Posts Tagged ‘pasta’

Back in October, I did a stage at Bon Appetit for a day. Yes, the Bon Appetit. It was an amazing experience and I feel so lucky to have had it; getting to see exactly what went down in the BA test kitchen, whose recipes I pour over each month when my issue arrives, was sort of a dream come true. Even more delightful was this February, when I saw several of the recipes I helped prep in print in the magazine!

Since a stage is sort of like a day-long interview, the test kitchen cooks, in addition to testing my skills and focus, asked me a lot of questions throughout the day to get to know me better. Mid-afternoon, one question that was less professional and a bit more personal came up – “What is your favorite food?”

True to my thought process when questioned by any authority figure, I quickly debated telling them the response that would make me look more interesting, more cultured, more appealing as a cook, versus just the plain old truth. But since I’m a terrible liar, I opted not to spin tales of foie gras and venison, and went with the latter; “It’s a little boring, but I’m such a pasta lover.” Apparently someone else in the test kitchen was a pasta junkie too, and so it went over well.

And really, it’s not that surprising. Who doesn’t love thick, hearty strands of semolina goodness swirled through rich sauces, be them tart and savory, or luscious and creamy? A well-done pasta is something few people can escape the allure of.

Enter this week, where I was doing some hardcore procrastinating on my new favorite interweb obsession, Pinterest (that is, me and the rest of the female population of the world), when I came across this recipe for Pasta Puttanesca. Or rather, this picture:

From The Pioneer Woman; click for source.

I love the Pioneer Woman. The first time I ever saw her her was around Thanksgiving 2010, when Ree Drummond was on TV competing in the Thanksgiving Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Bobby and his team were driving up to the Drummond Ranch, and I freaked out a little bit because my boyfriend’s last name is also Drummond. In my naiveté, I frantically texted him asking if he might be related to whoever Flay was throwing down against, and though it wasn’t the case (that we know of), I still watched the whole episode, endeared by Ree’s personality and casual yet expert approach to cooking. And her food blog/website basically sets the bar for food bloggers.

Anyway, I saw this Pasta Puttanesca, and knew it had to be good. I’d never made puttanesca before, but a quick skim of the recipe proved I had most of the ingredients already, and it could be dinner in a cinch. I made a few modifications to the inspiration recipe, adding some sautéed chicken breast, using both black and kalamata olives, and a bit less cheese and oil to up the flavor while cutting the fat.

And it really did come together quickly – forty minutes, from start to finish, and I took my time. This pasta dish is so insanely delicious – the grape tomatoes provide the traditional acidic base of red sauce that we all crave, but the anchovies and olives add a layer of silky, savory Mediterranean flavor that makes this sauce downright addicting. I used Trader Joe’s High Fiber Spaghetti and added some herb-sautéed chicken breast for extra fiber, a punch of protein and staying power. Tossing the whole thing with some Parmesan cheese and fresh basil at the end ties it all together – it is, in essence, the perfect pasta.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself!

Pasta Puttanesca with Herbed Chicken – Serves 4

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman


  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ whole red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cups of grape tomatoes, halved
  • ¾ cups of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 whole anchovy filets, minced
  • 1/4 cup of black olives (the canned variety), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup of kalamata olives, finely chopped
  • 1 ounce of grated parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces of high-fiber or whole wheat Spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil for garnish
  • 2 4-ounce chicken breasts
  • Pinch of oregano or Herbs De Provence
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta to al dente while preparing the sauce.

2. Combine the minced garlic, anchovies, and olives in a bowl. Set aside.

3. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced red onions and cook until they start to caramelize, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the grape tomatoes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes more, until tomatoes start to soften.

4. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 2 minutes, then add the garlic/anchovy/olive mixture. Stir to combine the sauce, reduce heat to low, and continue to gently simmer until the sauce has reduced to your liking. Keep in mind the pasta will absorb some of the liquid, so wetter is better. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Meanwhile, season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of Herbs de Provence or Oregano. Heat a skillet over medium heat and grease lightly with non-stick cooking spray or olive oil. Cook chicken breasts for 2 – 3 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside. Once chicken has cooled slightly, roughly chop into bite-sized pieces.

