Pantry Pasta

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Nothing beats a meal you can whip up in under an hour from what you have in your cupboard. Admittedly, this probably ges a little beyond the cupboard for most people, but it’s a really simple list of ingredients, and what you don’t have you can easily pick up at the market.

I’m sort of obsessed with all the awesome flavors going on in this dish from Bon Appetit. First, there’s olives — and Castelvetrano have to be some of my favorites. They’re more mild than your traditional green olive, with a little sweetness to them. I pop them like candy (or the candy corn pumpkins I’ve been gorging on lately…I digress). We’ve got cherry tomatoes, a little red onion, and some spicy peperoncini, then some salty Pecorino cheese on top and fresh basil, and the delicious meatiness of the sweet Italian sausage. So. Much. Happening. And sooo delicious.

I love that the sauce for this pasta is so simple — it’s just the liquid that comes from smashing the tomatoes, a little oil and butter and the pasta cooking liquid. Because there’s so much going on here, it’s the perfect way to make sure the dish doesn’t get overwhelming and allows the flavors to stand on their own. And stand they do.

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TW’s Tips

  • I used fresh cherry tomatoes — make sure they burst in the pan to give it some juiciness
  • Instead of spaghetti I substituted penne — or use any pasta
  • Use fresh basil — store it on your counter with the stem in a glass of water
  • Really seek out the Castelvetrano olives. Most high end grocery stores will have them either in an olive bar or pre-packed in the olive/cheese section.

This reheats beautifully. I can’t wait to make it again. Enjoy!

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Pantry Pasta

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • ½ medium red onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup torn pitted olives, preferably Castelvetrano
  • 1 14-ounce can cherry tomatoes
  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup peperoncini, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces Pecorino or Parmesan, finely grated, divided
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup torn basil

Directions

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Cook sausage, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until cooked through, browned, and crisp in places, 5–8 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl with a slotted spoon. Reduce heat to medium; add onion and olives to skillet. Cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, mashing tomatoes lightly and stirring often, until juices are slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Add pasta and ¾ cup pasta cooking liquid to sauce and cook, tossing, until pasta is al dente and sauce coats noodles. Mix in peperoncini, cooked sausage, and another ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid. Then, tossing constantly, gradually add all but ½ cup cheese, followed by butter. Once incorporated, remove from heat and mix in basil. Divide pasta among bowls. Drizzle with oil; top with remaining cheese.

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Sausage and Pea Pesto Pasta

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As many of you know, it’s been 2-3 months of major life changes for me — new job, new city (New York!), cross-country move, new apartment, new practically everything! So needless to say it’s been a bit crazy around here, and I’m super delinquent on this blog. Here goes redeeming myself!

This is the first meal I made in NYC and a recipe I found on the Very Culinary blog — I was looking for something simple that didn’t require buying a ton of ingredients that I would have to move to a new apartment, but something that would still be delicious. Grocery shopping and meal-making is a whole new world in New York — forget hopping in your car and running to the massive Vons/Safeway/Trader Joe’s and carting out several bags worth of heavy groceries. You’re walking, you’re finding a nearby (small) grocery store, probably something independent that looks halfway promising, and you’re carrying what you buy home with you with your own two arms. It’s a great way to really make you rethink the impulse purchases. Quite the adventure!

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I ventured beyond the local market for this meal — I got all the ingredients at Chelsea Market, a veritable foodie heaven that is now only a few blocks away from my new apartment. (When I made this meal it was a subway ride and 15 minute walk — much more of a mission.) I will definitely be frequenting the place. The Italian market there is fabulous, and I used fresh made pesto, dried pasta straight from Italy and some amazing fresh sausage — even an Italian brand of frozen peas! It was simple but delicious — fresh, a little spicy and great reheated.

