Category Archives: Pasta

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Some days dinner should be simple, like a sandwich or something. That is what I was hoping for last night but I had some fresh local zucchini beauties I needed to use up and there was a pack of chicken thighs already defrosted in the fridge. Sigh… I was not in the mood… Mood or not, I really had to find my mojo and get cooking. What to do, what to do??? Too lazy to browse through my collection of recipes saved everywhere: online, on paper, bookmarked, in magazines, in e-mails… Too tired to want to try something totally new… I also wanted to cook something that wouldn’t radically bust the calorie count; I didn’t want to ruin my “9km walking dowtown” day. Soooo, I opted for familiar with what I had on hand: onions, zucchinis, garlic, tomatoes, sweet peppers and parmesan. A never fail pairing with chicken. The combo worked and by the time I had my ingredients sorted out, I found my second wind. It smelled divine in the house and we couldn’t wait to dig in.  I served myself just a little wee bit of pasta but the King, who has been blessed with a “piss me off” good metabolism, piled it on his plate with reckless abandon (his plate in the picture). I drooled with envy over his copious serving and cursed the gods of curvy bodies… He gobbled it up with a guilt-free conscience,  adding a few slices of über fresh sourdough bread from Bread and Sons, generously slathered with a thick coating of  Riviera Salted Butter (my new heart throb). Lucky man… Not fair… He had seconds… I went to water my plants lol!

Ok, enough with the pity party!! I could have ended up with a hard boiled egg and a sliced tomato… Instead, I got to enjoy a respectable serving of this really yummy and healthy meal! I hope this recipe inspires you: the instructions may seem long but I added a lot of details to help those who are really new in the kitchen. Don’t be intimidated, this meal is super easy to make…

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Because nothing evokes the Med life better than tomatoes, zucchinis and garlic simmering together…

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What you need:

  • 5 good size zucchinis, diced in big chunks
  • 1 generous tbsp olive oil
  • pepper
  • 6-8 boneless and skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch or flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red, yellow or orange sweet pepper, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2tsp oregano
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • 1 big tomato, diced
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • pasta or rice, enough for 4 servings (optiona)
  • grated parmesan

How to make it: 

I roasted the zucchinis first while I prepped the rest. It does cut some of the cooking time a bit plus add just that umph of flavour. I was able to cook everything else while the zucchinis were taking on a nice roasted flavour. I like to crank my oven up to 450F on convect roast to get a good char going on… For more ideas on how to maximize the use of your oven, I invite you to read an older post dedicated to this subject. You can skip this step and add the zucchinis with the onions and peppers at step 6.

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set grill rack to the upper middle position
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Toss the zucchinis with olive oil and pepper. Spread even,y on baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes. The zucchinis will be ready when they start to have a nice brown outer edge
  3. Mix the cornstarch with 1 tsp salt and some coarse ground pepper. Add to the chicken and coat well, set aside
  4. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in large and deep skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat; add the chicken, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 8 minutes on each side. You want to achieve a nice golden crust and cook the inside without over cooking.
  5. Meanwhile, chop the onions, sweet peppers, garlic and tomatoes. Gather the remaining ingredients. Set your water to boil if you are cooking pasta or get started on the rice
  6. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Add the onions and peppers to the pan. You shouldn’t need any additional oil. Sauté until the vegetables start to caramelize then add the garlic and oregano. Toss a round a little until the garlic starts to soften without browning. If using, add the white wine and cook down until nearly all evaporated, 3-5 minutes. If you are not using wine, skip to the next step
  7. Check on the zucchinis… If they have a nice brown colour and have softened, they are ready to pull out of the oven
  8. To the skillet, once the wine has reduced, add the fresh & canned tomatoes and the  tomato paste. Stir to mix well.
  9. Add the zucchinis, stir and taste for seasoning. I added 1tsp of salt and some black pepper
  10. Nestle the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables without burying completely in the sauce. Bring to a gently bubbling simmer, cover and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes
  11. While the chicken is simmering, cook the pasta or rice (optional)

Serve with a generous shower of freshly grated Parmesan although asagio, and romano would be honourable substitutes and fresh mozza, crumbled feta or goat cheese would easily enhance as well.  Everyone is happy 🙂

Side note: if in Ottawa, you must visit Bread and Sons on Bank Street, it is worth discovering!  I am not receiving compensation from these businesses, just sharing my appreciation for what they offer.

