lentil marinara

lentil marinara 5

When my coworker came back to work after spending weeks in the hospital (and in my small town, that means a hospital over two hours away from home) with his sick newborn baby, I figured they could use a home-cooked meal. I thought tomato soup, homemade bread, and some nice cheese to make grilled sandwiches would be the perfect comfort food. Unfortunately, it would require a trip to the store and a couple free hours to cook, and when I saw how exhausted my friend was, I figured getting something to him soon was more important than getting the perfect meal to him.

lentil marinara 1

So I made extras of what I was having for dinner that night. Spaghetti is warm and familiar, so fits the comfort food bill, and who doesn’t like the pasta and tomato sauce combination? The lentils, though, might seem strange to some people.

It makes perfect sense to me, because lentils are a great protein source, and while I can’t claim that they taste like beef, there is something meaty-like about them. Besides, what’s more comforting than knowing that your dinner is not only delicious, it’s healthy?

lentil marinara 2

And now I have another friend who needs comfort food after the death of her father on Thanksgiving day. Unfortunately, I can’t just bring her my leftovers, because she lives a thousand miles away. I don’t think virtual comfort food is quite the same, but at least she’ll know I’m thinking about her and her family and wishing them the best during a difficult time.

lentil marinara 3

One year ago: Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pine Nuts
Two years ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup
Three years ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

Printer Friendly Recipe
Lentil Marinara (adapted from Branny Boils Over)

6-8 servings

I simmered this for 30-45 minutes, but, if you have the time, I suspect that a longer simmering time while covered would really help the lentils absorb the tomato flavor.

I like canned whole tomatoes for sauce because they break down better, but if you don’t mind larger tomato chunks in your sauce, diced tomatoes will work fine. I chop canned whole tomatoes by sticking kitchen shears into the can and snipping away.

Update 4/23/12 – I’ve made this a couple more times, and I’ve decided that it’s probably too heavy on the lentils.  Using up a whole bag at once is nice, but 8 ounces of lentils for 2 cans of tomatoes will make a tastier sauce.

2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ cup white or red wine
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 (1-pound) bag brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and a pinch of 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.

2. Add the wine, scraping any browned residue on the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender and the sauce is thickened.

lentil marinara 4

fresh pasta

fresh pasta 9

While I don’t think I’ll ever come home from work, do a load of laundry, get my workout in, and then roll out pasta dough, making fresh pasta is getting easier and faster every time I do it. Some of this is experience – I know where the best place to clamp the pasta roller to the counter is, and I know to err on the side of drier rather than sticky dough. But I’ve also picked up a few tricks along the way.

fresh pasta 1

One is that one egg’s worth of pasta is plenty for a pan of lasagna, starter courses for four people, or main courses for two people (which is the serving size shown here). Another is that, despite what the first recipe I followed led me to believe, thinner sheets of pasta are not always better. Ravioli made from paper thin pasta will fall apart when you try to boil it. Thicker pasta has more substance, more chew. And it requires less work.

fresh pasta 2

It also doesn’t hurt that fresh pasta is best with simple sauces that enhance rather than bury the pasta you just put all that effort into. With all of my tomato plants dead, the basil in my garden is taking over, so I used one of the many batches of pesto I’ve made lately to top this pasta. I also, in my jealousy over everyone else’s peak season tomato availability, tried roasting store-bought grape tomatoes to get some of that intense tomato flavor.

fresh pasta 3

The pesto was a success, and the tomatoes were fine – one-dimensionally sweet, but not bad. But the pasta was the star, as it was meant to be. And it actually didn’t take me hours to make it.

fresh pasta 7

One year ago: Grilled Corn Salad
Two years ago: 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Three years ago: Lemon Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

printer friendly recipe
Fresh Pasta

Makes 4 main-course servings or 8 first-course servings

You can mix and knead this in a stand mixer instead of by hand.

I’ve successfully substituted up to half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour.

