Entries tagged with “Pasta”.


On January 2, 2010, I made a colossal mistake. My reason paralyzed by the overwhelming desire to install a cookbook shelf in my kitchen, I ventured out to the Pottery Barn in Pasadena. Inside, I found myself surrounded by a scene that bore marked resemblance to my idea of hell. Noisy, crowded, lots of wicker, people wandering about willy nilly as though the world ended at their elbows. It was a mad house. The only thing missing was a continuous loop of Sandra Lee screeching DELICIOUS! while making things out of cheez whiz.

I made it out alive, shelf in hand, steadfastly recommitted to my disdain for shopping. I like buying stuff, just not the process of actually going and doing it. As a consequence I tend to stick with things that I already know work. Cosmetics are the sole exception to this rule, as I am a complete sucker for new and different products (if it promises to airbrush my skin, I’m a goner). My makeup collection has, in fact, been accused of having its own luggage. I can neither confirm nor deny the truth of that statement, though I can wholeheartedly endorse the concept of a well-made train case.


Eyeshadow aside, I am a product loyalist. My favorite work pants? I have three, identical pairs. The same goes for sweaters, t-shirts, hoodies, blouses, etc. If it fits, I’ll buy several. Likewise with food staples. My tenacity for buying bulk multiples of my trusty favorites is dampened only by the storage failings of our house (note to future home buyers: there is no such thing as too much storage, there is no such thing as too much storage, there is no such…eh, you’ll figure it out someday).

One of my very favorite protein staples is turkey Italian sausage. I try to keep at least one package each of sweet and hot varieties in our fridge or freezer at all times. Lean and full of flavor, I get a lot of bang for my caloric buck out of a link or two. They bring a tempered saltiness to dishes without overpowering them like pork sausage sometimes does. Mostly, though, I adore the satisfying richness of their lean fat content; just enough to sate the mind and belly, but nothing more.


Because I keep turkey Italian sausage more readily on hand than I do pancetta or bacon, I swap them when it makes sense. When I read the following recipe, which calls for pancetta, I had a hunch that my turkey sausages would fill in handsomely. And they did. Thankfully, I have more in the freezer.

What are your favorite food staples?

(Keep reading Rotini with Butternut Squash and Italian Sausage…)


I learned to arm wrestle really, really well working at the Olive Garden.  It had almost nothing to do with being a hostess there, but the arm wrestling champion of Butte, Montana taught me herself.  Her name was Mary, and she was a great teacher.

The key to winning at arm wrestling, according to Mary, is two-fold.  Getting the knot of forearms, hands, and elbows into a configuration that allows you to pull with your bicep is of paramount importance.  Getting there quickly, to the abject shock of your opponent, is equally critical.  Done correctly, you’ll leave them painfully mumbling in your dust as you swagger away, heady with the pride of your win.  Though the expression is woefully time-worn, it really is all in the wrist.

For two summers and a winter break in college, I was part of the front of the house “A team” at the Olive Garden in Billings.  I had applied for work at several restaurants in town, and the Olive Garden was one of my last stops because it was the furthest strip mall from my house.  It shared a parking lot with Red Lobster, where I failed the 300-question personality test prior to my interview.  By the time I received a Dear Bria letter informing me that my immediate future did not include reciting pithy witticisms about a menu filled with shellfish, it was the OG or nothing.


My arm wrestling lesson came around the same time gnocchi were added to the menu, during my second summer. New additions to the menu meant team meetings at the restaurant on Saturday mornings, where we put the “know your food” OG principal into practice (the other four principals being hot food hot, cold food cold, money to the bank, and clean restrooms).  I don’t remember anything else from the tasting that day, nor do I really remember whether or not the gnocchi were any good.  I can only recall the moment that marked what would prove to be a weeks-long process in fighting about the pronunciation of “gnocchi.”  It was not, as I emphatically argued, acceptable to refer to it as “nookie.”

It’s a good thing none of us are 19 for more than, say, a year.  It’s just so difficult to know Everything and struggle to communicate it to the rest of the world given a paltry allotment of only 24 hours per day.  I believe Mary was neutral on the pronunciation debate, but favored some sort of object lesson that would shut me up for the sake of keeping the peace.   Somewhere between hearing her credentials and that first, brutal loss, I managed to forget about the pedantry of the matter.

Today, I don’t care if you call them gnocchi, nookie, or Wondrous Pillows of Carbtastic Splendor.  Just make them, and soon.

The ricotta quantity is stated in ounces, rather than cups.  If you buy your ricotta, it should make a difference to you as 15 to 16 oz is a standard size.  If you made whole-milk ricotta with me and are staring at a giant wad of cheese, wondering how much to use, get thee to the store and pick up a food scale.  It’s an excellent way to maintain consistency and accuracy in the kitchen.  Fundamental recipes are ratios based on weight, not volume, and you will open many doors for yourself with the ability to scale recipes up or down based on weight.  Get one.

Regarding the bread crumbs: I cheat.  If you happen to have a few slices of white sandwich bread laying around, remove the crusts and blitz them in a food processor.  Toast the resulting crumbs in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes until they are golden and use them here.  Despite my bread-making proclivities, honey-oat whole wheat bread is the only kind we (almost) always have readily on hand.  It doesn’t make for very good bread crumbs, so I cheat with the kind in the little cardboard can.