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Reconnecting with Some Old Roots: Roasted Vegetable, Walnut and Cheese Rotini

As the price of fresh and out of season produce continues to soar here in Ottawa, I have been trying to be very creative cooking with good old roots. As much as I love our locally harvested root vegetables, I must admit that come this time of year, I crave (and often give in) to the tender greens that are shipped to us from faraway lands. However, with our poor Canadian dollar getting such a beating these days, it is really difficult to justify the cost of certain “luxury” vegetables. Especially those shipped to us from the United States. I still manage to sneak in zucchinis, cucumbers, celery and cherry tomatoes now and then but for the most part, roots and winter squash are the main plant contributions to our meals.

This pasta toss was a creative way to bring a breath of fresh air to the table while utilizing a nice variety of root vegetables. Like most pasta dishes, this one is easy to make. The toasted walnuts added a nice crunch to the dish. My King and my younger Prince are known carnivores yet they each enjoyed seconds of this dish. Knowing my men, when they pass on seconds, I know the meal was not a huge hit and I should simply forget the recipe ever existed. Reaching for a second helping definitely spells success in the «tasty» department!

This is a great way to clean out the fridge: I gathered a bunch of roots that were in the crisper, trying to use up what I had on hand. My mix of the moment consisted of squash, sweet potatoes, purple & yellow carrots, sunchokes and a purple radish like vegetable (an unfamiliar root that came with my farmer’s basket delivery). I also had about 5-6 cauliflower florets (I know, such luxury!!!). I could have added parsnips, turnips and beets as well. Bottom line is to use what you have on hand. As long as you can gather 8 cups of cubed vegetables, you are good to go. The recipe calls for toasted walnuts which can be replaced by your favourite nut or you can omit all together. That is the fun part of a recipe like this: what matters is the general idea, the rest is left to creativity!

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Roasted Vegetable, Walnut and Cheese Rotini

What you need:

  • 1 lb. rotini – any pasta will do (450-500g)
  • 8 cups assorted root vegetables, peeled and cut into cubes
  • ¼ cup oil*
  • 1 tsp each salt and sugar
  • A generous sprinkling of pepper
  • 1 package Boursin™ cheese* (approximately 1 cup)
  • 1 cup chopped or crumbled feta
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 to 1½ cup reserved pasta water
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper as needed

*oil: you may notice in the pictures the orange hue of the oil I used. It is organic cold extracted canola oil. I love to roast with this oil because the vegetables turn a beautiful shade of gold and it also has a light nutty taste. Use whatever neutral tasting oil you have on hand. Good choices are grape seed oil, avocado oil and sunflower oil

*Boursin™ cheese: it may not be available in your area. Boursin™ is a soft and creamy herb and garlic fresh cheese. You can substitute with any herb and garlic soft cheese or even ricotta. If using ricotta, I recommend adding 1-2 minced garlic cloves to the cheese.

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How to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F
  2. Peel and cut hardy vegetables in cubes. Aim to gather 8 cups of cut vegetables
  3. Toss with oil, salt, sugar & pepper and spread onto large baking sheetimage
  4. Roast in oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until the vegetables start to turn deep brown without burning. Remove from oven and set asideimage
  5. While the vegetables are roasting, set a large pot of salted water to boil. Then chop feta cheese, chop parsley and grate the parmesan cheese. Set these aside
  6. Spread walnuts on another baking sheet and add to the oven. The walnuts will take no time at all to toast because the oven is already set to such a high temperature. Maybe 5 minutes or so. Check the walnuts frequently: burnt walnuts taste very bitter. Once the walnuts start to turn golden brown, from the oven. Crumble or coarsely chop once cool enough to handle
  7. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Once the pasta is cooked,  reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid before draining. Set aside then drain pasta well.
  8. Return the empty pot to the stove and turn heat off. Add the Boursin™ and 1 cup of the reserved water. Blend until the cheese has melted together with the water into a sauce. It will be thinner than you expect. Return the drained pasta to the pot, stir well to coat. Add extra water as needed. I used an additional half a cup of water: I found 1 cup was quickly absorbed and the pasta was a bit dry.
  9. Toss the vegetables, feta, walnuts and parmesan with the pasta, reserving a little of each ingredient to garnish. Transfer the pasta into a large serving bowl. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Add the reserved garnish. Sprinkle with parsley and a few more sprinkle so parmesan.

This dish is delicious piping hot and is equally delicious served cold, as leftovers for lunch for instance.image

Judy’s Gift – Asparagus and Feta Pasta Salad

Being on vacation this week is blissful. Being on vacation this week without any plans at all is pretty sweet. Being on vacation this week with ample time to write and add to my blog is heaven! It is extremely rejuvenating to simply breath… To wake up with the sun, grab a coffee, read stuff I never take the time to read, in my PJs until late in the morning, now this is what I call a real vacation from life! I can even take the time to write without guilt: no chores really, no appointments, no meetings. I am hanging up my everyday life on the line to dry for a moment and doing the little fun things that never seem to fit in the agenda of that everyday life.

