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.

Vanilla Cheesecake with a Shortbread and Almond Crust – and it is gluten-free.

Vanilla cheesecake with a shortbread almond crust
Vanilla cheesecake with a shortbread almond crust

Cheesecake is so fabulous that I’m considering giving it its own category. From preparing the pan to having the patience for the right technique to toppings. It all matters and when the individual parts come together you will have created a creamy, cool, delicious and highly adaptable dessert that nearly everyone will love! And when someone tells you that they don’t like cheesecake assure them that they just haven’t tried the right one for them yet!  A cheesecake can be dressed for a hot day in the sun with some fresh lemon curd (see related post) or for thanksgiving with my related pumpkin version.  You can make a raspberry swirl topped with dark chocolate Grenache or an Almond Joy  the flavor options are endless, and if you have a request for a flavor combination send it over to me in my Cooks Q&A Section and I’ll work it out for you.

I just sold myself, here comes a new category. Two actually, it will be in Tea Parties also.

Back to the cheesecake.  The basics:  only use full fat cream cheese. This is not the time or place for a low-fat version. It just doesn’t work. If you’re going to make a cheesecake, do it right. If you want to count calories, go for a walk with a pedometer 😝and a dog🐶.  Both you and Fido will be happy!  But I digress….to the recipe!

Vanilla cheesecake with a shortbread almond crust
Vanilla cheesecake with a shortbread almond crust

Prepare Your 9″ Springform Pan

Watch the video.

Crust – gf

1 1/4 c. shortbread cookie crumbs
1/4 c. ground nuts (I used almonds, but pecans or walnuts are wonderful too)
1/4 c. brown sugar
6 tsp. unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake

4 pkgs. Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese (full fat only), room temp.
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 tsp. lemon zest

Topping

16 oz. sour cream
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Crust

1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Prepare a 9″ springform pan by wrapping the outside with plastic wrap, then again with foil. You will be baking the cheesecake in a water bath, so it is imperative to keep the water from seeping in. You can stop here, but I also line the inside with parchment paper. Grease the bottom and the insides of the walls with butter, then roll your parchment in a cone shape and cut to make a big circle. Press the parchment into the buttered pan and it will stick.

2. In a food processor, add your cookies and process until it is in small crumbs. Move to a bowl and process the nuts until the same size as the cookie crumbs. Add to the bowl. Add the brown sugar and mix until well incorporated. Stream in the melted butter and continue mixing until fully incorporated. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan and if there is enough, partially up the sides. Bake at 350 Degrees for 12-15 minutes or until set. Allow to fully cool to room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Topping

3. In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with 1/4 cup the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla bean paste and set aside. If you refrigerate, be sure to bring it back to room temperature before adding to the cheesecake.

4. Heat the oven to 325°. Add all of the cream cheese and 1 1/4 c. sugar to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Mix on low, #2 or 3 until incorporated. Scrape down the sides frequently. This step is critical to creaminess. Add the vanilla bean paste until incorporated. Scrape the sides and add the cream in a slow stream. When incorporated, add the eggs one at a time and continue mixing. Be sure to crack the eggs, 1 by 1, into a measuring cup or small bowl to be sure that none of the shell accidentally falls into the mixing bowl. Add 1/4 tsp. of almond extract and continue mixing. Zest about 1/2 of a lemon into the mixing bowl. Be sure to not get any of the white pith from the lemon, it is bitter. Pour the cheesecake into the prepared pan and place the pan into a larger roasting pan. Add boiling water to the roasting pan taking care not to get any water into the cheesecake batter. Put enough water to come 1/3 to 1/2 way up the sides of the cheesecake. Bake for 60-75 minutes. Open the door of the oven and pull the cheesecake out. The sides will be firm, but the center of the cheesecake will giggle slightly.

5. Immediately pour the room temperature topping on the cheesecake, smooth it out with an offset knife and return to the oven for 10 minutes (A bit longer, 15 minutes, if the topping is cold). Remove from the oven and from the water bath. If you did not use parchment paper, run an offset knife around the edge. Allow to cool on a rack for about an hour, then refrigerate until fully cooled before cutting, about 4 hours.

6. Remove the ring from the springform pan and move the cheesecake to a cake plate before serving.

Serve with a topping of your choice, I like serving it with lemon curd, see my related recipe in the “tea party” section if you would like to try it this way.

Lemon Curd

To me, a curd is lumpy, but not this recipe for traditional lemon curd. This is smooth and lemony without being overly tart. It is great on desserts, cookies, waffles and in hot tea (try it!).  It is quite nice to have on hand and can be added to sauces for a citrus kick or in your salad dressings.  I am a shameless fan of high and low teas, and lemon curds is a must at both on your crumpets and tea cookies. I’m working on an entire section of tea party recipes, this is my introduction offering. It is quick, easy, and will last for the better part is two weeks if you take care not to contaminate the lemon curd while using it.

Ingredients

3 to 4 tablespoons lemon zest (none of the white, it is bitter.)
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strained to remove any solids (roll the lemons under the heel of your hand to release more juice before cutting)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces
3 eggs

Directions

Wash the lemons to remove any chemicals, dirt or wax then thoroughly dry.  Remove the zest (the yellow part of the rind) from the lemons using a zester or a peeler (be careful to avoid getting any of the white pith, it is bitter  Yes, I know this is the second warning, it is that important).  Juice the lemons after removing the zest.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring just to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes. Add butter and stir until it has melted. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Beat eggs into cooled lemon mixture until well blended. Return to heat and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, 10 to 15 minutes or until mixture thickens and coats spoon. NOTE: Do not let the lemon curd boil, as it will cause the mixture to curdle and that cannot be fixed.

Remove from heat, allow to reach room temperature. The lemon curd will continue to thicken as it cools.  Once it reaches room temp, you can refrigerate.