Pasta with Butternut Squash & Toasted Walnut Sauce

Mmmmmm....pasta
Pasta with Butternut Squash, Toasted Walnuts and Broccoli Sauce over Pesto. GF

Every now and then, it is time to clear out the refrigerator.  My family will confirm that I find it shameful to ever throw food away, so I occasionally end up with a dish that is out of the usual.  This is one of those meals.

We had butternut squash waiting to be turned into a roasted vegetable side dish, but that never happened and the only other vegetable I had on hand was a few broccoli florets.  I thought about it a few minutes and first thought I would make a butternut squash bisque, but the kids are never excited about soup so I pushed that thought aside.  Then I thought okay, maybe use the technique for soup, but turn it into a sauce.  After all, we love pasta and I am currently in an after-the-holidays-calorie-cutting-menu phase.

VOILA! A new sauce.

And here we go…..  As always, if you make this recipe and see a correction or better technique, let me know!

Ingredients

1 box of dried penne or other pasta that holds sauce well (gluten free or regular)

5-6 cups of precut fresh butternut squash

1 medium cooking onion, diced

1 small head of broccoli, broken into florets

1 c. walnuts, or nut of choice (I do not suggest almonds unless slivered)

4c. chicken or vegetable stock (from the pantry or purchased)

2 c. grated parmesan (not sprinkle parm, actual, fresh parmesan)

½ c. grated fresh smoked mozzarella (or regular if you prefer)

3 Tbsp. roasted tomatoes in oil (homemade or purchased) (from the pantry)

1/4 c. packed arugula

Olive oil as needed

Pesto – for an under-garnish, about 3 Tbsp. per person (homemade or purchased) (from the pantry)

Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions

  1.  Preheat oven to 300°.
  2. Place walnuts on one side of a baking sheet and the broccoli, drizzled with oil, on the other and roast for 4 minutes, stir, and toast 3 more or until you smell the nut flavor.  Remove from over, chop, and cover with just enough olive oil to coat.  Set aside.
  3. Increase the heat to 350°.
  4. Heat a heavy bottom pot (I use a 5 qt. copper pot) to medium and add enough olive oil to cover.  Cook the diced onion for 3 minutes, stirring to avoid browning.
  5. Add the cut squash and continue sautéing for about 5 minutes.  This will start to cook and soften the squash, slightly caramelizing the sugars.
  6. Add the chicken stock, bring to boil, reduce to simmer until the squash is soft, but not falling apart, 6-8 minutes – but check.  Do not overcook the squash.
  7. With an immersion blender, blend the squash, onion and stock into a sauce.
  8. Stir in 1 c. of parmesan and ½ c. grated smoked mozzerella.
  9. Add the uncooked pasta to the sauce and stir, making sure the sauce enters the rigatoni or that it coats all of your pasta.
  10. Pour the pasta and sauce into a deep baking dish and – this is important – put the dish on a baking sheet as it may bubble over.
  11. Loosely cover with foil and bake for about 10 minutes.  Check the pasta for doneness (different pasta’s will cook more quickly than others.). If it needs more time, continue baking and check every 5 minutes or so.
  12. When the pasta is properly cooked, remove from oven and stir in the roasted broccoli and arugula.  Sprinkle with remaining parmesan, spread the walnuts over the top, and dollop the roasted tomatoes in the middle.
  13. To serve, spread pesto on the bottom of the pasta plate, and serve the pasta on top of it.
  14. Enjoy!

 

Risotto, creamy, soul-soothing, risotto

This is a basic, easily customizable recipe that is used as a base in a variety of recipes, like my short ribs or Shimp Alla Fede

So, let’s get to it.

INGREDIENTS

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large onion, diced 
2 c. Arborio rice
2 c. dry white wine
6 c. chicken stock – simmering in a separate pot
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 c. grated Fontina cheese

LET’S COOK!