It’s a beautiful summer day here today in Canada’s National Capital. I will soon shut down my computer to go for a long walk and soak it all in, maybe even grab a little lunch. If the energy stays high, once I return from my promenade on the market and around Parliament Hill, I may take my bicycle for a ride along the Rideau Canal. It is that type of day: blue skies, warm sun, not too hot, not too cool, lovely breeze and zero humidity. Niiiiiiice! But before I go out and play tourist in my own hometown, I am diving into my blog sharing another little delicious morsel of life in my kitchen. Because I have the time!!!! Yay!

So I decided I would share a gift from Judy. Judy is my King’s cousin. A very lovely person I am happy to count as family… Judy is also an amazing cook. If you tell her, she will brush off her talent with genuine humility, stating that she is simply passionate about cooking. She is more than simply passionate: she is one of that «breed» of home cooks that «gets it». When we get together (sadly not as often as we should), we can talk hours on end about food, about how this ingredient works well paired with that ingredient, about this new technique, this perfectly balanced soup… And of course,  when we taste something the other has done that is purely genius, we share recipes. Like the King, Judy’s heritage is East European and she often dips into her knowledge of Old World cooking, concocting recipes intertwined with history, family as well New World living. A bit of modern mixed in with the old! I call it generational gastronomy: the legacy of mothers teaching their daughters the culinary secrets their own mothers had parted with, each one adapting the recipes slightly to suit their own needs, taste and ingredient availability. This may sound rather gender biased but the truth of the matter is that more often than none, generational cooking and family heirloom recipes are kept alive mostly by the women of a family… And so because of Judy’s extreme talent and knowledge in the kitchen, her secret stash of prized family recipes, her passion for all food related topics, I truly cherish the recipes so generously handed to me as true gifts!

Years ago, we had a family gathering potluck style and Judy brought along this amazing pasta salad. I fell head over heels in love with that salad. Moonstruck! Later on, this salad became a very popular menu item in my restaurant. I even landed a spot on a televised cooking competition with that recipe! Judy will tell you that the following recipe I am about to share is not exactly her original recipe because of course, I have tweaked it to make it my own. That is the nature of those who have a love affair with cooking: to get inspired by recipes and to freely adapt on a whim. However, there are very few variations to the original here: Judy’s ultimate salad was finished with thin slices of prosciutto and, if my memory serves me right, she used toasted pine nuts  instead of almonds. I removed the prosciutto from my recipe simply because the lemon’s acidity  altered the colour and texture of the ham rather quickly: to avoid this, when I do add  prosciutto to my salad, I add it at the last minute because it simply pairs sooooo well with the rest of the ingredients. Like with any recipe, to ad lib is the most fun: feta can be swapped for any cheese that can withstand being tossed around with vinaigrette. Asparagus can take the side road when not in season and be replaced with courgettes, green beans, sweet peas, in fact, any vegetable that enjoys the company of lemon juice and salty cheese! It is a simple and fresh alternative to the good old macaroni salad, perfect for a family BBQ, a picnic and can even become the main of a simple dinner when the outside temperature makes any cook shy away from working over a hot stove for any longer time than needed. . As a matter of fact, all ingredients can be prepared and tossed together ahead of time , adding the vinaigrette just before it is time to serve. Because it does not contain mayonnaise, it will tolerate picnic conditions quite well. Although the pasta will absorb a fair bit of the dressing after a while, it still keeps pretty good when refrigerated overnight becoming a great easy “grab and go” lunch on the next day.

I hope you enjoy Judy’s gift to me which I now pay forward to you!

Asparagus and Feta Pasta Salad

What you need

1 bunch (about 1lb/450g) asparagus trimmed and cut in 1 inch length
¾ cup slivered almonds, toasted
¾ cup crumbled feta
2 tbsp finely chopped green onions
1 lb (450g) pasta cooked al dente. I like to use farfalle because they hold their shape really well and the dressing lodges itself in the crinkled centers. fusilli, orchiette or rotini would be a great alternative
½ cup fresh chopped parsley

Vinaigrette

The zest and juice of one lemon, about ½ cup (125ml)
1 tbsp grainy mustard
1 cup (250ml) olive oil
1 tsp salt
Salt and pepper to taste

