chicken parmesan

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I wasn’t excited about this chicken when I planned it. All I really wanted was the pasta, because I’d just made a big batch of sauce from fresh homegrown (not by me) tomatoes. I only added the chicken for protein.

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Maybe this isn’t saying much, since obviously my expectations were low, but the chicken exceeded my expectations. It exceeded my expectations by being perfect. Seasoned and not a bit dry, with a crisp coating, topped with just enough melty cheese, it almost stole the show from my precious tomato sauce.

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But now that tomato season is over, I can tell you which one I’ll be making again sooner. Chicken this good doesn’t need summer tomatoes to turn it into a great meal.

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One year ago: Flip-Over Cherry Cake (Tuesdays with Dorie)
Two years ago: Whiskey Compound Butter
Three years ago: Goat Cheese, Pesto, and Sun-Dried Tomato Terrine
Four years ago: Lavash Crackers (Daring Bakers)

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Chicken Parmesan (rewritten but not changed from Cook’s Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

Serves 4

I didn’t use this sauce, although I’m sure it’s good.

I hate pounding meat. My chicken breasts were already pretty thin, so I didn’t bother, but I’m more likely to cut breasts in half to form two flatter cutlets than I am to pound them thinner.

Breaded chicken cutlets:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (5 to 6 ounces each)
¼ cup table salt
Ground black pepper
1½ cup fresh bread crumbs
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for frying

Tomato sauce:
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon sugar
Salt and ground black pepper

To finish:
8 ounces spaghetti or linguine
3 ounces (¾ cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup (0.5 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese

1. Pound the chicken breasts to an even ½-inch thickness. In a medium mixing bowl, dissolve the salt in 4 cups of cold water; immerse the chicken in the water and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Set the chicken aside for 10 minutes to allow it to continue drying; season with pepper.

2. For the sauce: Heat the garlic and oil together in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until the garlic starts to sizzle. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, oregano, sugar, a pinch of salt, and 2 grinds of pepper and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the sauce thickens a bit and the flavors meld, 10-12 minutes. Taste the sauce, adjusting the salt if necessary. Cover and keep warm.

3. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Adjust an oven rack to the top position and heat the broiler.

4. Meanwhile, transfer the bread crumbs to a shallow bowl. Place the flour in a separate shallow bowl. In a third bowl, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of oil. Coat the chicken thoroughly in the flour, shaking off the excess, then dip in the egg mixture. Dip both sides of each chicken cutlets in the bread crumbs, pressing to form an even coating. Transfer the breaded chicken cutlets to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Allow the coating to dry for 5 minutes.

5. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta to the boiling water. Cook according to the package instructions; drain and return to the pot.

6. Meanwhile, heat ¼-inch of olive oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer two cutlets to the pan and cook, without moving, until golden brown and crisp, about 2½ minutes. Flip the cutlets, reduce the heat to medium, and continue cooking until the second side is thoroughly browned, 2½ to 3 minutes. Transfer the cooked cutlets to a (clean) wire rack. Repeat with the remaining cutlets, using new oil. (Otherwise the breading bits from the first batch of oil will burn.)

7. Top each cutlet with 3 tablespoons of mozzarella and 1 tablespoon of parmesan. Place the baking sheet with the chicken under the broil; cook until the cheeses melt and are spotty brown, about 3 minutes.

8. Spoon 1 tablespoon of sauce over each cutlet. Toss the remaining sauce with the pasta. Serve immediately.

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mushroom prosciutto lasagna

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So much lies in a name. If you offer me mushroom lasagna, I’ll gladly take a square of earthy dairy-rich pasta. But if you instead are giving away mushroom prosciutto lasagna, I’ll snatch it out of your hand. Roasted portobello prosciutto lasagna? Even better, and I don’t even love portobellos – but something about that more precise label makes it sound even more appetizing.

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That’s how I ended up making a lasagna recipe that isn’t, once you get down to it, all that original. It’s sautéed mushrooms with béchamel, swiss cheese, and pasta, which certainly sounds delicious but, except for possibly the Gruyère, is a fairly standard lasagna filling. The prosciutto, however, is a key factor, because I love that salty, meaty, spiced ham.

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Of course, it was good. How could it not be, with such a track record? It’s not just a name either – roasting the mushrooms (I used cremini instead of portobellos) concentrates their flavor, and the prosciutto adds a great dimension to a lasagna that could have easily ended up bland or overly earthy without it. This lasagna certainly lived up to its enticing title.