  1. In a Dutch Oven if you have one, or heavy stock pot with a lid, coat the bottom with olive oil and butter and bring to a medium-low heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft but not brown (browning the onion will make the finished risotto less pretty, but will still taste fantastic if the onion browns).
  2. As soon as the onion is soft, add the risotto and stir.  Heat the rice for 2-3 minutes or until it begins to smell nutty. 
  3. Turn up the heat to medium and add the wine.  Simmer until the wine almost fully evaporates, stirring frequently.  
  4. Add enough simmering chicken stock to cover the rice by about 1/2 inch and stir.  Allow to simmer until the stock is absorbed by the rice. 
  5. Repeat step 4 three (3) more times.  Then, test the rice if it is still stiff, repeat step 4. If it is soft enough, remove from heat.
  6. Add the cream, stir.
  7. Add the fontina, stir.
  8. Add salt to taste.

This is your basic risotto.  

PEA RISOTTO:  For pea risotto, add frozen peas (brought to room temp, or close to it) at step 8 and stir, but make sure the cheese is fully melted first.  Put a lid on the risotto and place in a warming oven.  

MUSHROOM RISOTTO:  For mushroom risotto, add fresh chopped mushrooms of your choice (button for a mild mushroom flavor; wild mushrooms for more earthy flavor) before the onions and sautee in oil and butter until soft and beginning to turn dark brown. REMOVE from the pot and set aside.  Add more oil and butter and begin the recipe.  At step 8, add the mushrooms after the cheese is fully melted.

ASPARAGUS RISOTTO:  For asparagus risotto, add fresh asparagus, cut into 1″ segments, to the oil and butter in step 1 and sauteé until soft but not mushy.  Remove from pot and set aside to cool.  Add back in at step 8, after the cheese is fully melted.

MIX AND MATCH the above for more options, or try your own! 

Shrimp Alla Fede with Pea Risotto

This is actually two dishes that can be mixed and matched in thousands of ways.  The Risotto is great alone, with seafood, you will find it under my short ribs, almost anything you can imagine, including as a dessert with a few minor ingredient substitutions.  The magic of risotto is discussed in its featured post, so let’s get back to the shrimp.

If you follow my blog, you know that I am a use-what-you-have-on-hand cook, and that I cook gluten-free.  That means, feel free to experiment with flavors that you love!  I have a rule at my house that if something doesn’t work, we order pizza.  Done.  This is one of those meals that I made to actually clean out the refrigerator.  But in the end, like a mixed breed puppy, it was really good.

One more confession – I did not make this meal with the intent of creating a blog recipe.  Only after being asked via facebook (yes, I am food poster on fb), that I decided I would do it.  Because of that, my pictures will be replaced the next time I make it, and this is my apology that there are not any “in process” photos to explain a step.  Lesson learned.

Final thought on the shrimp –  Yes, you can absolutely use peeled and deveined shrimp, and if you are in a hurry, please do!  I use the shells to make seafood stock, if you are just going to throw the shells away, save yourself the time.  Just never, ever, not-in-a-million-years, buy pre-cooked shrimp for this recipe.  Never never never.

“Can we get back to the recipe?”  Yo.  [For my Hamilton fans!]

INGREDIENTS

12 Prawns, shelled and deveined (when you shell shrimp, save the shells!  See my post for seafood base and shrimp bisque for their use.) If you use smaller shrimp, just use more shrimp and lessen your sautee time.

4 slices bacon, chopped

olive oil as needed

2-3 Tbsp. citrus vodka (I use gf). (Can substitute with wine, I just like the brightness of the lemon, or chicken stock if you don’t want to use liquor)

2 garlic cloves, chopped cup chicken broth

1/4 c. sliced leeks

1/2 c. chicken broth

1/4 c. heavy cream (never forget the cream!)

