for their supper tonight.

This is a lightened version of chicken parmesan, baked in casserole form.  It’s easy peasy to make.

Bake three chicken breasts, covered with Italian or balsamic dressing, in a foil packet (400 degrees for about an hour).  Cook your choice of pasta (I don’t recommend long noodles) as directed.

Prepare a largish baking dish with olive oil or a foil lining. Transfer the pasta to the baking dish, filling it about a third full.  Cut the chicken up into bite-size pieces and top the pasta.

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Cover the whole casserole with marinara sauce. I like to use the organic marinara from Safeway, with a box of Pomi chopped tomatoes mixed in.

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If you’re not going to bake it right away, cover the casserole and put it in the fridge. When you’re ready, top the casserole with shredded cheese (an Italian cheese blend or parmesan) and bake it for 20-25 minutes, uncovered, at 350 degrees until the cheese is bubbly and the casserole is heated through.

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As every Southern woman knows, a casserole can cure everything from a cold to a broken heart.  It’s one of my favorite roles at church, being part of the Casserole Brigade. This lasagna recipe (or a version similar) makes a frequent appearance because it is easy to assemble and deliver, and then your friend can bake it whenever they are ready for supper.

Ingredients

1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 jar of fancy tomato sauce — I used Gina Rispoli Arrabiata Sauce
1 28oz can of organic diced tomatoes
2 Mild Italian Chicken Sausages
Barilla No-Boil Lasagna Noodles
1 zucchini sliced into thin discs
15oz part-skim ricotta
1/3 cup shredded parmesan
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella

How I Made It

Prepare a deep baking dish with a quick spray of olive oil.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, bell pepper, and garlic together until tender. Squeeze the sausage from the casing into the skillet, then break it up with a spoon so that there are no big pieces. Brown the sausage with the peppers and onions, stirring frequently so that the vegetables don’t burn.

When the sausage is cooked through, add the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Cover and bring the sauce to a simmer.

Combine the ricotta and parmesan together in a bowl.

To assemble the lasagna, start by putting a little sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.  Lay the lasagna noodles side by side in the bottom.  Spread a layer of ricotta — not too thin and not too thick — over the noodles.  Top with sauce and shredded mozzarella.  Add another layer of noodles, then ricotta, then the zucchini slices. Top with sauce and shredded mozzarella.  Continue with these layers until you reach the top of the baking dish.

Lasagna

You can freeze or refrigerate the lasagna until you are ready to deliver or bake it.  With these no bake noodles, a little time to settle and soak up the sauce is a good thing.  Also, make sure there is plenty of sauce in your layers, so that there is enough moisture to cook the noodles as it bakes.

When ready, bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  I start out with it covered with foil, but uncover it for the last 5-8 minutes so the cheese on top gets brown and bubbly.

This is a super-quick supper that is fancy enough for a dinner party.

Ingredients:

1 bag of frozen tortellini
1 lb of fresh asparagus
1 lb of fresh snow peas
3 tbs of Greek feta vinaigrette dressing
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

How I Made It:

Wash and pat dry the peas and asparagus.  Snap the ends off and de-string the pea pods.  Reserve 3 stalks of asparagus, cutting the remainder into pieces (tops, then three sections — I don’t keep the tough thick bases).  Create asparagus ribbons with the reserved asparagus stalks, using a vegetable peeler.  Set the ribbons aside and squeeze a little lemon juice over them.

Cook the tortellini according the instructions.  Use a big pot and at least 2 cups more water than called for, so that you can blanch the vegetables for 3 minutes in the same pot as the pasta.  I also add a little olive oil in the pot to prevent the pasta from sticking. When it’s all done, strain the pasta and vegetables in a colander (do not rinse).

In a large glass serving bowl (so you can see all the lovely green veggies), toss the hot pasta and vegetables with the dressing, then sprinkle half the parmesan on top.  Toss again, then top with the rest of the cheese.  Garnish with the asparagus ribbons and serve.

How It Turned Out:

The bright taste of fresh peas and asparagus pairs nicely with the creamy tortellini. I made this as the main dish for a dinner party, but it would also be a lovely side dish for grilled or poached salmon or a lemon chicken entrée.

Easy Peasy Pasta

Makes 4 servings.

This pasta salad comes together easily and can be made in large quantities for potlucks and picnics.

Ingredients:

2 16oz boxes of pasta shells
2 12 ounce containers of grape tomatoes, rinsed and drained
1 English cucumber
1 can of sliced black olives
1 bottle of Greek feta vinaigrette
1 cup of baby spinach, washed and dry

How I Made It:

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. While it cooks, drain and rinse the sliced olives; set them aside.  Chop the cucumber and set it aside.