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One year ago: Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins
Two years ago: Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebabs
Three years ago: Tortellini Soup with Carrots, Peas, and Leeks
Four years ago: Summer Rolls

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Roasted Cremini and Prosciutto Lasagna (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

Serves 6

While I sautéed the prosciutto with some shallots, I think you could save a dish and roast them with the mushrooms instead.

To boil and rinse the pasta, follow the instructions in step 4 of this recipe.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
Salt
Ground black pepper
6 ounces prosciutto, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 large shallots, diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces (about 2 cups) Gruyère cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 ounces) grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat to 400 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine the oil, mushrooms, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Roast, stirring twice, until browned, 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven; set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

2. In a small skillet over medium heat, sauté the prosciutto, stirring occasionally, until fat begins to render, 4-5 minutes. Add two of the shallots and the herbs; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the remaining shallots, the garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the shallots are softened and translucent. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk. Add the bay leaf, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the nutmeg and ½ teaspoon salt, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in ¼ cup parmesan.

4. Spread ½ cup of the sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Evenly spread 1 cup of the sauce over the noodles. Top with half of the mushrooms, then half of the prosciutto mixture and half of the Gruyère cheese. Cover with another layer of noodles, then repeat the layering of 1 cup sauce, the remaining mushrooms, and the remaining Gruyère. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining sauce and the remaining ¼ cup parmesan.

5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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shrimp ricotta ravioli

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The day I made these was a Saturday with weather too unpleasant to spend time outside, so it was the perfect time to blast chick music and hang out in the kitchen. My dinner plans were fairly ambitious – crab cakes, roasted asparagus, goat cheese scallion muffins, and for dessert, pizzelles with ricotta filling. While I was already in the kitchen, I went ahead and prepared some things for later in the week, like bagel pre-doughs, burger patties, and hard-boiled eggs. And I thought, if I have extra energy and time, I’ll make shrimp ravioli.

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The problem is that the shrimp ravioli would be our first course of the night, so I’d have to make it before dinner – before I stood the chance of running out of energy and time. And making ricotta, pasta, seafood broth, shrimp filling, seafood cream sauce, and ravioli is exactly the sort of ambitious project with the potential for wearing me out.

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In the end, I did manage to get everything made, and what’s even more impressive is that I managed to have fun the entire time. But, all told, I spent about six hours in the kitchen that day. It was glorious. And exhausting.

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Everything I made turned out really well, but if I had to choose a favorite, I think it would be these ravioli. Even more than the muffins and the crab cakes and the pizzelle, although that’s a tough choice. (Asparagus is not my favorite vegetable; it never stood a chance.) The crab cakes and muffins are probably a better value for your time, but who cares about time when you’re stuck inside on a Saturday?

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One year ago: Quinoa with Salmon, Feta, and Dill
Two years ago: Cheddar Shortbread
Three years ago: Tiramisu Cake
Four years ago: Peanut Butter Torte

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Shrimp Ravioli in Shellfish Cream Sauce

6-8 first-course servings

I really liked the seafood sauce I made, but I only used a bare amount of it, because I didn’t want to overpower the filling.

1 tablespoon butter
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 shallot, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 garlic clove, minced
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup white wine
1 cup clam juice
8 ounces shrimp, shells on
8 ounces ricot
1 egg
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
2 tablespoons minced parsley
½ cup heavy cream
1 recipe of fresh pasta, rolled to the second-to-last setting

1. For the seafood broth: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter just until the foaming subsides. Add the carrot and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots start to brown around the edges. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and red pepper flakes; cook and stir until fragrant, about a minute. Increase the heat to medium-high, and add the white wine, clam juice, and the shrimp with their shells. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Remove the shrimp when they curl and turn pink, after about 3 minutes. Peel the shrimp and return the shells to the broth. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Strain the broth, reserving the liquid and discarding the solids.

2. For the filling: Transfer the cooked shrimp to a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until minced. Combine the shrimp with the ricotta, egg, parmesan, and parsley.

3. For the ravioli: Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 3 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, wet the pasta along the edges and in between the rounds of filling. If the pasta sheet is at least 4 inches wide, fold it lengthwise over the filling. If the pasta sheet is too thin to fold lengthwise, lay a second pasta sheet over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza roller to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Transfer the formed ravioli to a dry dish towel until ready to cook (there’s no need to cover it). Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Cook the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water.