1 handful arugula

1/2 lemon, squeezed for its juice

½ tsp. hot sauce or 1/8 tsp. crushed red peppers (can be omitted)

Salt and Cracked Pepper

 

LET’S GET COOKING

  1. Peel and devein the shrimp – yes you can buy peeled shrimp, see my discussion above.
  2. Make the Risotto, keep in a warm oven while you make the shrimp and sauce. (See linkback for the recipe.)
  3. In a heavy sauteé pan, I use a 16″ cast iron, preheat to medium heat and once hot, brush a layer of olive oil and sauteé the bacon until crispy, then drain on a paper towel.  Turn down the heat on the oil to medium low!
  4. Leave a 1/8″ layer of bacon grease in the pan, if there isn’t enough, add a little olive oil.
  5. Add the shrimp, cook for about a minute, then turn and cook for one more.  Add the vodka or wine, and ONLY sauteé until the shrimp loses its translucency and is pink, then immediately remove and set aside. If you use smaller shrimp, continuously stir in the pan and remove as soon as you see pink.
  6. Add the leeks and sautee until soft, about 1 minute
  7. Add the garlic and continuously stir until soft, another minute.  Do not brown the garlic, it will become bitter
  8. Add the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer
  9. Add the cream, bring to a simmer
  10. Allow to simmer for about 3 minutes to thicken slightly
  11. Add the hot sauce or red pepper, if using
  12. Add the shrimp and arugula and stir together.
  13. Add the bacon, stir, cover and set aside for 2-3 minutes to rest.

Add salt and cracked pepper to taste, serve over risotto and enjoy!

To finish the meal, serve with roasted carrots.

 

Chili. Smoky, savory, hot peppery…or not…your call.

I told you about our butcher who smokes his own meats in my recipe for Smoked Balsamic & Rosemary Pork Chops, well, here comes another recipe that uses both his smoked andouille sausage and his ground beef/pork blend.  Of course, any recipe can be made with meat that is not smoked and will be just fine, but if you like the added depth of flavor that smoking brings, these recipes are for you.chili2

Now chili is one of my favorite things to make, for oh-so-many-reasons.  Let me count the ways….Chili … (1) can be made a thousand different ways and still be great, seriously, at least, a thousand; (2) is a fantastic it’s-time-to-clean-out-the-refrigerator-and-pantry dish; (3) it freezes for a convenient ready-made meal; (4) it’s relatively healthy; and (5) it can be served with almost any starch: potatoes, rice, pasta, polenta, fries, tortilla chips, crackers, bread,  whatever you have!

With reason #’s 2 and 3 above in mind, here is my ingredient list for this smoked chili.  Watch for cook notes and remember above all else, this chili recipe is more about technique than it is the individual ingredients.  The “how it’s done” does matter.  So I will try to explain the whys and I’ll make ingredient suggestions/substitutions along the way.

OH – and beans really are optional, but I happen to like them.  I used black beans in this recipe but feel free to mix it up with Kidney beans, cannelloni beans, garbanzo beans, whatever you like is perfect.

Ingredients (optional ingredients in italics)

2 lbs. ground beef/pork mix

1 lb. smoked andouille sausage, casing removed,  chopped

29 oz. can of tomato puree

14.5 oz. can of petite cut diced tomatoes

1 large cooking onion

1 green bell pepper

1/3 c. Balsamic Vinegar

8 garlic cloves, chopped

3-5 dried chiles of your choice, depending on how hot you like your chili.  I used 3 Thai red and 2 ancho chiles. ***See preparation instructions below.

2 Tbsp. chili powder

2 Tbsp. cumin (more or less to taste)

2 Tbsp. Better Than Boullion (or your favorite brand) Beef Base (I suggest this brand to keep the dish gluten free)

2-4 Tbsp. Agave Syrup (to taste)

1/2 c. frozen corn (or fresh, if it’s in season)

1 lime

2 cans of black beans,  drained and rinsed, or whatever kind of bean you like/have in your pantry.  Of course, some folks don’t like beans in their chili so this is optional.  I think they add nice body and are a great protein source, so mine has lots of beans.  And I like them.  Oh, I might have mentioned that already.

Toppings, Mix/Match & Optional, but highly  Suggested!

Sour Cream

Cilantro, chopped

Fresh jalapeno

Cheddar or Colby Jack Cheese, shredded

Scallions, chopped

The Dance, I mean, Instructions

If you have a Dutch oven, I suggest using it.  I use my 6-quart for this recipe and if I had a bigger one, I must might us that instead.