1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 eggs

1. Add the flour to a wide bowl, making a well in the center. Lightly beat the egg and add it to the well. Stir the flour and egg together until thoroughly mixed. Knead, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from being sticky, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Don’t be concerned if you need to add quite a bit of extra flour; the dough should be malleable but not at all sticky.

2. Divide the dough into 6 balls. Work with one ball of dough at a time and leave the others covered with a damp dishtowel. Flatten the dough slightly, then roll it through the widest setting on a pasta roller. Fold it in thirds like a piece of paper going into an envelope, then roll it through the pasta roller again, feeding it with one of the open sides first. If at any point the dough is sticky, brush it with flour. Repeat the folding into thirds and rolling a few times. Without folding, run the pasta through the widest setting once more. Adjust the pasta roller to the next-thinner setting and roll the dough through the machine. Continue to gradually thin the dough. For lasagna, thin to the third-to-last setting; for fettuccine and ravioli, thin to the second-to-last setting. Brush the dough with flour if it starts to stick at all. If the strip of dough becomes too long to handle, cut it into two shorter strips and work with each strip separately. Repeat the rolling, folding, and thinning with the remaining balls of dough, laying the sheets of pasta on dry dishtowels.

3. Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and serve with your desired sauce. Instructions for ravioli can be found here; for lasagna, here.

fresh pasta 8

slow cooker spinach mushroom lasagna

crockpot lasagna 12

Lasagna cooked in the slow cooker is not that different from lasagna cooked in the oven. It has the same ingredients, the same layers, the same browned cheesy top – and the same amount of effort required to make it. Really the only thing that’s different is the amount of time it takes to cook.

crockpot lasagna 4

This was good news in a way. I was surprised that the lasagna wasn’t watery and that the top looked almost exactly the same as a baked lasagna. The problem, of course, was that it wasn’t any easier to put together.

crockpot lasagna 2

Another problem is apparently that béchamel sauces curdle in the slow cooker. This recipe was originally based on a cream sauce instead of tomato sauce. Since béchamel didn’t work, the recipe called for a jar of Alfredo sauce.

crockpot lasagna 8

I’m not usually one for dumping jars of prepared foods into my recipes, but after a scan of the jar label revealed no unrecognizable ingredients, I had just about acquiesced to buying it – until I looked at the fat content. Jarred Alfredo sauce (like homemade Alfredo sauce) is almost pure cream, and I just couldn’t stomach the idea of adding all that fat to what I intended to be a weeknight meal.

crockpot lasagna 7

Replacing the cream sauce with tomatoes made this recipe very similar to my favorite vegetarian lasagna, but that’s okay, because they’re flavors I like. In fact, the lasagna had a lot of qualities I love, with its meaty flavor without any meat, plenty of cheese, and plenty of vegetables to even out the cheese.  While it wasn’t any better than oven-baked lasagna, it wasn’t any worse, and it can’t hurt to have the option for a longer cooking time.

crockpot lasagna 14

One year ago: Basic Pancakes
Two years ago: Brioche
Three years ago: Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese

Printer Friendly Recipe
Slow Cooker Spinach Mushroom Lasagna (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Slow Cooker Revolution)

Serves 6 to 8

I have a 4-quart slow cooker, but I don’t see any reason this wouldn’t work in a 5- or even 6-quart cooker.  The lasagna just won’t be as tall.

I did not line the slow cooker with foil, because it seems so wasteful. Individual slices of lasagna were still surprisingly easy to serve intact, although the first one was messy.

I used half this amount of cheese. I’m sure the full amount is great, but I was trying to lighten it up a bit.

nonstick spray
8 curly-edged lasagna noodles (7 ounces), broken in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1½ pounds white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
16 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1¼ cups (2½ ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup minced fresh basil
1 large egg
4 cups (1 pound) shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Line the slow cooker with an aluminum foil collar: Layer and fold sheets of heavy-duty foil until you have a six-layered rectangle that measures 16 by 4 inches. Press the collar into the back side of the slow cooker insert. Fit two more large sheets of foil into the slow cooker, perpendicular to each other, with the extra hanging over the edges of the cooker for a sling to help remove the lasagna later.