(Keep reading Ricotta Gnocchi…)


Today I share with you one of my all-time favorite dishes.  It kept me warm and happy on many a cold winter night in Ann Arbor, yet still tastes good in the laughable gesture Los Angeles makes towards colder weather.  Oh hell, it’s great in summer months, too.  The earthy gravitas of the beans blends so well with the spirited mirth of the basil amidst the tomatoes’ warm embrace.  I’ve given you two variations here, one with meat and one with vegetables.  Though different, the flavors of these two anchors complement the rest of the dish handsomely and with gusto. The method is essentially the same for both.  I recommend using turkey Italian sausage rather than pork to keep it on the lighter side.  If you go the vegetable route and can’t find anything other than gargantuan eggplants, use half of a big one.


I can’t go any further into a recipe about eggplant without telling you how I was afraid of eggplant when I was little.  Petrified. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the taste; I’m not even sure I ate enough to have an opinion either way.  I was actually scared, in the don’t-turn-your-back-on-this-horrid-threat way.  And it was Brian Petersen’s fault.  He was a few years older than me, and our families attended the same church.  He was the charming lad who told me the Easter bunny was really my parents (this, obviously, during my pre-Jew days).  You’ve met this kid, or at least someone like him.  One afternoon, he told me in no uncertain terms to watch out for eggplant, because they were what happened to bald men’s heads after death.  If you look at an eggplant and pretend you are 4 years old, you can see that this is just credible enough to warrant careful consideration. I don’t remember when I realized it wasn’t true, but it wasn’t before a piece of eggplant parmesan fell on my knee and PANIC ENSUED.  It was like having a giant bee on my shoulder.  I wanted to get it off as quickly as possible, but I didn’t want to anger it with any sudden moves.  I came unglued quickly and quietly until I couldn’t keep it in any longer and had the mother of all meltdowns.  If I was able to explain any part of the problem through my hysterics, I’m sure it didn’t clarify anything about what was going on.  It was a tantrum co-directed by Tarantino and Dali.  Thankfully, eggplant and I have since reconciled.


The yield for this recipe isn’t a typo - it really makes about 10 servings.  It may surprise you to know that I fell in love with this recipe when I was single and living alone.  Why?  It’s fast and freezes beautifully.  I recommend getting your hands on a pile of 1-2 serving-size storage containers (I like Gladware, but go with what moves you) and portioning it out among them.  This way you can take one or two out of the freezer when you need them and keep the rest in icy hibernation until you’re ready for pasta again.


Because of the yield, you need a large skillet and a large mixing bowl to pull this off.  Any skillet under 14″ will make you break out in hives as you try to mix it all together at the end without spilling the whole mess on your stove.  If you can’t swing a big skillet, a large saucepan will also work - just make sure it has at least a 3-quart capacity.
(Keep reading Hearty Garden Pasta…)


Pasta is one of my absolute favorite foods. It can support an incredible variety of supporting actors, from the simple (butter and cheese) to the elegant (vodka sauce) to the bizarre (tomato juice – really, my step-sisters love it this way). It’s easy to store and is generally pretty cheap.

But why fresh pasta? If you don’t already know, I think any explanation I could give you would be woefully inadequate. Imagine trying to explain to someone why cold water is refreshing or that the tops of babies’ heads smell good. If you love fresh pasta and have shied away from making your own because you think you can’t, give it a go. It’s not an especially quick process, although I have successfully pulled this off on a weeknight when I came home on the daylight side of 7pm.

Like so many things in life, there are two ways to do this: the easy way, and the hard way. The hard way is not impossible by any means (and I have successfully tackled it many times), it’s just a little messier and requires more elbow grease than the easy way. However, in terms of tools, the easy way requires a food processor and the hard way requires a flat working surface you don’t mind covering with flour.

I should point out that you also need attire you don’t mind covering with flour. Don’t try to roll fresh pasta in front of your dinner guests if you don’t want them to see you turn into a freshly flocked version of yourself. There are some menus you can easily throw together in dressy duds; this ain’t it.

I use a pasta roller to get the sheets nice and flat, but I typically cut them into tagliatelle by hand with a pizza cutter rather than use the cutting attachment. One of these days, I’ll give fettuccine another shot. For now, the wide, flat ribbons of tagliatelle are perfect. Wider pasta can stand up to a very hefty sauce. That is not to say that there is anything remotely weak sauce about cappellini, spaghetti, or the like, but something wide like tagliatelle is really your ticket if you make, say, a hearty ragout.

You will note that I let the dough rest for 2 hours. You can speed it up, if you wish, but some rest is critical – at least 20 minutes. This lets the flour form gluten, which will make your dough elastic and lovely instead of sticky and crappy. If you make your pasta on the weekend, as I typically do, give it your best love and kisses and let it have its full nap. If you want to speed the play for weeknight carbtasticness, go with a 20 minute rest (during which time you can make a nice, quick sauce!).

A note on ingredients: I use all-purpose flour for my pasta. Specifically, I use King Arthur All-Purpose – comes in a red and white bag. After years of playing hit and miss with many flour brands, I have come to love King Arthur. I use their bread flour, wheat flour, and all-purpose flour (often referred to here as “AP flour”). Yes, you can do lovely things with fancier flours, particularly semolina. I just haven’t gotten around to trying. When I do, I will keep you updated. In the meantime, I like this recipe as I always have the components on hand. AP flour? Check. Eggs? Check. You can have a spectacularly bare fridge and still knock your own socks off with the simplest of ingredients. Try it.