  1.  Heat your Dutch oven over medium heat and allow it to fully come to temperature.  Add your ground meat and let it cook, stirring often.  I do not add oil as I don’t want oil in my finished chili.  Letting the meat cook in its own fat avoids the need, but keep the temperature at medium or medium low.  You want to cook, but not crisp-brown, the meat. NOTE:  If your meat begins to brown too quickly, give it a good stir and add about 1/4 c. of water, stir again, cover and let it steam for a few minutes.  The water will evaporate out over time and cause no harm whatsoever.
  2. While the meat is cooking, heat your oven to 250 degrees and put the dried chile peppers, if using, on a metal pie plate and roast for 5-6 minutes.  Remove from over, put in warm water and allow to soak for 10 minutes.  Remove stems and seeds, chop and set aside until you reach step 6.
  3. When the meat is fully cooked through, add the balsamic vinegar, stir, and allow it to cook until there is no more liquid in the pot, maybe 7-10 minutes or so.  Sounds odd, yes, but it gives a hint of sweetness while not imparting any vinegar flavor to the final chili.  Trust me.  Add the beef bouillon.  Stir.
  4. Remove the casing from the andouille sausage and chop it.  Add it to the meat, stir, remove from the pot and cover.  Do not drain the fat.
  5. Add the chopped onion and green pepper to the pot and allow to cook only until it begins to soften.
  6. Add the garlic and the chile peppers (if using) and cook another 1-2 minutes.  Do not brown or burn the garlic, it will make your chili bitter.
  7. Return the meat to the pan, stir to incorporate the vegetables with the meat, and sprinkle with the chili powder and cumin.  Stir and allow to cook for 1-2 minutes.
  8. Add both cans of tomatoes.  Stir, cover with a lid, reduce heat to a very low simmer and allow to slowly cook for 2 hours, or more if you’re busy.  No harm will be done.
  9. Drain and rinse the beans, add to the chili when it is finished simmering, along with the corn and the juice from 1 lime.  Stir, cover and allow to rest for a few hours.
  10. Done.  Freeze some, enjoy some, give a little to the neighbors, whatever.  You have a great pot of chili.
  11. Top with any combination of the following:  Sour cream, cilantro, shredded cheddar or Colby jack cheese, sliced jalapenos, more lime, scallions, tortilla chips….whatever you like.

 

 

Smoked Balsamic & Rosemary Pork Chops

Balsamic Rosemary Smoked Pork Chop
Balsamic Rosemary Smoked Pork Chop

Hopefully, you have access to a good butcher.  If you are truly fortunate, you have a butcher who also smokes his/her own meat.  I am truly fortunate and found a smoking butcher, although it is a three-hour drive, it is worth every minute in the car.  My husband and I make a day of it and enjoy the ride, catching up on all the conversations we didn’t quite finish and studying the Italian language.  When we arrive at the market, happiness. Local smoked meats from a butcher you can talk to, fresh vegetables and fruits that were grown locally and organically, fresh-baked breads, pretzels and goodies for the kids and fresh seafood.  It’s a great day.  

So, back to our favorite butchers at Smokehouse Meats.  This week I bought his smoked pork chops (which, by the way, I got to pick the thickness and watch as each chop was sliced precisely as requested).  At the house, the chops were in the refrigerator for 2 hours before I started dinner.  The smoke in the meat is so pervasive that when I opened the refrigerator door, the deep aroma of smoke wafted out into the kitchen and my husband’s eyes glazed over. We knew we made a good choice.  Onto making the entrée.  With no further delay, let’s get to the cooking.  This dish can be made any night of the week or on short notice, because it requires so little effort for such great gastronomical reward!  Tonight’s smoked chop was served with a mashed potato, mushroom gravy and sweet Brussels sprouts (also from the market).  

Smoked pork chop with Glaze
Smoked chop with the glaze.

