Spaghetti with Sautéed Cauliflower, Raisins, and Pine Nuts

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For Meatless Monday tomorrow, I give you this gem. If you haven’t gotten on the cauliflower bandwagon yet, this may well convince you. There’s a ton of flavor going here, and I get it, at first it sounds weird. But trust me — when you put it all together, it works. There’s the caramelized cauliflower, sweetness from the raisins, acid from the lemon and umami from the anchovy, plus cheese, nuts and lots of parsley to top it off=bliss. I loved the addition of panko bread crumbs on top which gave it a nice buttery crunch. This is yet another of Tyler Florence’s hits from his “Tyler’s Ultimate” cookbook.

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It’s nice to have a pasta now and then that doesn’t use a traditional meat or pesto sauce. This one uses just olive oil, a little water and lemon — when reheating you may want to add a bit more olive oil to loosen it up a little.

TW’s Tips

  • Instead of using anchovies, you can buy anchovy paste in a tube (literally like toothpaste)
  • On the raisins, you can use golden or regular
  • To keep this totally vegetarian, just leave out the anchovy (but I don’t recommend it!)
  • On the pinenuts, you can substitute others — almonds, walnuts are good options
  • Keep the toasted breadcrumbs separate so you still get a crunch when you reheat the pasta for leftovers — just sprinkle them on top when it comes out of the microwave.

Enjoy!

Spaghetti with Sautéed Cauliflower, Raisins and Pine Nuts

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower, cored and broken into bite-size florets
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup raisins (TW: I used leftover golden raisins)
  • 2 anchovy fillets, mashed to a paste with the side of a large knife (TW: or use anchovy paste)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (TW: I used sliced almonds)
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, chopped, about 1/2 cup
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Freshly grated Parmesan to taste

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Preheat the oven to 350.

Saute the cauliflower and the anchovies in a saute pan in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Heat over medium heat until the oil is hot and the anchovies are sizzling. Add 1/4 cup of water and season with salt. Bring to a simmer, heat on medium, cover and and steam the cauliflower for about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook for about 5-7 minutes more until the water has evaporated and the cauliflower is starting to brown. Add the raisins and pine nuts and toss to warm through. Remove the pan from the heat and cover to keep warm.

On a baking sheet, drizzle the panko with 2-3 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat and spread out in a layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes or until it’s lightly brown and crunchy.

Cook the spaghetti until al dente.

Drain the spaghetti and place in a large bowl. Add a 2 count of olive oil and toss. Dump in the cauliflower mixture, add the parsley and lemon juice, and fold together. Arrange on a plate and sprinkle with the bread crumbs and cheese.

Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich

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If you think this looks impressive, you are correct. And it tasted as good as it looks. Continuing on my eat-more-veg-meals kick, I saw this recipe from Jeff Mauro and couldn’t resist. #1: obviously it’s a sandwich. My favorite. #2: it uses eggplant, also a favorite. #3: it’s Italian. Enough said.

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This recipe isn’t what I’d call easy, but it was worth it. The result is a very filling, meaty sandwich with some great flavors going. Some melty goodness from the cheese, freshness from the basil and spice/acid from the pickled peppers and roasted tomatoes. Pretty amazing if you ask me.

TW’s Tips

  • It wasn’t easy to get the oil at the right temp, despite using a frying thermometer. Watch it closely and throw in the eggplant as soon as it’s hot enough.
  • Squeeze the tomatoes when you drain them — I ended up with too much liquid and drained some off the cookie sheet when I roasted them, as well. You want to get them caramelized, which means as little liquid as possible.
  • These are best right after you cook them, but reheat them in the oven and they’re great as well.

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Ingredients

Eggplant:

  • Two 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained of their liquid
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • Salt
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (you’ll need at least 8 rounds)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Sandwich Build:

  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • 4 soft brioche buns
  • 1 pound burrata cheese
  • 1/2 cup pickled cherry peppers, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 16 leaves fresh basil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner and another baking sheet with a wire rack.

For the eggplant: In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, brown sugar and some salt. Evenly place the tomatoes on the lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast until slightly caramelized and dried out a bit, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside.

