How many of you have ever made your own pasta? I know it can seem a bit daunting, and with high-quality dried and fresh pastas available everywhere these days, many of us can’t be bothered with making it from scratch. But can I tell you something? Once you experience the ritual of making your own and then taste how clearly superior it is to ANY store bought brand, you’ll be a pasta maker for life.
As a cook, I’d love to be remembered as someone who took inspiration from my culinary heritage, but also relished making dishes my own, not feeling shackled by recipes, but rather enjoying the freedom to apply skills I’ve acquired over the years to bring new techniques and ingredients to my cooking. I’d also like to be remembered for the time I’ve spent cooking with my family, teaching my kids a few things about cooking before they head out on their own in the world.
As I struggled the other day trying to decide whether to cook pasta with meat sauce or chili for Superbowl Sunday dinner, I thought of my friend Kathy Bechtel who writes the great cooking/travel blog “Chefbikeski”, and a dish she had mentioned to me a while ago, Cincinnati Chili. Prior to our chat, I had never heard of the stuff before, and at first thought it was little more than a regional variant on chili that introduced a few different spices to distinguish the dish from something like a Texan chili, much in the same way BBQ is unique depending on where you eat it, be it Kansas City, Houston, or Memphis.
Bouchon’s Parisienne Gnocchi
Alright, let’s just get this over with, shall we?
Here it is, the last Keller recipe in the pipe-line. Not that any of you have been complaining, in fact, over the past few days I’ve received more than a few requests from readers to “Keep Cooking Keller”, but in an effort to offer you all a better balanced and wide ranging selection of recipes to cook with your kids, this will be the last we see of our friend for a while…..I’m all verklempt.
I don’t know about you, but I do find that I’ll roll with a particular chef, a new cookbook, or even a style of cooking for some period of time in order to really pull a lot from the experience. I do think it helps to spend some unhurried time with a chef, or perhaps a “regional” style of cooking to really come to understand him/it, and so I have enjoyed finally cooking some of Keller’s fab food, and I hope you have too. I’m sure we’ll get back to his great food some day in the not too distant future, like maybe if someone buys me his new book “Ad Hoc at Home” for my birthday this year….anyone….anyone?
Penne with Asparagus, Lemon and Proscuitto
This dish is our interpretation of a recipe from the fabulous “Al Forno” restaurant in Providence, RI. Their original can be found in the terrific cookbook Cucina Simpatica: Robust Trattoria Cooking From Al Forno written by the restaurant’s owners, Johanne Killeen and George Germon.
The key to it’s success comes from baking it in a large enough pan to hold all the pasta in a very thin layer. This allows the pasta to cook to al dente, and the asparagus to just cook through in a short amount of time in a very hot oven. The flavors of the lemon, tarragon, proscuitto and asparagus marry perfectly….don’t expect any left-overs.
It is an easy dish to make on a weeknight, requiring just a few minutes to slice the asparagus and par boil the pasta before tossing it into a large baking dish (or roasting pan) and placing it into the oven. For those of you who have been with us a while, you may notice the breadcrumbs we use as a topping here are the same ones from our Macaroni and Cheese with Ham recipe. If you haven’t already, make yourself a batch of these and toss them in your freezer, you’ll reach for them frequently to top pasta, fish, salads, you name it.
There is plenty of slicing and grating to keep idle young hands busy while making this dish, so by all means, grab one of your kids by the ear and drag them along to help. This one became an instant classic in our household, I’m sure it will in yours as well. Cheers – S.
Penne with Asparagus, Prosciutto, and Lemon
- 1 pound Penne Rigate
- 3/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
- 3/4 cup freshly grated fontina cheese
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup rich chicken stock (2 cups good quality low-sodium stock, reduced by half)
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh tarragon
- 1 bunch asparagus, washed, dried and root ends trimmed
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 5 ounces thinly sliced imported prosciutto, roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and a few grinds of white pepper
- 1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 500 ℉
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta
- For the breadcrumbs - in a saute pan heat 2 tablespoons EVOO over medium heat and toast 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until golden brown. Spread on a plate to cool. (Keep for 2 days in the fridge, or a long time in the freezer)
- In a large bowl, combine the cream, reduced stock, lemon zest, cheeses, salt and pepper
- Slice the asparagus on an extreme bias, about 1/8-1/4” thick and toss into a small bowl with the melted butter, mix to coat
- Boil the pasta for 4 minutes, then drain and toss into the bowl with the cream and other ingredients, mix well
- Pour the pasta into a large baking dish or roasting pan so that it fits comfortably in a thin layer no more than 1” deep. Sprinkle the sliced asparagus and chopped prosciutto on top and toss it into the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling, and the pasta is just starting to take on color.