5. For the sauce: Combine the heavy cream and strained seafood broth in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until thickened, 6-10 minutes. Gently toss the sauce with the drained ravioli; serve immediately.

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poached salmon pasta salad

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It’s a recipe that doesn’t require butter and flour! These have been few and far between around this joint lately (and an unscheduled break didn’t help matters), or at least it would seem that way if your only window into my kitchen was through this blog. We’ve actually been eating dinners that are just as healthy as always (in other words, very healthy on the weekdays, decidedly less so on weekends), but while I was going through my excessive baking phase for a few weeks, I stuck to meals that were familiar and easy, so cooking dinner would minimize the time I had to spend apart from butter and sugar.

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Now that I’ve settled down and slowly stepped away from the mixer, I’m more willing to try new recipes after work. This one was a nice way to get out of the salmon rut I’ve been in. I know I can’t go wrong with pasta and a yogurt-based sauce. This one also has several other ingredients I love, like capers, mustard, and red onion. Since there was no cooking fat in the recipe, I indulged a bit and stirred in some mayonnaise to the sauce in addition to the Greek yogurt.

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I keep trying to serve things in romaine leaves, and it keeps turning out to be a mess. But there are worse things than tangy bites of salmon and pasta falling out of their lettuce cups. There’s no butter or sugar and I didn’t get to use the mixer, but it’ll do.

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One year ago: Lentil Goat Cheese Burgers
Two years ago: Soft Chocolate and Berry Tart
Three years ago: Chicken Artichoke Pesto Calzones
Four years ago: Sushi Rolls

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Poached Salmon Pasta Salad (adapted from An Edible Mosaic via Prevention RD and from Cooks Illustrated’s Poached Salmon recipe)

Serves 6

2 lemons, 1 sliced ¼-inch thick, 1 juiced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, stems reserved
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup water
4 (8-ounce) salmon fillets, about 1½ inches at the thickest part
Salt
12 ounces dry pasta
½ red onion, minced
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons mustard
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1. Arrange the lemon slices in a single layer across the bottom of a 12-inch skillet. Scatter the parsley stems and minced shallots evenly over the lemon slices; add the water and wine. Place the salmon fillets in the skillet, skin side down on top of the lemon slices; set the pan over high heat and bring the liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the sides of the salmon are opaque but the center of the thickest part is still translucent, 11 to 16 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully transfer the salmon to a cutting board. When cooled, remove the skin and cut the salmon into bite-sized chunks.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to rolling boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta; cook according to the package instructions. Drain.

3. Combine 2 tablespoons lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, the mustard, parsley leaves, capers, yogurt, and mayonnaise in a large bowl. Fold in the pasta and salmon. Serve immediately or chill for several hours.

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tomato and four cheese lasagne

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Lasagna recipes are like chocolate chip cookie recipes for me – I already have several that I love, but I can’t resist a new one. I have no loyalties about béchamel versus ricotta, meaty versus vegetarian, seafood or chicken. I love them all, and I’m a sucker for a new version.

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A recent article in Fine Cooking, which prompted me to subscribe to the magazine, showcased three recipes – the braised beef and porcini one Josie posted, a butternut squash and goat cheese lasagna I can’t wait to make, and this classic tomato and cheese lasagna. Boring, maybe, but I can never get enough of the basic combination of pasta, cheese, and tomatoes.

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I always like to make my own lasagna noodles, because I’m all about creating more work for myself. (Also it’s fun.) But this time I went a step further and made my own ricotta. Combined with a lightly spiced tomato sauce and three other favorite Italian cheeses, this lasagna is in the running for my favorite – if I could ever choose a favorite lasagna.

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One year ago: Shrimp Canapes a la Suede
Two years ago: Mediterranean Pepper Salad
Three years ago: Chocolate Whiskey Cake
Four years ago: Banana Walnut Pancakes

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Four Cheese and Tomato Lasagne (slightly adapted from Fine Cooking)

8 servings

To chop the tomatoes, just stick kitchen shears in the can and snip away. Canned tomatoes that are already diced won’t break down into the sauce like whole tomatoes will.

If you make your own ricotta, you’ll need to start with 8 cups of milk (and/or cream).

To boil and rinse the pasta, follow the instructions in this recipe through step 4.