Ingredients

4 smoked pork chops, 3/4″ cut

2 sprigs fresh rosemary (remove leaves from stem) or (1 Tbsp. dried), chopped

1/3 c. balsamic vinegar

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.(not pictured, but recommended)

Glaze

Add 1/4 c. white wine

1 additional sprig rosemary, chopped

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Preparation

1. Season the chops with salt, pepper and rosemary on both sides.  Place on a plate and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.  You don’t want to put cold chops in the pan.

2.  Bring a non-stick or stainless saute pan to medium heat.  Add oil and butter.  When the oil/butter begins to bubble, add the balsamic. When the mix again begins to bubble, add your chops.  Make sure the pan is large enough that the entire surface of the meat touches the pan.  If necessary, do this in batches and place the cooked chops in the over at 250 degrees to stay warm.  Cook for about 3 minutes on each side or until you achieve some caramelization.  Keep warm in the oven.

3.   Serve.  See, I told you it was easy!  If you want to go a little deeper, when you remove the chops from the pan, pour out any grease then deglaze it with a 1/4 cup white wine, then add another 2 tbsp. balsamic (or any flavored balsamic, I used a Cherry Bordeaux) and the extra chopped rosemary.  When the vinegar and wine have reduced by 1/2 and become a little thick, add 2 tbsp. butter and swirl to make a nice glaze.  Remove from heat until you are ready to use or it will become thick and burn.

Fennel Braised Short Ribs over Mushroom and Pea Risotto

This is easily my favorite dish to make when I’m serving guests. Universally loved, endlessly versatile and just as good if made ahead, there is no downside to this meal. It is at once hardy and elegant. Its presentation is impressive. The beef is so tender you do not need a steak knife, the sauce is complex, the creaminess of the risotto hold up to the strength of the beef. And best of all, braising the short ribs is much more a matter of technique than exact flavor ingredients so the dish is easy to customize to your favorite flavor profile. This recipe uses fennel, but rosemary or chili are also a great options.

While an easy dish to make, it is important to not cut corners with the preparation or the cuts of meat. It is little time-consuming, but all of the steps can be done the day before you want to serve the meal, (arguably the better alternative!) giving you more planning options.

Everyone must have a good butcher, sometimes this can be found at your local grocery store, some folks are lucky enough to have a true butcher shop where your butcher knows you and will cut meat to your requests and sometimes, the super-fortunate, live in farm country and know a farmer with truly exceptional stock; raised and butchered humanely. I’m lucky like that. We live in farm country.

Your short ribs should be boneless and at least 3-4″ thick. Always always try to buy your cuts of meat that are fairly uniform in size. If you cook a 4″ short rib along with a 2″ rib, the smaller one will overcook and become dryer than it should be in the time it takes to fully cook the larger rib. This holds true for all meat. So, insist on uniform sizes. On average, I prepare 1 1/2 boneless short ribs per person. (At 3-4″ thick each).2014-11-14 14.17.52

Another “always do” is to toast your spices. I’m a true believe in fresh herbs, but not here; you will want to use nice fresh dried spices. To toast, toss your spices in a warmed saute pan over medium-low heat, and move them around the pan frequently. When you smell them releasing their fragrance, remove from heat and onto a plate to stop the toasting process. This takes 4-5 minutes but trust your nose on this one. You never want to darken or burn your spice; if you do start over.  (What?  Yep, don’t waste any more time. Okay, that’s a bit harsh brush or scrape off any burnt pieces and keep going if it isn’t too bad, but don’t blame me if you final dish has a bit of a carbon taste.)

Also see the related post on how to make Risotto.

Let’s cook.

Ingredients and Necessities

Fennel Braised Spare Ribs

Large Dutch Oven

Parchment Paper

Approximately 8 3-4″ thick cut boneless spare ribs

1/4 c. orange juice

2 c. chicken stock

2 c. dry red wine (or beef stock if you don’t like cooking with wine)

8 oz. can of chopped tomatoes with juice

1/4 c. tomato paste

1/4 c. Balsamic vinegar

4 Tbsp. dried fennel

S&P

LETS COOK – Pre-heat your oven to 300°

1.  Heat a large dutch oven over medium low heat.  Once warm, toss in your spices and let them toast for 4-5 minutes or until they make your kitchen smell delicious.  When you smell them, they are done.  Remove from the dutch oven and place in a bowl.