Set the eggplant slices on the wire rack (if you don’t have a rack you can use a colander set in the sink). Sprinkle salt on each side of the eggplant and let the salt do the work for 15 to 30 minutes.

Once the salt has released moisture from the eggplant, pat the slices dry with paper towels. Then sprinkle each side of the eggplant with pepper.

Set up a standard breading station with the flour in one shallow dish, the eggs in another and the panko mixed with the Parmesan in a third dish. Dredge each eggplant slice in the flour, shake off any excess, dip in the egg, let any excess drip off and then coat in the panko. Set aside on the wire rack and repeat.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat 1-inch vegetable oil to 350 degrees F.

Working in small batches, fry the eggplant slices, turning once, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes a side. Using a pair of tongs, transfer back to the wire rack. Repeat with the remaining eggplant. Make sure to season the eggplant as it comes out of the oil.

For the sandwich build: Butter and griddle both sides of the buns until golden and crispy (you can toast the buns as well). Tear the burrata over the bottom buns, then add 2 hot eggplant slices, some roasted tomatoes, a few pickled cherry peppers and some fresh basil leaves on each bun. Serve to applause.

Pappa al Pomodoro, aka Amazing Italian Tomato Soup

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It’s been a rainy few days in San Diego, which doesn’t happen too often. I won’t complain, though — the variety is nice, actually — and regardless, it’s the perfect weather for a nice, warm bowl of soup, which I took advantage of with this awesome pappa al pomodoro. This is a classic Italian recipe — Tuscan to be exact — and was traditionally a way to get rid of that stale bread Italians tend to have hanging around. As you can expect from a classic Italian dish, the flavors are simple but delicious. You’ve got ripe tomatoes (in this case canned San Marzano), onion, carrot, garlic, fennel, basil and red wine, all mixed in with cubes of bread that break down and thicken it up a bit. This version by Barefoot Contessa incorporates a topping that absolutely nailed it for me — toasted bread (basically fresh croutons), pancetta and basil leaves baked in a hot oven and then sprinkled on top. It’s a great crunch with salt from the pancetta and the crispy basil leaves. Awesome.

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I made this with some of the homemade chicken stock I made the other day, which really made a big difference. It’s so nice to be able to control the salt, and I barely had to add any to this! It was so warm and hearty, and the perfect thing for a rainy night. Serve with a salad or a baguette.

TW’s Tips

  • I splurged on San Marzano tomatoes instead of the regular or store brand. I have to say, it was awesome and much sweeter than you would get from the run-of-the-mill brand.
  • I highly recommend pancetta for the topping — bacon as a replacement just won’t cut it.
  • Barefoot Contessa calls for whisking this before serving — personally, I wasn’t a big fan, particularly of the chunks of carrot. So, I just stuck it in the food processor and smoothed it out a bit. Perfect.
  • This makes a lot — as usual, I froze some, which will definitely take me through at least six more servings.

Pappa al Pomodoro

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
  • 1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian plum tomatoes
  • 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

For the topping:

  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes
  • 2 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 24 to 30 whole fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process just until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the topping, place the ciabatta cubes, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp. The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp, which is perfectly fine. Reheat the soup, if necessary, beat with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up. Stir in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Serve hot sprinkled with the topping and drizzled with additional olive oil.

Fieri Spaghetti and Meatballs

Classic spaghetti and meatballs? Check!

This version is from Guy Fieri — I got his “Food” cookbook for Christmas — and these are some goooood meatballs. Brace yourself for a lot of ingredients, but it’ll be worth it — it results in some pretty amazing flavor. They were juicy, moist and pretty darn spicy. By sauteing the red pepper, onion and garlic first and adding it to the mix, it adds great flavor without having to worry if the veggies will cook through when you’re cooking the meatballs. Nobody likes crunch in a meatball, right?

This is the perfect Italian comfort food meal, and it makes a BIG bowl of pasta. I cut the amount of pasta in half (to one pound) and it was still plenty.