- Remove from the oven and serve, passing breadcrumbs and grated parmesan to sprinkle on top if desired.
Gemelli with Rapini, Sausage and Raisins
This is absolutely one of my favorite pasta dishes, and one that is an excellent vehicle for introducing rapini (or broccoli rabe) to your kids. Rapini is a delicious bitter green, that served on its own, is a tough one for kids to love, the flavor being just a little too sharp and funky for your average ankle biter. In this dish, the sweetness of the raisins, and the luxurious mouth-feel afforded by the fat in the sausage, keep the bitterness of the rapini in check, much to the delight of the youngsters. It is a quick meal to toss together, and so easy that it can be prepped top to bottom by anyone old enough to use a knife, just be sure to save the act of slipping the sausage meat from their casings for your least squeamish child. Serve it with a simple green salad and a crust of country bread
Gemelli with Rapini, Sausage and Raisins
- 1 pound Gemelli or other small shell-shaped pasta
- 1 pound (about 4 links) sweet Italian sausage
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe, stem bottoms trimmed, washed well
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, reduced in half
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup golden (or dark) raisins
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Fresh ribbons of parmesan cheese, peeled with a vegetable peeler
- Set a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Place low-sodium chicken stock in a pan and reduce by half to 1 cup, add dry white wine and reserve. Lightly toast pine nuts in a dry skillet, reserve.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When shimmering, squeeze sausages from their casings, dropping bite-sized pieces in the hot skillet to saute, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausages to a bowl, leaving behind the drippings in the skillet. Cook the pasta to producers instructions for al dente.
- Trim the ends, wash, dry, and cut the brocolli rabe into 1-1/2” pieces. Add to the drippings in the skillet and saute over medium-high heat until wilted and just starting to take color. Add the sliced garlic and pepper flakes and cook 1-2 minutes, add the reduced chicken broth, wine, and raisins and cook another 3-4 minutes, until the broccoli rabe is just starting to soften, but still has a nice bite to it. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet, chuck in a few large knobs of butter and the pine nuts, and toss to combine. Check seasoning for salt and pepper, and serve topped with ribbons of freshly peeled parmesan.
Butternut Squash, Browned Butter and Sage Couscous
For those of you pulling your hair out over the complexity and time required to pull together the recipes of some of our recent posts, like Bouchon’s Quiche Lorraine or my Chicken Pot Pie, here is a delicious and simple side dish that you can put on the table tonight in about 20 minutes.
I have always been enchanted by the promise of couscous, a fine grained pasta that only takes about 5 minutes to cook, but to be honest, I’ve often found the recipes I’ve tried to be bland, dry and altogether forgettable. Couscous really well done can be a delight, when it is not, it can be like eating a bowl of sand. I don’t know about you, but my kids stopped eating sand a couple of years ago, and I’ve no interest in getting them hooked all over again, it was a hard habit for them to break.
My wife inspired the creation of this recipe by asking that I deconstruct a squash and sage ravioli dish that she had recently enjoyed. The resulting course is a deliciously simple, yet richly flavored dish that would be equally at home served with a braised lamb shank, or a simply prepared fish filet. I made the dish with a small grained couscous, but I’m sure it would work as well with the larger, “Israeli” variety.
I hope you enjoy it.
Butternut Squash, Browned Butter and Sage Couscous
- 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 15 medium sized, fresh sage leaves, thickly sliced
- 1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup couscous, cooked to the producers instructions, and kept covered and warm.
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts, lightly toasted in a skillet.
- 2 cups 1/2” x 1/2” cubes of butternut squash.
- Fresh parmesan cheese for grating.
- Peel, seed, and cube the squash, steam for 8-10 minutes, until just cooked through, remove from heat and reserve.
- Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat until the milk solids turn a lovely golden brown (see the brown flecks on the couscous in the photo above? That's what your looking for, and it is key to the success of this dish). When that happens, and with the butter still on the heat, add the chicken stock, sliced sage, and the freshly grated nutmeg (I used about an 1/8 teaspoon, use more or less as you wish). Cook the sauce, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened and reduced to about 1/3 cup, remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, cover and keep warm.
- To serve, fluff the cooked couscous with a fork, and toss it into the pan with the sauce. Add the cubed squash and chopped walnuts, stir to incorporate and reheat gently if required. Make a final check for seasoning and serve with a light dusting of freshly gated parmesan.