6.  Drain pasta and add to the sauce pan, along with the diced chicken. Add the grated Parmesan and toss to coat pasta in the sauce. Garnish with chopped basil sprinkled over the top. Serve right out of the skillet.

Nutrition Facts (per HUGE serving; makes 4 servings) – 344 calories, 11 grams of fat (1.8g saturated fat), 7.2 grams of fiber, 23.5 grams of protein.

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Anyone ever have Hamburger Helper when they were a kid?

I may be part of a minority of Americans whose childhood was not, at the very least, punctuated by the presence of this warm, hearty genre of meals. Along with a myriad of other pre-packaged foods, Hamburger Helper was on my parents mental black list of food that would rarely, if ever, see the inside of our cabinets, and in exchange my brother and I were treated to a variety of delicious home-cooked meals each night, made usually from scratch (although Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was, thankfully, an exception).

Despite the fact that, growing up, I rarely wanted for anything more delicious than what my parents put in front of me nightly (except for on Fish Fry nights, I truly hated that flounder), I wonder if I was perhaps missing out on a quintessential childhood experience of a small box of Hamburger Helper transforming ground meat into a delightful family experience and delicious meal. Every time I saw those commercials, a little part of me would wonder…

Until now! On Friday, one of my favorite food bloggers, Kristen at IowaGirlEats, posted her traditional list of Friday Favorites, and among it was this recipe for Homemade Chili Mac from Babble. Although it was well before lunch time when I perused her post, I immediately began drooling over the picture for this recipe, and filed it away in my inbox while making a mental note to prepare this over the weekend.

During a stroll around town on Saturday afternoon, my craving and curiosity still hadn’t waned, so I hopped into the local grocery store and picked up the onions, peppers, ground meat and cheese necessary to create this self-proclaimed Hamburger Helper remake. But as I walked around Gristedes, grabbing items from the shelves, I had a clear sense of satisfaction in that not a single ingredient I picked up came in a colorful box labeled with indecipherable ingredients. This would be Hamburger Helper 2.0 – a cleaner, fresher, though not quite healthier version.

I’m starting to sound like a broken record in saying that “I can’t believe how easy this was to make,” but it’s true! Honestly, it’s fool proof – the trickiest part of this recipe, perhaps, is over cooking the meat, but since it’s simmered in beef stock while the elbow macaroni cooks, it’s nearly impossible to achieve anything but juicy, tender hamburger meat. And while the meaty base may taste a bit flat, even with the savory meat and added spices, that mild cheddar cheese provides just the right amount of tang and thickness to bring the whole dish together.

Needless to say myself, my roommate, and my boyfriend all went back for more of this. As in seconds. And thirds. We even compared it to these, which is probably one of the more delicious creations to come out of my kitchen. Moral of the story? If you’re a home cook who prefers to cook “au natural” and avoid pre-packaged meals, you can capture the rich, home-style flavors of a hamburger classic all on your own. And, if you are a lover of Hamburger Helper, why not give this homegrown version a whirl? You might be pleasantly surprised with what you whip up on your own :)

Homemade Chili Macaroni and Cheese

(Adapted from Babble.com)


  • 1 lb lean ground hamburger
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ tablespoon of hot sauce, like Chili-Garlic sauce (or less, to taste)
  • chili powder to taste (optional)
  • 4 ounces of tomato paste
  • 1 – 15 oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups mild cheddar shredded cheese
  • 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
  • Canola oil 


 Preheat a large skillet or pot. Drizzle with canola oil. Add ground beef, onions, bell peppers and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until beef is browned and vegetables are tender.

 Add cumin, paprika, and oregano to ground beef. Add hot sauce (or chili powder) at this step if you want a spicier dish. Add tomato paste, kidney beans, diced or canned tomatoes and beef stock. Bring to a boil and add macaroni.

 Turn to a simmer and cover. Cook until macaroni is tender, about 10 minutes. Add cheese and mix until blended. Serve immediately.

Want to lighten this up? Substitute lean ground turkey or chicken for the ground hamburger meat, whole wheat elbows for the pasta, and use low fat cheddar cheese instead of the full fat version.