2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the broken lasagna noodles and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until the noodles are al dente. Drain the noodles, rinse them under cold water until cool, then spread them out in single layer over clean kitchen towels and let dry. (Do not use paper towels; they will stick to the noodles.)

3. Heat the oil in the same pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt, cover, and cook until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover, add the onions, and continue to cook until the mushrooms are dry and browned, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Stir in the spinach, cover, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt.

4. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 cup (2 ounces) Parmesan, basil, egg, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper together. Spread ½ cup of the mushroom-spinach sauce into the prepared slow cooker.

5. Arrange 4 lasagna noodle pieces in the slow cooker, overlapping if necessary, then dollop 9 rounded tablespoons of ricotta mixture over noodles. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella, then spoon 1 cup more mushroom-spinach sauce over top. Repeat the layering of lasagna noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella and mushroom-spinach sauce twice more. For the final layer, arrange the remaining 4 noodles in the slow cooker, then top with the remaining mushroom-spinach sauce and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and remaining Parmesan.

6. Cover and cook until the lasagna is heated through, about 4 hours on low. Let the lasagna cool for 20 minutes. Using the sling, transfer lasagna to serving platter and serve.

crockpot lasagna 13

creamy taco mac

creamy taco mac 6

I rarely miss eating meat on weekdays. I was never big on “meat and three” types of meals, so vegetarian food suits me just fine. Besides, it’s usually easy to replace meat with a substitute, and by substitute, I don’t mean fake meat (“smeat”, as my friend calls it). I mean beans, especially black beans.

creamy taco mac 1

Making this recipe vegetarian was no problem, but I was also determined to make it all in the same pot. I’ve made Cooks Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna many times, in which the pasta is cooked right in the simmering sauce, so I adapted the same cooking method for taco mac. The different ratios of pasta to tomatoes complicated finding the right ratio of liquid to pasta, but after a few tries, I landed on the right amount.

creamy taco mac 2

What really gave me fits was how to make the sauce creamy in a healthy way – and if this was going to be a weeknight dish, it needed to be healthy. First, I tried Cara’s method of stirring in pureed cottage cheese. This worked fine, but I knew I was too lazy to puree cottage cheese for such a simple meal. Both unpureed cottage cheese and ricotta cheese looked curdled and barf-like. In the end, the answer, like it so often is, was Greek yogurt. It perfectly mimics the sour cream called for in the original recipe but with dramatically less fat and more protein.

creamy taco mac 3

Finally then, this fills all my qualifications as a great weeknight dish. It’s vegetarian, it’s healthy, it’s nutritionally balanced – all that and the only dishes you need to dirty are a cutting board, knife, and the cooking pot. With meals as good as this, it’s no wonder I don’t crave meat on weekdays.

creamy taco mac 4

One year ago: Pasta with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Sauce
Three years ago: Pigs in a Blanket

Update: I changed the recipe to use ½ more water. Two cups might be enough, but it cuts it close. If your sauce is too liquidy at the end, it’s simple to simmer it down for a few minutes.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Creamy Taco Mac
(adapted from Delish via Annie’s Eats and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna recipe)

6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
1 red pepper, chopped small
Table salt
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon ground chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
16 ounces dry pasta
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2½ cups water
1 (30-ounce) can black beans, drained
1 (7-ounce) container Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 avocado, diced (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the pasta, diced tomatoes with juices, water, and beans. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, stir about half of the simmering pasta mixture into the yogurt. Stir this tempered yogurt into the pasta. Cover and simmer over low heat until heated, 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and avocado, if using. Serve.

green pea ravioli in lemon broth

My notes call this Saturday night cooking adventure “Light Italian Meal”. I was experimenting with wet scallops – scallops that have been treated with sodium triphosphate to help them retain moisture. Cooks Illustrated has a recipe designed to make wet scallops palatable, so I gave it a go. I tried to keep the rest of the meal relatively light to compliment the scallops, starting with these ravioli, then moving onto insalata di crudita before serving the seared scallops with almond cream sauce. Pinot grigio and whole wheat ciabatta accompanied every part of the meal.