Macaroni and Cheese with Ham
I’ve been searching for some time for a homemade mac and cheese recipe with which to break Muppet of her addiction to a certain, well known, boxed mac and cheese mix comprised of a tasteless cheese powder and sad little pasta shells. All prior efforts have failed miserably with the dish either being “too cheesy”, “too dry”, “too crunchy on top”, or “too spicy” due to the incorporation of various seasonings.
The whole “too cheesy” thing makes no sense to me at all (I mean, can there really be such a thing?), but I have been sympathetic to her other critiques and carried forth in search of a suitable replacement to her favored bowl of cardboard shells and re-hydrated cheese goo. I am happy to report that finally, with the help of my very talented food-writer friend Melissa Pasanen (long-time correspondent for the Burlington Free Press, as well as a staff writer for Edward Behr’s incomparable “The Art of Eating”), and Chef Rick Gencarelli, I have found a mac and cheese recipe that will hopefully serve to banish all boxed versions from my house in the future.
Creamy Pesto Pasta with Shrimp
I am happy to report that the four basil plants that almost snuffed it before reaching their adolescence due to the horribly wet weather we had in the Spring, have recently turned into the most prolific producers in our garden. Twice over the past few weeks I have had to seriously prune them back before they collapsed under their own weight. Hallelujah!
While there are many creative ways to use basil in the kitchen, whether it be to brighten a sumptuous panzanella salad of freshly diced tomatoes, toasted cubes of peasant bread, and a drizzle of EVOO and balsamico, or a quick puree with cannelini beans and a little lemon juice for a crostini topping or crudite dip, there is no finer use for basil, in my humble opinion, than to use it in a homemade pesto. To me, pesto is a nearly perfect food. The sharpness of the raw garlic, the earthy warmth of the toasted pine nuts, the vibrant color and herbal aroma of the basil itself, and the salty chew of the fresh parmesan…..I could eat it by the bucket-full. Don’t laugh….I really could.
A recent commenter to the blog asked for a really easy meal to make on a weeknight with her kids, so when I reached for this dish myself last week, on a cool and rainy spring night, I decided that this would be a perfect recipe to pass along. This is hands-down my favorite pasta recipe, and is fast becoming that of my kids’ as well. It requires only a handful of ingredients, and can literally be tossed together in minutes. In fact, when we made this meal last week, we were rushing to get to a movie, and were able to prep, cook, eat, and clean-up after dinner in about 45 minutes (and that even included time to shoot the photos for this post).
Spaghetti Carbonara, loosely translated from Italian means “Coal Miner’s Pasta.” As legend has it, it was a favored dish of said Italian miners because they could easily carry the few ingredients required underground and cook them simply on a camp stove. I’ve even read that the liberal sprinkling of fresh ground black pepper to finish the dish is meant to evoke the coal dust that inevitably settled on each plate of the miners’ meal. The dish is rumored to have been imported to the states by GIs returning home from duty in WWII. It is said to have been a favorite meal prepared for our soldiers by recently liberated, and very grateful Italian families, who cooked with ingredients that they knew the GIs were homesick for, bacon and eggs.
Arthus, my WWII aficionado son, finally got drafted into kitchen slavery for this meal, and was so taken with my explanation of the history of the dish, that he promptly fell into character as a dutiful US serviceman for the duration.
“PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ARTHUS PADFOOT REPORTING FOR MESS DUTY, SIR!
“Ok…you with the weird name, I need you to prep our mise for the evening meal, are you game, soldier?
I’M PREPARED TO DO ANYTHING ASKED OF ME FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY SIR!
Excellent Padfoot, I need you to dice the pancetta, grate the cheese, whisk the eggs, and chop the garlic and parsley, pronto.”
WHAT, NO GRENADE TO THROW MYSELF ON SIR, YOU’RE KIDDING RIGHT? I WAS HOPING FOR A MISSION THAT WAS A LITTLE MORE HEROIC AND MANLY, YOU KNOW SOME REAL ACTION, SIR, NOT JUST THIS DICING AND GRATING SILLY STUFF!
We’ll if you really want to come face to face with the mayhem and carnage of war, then you COULD go clean your room, I mean, the place looks like central London after the blitzkrieg.
HA….VERY FUNNY SIR, YOU HAVE SUCH A GIFTED COMIC MIND!
AHHH…SO, LET’S SEE, THE BACON, EGGS, CHEESE, GARLIC AND GREEN STUFF….SIR, YES SIR! I’M HAPPY TO DO IT SIR!
Thank you PFC, carry-on.