When the pasta is done, drain and rinse it in cold water.  In a large glass salad bowl, combine the pasta, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, and spinach.  Dress with the vinaigrette to your taste (I don’t like too much dressing, but you don’t want it to be dry or the pasta to clump).  Also, I hold back some of each of the ingredients (except the pasta) to decorate the top of the salad so it looks pretty.

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap.  Shake the bowl, flipping over a couple of times, to thoroughly toss the salad and distribute the dressing.

Refrigerate the salad until ready to serve.

How It Turned Out:

Greek Pasta Salad

It’s better if you can make it the night before and let it sit to have the flavors meld. Give it a good toss before you present it, and it will be as pretty as it is tasty.

My homemade mac and cheese is hit and miss, mostly because I’m impatient with the roux and the blending of the cheese(s).  Sometimes it’s awesome, sometimes it’s blah.  This recipe, however, resolves all my patience problems and creates a gorgeous creamy dish.

Ingredients:

I box of macaroni noodles, cooked al dente (whole wheat and veggie noodles are good, too)
4 cups of 2% milk
1/2 cup of flour
1 heaping tablespoon of Durkee Sandwich Spread
1 teaspoon black pepper
5 cups of shredded cheddar

How I Made It:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a LARGE casserole or dutch oven and set it aside.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box, just to al dente.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the milk, flour, Durkee, and pepper together.  When the pasta is done, transfer it to your casserole dish/dutch oven.  Add the milk mixture and combine with a big spoon.  Add the cheese, combining after each cup so that it’s evenly distributed throughout the dish.

Cover the dish and bake for 30 minutes. If you want, you can uncover the dish and bake for another 10 minutes if it’s not as brown on top as you like.

How It Turned Out:

I will never use another recipe again.  This was AMAZING!

Mac & Cheese

Makes 8 big servings.

I know that They will revoke my Feminist Membership when I say this, but . . . I enjoy cooking for Hungry Men. (And toddlers.) You couldn’t ask for a more appreciative audience for your culinary creations. And, they are more than forgiving if your concoction isn’t perfect (as long as there’s Tabasco or ketchup to smother it with, of course).

I made these meatballs with spaghetti for two of my favorite Hungry Men, and they were a big hit.  No Tabasco necessary.

Here’s an In the Kitchen with Kate tip: cooking each meatball separately in a muffin tin shortens the cooking time to just 20-25 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound mild Italian sausage
1 egg
1 cup Progresso Italian style bread crumbs
1 box spaghetti, prepared according to directions
1 jar organic tomato and basil sauce
1 box Pomi strained tomatoes

How I Made Them:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Spray a nonstick muffin tin with olive oil or cooking spray.

Combine the meats with the egg and bread crumbs in a large bowl.  Even though it feels gross, use your hands.  A spoon or spatula won’t do as good a job.  With your hands, form 12 medium-sized meatballs.  You aren’t making meatloaves, just meatballs.  They shouldn’t fill the muffin cups.

Meatballs in the Oven

Bake the meatballs for 20-25 minutes, turning once halfway through so they don’t stick.  Because it’s pretty lean meat, you will not get a lot of oil or fat in the muffin cups.

While the meatballs bake, cook your pasta.  Combine the jarred sauce and the strained tomatoes in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.

When the meatballs are done, serve with the pasta and sauce.

How They Turned Out:

No leftovers and two happy dinner guests.

Spaghetti Meatballs

I made this easy pasta salad for the annual church picnic today and it was a big hit.  This version has salami in it, but you can leave that out for a wonderful vegetarian option. This recipe makes 20 servings, so you might want to halve or quarter it for a family-size dish.

Ingredients:

1 lb farfalle (bow tie pasta)
1 lb mini farfalle
2 cups fresh organic broccoli florets
1 cup chopped sweet red, orange, and yellow salad peppers
1 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced in half longways
1 cup genoa salami, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled low-fat feta
4 tbs organic balsamic vinaigrette

How I Made It:

Cook the pasta according to the box. With 90 seconds left to go, add the broccoli to blanch (for that bright green color).  Drain the pasta and broccoli in a colander and immediately rinse with cold water.

In a very large bowl (preferably one for which you have a lid) toss the pasta and broccoli with half the balsamic vinaigrette.  Add the peppers, olives, salami, and feta.  Toss again.  Add the last of the dressing, and give it a good final toss.

Keep cool until ready to serve.

How It Turned Out:

Picnic perfect!!

Greek Pasta Salad

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