This was the only recipe I made that night that I was really excited by. The only reason the ciabatta doesn’t qualify is because I didn’t follow much of a recipe, and the salad, although crisp and fresh, was a fairly typical side salad. The scallops were a disaster. Not only was the almond cream sauce too rich, but the scallops themselves didn’t brown until they had overcooked into balls of rubber. What’s worse, while I set them aside to finish the sauce, the cooked scallops released a freaky blue liquid. I choked a down few and filled up on bread.

I wish I had made enough ravioli to fill up on those, rather than teasing myself with a small starter course serving. These pasta pouches with their vibrant filling were the highlight of my meal that night. There aren’t many ingredients in the filling, but each one has something to offer: the peas are both sweet and earthy, the shallots are bright, the parmesan salty. This humble mixture might have not had much to live up to compared to the rest of the meal, but it would have been just as special on its own.

One year ago: Vodka Gimlets
Two years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Three years ago: Cinnamon Rolls

Printer Friendly Recipe
Green Pea Ravioli with Lemon Broth (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

6 servings

I’ve doubled the amount of filling, because I only had enough filling for 9 ravioli, not the 18 the original recipe indicates.

Pasta:
1⅓ cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Filling:
2 cups baby peas, defrosted
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
Salt
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
6 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

Broth:
4 cups chicken broth
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
Squeeze fresh lemon juice

Garnish: fresh chervil or parsley and cooked peas

1. Combine the flour and eggs until smooth (either by hand, with a food processor, or with a stand mixer). Add more flour if the dough is sticky or more water if it’s crumbly. If you stick a dry finger into the center of the dough, it should come out nearly clean. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and set aside to rest while you prepare the filling.

2. Force the peas through the fine disk of a food mill into a bowl to remove their skins. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat; add the shallot and a pinch of salt; cook until shallot is softened, 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine the pea puree, cooked shallot, parmesan, and bread crumbs.

3. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Working with one portion at a time, flatten it and fold in thirds, like a letter. Roll it through the widest setting on a pasta roller. Repeat the folding and rolling 3-4 more times, flouring the dough as needed to prevent sticking. Adjust the pasta roller to the next thinnest setting; roll the pasta sheet through. Continue thinning the pasta until the next-to-thinnest setting. Lay the thinned pasta sheet on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining portions of pasta.

4. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 3 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Using a pasta brush or your fingers, wet the pasta 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. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel (there’s no need to cover it). Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

5. Combine the broth, garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste in a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cover to keep warm.

6. 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. Divide the cooked ravioli between six soup bowls.

7. Discard the garlic in the broth. Ladle the hot broth over the ravioli. Garnish with herbs and cooked peas, if desired; serve immediately.

pasta with tomatoes, swiss chard, and goat cheese

I think people have the wrong impression about meals around here, particularly on weeknights. The assumption seems to be that someone who loves cooking must be hanging out in the kitchen making elaborate meals every single night. If only.

The reality is that my weeknight evenings are so full of other necessary chores that any meal that takes longer than half an hour stresses me out. A delay in dinner puts me behind schedule for the laundry folding and showering and ultimately ends up cutting into my sleep. And the less sleep I get, the more hateful my alarm is in the morning and the slower I get ready for work and the later I get to work and the later I have to stay at work and the less time I have for cooking the next evening.