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Our time spent on Regional Italian Cuisine blew past before I had a chance to really let it all sink in; punctuated by a “Hurricane,” Labor Day, and a lot of soaking up the last moments of summer, we’ve already moved on in the kitchen to curries, noodles and sushi. But I’d feel amiss if I didn’t spend a bit of time talking about the cuisine of one of my favorite counties and sharing our culinary education through this great country with some photos and detail.

First of all, probably the coolest thing we covered in our Tour d’Italia at ICE (that I didn’t learn in my Italian Techniques recreational class last year) was how to make our own fresh mozzarella. I know, it seems too good to be true, right? How could this much beloved food, whose creation is a mystery to most of us, actually be easy enough to make in your own home / classroom? It blew my mind how simple it really was!

You start with a pot of super salty (as in saltier than the sea) water, and bring it to a boil. You’ll also need some cheese curds, two big bowls, a ladle and a wooden spoon, and a few pairs of latex gloves lest you burn your little fingers. Add the cheese curds to a bowl, and ladle some hot water over them, until they’re just covered. Don your gloves and man your spoon! Use the spoon to massage the curds until they start to form a large, soft mass. Eventually switch from the spoon to using your hands to massage the cheese, kneading it gently until it is just soft (be careful not to over work it). Switch out the cloudy, cooling water for fresh hot water frequently.

Once the cheese is soft, the fun part kicks in. Remove the mushy cheese mass from it’s salty brine, and begin to stretch it, as  perhaps you’ve seen on TV, or if you’re a New Yorker, in Eataly. Stretch and fold the mass a few times until you are back to having a small ball. Place it in your bowl, switch out the cooling brine for hot water, and repeat this process two more times. Once you’ve done that, you’re basically done! Just form your cheese into one, two, or three small balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate in a container of left-over brine until you’re ready to use. That took, what, five minutes? Sweet.

We used the fresh motz to make some truly delicious and super simple sandwiches, also known as Mozzarella en Carozza or “Mozzarella in a Carriage” (cute, eh?). It’s as simple as layering the cheese along with some fresh tomato and basil in between two slices of Italian bread, dipping in egg, then breadcrumb, and frying in hot olive oil until golden brown and crisp on both sides. Think of this as an upscale version of Mozzarella sticks!
Excellent dipped in marinara and enjoyed until a food coma sets in.


And then, of course, there was pasta. Everything from fresh, hand-rolled tortellini and ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and pine nuts, to stiff, hearty semolina bucatini tossed in a savory tomato-ricotta sauce was fair game. We kneaded, rolled, and sliced more fettucine than I care to recall, though it’s a source of personal pride to say I’ve now mastered both an old-school hand-cranked pasta machine, and the rolling-it-out by hand technique.




The resulting butternut squash ravioli in a sage-brown butter sauce (my cure for all life problems) was to-die-for. Simple, exquisite, delicioso!

And so, over the course of five days, we gave life to these indulgent plates of flour and egg, cheese and olive oil…

Warning: Do not proceed on an empty stomach. 

Hand-cut fettucini with pesto, green beans, potatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Rigatoni with mini cauliflower florets and sweet Italian sausage 

Sicilian salad of slivered fennel, red onion and orange with olive oil and red wine vinegar

Eggplant and Pine nut Caponata with Bruschette

Potato Gnocchi with a Fresh Cherry Tomato and Thyme Sauce

Acqua Pazza – Also known as Red Snapper in “Crazy Water”

Crispy Eggplant Fritters with Parmigiano-Reggiano and a Zesty Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Hand-cut Fettuccine with a Sundried Tomato Pinenut Pesto, topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano

And, last but not least, hand-cut Pappardelle with a rich Wild Boar Ragu

Anyone who reads my blog regularly probably knows this already, but it’s worth mentioning again that I’m a huge fan of Italian cuisine. If anything, our few days spent exploring the varied and delicious cuisines of Italy only reaffirmed my love for this country’s food, while imparting in me a great knowledge for the lesser known specialties and regional dishes. While perhaps it wasn’t all new information, it was certainly one of the most enjoyable and fun-filled sections of culinary school to date – here’s hoping for more to come :-)

Keep an eye out for a recap of our Culinary Silk Road and see how ICE does Asian fare with dishes from India, Thailand, China and Japan – coming up soon!