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TW’s Tips

  • I got fresh sausage from the meat counter, but packaged Jimmy Dean would work as well.
  • I recommend fresh pesto — you can find remarkably good pesto at Costco in the refrigerated section. I swear by it. Or hit your local Italian market. I’m NOT a big fan of jarred pesto.
  • Serve with crusty bread and salad.

Sausage and Pea Pesto Pasta

Ingredients

  • 1 pound medium shell pasta
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1 pound seasoned pork sausage
  • 1 cup frozen sweet peas, thawed
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup pesto sauce

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the shells to al dente texture, according to package instructions, about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add in the pork and cook, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon until no pink remains; about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Gently toss in the peas until warmed through.

Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Stir in the pesto until all the shells are coated. Stir in the sausage mixture until thoroughly combined. Ladle into bowls and serve right away.

Pumpkin, Sausage & Sage Lasagna

It started getting a little cold here last week, and there’s nothing like a homey casserole to warm you up. Enter Pumpkin, Sausage and Sage Lasagna. Credit for this amazingness goes to one of my fave food blogs, Little Yellow Kitchen, for this awesome twist on the Italian favorite. You get pumpkin, chard, ricotta, sausage, mozzarella and sage in a delicious garlic cream sauce. Yup. It’s delicious. And what better time to incorporate pumpkin into one of my favorite foods? LYK’s post on it has MUCH better pictures than mine…I’ve got to work on that…

As with any lasagna, there’s a bit of work involved in this one, so allow some time. It’s pretty brilliant to incorporate a green such as chard into it as well — you get some earthiness from that as well as the sage and pumpkin. I picked up a bunch at the farmers market and it was awesome.

TW’s Tips

  • I used a whole bunch of chard instead of 3 cups — it was more like 6 (though not tightly packed). More veggie action.
  • This makes a lot, so if you’re not going to eat it all soon, freeze half, or cut into one-serving size portions so you can pull one out of the freezer in the morning for dinner that night.
  • Serve with a side salad.

Pumpkin, Sausage & Sage Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 3 cups rainbow chard, chopped (or more!)
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated or mashed
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 10 to 12 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 small white onions, diced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 15-ounce cans pure pumpkin puree
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups fresh ricotta
  • 2 cups freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 box no-boil, oven ready, flat lasagna noodles (Trader Joe’s!)
  • 12 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place chard in a large microwave proof bowl and microwave for 4 minutes, until wilted.

Meanwhile, cook the onions and sausage with a drizzle of olive oil in a medium pan. Cook for 8-9 minutes or until sausage is cooked through and the onion is translucent. Add the sage and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the chard, stir, and season with salt and pepper.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and garlic and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook until slightly thickened (the sauce will coat the back of a spoon evenly).

Whisk together the pumpkin puree, 2 eggs and some salt and pepper in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the ricotta, half the parmesan and the remaining egg.
Pour half the garlic sauce into the bottom of a deep 9×13 inch (or larger if you have it) baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna sheets and then half the pumpkin mixture. Make another layer of lasagna sheets (pressing down lightly) and spread with all of the ricotta mixture, followed by the sausage and chard mixture. Top with half the mozzarella, another layer of lasagna sheets, the remaining pumpkin and another layer of lasagna sheets. Finish with the remaining garlic sauce and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and mozzarella.

Bake the lasagna, covered, for 45 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees F and continue to bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes more. Let rest for 15 minutes, then cut and serve.

Sausage, Mushroom & Polenta “Lasagna”

I love the challenge and adventure of trying a new recipe, so it’s not too often I come back to a recipe more than once. It’s really got to be good. Well folks — this is one of them recipes. Actually, I think I’ve made it at least six times (!).

Courtesy of Rachael Ray: Sausage, Mushroom and Polenta Lasagna. Rachael starts with a “master” recipe for this one, and then offers a few riffs on it for variety. I’ve tried all the riffs, and I’m a big fan of the olive one and the pesto one. But they’re all DELICIOUS.