Pasta dishes that can be made in the time it takes to boil the pasta are a great option for a quick meal that breaks that cycle.  But the original version of this one wasn’t quite working for me.  I loved the idea of roasting the grape tomatoes before combining them with the other ingredients to accentuate their sweetness.  However, that extra step of heating the oven and throwing in the tomatoes apparently put me over the edge, because I felt vaguely flustered every time I made this.

I needed to simplify it somehow, but I didn’t want to lose that step of concentrating the tomatoes’ flavor.  I love roasted tomatoes, but in this case, where they’re roasted quickly instead of low and slow, it seemed like the stovetop could get the effect right in the same pan used to cook the greens.  In fact, the juice released from the tomatoes helped the chard cook.  With only two dishes, one appliance, and half an hour, this was the perfect weeknight-friendly version of the dish.

One year ago: Artichoke Ravioli
Two years ago:  Cooks Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Three years ago: Spinach Feta Pine Nut Tart

Printer Friendly Recipe
Pasta with Green, Tomatoes and Goat Cheese (adapted from Food and Wine via Savory Spicy Sweet)

1 pound fusilli pasta
Salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
½ pound swiss chard, rinsed and coarsely chopped
½ pound soft goat cheese, thickly sliced
½ cup walnut halves, toasted
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil, covered, in stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain and return to stockpot.

2. In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the oil, garlic, and pepper flakes until the oil flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the cherry tomatoes, swiss chard, and ¼ teaspoon salt; cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally and smashing the tomatoes, until the chard is tender and the tomatoes are soft.

3. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water; drain pasta. Return the pasta to the cooking pot; stir in the goat cheese and ½ cup of the reserved cooking water. Add the chard and tomato mixture, walnuts, and cheese; stir to combine, adding more pasta water to loosen sauce if necessary.

fettuccine alfredo

I am healthy. I am not perfect. But I am thin. I am fit. And I’m tired of holding myself up to an impossible standard.

I eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than anyone I know. I exercise regularly. I don’t drink alcohol on weekdays. My lifestyle now is healthier than has it ever been.

And yet it is not enough. Not enough to feel confident in a bathing suit, not enough to lose this bit of pudge around my belly, maybe not enough to balance my slowing metabolism.

I’ve spent most of my life convinced I should exercise harder or more intensely, I should eat as healthy on weekends as I do on weekdays, I shouldn’t eat until I’m overfull. I should be perfect, or at least perfecter than I am now.

It will never happen. It isn’t worth it to me. I won’t give up baking or the batter-eating that accompanies it, I won’t give up sharing a bottle of champagne with Dave on Sunday afternoons, I won’t give up the too many hobbies that keep me from longer workouts, I won’t give up eating sushi rolls until I nearly burst, I won’t give up pasta, I won’t give up butter, I won’t give up cream.

Instead, I will give up bikinis. I will give up pants that don’t quite fit. I will give up guilt. I will not eat differently than I do now, but I will stop believing I should.

I am healthy. I am thin. I am fit. And I can eat pasta coated in cream and still be all of those things. I will never give up pasta and cream, but I will give up feeling bad about myself for eating it.

One year ago: Oatmeal Raisin Muffins
Two years ago: Crispy Bagel Roll
Three years ago: Fish Tacos

Printer Friendly Recipe
Fettuccine Alfredo
(from Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

6 appetizer servings

I’ve reproduced Cooks Illustrated’s recipe exactly below. But, in step 1, I found I needed to heat the cream-butter mixture over higher heat (medium-low to medium) for the cream to simmer.

To heat the bowls, either put them in a warm oven for a few minutes or ladle some of the hot pasta water into the bowls; leave the water in the bowl while you mix the pasta and sauce.

1⅔ cups heavy cream, preferably not ultrapasteurized
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt
1 recipe fresh egg pasta, cut into fettuccine (below)
2 ounces (1 cup) parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

1. Bring 4 quarters water to a rolling boil in a large pot.

2. Combine 1⅓ cups of the cream and the butter in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate the cooked pasta. Heat over low heat until the butter is melted and the cream comes to a bare simmer. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until almost al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauté pan. Add the remaining ⅓ cup cream, the parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and the nutmeg. Cook over very low heat until the sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve the fettuccine immediately in heated pasta bowls.