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You know what I love about this dish? It’s really really hard to screw up. Like, even if you over-cook the orzo because you were too busy picking bits of the raw chicken you just butchered out from under your fingernails, while attempting to take a sip of the wine your boyfriend just poured you, while trying to stay organized as you cook dinner for his parents … there’s a good chance it’ll still be a crowd pleaser. This dish is good warm, but it’s even better cold or at room temperature, and I’m pretty sure it would steal the show of any backyard barbecue if only the weather would get warm enough for this to be actually possible. At the end of the day, this dish is idiot-proof, and I love that about it because let’s all face the facts – even the best cooks sometimes forget about that foamy, slowly over-boiling pasta pot in the corner when faced with sweet, crispy, savory proscuitto-wrapped fig appetizers. Who hasn’t been in a scenario like that?

My point? Make this. It’s soooo easy. And yes, I do say that a lot with my recipes, but that’s because a) I’m a bit lazy and therefore b) they’ really are that easy.  But I ask, can it get much easier than boiling pasta and tossing it with some raw ingredients? After spending hours butchering meat and thickening sauces with roux and starch compounds at ICE, I can assuredly say that no – it doesn’t get much easier than that. Not to mention, it’s springtime (believe it or not), and cool, refreshing, light and lemony dishes chock full with spring vegetables are what this season is all about! Plus, do you know anyone who doesn’t like pasta salad? I didn’t think so.

While a bright and satisfying pasta or rice dish can be a great focal point for a meal, it really goes better hand in hand with a complimentary protein dish. The citrus flavors in this particular pasta salad pair very nicely with poultry, and would make it the perfect side dish for a light crispy baked chicken breast, or a herbacious sautéed chicken dish, like the fennel-butter chicken recipe below.

Orzo Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Herbs – Serves 4 to 6

(Based on a Italian Alfresco Dinner Party Menu from Epicurious.com)

  • 8 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta; about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup sliced pitted oil-cured olives
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

To start, bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil. Salt liberally and cook the orzo until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain and rinse under cold water, then drain well. Transfer to a medium bowl and cool.

While the orzo is cooking, whisk together vinegar and lemon juice in small bowl, and gradually whisk in the oil to make a vinaigrette. Pour the dressing over orzo and toss to coat. Mix in the remaining tomatoes, olives, green onions and herbs, and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This can be served immediately, or refrigerated and served cold the next day – either way is deliciouso!

And then – the chicken…

Sautéed Chicken with Fennel Butter – Serves 4

This dish is composed of two main components – the chicken, and the fennel mustard butter that perfumes and flavors it.

For the Fennel-mustard butter, you’ll need:

  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

For the chicken, you’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves. Alternatively, you could use a whole chicken, broken down, and use only the breasts and thighs for this recipe
  • 4 cups thinly sliced radicchio
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers

T0 start, prepare the fennel compound butter. Toast the fennel seeds in small skillet over high heat until they begin to brown and are fragrant, about 1 minute. Place in spice mill and grind to coarse powder, or use a mortar and pestle to grind.

Transfer the ground fennel to a small bowl, and add the butter, lemon juice, mustard and garlic. Stir to blend, and season with salt and pepper. If using immediately, set aside; if not, cover and refrigerate immediately.

Now, on to the chicken. Make the marinade by whisking oil, lemon juice, and garlic in small bowl to blend. Place the chicken pieces (again, highly recommend using breasts and thighs in this recipe for some variation) in medium glass baking dish. Season each side of the chicken with salt and pepper, and pour the oil mixture over the chicken, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Once the chicken is well marinated, heat a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken with some of marinade to each skillet in batches, being sure not to overcrowd the pan; sauté until cooked through, about 3 – 4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to platter and place a teaspoon of fennel-mustard butter atop each chicken breast. Repeat until all the chicken is cooked, then cover platter with foil to keep warm.

Melt the remaining (about 1/4 cup) mustard-fennel butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in radicchio and capers; sauté until radicchio just begins to wilt, about 1 minute. Serve the chicken breasts over the radicchio, alongside the orzo salad and some mixed greens with a light vinaigrette. Serve with a light, crisp and fruity Pinot Grigio!

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