2.  Dry your short ribs with a paper towel, extra moisture is not your friend at this point.  Once dried, rub the toasted spice on both sides of the cut and sprinkle with cracked black pepper and salt.

3.  With the same dutch oven, turn up the heat to medium-high and sear the meat on all sides, about 6 minutes per side, but use common sense and adjust this according to the size of the cut.  Do not crowd the meat, do this in batches until all the meat is done.  Do not worry if the meat cools while you do batches, it will not matter as we will be braising it also.  Pour any oil and grease out of the pan. Do not wipe or remove the bits stuck to the bottom. They are your flavor nuggets.  Say something nice to them and continue on.

4. When all the meat is seared, and hopefully there are little bits stuck the the bottom of your dutch oven, it is time to make your braising liquid.  Working quickly, add your wine to the pot and scrape the little bits off of the bottom.  Reduce by about 1/3.

5.  Add the Balsamic vinegar, allow to reduce by half again.

6.  Add the tomato paste and swirl to combine.  Don’t worry if it isn’t completely combined.

7.  Place your ribs back into the pot, hopefully in a single layer.  Place the ribs on their sides to make room if need be.

8.  Add the chicken stock, orange juice, tomatoes and fennel. Be sure the liquid covers the meat.  If it doesn’t, add more liquid (stock, wine, juice…whatever).  Bring to a boil.

9.  When it hits a boil, THIS IS IMPORTANT – fully wet a large piece (or two) of parchment paper.  Place the parchment over the meat and liquid, put the lid on the dutch oven, and place in the oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours.

10.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes.

11.  You can serve as is (the pictured dish was served at this point), or remove the meat and cover with foil then bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to to thicken the sauce.  Of course, if you make this dish ahead of time, refrigerate the juice and remove the solidified grease first.  because the ribs are seared, much of the grease is removed early in the process.  But the meat will continue to render fat when being braised (which is why we do this!).

12. I served this over a creamy risotto with peas as pictured, but it is great with smashed potatoes.

ENJOY!

Now, with all recipes, you can adjust flavors to your liking.  I also follow this technique using chili garlic paste instead of the tomato paste and soy sauce instead of balsamic.  Have fun with it and send me pictures of your creations.

Bacon Jam Bacon Jam, Life is better with Bacon Jam.

Yep. Bacon Jam.  You can find a thousand recipes for bacon jam on the internet, this is just my version, after having tried several and having my family love/hate certain components of each.  One son loves it when I add tomatoes; the other hates the tomatoes.  This version has a hidden tablespoon of tomato paste, which makes both of them happy.  Tricky tricky tricky.

This jam, which is really more of a condiment, but “Bacon Condiment, BaconCondiment, Life is beIMG_7956tter with Bacon Condiment” just doesn’t roll off of the tongue smoothly so I call it JAM.  I’m a rebel.

Ingredients

1 lb. thick cut hickory smoked bacon, sliced thinly

2 medium cooking onions, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar

1/2 c. dark brown sugar

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1/4 tsp. cayenne (or leave out if you don’t like heat)

Instructions

  1. Brown the bacon in a dutch oven to help keep splatter to a minimum over medium to medium low heat, remove to paper towels and thoroughly drain off the grease.  Set aside.
  2. Pour off all of the oil except 3 Tbsp. and keep it for a later use.  Add the chopped onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds.  Do NOT brown the garlic.
  3. Add the tomato paste and stir for about 1 minute.
  4. Pour in the vinegar, add the sugar, combine.
  5. Add the cayenne.
  6. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook 15-10 minutes.  Keep it low, you will be softening the bacon while slowly thickening the sauce.
  7. Remove from heat and allow to cool.  This will thicken overnight, so do not cook out all of the liquid and do not be concerned if it is still wet when you take it off of the heat.  It should be.

Use on everything.  Burgers (as pictured), egg sandwiches, with cheese, on a hot dog, everywhere.  Because as we know, everything is better with bacon.