Fresh Egg Pasta (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

You can mix this in the food processor, but for me, it’s easier to mix two ingredients by hand than it is to wash the food processor (even in the dishwasher).

You can also use store-bought pasta dough instead of making your own. You’ll need a pound for the amount of sauce in the alfredo recipe.

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 eggs

1. Measure out the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Use a fork to break up the eggs slightly. Use a rubber spatula to mix the eggs into the flour until the dough is smooth. If it’s sticky, knead in more flour. If it’s too dry to mix in all the flour, knead in water ½ teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together.

2. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Spread dry kitchen towels under the pasta roller and over the counter. Set the pasta machine at its widest opening. Working with one portion of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, roll the dough through the pasta roller. Fold it in thirds like a letter and roll it through the wide setting again. Repeat four more times, adding flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the machine.

pasta e fagioli

Living in southern New Mexico, I’m out of touch with all of the weather systems the rest of the country gets. The weather here is always the same – sunny, dry, cold at night and warm in the afternoon (hot at night and hotter in the afternoon in the summer), windy in the spring. So even though I know most of you are burned out on cold and snow, I’m very excited right now that we’ve gotten a taste of real winter here.

And, even better, a snow day. A snow day! Not that it takes much snow to get a snow day here, but that’s even better – a snow day with no shoveling to do!

The first time I made this soup was years ago, and it was just as cold that day. I remember that Dave and I went to a political rally in Ithaca, and afterward, we were talking while I made the soup, and I got distracted and added the pepper flakes twice. Sadly, that ruined the soup. It was almost inedibly spicy; so much for the careful balance of flavors I was hoping for.

The soup is a whole lot better when you make it correctly. Just a bit spicy, all mixed in with tomatoes and vegetables and beans. A warm hearty bowl of soup is the perfect way to cap off a snow day.

One year ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Two years ago: Tofu Croutons
Three years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

Printer Friendly Recipe
Pasta e Fagioli (from Cooks Illustrated)

I added 2 cups less water than the recipe calls for. I’m sure the original recipe is fine too; I was just in the mood for something thicker. If you do this, make sure you decrease the salt to ½ teaspoon.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 celery rib, chopped fine
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 anchovy fillets, minced to paste
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind, about 5 inches by 2 inches
2 (15½-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3½ cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth
2½ cups water
salt
8 ounces small pasta
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
ground black pepper
2 ounces (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and anchovies; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of the pan. Add the cheese rind and beans; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer to blend the flavors, 10 minutes.

2. Add chicken the broth, water and 1 teaspoon salt; increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (refer to package instructions to better estimate pasta cooking time).

3. Discard the cheese rind. Off the heat, stir in 3 tablespoons of the parsley; adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into individual bowls; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of the remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing the grated parmesan separately.

feta and shrimp macaroni and cheese

I can’t deny that quality matters when it comes to food. I know I’m lucky in this small town that I can buy the ingredients I can – Greek yogurt, dried currants, and free range eggs are all items that my grocery store has started carrying since we moved here last year. (Soy yogurt and King Arthur whole wheat flour are ingredients they’ve stopped carrying, unfortunately.) But there just isn’t a market here for all the ingredients I wish I could buy. And that’s why I stock up on cheese and chocolate when we visit my parents in Albuquerque.

I made this recipe once with swiss cheese I bought in the grocery store here. It might even have called itself gruyere. And the pasta was fine. Not thrilling, but nice. But I couldn’t wrap my head around how something with this combination of ingredients – pasta, fresh herbs, feta, shrimp, and gruyere – could not be thrilling.