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes, chopped (see note)
kosher salt
6 large basil leaves, torn by hand into ½-inch pieces
2 cups (15 ounces) whole-milk ricotta
2½ cups (10 ounces) grated fresh mozzarella
2 cups (8 ounces) grated fontina
1¾ cups (3.5 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1½ recipes fresh pasta, boiled and rinsed (see note)

1.Heat the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a 4- to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Cook until the garlic is golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Discard the garlic. Add the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons salt; simmer gently, uncovered, adjusting the heat as needed, until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 45 minutes. Stir in the basil; season to taste with salt if necessary.

2.Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Set aside 1¼ cups of the sauce and mix the remaining sauce with the ricotta in a medium bowl. Mix the mozzarella, fontina, and 1 cup (2 ounces) of the Parmigiano in another medium bowl.

3. Spread ½ cup of the reserved tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of cooked noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Evenly spread 1½ cups of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle 1 rounded cup of the grated cheese evenly over the ricotta. Add another layer of noodles, and repeat the layers as instructed above, to make a total of 4 ricotta-and-cheese layers and 5 pasta layers. Spread the remaining ¾ cup plain sauce evenly over the top noodle layer. Sprinkle with the remaining ¾ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

4. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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pasta with salmon in pesto cream sauce

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I never know what to do about Valentine’s Day. On the one hand, I’m not interested in the traditional stuff; I don’t want gifts or chocolate or a heart-covered card with a canned message. I’ll never say no to flowers, although I don’t love the responsibility of keeping the cat from eating them. On the other hand, Valentine’s Day is hard to ignore, because the rest of the world is definitely into it. I’m not one to scoff at something because it’s mainstream; I’d rather join in on the fun.

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I thought that, at the very least, I’d make a nice meal. But Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday this year, so I couldn’t get too ambitious. Dave’s favorite meal, salmon pesto pasta, would have fit the bill perfectly. It hardly takes longer to cook than it takes pasta to boil, assuming that your pesto is already prepared.  For all that it’s so easy, the finished dish is deserving of being Dave’s all-time favorite dinner, with generous bites of salmon held to pasta by a sauce that’s creamy but not too heavy, since it’s made from evaporated milk instead of heavy cream.

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But, we’ve been having salmon pesto pasta a lot lately, trying to use up last year’s surplus of pesto before this year’s basil starts growing. I decided it wasn’t special enough for Valentine’s Day, even my lazy attitude toward the holiday, so instead we’re having prosciutto-wrapped salmon, farro risotto, and roasted Brussels sprouts. Dave will be so disappointed, but it will be short-lived, because salmon pesto pasta is so easy that we can just have it next week for a non-holiday.

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One year ago: Chocolate Oatmeal Drops
Two years ago: Jalapeno Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
Three years ago: Pot Roast
Four years ago: Apple Galette

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Pasta and Salmon with Pesto Cream Sauce

Serves 4

I usually make half of this recipe to serve two people, and the smaller 5-ounce can of evaporated milk is perfect.  I tried using more, so that the full recipe would use a whole 15-ounce can of evaporated milk, but all the dairy blunted the other flavors.

12 ounces pasta, preferably a short shape (rotini, penne, farfalle, orechiette)
salt
2 (6 to 8 ounce) salmon filets
10 ounces evaporated milk
½ lemon
½ cup pesto
parmesan, for serving

1. Adjust a rack to the upper position and heat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil.

2. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Once the water boils, add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt. Cook the pasta until it is slightly undercooked, about 1 minute less than the package indicates the pasta will be done. Drain.

3. Meanwhile, place the salmon, skin-side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Season it liberally with salt. Broil until the salmon is lightly browned on top and flakes easily with a fork, 6-10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. Return the empty pasta-cooking pot to medium-high heat. Add the evaporated milk and ¼ teaspoon salt. Simmer, scraping the bottom of the pot often to prevent sticking, until the milk is reduced to about ⅓ cup, about 5 minutes. Add the pasta to the milk, and cook, stirring constantly, for about one more minute, until the pasta is al dente.

5. Use two spoons to break up the salmon into bite-sized pieces. Squeeze the lemon juice over the flaked salmon. Add the salmon and pesto to the pasta; stir gently to combine and serve immediately, topping with parmesan.

