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Creamy Pasta with Asparagus

Committee meeting working lunch, 4/19/12; Community training dinner and demonstration 4/23/12

Note: the longer this pasta sits, the clumpier it gets. But it's delicious at any time and temperature.

Adapted from Bon Appetit
Total time to make this recipe: only what it takes to boil the water, make the pasta, and stir. You can use whatever fresh seasonal vegetables are available in this recipe. Asparagus is great, but so are peas, green beans, zucchini, spinach, or anything else you have. Boiling times will vary for different vegetables, so you may need to add them to the pasta earlier or later. Zucchini and spinach can go in raw with the hot pasta.

  • Salt
  • 1 pound pasta, medium-sized shape like rotini, penne, or medium shells
  • 1 pound asparagus (or substitute another fresh, seasonal vegetable – see note above)
  • 5 oz cream cheese (or use ⅓-less-fat cream cheese [called neufchatel cheese] or goat cheese, if available)
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (you can substitute melted butter, if needed)
  • 1 lemon, zest (grated peel, yellow only – no white part, which is bitter) and 1 tablespoon juice
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil, dill, or tarragon
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground

Set a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus: snap off the bottoms of the stalks (they are tough, so just break off about 1-2 inches – it should snap naturally). Discard the bottoms, or save them for the next time you are making a chicken or vegetable stock. Chop the stalks into 1-2 inch pieces, about the same size as your pasta shape. If using another vegetable, cut it into bite-sized pieces.

When the water comes to a boil, add your pasta. Set a timer for 3 minutes less than the cooking time suggested on the package. While pasta cooks, prepare the sauce: in a large bowl, place the cream cheese, parmesan cheese, lemon zest and juice, chopped herb (basil, dill, or tarragon), and black pepper.

When timer goes off, add the chopped asparagus to the pasta and reset the timer for 2-3 minutes. Use a ladle or measuring cup to remove ½ cup of the pasta water, and add this hot pasta water to the sauce ingredients in the bowl. Whisk everything together to make as smooth a sauce as you can (some lumps are fine – the hot pasta will melt them).

When the pasta and the asparagus are tender (taste them to make sure), drain them together. Add the hot pasta and asparagus to the bowl with the sauce. Toss or stir to coat evenly. Taste, and add additional salt and pepper if needed.

Serves 6-8.

Sausage and Potato Soup

Most soups follow the same general cooking technique:

  1. Brown any meat and aromatic vegetables (usually onions, celery, carrots, and/or garlic) in oil
  2. Add liquid (chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, or water)
  3. Add slow-cooking vegetables (such as potatoes and other root vegetables) or beans
  4. Cook until the vegetables are tender
  5. In the last few minutes of cooking, add pasta, grains, or greens, and cook until just tender.

This sausage and potato soup is a basic one that is easy and tasty. Once you’re comfortable making it as written here, you can vary it to your liking by changing the components added at each of the steps listed above.                                                                                                                 

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable, canola, or olive oil
  • 8 oz summer sausage or fresh sausage, whatever kind you like
  • 1 onion, chopped small*
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped*
  • 6 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
  • 8 oz potatoes, cut into small bite-sized pieces*
  • 4 oz frozen or fresh greens, such as spinach, kale, or chard (optional)*
  • ½ cup dry alphabet pasta, orzo, macaroni, or other small pasta shape (or quinoa**, if available)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the sausage and cook until browned. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown. Add garlic and cook for one minute more.

Add the stock and potatoes. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are nearly tender, 8-15 minutes depending on the size and type of the potatoes.

If using frozen greens, add to soup (you don’t need to thaw them first) and wait until the soup returns to a simmer before adding the pasta or quinoa. If using fresh greens, add them at the same time as the pasta or quinoa. Cook until the pasta is tender (see package for cooking time). Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Serves 4.

*All of these can be grown here in Nebraska and stored (frozen, in the case of greens) for long periods.

** Quinoa is a small seed that’s cooked like a grain. It’s a very healthy complete protein, and it has a slightly nutty flavor. It may be available in large grocery stores.

Winter Minestrone Soup

Committee meeting working lunch, 3/8/12 – served with the easiest homemade whole wheat bread

winter minestrone soup, low on liquid after sitting and absorbing for quite a while

Minestrone is an Italian soup that is always adapted to include whatever is on hand. This version is simple and easy to make, and if you have a slow-cooker, it can cook all day while you’re out, or overnight. Soaking the beans requires some advance planning, but you can also use canned beans and cook the soup for less time. For more information on cooking beans, see the dry bean guide.

  • ½ lb dry beans, any variety or a mix (can substitute 1 can of beans – see notes in recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable, canola, or olive oil
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped*
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped*
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced*
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary (optional)**
  • 4 cups chicken stock or water
  • 1 can diced tomatoes***
  • 4 oz (1/4 box) dry pasta, any small shape
  • salt
  • black pepper

Soak the dry beans in lots of water (cover by at least 4 inches) for 8-12 hours. You can also quick-soak them: place dry beans in a pot with water to cover by 4 inches, bring to a boil for 1 minute, turn off heat, and allow to sit for 1 hour.

In a large soup pot (if you won’t be using a slow cooker) or a skillet, heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and carrots and cook on medium heat until the vegetables are just beginning to brown. Add the garlic (and rosemary, if using) and cook 1 minute more.

Stovetop instructions: Add the soaked beans, stock or water, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until beans are tender, 1-2 hours. (Note: if using canned beans, simmer only 15-20 minutes.) Add the pasta and cook for 10-15 minutes more, until pasta is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Slow cooker instructions: Transfer the cooked vegetables to the slow cooker. Add the soaked beans, stock or water, and tomatoes and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours, until beans are tender. (Note: if using canned beans, cook only 2-3 hours on low or 1-2 hours on high). Add the pasta and cook for 30 minutes more, until pasta is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Yield: 6 generous servings

*All of these can be grown here in Nebraska and stored fairly well.

**Fresh rosemary can be grown outdoors in the summer and indoors all year round. You can dry your own for later use.

***Summer tomatoes are simple to can for year-round use.

Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Committee meeting working lunch, 1/11/12

Pasta salads can incorporate any seasonal vegetables, and they don’t have to be drenched in mayonnaise – a little bit in a flavorful dressing goes a long way. This salad comes together very quickly once the prep work cutting and roasting the vegetables is done.

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes*
  • 1 small head cauliflower**
  • 1 small head broccoli (in the photo, there are kale stems rather than broccoli, as I had some frozen from my garden)**
  • 2 parsnips*
  • 4 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil, divided
  • Salt
  • 1 pound pasta, small shape
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced rosemary***
  • ½ tablespoon minced sage***
  • Black pepper

Preheat oven to 400º.

Cut each vegetable into ½” rough cubes and put into separate bowls. Add one teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt to each. Spread each vegetable on a separate baking sheet and roast until tender, 20-30 minutes. (Can be made in advance – refrigerate until ready to use.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta as directed, then drain and rinse with cold water.

While pasta is cooking, whisk together mayonnaise, mustard, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, cider vinegar, and herbs to make a dressing.

Stir together cooked pasta, roasted vegetables, and dressing. Add more salt and black pepper to taste.

Serves 10-12 as a side dish or meal component, or 6-8 as a main course

*Sweet potatoes and parsnips can be grown in Nebraska and stored into winter

**Broccoli and cauliflower can be grown here, then blanched and frozen for winter use. In this recipe, you can roast them directly from frozen.

***Herbs can be grown outside in the summer or in a pot indoors during the winter.