When I tried again with gruyere I got at Whole Foods in Albuquerque, it was a whole different dish. This time it was everything I had expected originally, with bright fresh lemon and dill, sweet shrimp, and pungent gruyere melted around swirls of pasta. Just like the good coffee is less acidic and good chocolate tastes deeper, good cheese makes better macaroni and cheese.

One year ago: Apple Muffins
Two years ago: Caramel-Topped Flan
Three years ago: Marcella Hazan’s Lasagne Bolognese

Printer Friendly Recipe
Shrimp and Feta Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from The Perfect Pantry via Annie’s Eats)

½ cup panko breadcrumbs
10 ounces feta cheese, crumbled and divided
zest of 1 lemon, divided
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped, divided
5 tablespoons butter, divided
salt
1 pound pasta
1 pound raw shrimp (31-40 ct.), peeled and deveined, cut in half (if desired)
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a small bowl, combine the panko, a quarter of the feta, a pinch of lemon zest, 2 teaspoons of the parsley and 1 tablespoon of the butter, melted. Toss with a fork to combine; set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package directions. Drain, then transfer the pasta back to the cooking pot. Add the raw shrimp to the warm pasta; combine.

3. In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat; whisk in the flour. Cook 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly, until light golden brown. Whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the sauce bubbles and thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the remaining feta, Gruyere, remaining parsley, remaining lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the pasta and shrimp; stir well to coat.

4. Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased 2½ or 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

beef short ribs braised in tomato sauce

When my sister visits with her young kids, I like to make a dish on the first night that’s particularly kid-friendly. While they aren’t picky eaters, they love pizza and spaghetti and hot dogs as much as any other kid. But if I’m cooking, the food has to be Bridget-friendly too. In other words, it has to be fun to cook.

I’ve wanted to perfect a recipe like this for a long time. I had in mind something that wasn’t just tomato sauce with meat added. I wanted the meat to shine, and I wanted the sauce itself to taste distinctly meaty.

To get the intensity I was hoping for, I pulled out every umami trick I know. Beef, obviously, and all the tomatoes don’t hurt. Dried porcini mushrooms, tomato paste (added with the aromatics and browned slightly), and pancetta added layers of meaty flavor.

This is my favorite type of recipe to make. Ingredients are added incrementally, food gets browned and delicious, and all the while, I get to stir and inhale the aroma, stir and inhale. It gets better after the sauce has simmered for hours, and then it becomes stir and taste, stir and taste. Even better is enjoying the meal with pasta, freshly baked bread, salad, a bottle of red wine, and two rambunctious kids and their parents.

One year ago: Lighter Chicken and Dumplings
Two years ago: Chopped Salad
Three years ago: Banana Cream Pie

Printer Friendly Recipe
Beef Short Ribs Braised in Tomato Sauce

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 (3-4 pounds total) beef short ribs
salt
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 onion, diced small
1 carrot, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup wine (red or white, just something that isn’t too sweet or oaky)
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with their juice

1. Rinse the mushrooms to remove any dirt clinging to them. Cover them with ½ cup water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the plastic wrap, and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Let stand until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Use a fork to lift the mushrooms from the liquid; mince the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.

2. Season the beef ribs with salt. Meanwhile, in a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pot is tilted. Add the beef ribs and cook, for 2-3 minutes per side, until richly browned on all sides. Remove the ribs from the pot. Lower the heat to medium and add the pancetta to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to the plate with the short ribs. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pot. Add the onions and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned on the edges, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, mushrooms, and oregano; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine; scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, beef ribs, pancetta, mushroom soaking liquid (being careful to leave any dirt behind) and 1 teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. After 2 hours, remove the cover, increase the heat to medium-low, and simmer for another hour, until the beef is tender.

3. Transfer the ribs to a plate; shred the meat. Meanwhile, if the sauce is too thin, increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until it reaches the desired thickness. Stir the meat back into the sauce. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary, and serve over pasta or polenta.