TW’s Tips

  • If you don’t like a spicy meatball (say it in an Italian accent), cut back on the red chili  flakes (crushed red pepper flake)
  • Cooking these things (meatballs) isn’t easy — some of mine started falling apart. Be patient and turn them gently. And don’t be obsessed with them being perfect spheres. This was my problem. Perfectionist? Maybe…
  • I had some leftover homemade marinara in the freezer that I defrosted for the sauce.  If you need a recipe, here’s a good one by Giada De Laurentiis. Otherwise, go for a good jarred sauce and doctor it up with some herbs and spices.
Serve this up with a nice green salad, big glass of red wine and garlic bread, and you’ll feel like you’re eating like Tony Soprano. Or the cast from Jersey Shore. Or Giovanni. Whatever floats your boat. Buon appetito!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup 1/2 inch diced sourdough bread cubes
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb pork sausage
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh oregano
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/3 grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 to 6 cups Marinara sauce
  • 2 lbs spaghetti noodles
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Directions

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the extra virgin olive oil. Cook the onion, bell pepper and chili flakes for 2 min. Add the garlic and salt and cook until tender, about 4 min. Transfer the veggies to a large bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, pour the milk over the bread and let soak for 5 minutes. Drain off the milk and lightly squeeze the bread, so that it is moist but not wet.

To the bowl with the cooled veggies, add everything (meat, herbs, bread, eggs) and mix thoroughly but gently and shape into 2 inch balls. The more gentle you are, the more tender the meatballs will be.

In the same pan used for the veggies, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the meatballs in batches, browning completely. Continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 165F or an instant read thermometer.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and bring the cook the spaghetti noodles al dente, according to the package directions. Bring the marinara sauce to a simmer over low heat. Drain the noodles and toss with about 2 cups of the marinara sauce.

Portion individual plates and add more sauce and 3 meatballs per person, and garnish with shredded Parmesan.

The Ultimate Spaghetti Carbonara

If you’ve ever had spaghetti carbonara at a restaurant, chances are it wasn’t that good — except if you were in Italy. In fact, it doesn’t even sound that good at first, especially the way it is usually described on a menu. Spaghetti with bacon, eggs and cheese. (Eggs? Huh?)
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Well, please get with the program. This is a case where the simple becomes the divine. If this “ultimate” spaghetti carbonara by Tyler Florence doesn’t convince you…well, you need to go to Italy. Stat.
Spaghetti carbonara is a creamy, salty, peppery plate of pasta — the egg cooks in the hot pasta and creates this wonderful sauce unlike any pasta sauce you’ve ever had. And the al dente pasta, the salty cheese, the freshness of the parsley, the crunch of the bacon — it’s so simple you wouldn’t believe it could pack in so much flavor. Plus, it’s one of those dishes where you might just have everything you need to make it in your fridge. What’s better than that?
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TW’s Tips
  • I halved this recipe — a pound of pasta is just too much unless I’m cooking for company.
  • Sorry Tyler, but 7-8 minutes is not enough time to caramelize onions. Take it slow and cook them for 20-25.
  • I wasn’t happy with the way the bacon and onion cooked together. The bacon didn’t crisp up enough, and the onions browned too much if I turned up the heat. Instead, cook the bacon first without cutting it up and crumble it when it’s crispy, and cook the onions in the bacon fat. Yup, this recipe is not low fat.
  • Use lots and lots of fresh cracked pepper.
  • Use good, freshly grated Parmesan. You can get a huge wedge at Costco and it lasts forever since it’s such a hard cheese. Believe me, you will never go back to the pre-shredded, flavorless stuff. It’s expensive but less expensive than buying bag after bag of shredded whenever you need it.
The Ultimate Spaghetti Carbonara
Directions
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 bacon slices, sliced crosswise into thin strips
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 6 tbs heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil for the spaghetti.

Heat a 3-count of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and onion and cook for 7-8 minutes, until the onion is carmelized and the bacon crisp. While that’s going, crack the eggs into a big bowl. Add the cream and cheese and whisk. Scrape the bacon and onion with the cooking fat into the bowl.

Throw the spaghetti into the boiling water and cook until it’s al dente. Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid and add it to the bowl with the egg and bacon.

Drain the spaghetti, add it to the bowl, and give everything a good toss. Invert a plate on top of the bowl to hold in the heat and let the pasta set for 5 minutes. Remove the plate, toss in some salt, pepper, and parsley, and boom: You’ve got spaghetti carbonara!