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This is an update from a earlier blog entry. For a meal we love as much as this one, I thought a new entry was worthwhile.

sausage and spinach stuffed shells

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When I was a kid and cooked dinner for my family once or twice a week, stuffed shells from a freezer bag topped with jarred spaghetti sauce was one of my staples. It took 5 minutes to arrange the shells in a baking dish and dump the sauce over them, and another five minutes to make a salad from iceberg lettuce and mealy out-of-season tomatoes. My mom hated when I made this meal, but not as much as she hated the prospect of cooking dinner for a family of five every day after work. Who can blame her – for wanting a break and for not enjoying my pre-teen culinary prowess?

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These shells took longer to prepare than my standby meal as a kid, but at least by adding spinach to the filling and making my own (less-processed) tomato sauce, I figured I could skip the bland side salad. But I wasn’t just trying to add fiber to my meal, I wanted more flavor than the shells of my youth, which were stuffed with nothing but plain ricotta cheese.

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First, Italian sausage contributes more than just savory meatiness, but a range of spices. Spinach would provide earthiness (plus I had a bunch to use up). The ricotta would be richer and smoother – and, okay, fine, you can use regular store-bought ricotta too, if you haven’t become spoiled by the homemade stuff like others of us. The tomato sauce on top would be fresher and sweetened just slightly with nothing but lightly caramelized onions.

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This is a far cry from those pasta shells I made as a kid. For old time’s sake, though, I still ate them the same way I did back then, trimming off one corner of each shell for the first bite, then the next corner, then dividing the remaining square of pasta and filling into four equal bites. The biggest difference is that this filling is packed full of flavor – plus it took me almost an hour to make dinner instead of ten minutes.

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One year ago: Bourbon Bread Pudding for Tuesdays with Dorie
Two years ago: Toasted Vegetable Subs
Three years ago: Floating Islands for Tuesdays with Dorie
Four years ago: Comparison of 4 Vanilla Frosting recipes

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Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Serves 6

You probably won’t use the whole box of shells, but a lot of them might be broken or could rip after being boiled, so it’s nice to have some extra.

Feel free to use whatever your favorite tomato sauce is. I’ve provided the recipe I used  below, which is a simple sauce I like for serving over rich pastas with a lot of their own flavors, like these shells.

1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells
salt
16 ounces Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 ounces spinach leaves, washed, coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta (or 2 cups homemade ricotta)
8 ounces (2 cups) provolone, shredded
1 ounce (½ cup) parmesan, grated
2 eggs
Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe below, or 4 cups of your own sauce)

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Bring a large pot with at least 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta shells; cook according to the package instructions. When the pasta is tender, use a large slotted spoon to transfer the shells to a dish towel.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the sausage, breaking up large pieces, until it is no longer pink and has rendered some fat. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is browned and the onion is softened. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the spinach leaves, letting the residual heat wilt the leaves. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl; stir in the ricotta, provolone, parmesan, and eggs.

4. Lightly coat the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with tomato sauce. Fill each shell with 3 to 4 tablespoons of filling. Transfer the filled shells to the baking dish. After all of the shells are filled, evenly distribute the remaining sauce over the shells. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.

5. Bake for 20 minutes; remove the foil and bake for about 10 minutes longer, until bubbling around the edges. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Simple Tomato Sauce

Makes about 4 cups

Chop the tomatoes right in the can using kitchen shears. You can use diced tomatoes instead, but they won’t break down as the sauce simmers.

2 teaspoons olive oil
½ small onion or 1 large shallot, diced fine
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup red or white wine
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, undrained, chopped
1 tablespoon minced basil and/or parsley

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, scraping up any browned residue on the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Stir in the basil or parsley.

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chickpea and rosemary soup

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I confess that this soup came out through a series of blunders. I had originally planned to make African coconut curry soup, with the belief that it was a new recipe and I could submit it to Branny’s SouperBowl charity fundraiser for ASPCA. It turns out though, that it’s the exact same recipe I submitted last year. Whoops.

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I started jotting down what I had in mind instead, a tomato broth with lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, and rosemary, reminiscent of this braised white bean recipe. It also included the chickpeas I’d bought for the curry soup and pasta, which I’d been craving. But then that soup starting sounding familiar too.

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Apparently I wouldn’t be striking bold new soup ground. But that’s okay. I didn’t want something new, I wanted something warm and comforting and easy, easier than my favorite pasta e fagioli recipe. This simple chickpea and pasta soup, infused with piney rosemary, hit the spot perfectly – maybe even better than the originally planned curry soup would have.  I have no regrets for all my blunders that led me to this soup.