If you’ve never used prepared polenta before (I hadn’t) — it’s a revelation. Super easy and tasty. This dish is hearty but not too heavy, since it uses portobello mushroom instead of lots of meat, and it has great flavors from the lemon zest in the ricotta, spice from the red pepper flake and fresh rosemary.

I made it with some roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and lemon juice. If you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts…it’s time to get over that. Come on — there’s bacon involved. And when you roast them, they are unbelievably nutty and flavorful. I crisped up the bacon (remove it from the pan), then threw the sprouts in to brown them up, then roasted them in the same oven with the “lasagna” for 20 minutes. Squeeze some lemon juice over them, crumble in the bacon, salt and pepper. Voila.

TW’s tips:

  • I find that polenta tends to come in inconvenient 16-oz packages. I just buy two and use both.
  • Polenta can be hard to find at the grocery store. I have strode cursing through the aisles more than once. It’s usually buried on the bottom shelf in the pasta aisle or with the sundried tomatoes or other Italian “miscellaneous” items. It’s literally a tube of polenta.
  • When Rachael says “don’t make yourself crazy” spreading the cheese over the polenta — listen.
  • It takes longer than 15-18 minutes to heat this through. I like my food hot. I’d say 30 at least, but her trick for testing the knife after you stick it through the middle works well.
  • The foil over the top sticks to the mozzarella as it melts (duh). Try to leave some space in there so it’s not a mess when you take off the foil.
  • This is amazing for leftovers. I’m known for making a double batch.

You’re going to love it!

Sausage, Mushroom & Polenta “Lasagna”

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), plus more for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 portobello mushroom, stem removed
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock or broth
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 tube (24 ounces) prepared polenta, plain or flavored, cut into 21 disks about 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 450.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the 2 tablespoons of EVOO (twice around the pan) and the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the sausage, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. While the sausage is starting to brown, cut the portobello mushroom in half and then thinly slice and add to the sausage. Chop and add to the pan as you go the onions, garlic and rosemary. Season the sausage and mushrooms with the red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Once everything is in the pan, the sausage is lightly browned, and the mushrooms and onions have wilted, add the chicken stock and lemon juice. Continue to cook over high heat until the liquids have evaporated, about 2 to 3 minutes.

While the sausage and mushrooms are cooking down in the liquid, in a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with the egg, lemon zest, Parmigiano, and the breadcrumbs.

Brush an 8-inch spring form pan or an 8″ x 8″ baking dish with a little EVOO and place 7 disks of the polenta on the bottom of the dish. If they overlap a little that’s fine; it will vary depending on what kind of dish you are using. Divide the sausage and mushroom mixture into 3 even portions. Do the same with ricotta mixture.

Using the back of a spoon, spread one third of the ricotta mixture on top of the polenta. Don’t make yourself crazy doing this — just mush it out over the polenta. Top the ricotta with a third of the sausage and mushrooms. Repeat the layers two more times, starting with the polenta and finishing with a sausage and mushroom layer. Sprinkle the top with the mozzarella. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, transfer to the oven, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. To make sure it is cooked through, insert a knife into the center of the dish, wait a few seconds, and then remove it. Touch the knife with your fingertips and if it is hot, the lasagna is done. Remove from the spring form (or cut loose from the baking dish) and serve.

VARIATIONS:

Sweet and Savory Polenta “Lasagna”

Add: 1/2 cup golden raisins & 1/2 cup pine nuts

Prepare like the master recipe, adding the raisins and pine nuts when you add the chicken stock and lemon juice to the sausage and onions.

Sausage, Mushroom, Olive Polenta “Lasagna”

Add: 4 rounded tablespoons store-bought black or green olive tapenade.

Prepare like the master recipe, adding the tapenade to the ricotta.

Sausage, Mushroom, Pesto “Lasagna”

Add: 4 tablespoons store-bought good-quality pesto

Prepare like the master recipe, adding the pesto to the ricotta.