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Participation in Branny’s fundraiser requires that the blog post be dedicated to a pet. I dedicate mine to my cat, Daisy, who is also warm and comforting and easy, at least when she isn’t puking on the carpet.

daisy

One year ago: Almond Biscotti
Two years ago: Banana Cream Pie
Three years ago: Crispy Baked Chicken Strips
Four years ago: Fish Tacos

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Rosemary Chickpea Soup

Serves 4 to 6

I used 8 ounces of pasta. It seemed like a lot, but I didn’t mind. Still, if you’d like less pasta, 4 ounces (or anywhere in between) would work well.

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
½ teaspoon salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Parmesan rind, if you have one
4-8 ounces small pasta, such as ditalini or macaroni

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Once the oil starts to sizzle, stir for about 1 minute, then add the tomatoes with their juices, the chickpeas, broth, salt, rosemary, and parmesan rind (if using). Increase the heat to medium-high; once the liquid comes to a lively simmer, add the pasta, return the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the pasta is tender. Remove the rosemary sprigs, adjust the salt if necessary, and serve.

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pasta with tiny meatball sauce

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I haven’t been this excited about a cookbook in a while. This is the type of cookbook that makes me eager to get into the kitchen, particularly because I want to make every recipe in the book. I thought I would start with one of the most involved recipes, one of those “choose your own adventure” recipes that has you page flipping to find all the different components.

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The first is fresh pasta, which I’ve made before, but the recipe in the book differed from my usual with the inclusion of semolina, salt, nutmeg, and, most significantly, oil. Once the pasta was cooked and sauced, I didn’t notice the extra flavorings, but the oil seemed to make rolling easier. I also made a new shape that required less rolling and cooked up pleasantly toothsome.

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The second part is the sauce, which is a slow-cooked meat sauce, but with a twist. Instead of simmering the sauce with ground meat, or with beef meant to be shredded and added back to the sauce, the meat is kept in this sauce through hours of simmering, and then is removed. And not added back in. The meat is not part of the sauce, it’s just there to infuse it with flavor. It’s like you’re making tomato broth.

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The last part, then, is the tiny meatballs. It’s a simple mixture, no bread for tenderizing, just meat, seasoning, and an egg to bind it. The recipe instructs you to form the meatballs “just larger than a chickpea”, but I’m not insane and would prefer to stay that way, so my tiny meatballs were about twice that size, and still plenty tiny for me. Twelve ounces of meat turned into 72 tiny meatballs.

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I loved the tiny meatballs. I can see myself making them again sometime, even though I do not love forming tiny meatballs. I’ve also started to add a dribble of olive oil into my pasta dough, although I skip the semolina, nutmeg, and salt for simplicity’s sake.

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While I enjoyed everything about the sauce – the flavor, the plateful of tomatoey meat we ate as an appetizer, the fun of braising – I’ll make it differently in the future. The original recipe calls for three types of meat, and it’s impractical for most home cooks to buy small portions of a variety of meats. Instead, I’ll just stick to our favorite – lamb – and I’ll use a bony cut like blade chops, because I suspect the bone will add even more flavor to the sauce than the meat did.

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Obviously making a slow-braised sauce, homemade pasta, and forming 72 tiny meatballs is not an insignificant amount of effort. But it was the most fun I’ve had in the kitchen in months, with the added bonus that I learned some new tricks. I can’t wait to choose another recipe from my favorite new cookbook and do it again.

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One year ago: Curry Coconut Chickpea Soup
Two years ago: Baked Ziti
Three years ago: Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread
Four years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

Printer Friendly Recipe
Maccheroni alla Chitarra with Ragù all’Abruzzese and Palottine, aka Pasta with Tiny Meatball Sauce (completely rewritten but hardly changed from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pasta of Italy)

Serves 8

I went ahead and bought three different types of meat for this, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Pick your favorite and buy just that one cut.

I don’t usually cook with veal, so I used 8 ounces ground beef plus 4 ounces ground pork plus ⅛ teaspoon gelatin, dissolved in the egg, in the meatballs instead.

Ragù:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with their juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces boneless beef chuck roast, cut into four equal pieces
6 ounces boneless pork shoulder, cut into three equal pieces
6 ounces boneless lamb shoulder cut into three equal pieces
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely diced

Pasta:
4 cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons semolina flour
1 teaspoon table salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Meatballs:
12 ounces ground veal
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil for cooking

1. For the ragù: If you have a food mill, press the tomatoes through the disk with the smallest holes, discarding the solids. If you don’t have a food mill, puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender.

2. Generously season the meat with salt and black pepper. In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it just starts to smoke. Add the meat and cook, without moving, until deeply browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Rotate the meat and brown on the second side. Transfer the meat to a plate.

3. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens but does not brown, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Add the meat back to the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender and the sauce is thickened. Remove the meat before using the sauce; reserve for another use (or just eat it right then, because it’s delicious).

4. For the pasta: Place the flours, salt, and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor; pulse to combine. Add the eggs and oil; process until the mixture clumps together in large crumbs. Form a small portion of dough into a ball; if it’s too dry to stick together, add up to 2 tablespoons more oil; if it’s sticky, add up to ½ cup more flour. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it aside for 30 minutes to rest.

5. Divide the dough into 8 portions. Work with one at a time, keeping the others covered with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Flatten the dough and pass it through a pasta roller on the widest setting. Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, and roll it through the widest setting again. Repeat the rolling and folding 3-4 more times, until the dough is smooth. Flour the dough (with semolina flour if you have it) as much as needed to prevent sticking. Adjust the pasta roller to the next-thinnest setting and roll the dough through twice, then repeat on the third-thinnest setting. Thin the dough to the fourth-narrowest setting on your pasta roller. Repeat the rolling, folding, and thinning with the remaining balls of dough. Pass each strip of dough through the thin cutters on the pasta roller to form long noodles that are approximately square in cross section.

6. For the meatballs: Use your hands to evenly combine the veal, salt, nutmeg, and egg. Form the mixture into balls about ½-inch in diameter.

7. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, and cook until well browned a couple sides, about 4 minutes, turning about once a minute with a spatula. Transfer to the pot with the ragù; keep warm.

8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt and the pasta and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

9. Return the drained pasta to the pot; toss with about two-thirds of the sauce and meatballs, adding some of the reserved cooking water if the sauce is too thick. Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl (or individual bowls) and spoon the remaining sauce over the top. Serve immediately, with parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes to pass.

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smoked salmon kale carbonara

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When we were in Italy, we tried to eat whatever the local specialty was. That means that in the first few days when we were on the Mediterranean coast, and then the next couple of days on the Adriatic coast, we ate a lot of spaghetti ai frutti di mare – pasta with a bunch of different types of seafood, basically. We ate it three days in a row, and on one of those days, we also had risotto ai frutti di mare.

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In Tuscany, we ate more red meat, and in Rome, every dinner included some version of pasta with fatty pork, whether carbonara, amatriciana, or gricia, the difference between them being whether the sauce includes eggs, onions and tomatoes, or nothing but meat and cheese, respectively. I remember enjoying the gricia and amatriciana, but the carbonara I got was overly sauced in a rich cream and wasn’t at all what I thought it should be.

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Of course, I had no other traditional carbonara experiences to compare it to, and I still don’t. While I can’t guarantee that the creamy carbonara I had in Rome wasn’t authentic, I know for sure that this one isn’t. Instead of smoky pork, this recipe includes smoky fish, which, if you’re going to be unauthentic, is kind of a perfect way to do it. And while we’re at it, why not throw in some bitter greens? I probably shouldn’t say this out loud, but this carbonara was better than any of the similar pastas I had in Italy.

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One year ago: Roasted Chicken Thighs with Root Vegetables
Two years ago: Lamb Stew
Three years ago: German Apple Pancake
Four years ago: Banana Cream Pie

Printer Friendly Recipe
Smoked Salmon Kale Carbonara (adapted from Cara’s Cravings and Gilt Taste)

Serves 4

12 ounces dried pasta
salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ small red onion, minced
2 clove of garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 large bunches of kale (about 12 ounces), thick stems removed, leaves cut into 1-2 inch pieces
2 eggs
2 ounces (1 cup) grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces smoked salmon, torn into small pieces
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil; add about 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Cook, according to the package instructions, until just tender. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until it just starts to brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the kale; cover the pan and cook until tender, 3-5 minutes, stirring about once a minute. Set aside.

3. Beat together the eggs, cheese, ¼ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of black pepper.

4. Transfer the cooked pasta back to the cooking pot; stir in the kale mixture and salmon. Stirring vigorously, add the egg mixture, then the lemon juice. Serve immediately.

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