How to make it

  • Whisk together lemon zest & juice, mustard and salt and pepper. Add oil and shake well. Set aside
  • Set a large pot of water over stovetop and bring to a boil. Add 2 tsp of salt.
  • Cook pasta until al dente. Do not over cook as pasta: it will become soggy when the vinaigrette is added ahead of time if the pasta is overcooked
  • Add the asparagus to the pasta for the last few minutes of the recommended pasta cooking time. Again, do not overcook. About 3-5 minutes will do: 3 minutes for thin asparagus and 5 minutes for asparagus with very thick stalks. Check often to ensure asparagus are not overcooked. Immediately rinse and submerge pasta and asparagus in cold water. Let cool thoroughly and drain. If you are not comfortable gaging the asparagus cooking time by adding them to the pasta water, cook them separately. As per usual, I like to reduce the clean up time in the kitchen and this one pot cooking option works great for me.
  • In large bowl, toss asparagus, pasta, feta and green onions, using your fingers to toss well. Add enough vinaigrette to cover the salad. Adjust salt and pepper.
  • Toss in the toasted almonds and parsley and mix everything well
  • Optional last minutes toppers: fresh or crisp prosciutto, crisp bacon bits, shave parmesan flakes…

Time to unwrap the gift and enjoy!

When Spain Meets Italy in Canada – Tomato, Chorizo & Saffron Fettucine

I love easy toss pastas on weeknights! This particular Italian/Spanish fusion earned two thumbs up from the king and the prince in my household. I have two princes but only one was home for dinner last night. It is great to have a well stocked spice cupboard as spices easily transform flavour profiles all the while using basic ingredients. Chorizo, smoked paprika and saffron permeated Spanish fragrance in this otherwise very rustic italian inspired dish. Cherry tomatoes add a splash of fresh and vibrant summer kick, even as winter continues on here in the Great White North.

Chorizo, Smoked Paprika and Saffron Fettucine

Ingredients

1tbsp olive oil

1 Chorizo sausage, thinly sliced

1 onion, sliced

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 small baskets fresh cherry or grape tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 pinch saffron, soaked in 2 tbsp warm water

1/2 cup white wine

1 cup marinara sauce (passata or tomato sauce would work as well)

375g fettucine or tagliatelle

1 cup reserved pasta cooking water

Directions

  • In large sauté pan, heat oil on med-high. Add Chorizo and cook until slightly golden
  • Add onions and cook until the onions soften abd also start to take on a nice golden colour, about 5-8 minutes
  • Reduce heat to medium. Add paprika and stir well to coat, cooking an additional minute to release all the flavour
  • Add the tomatoes and cook stirring constantly until they start to swell and the skin pops open. Using the back of a woden spoon, smash the tomatoes open. Cook a bit more to reduce some of the liquid, maybe 5 minutes or so
  • Add the white wine and continue cooking until it has reduced by about half. Add the saffron with the water, the marinara sauce and the garlic. Bring to a boil then simmer until it starts to thicken slightly.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper if needed
  • Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions to al dente. Don’t forget to salt your water before cooking the pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, reserve one cup of the starchy cooking water.
  • Drain the pasta and immediately return to the pot. Add the sauce and loosen to tatse with the reserved pasta water.
  • Serve piping hot and enjoy!
  • Of course you can add your favourite grated cheese but we felt this pasta sauce didn’t need anything more

 

 

Does the world need another bolognese sauce recipe?

Yes it does! Yes it does! Once you read the way this rich and luscious “spaghetti sauce” comes together, you will understand it is not your average run of the mill bolognese sauce.

Last weekend, I finally tackled my obscene pile of recipes… I don’t think there are enough meals left in my life to try them all but I still keep on hoarding recipes (as if I didn’t have an impressive library yet). To be completely honest, my motivation for this clean-up had nothing to do with organization: I was actually trying to locate a few “heirloom” recipes from the “Mothers” of my family that had gone missing in action. Eureka!!! I was thrilled to finally dig out a few priceless hand written jewels of our family’s cooking heritage. Phewee, what a relief: they have now been secured properly in my little recipe “black book”, ready to eventually be typed and stored in my computer. One of the little gems I dug out is my mom’s most flavourful bolognese sauce which she makes to create her Roman Lasagna. I think this sauce is good enough for any pasta, not just lasagna, and this evening, it will be served piping hot over tiny spaghettini. My mom is 100% Quebecoise, but with an impressive classic French culinary background; not one bit of Italian heritage there… So maybe I should rename this sauce “Meat sauce à la Québécoise” before a real Italian mama screams bloody murder at this imposter!!! Well, wether it is truly a Roman style recipe or simply another imitation, if you were to walk in my house right now, you would just simply want to dig right in: it smells divine in here!!!

My mom’s “Roman” bolognese:

The sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1 large can chopped tomatoes
1 litre (4 cups) of your favourite marinara sauce, homemade or jarred*
1 tsp each dry basil and oregano
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
* do not use a sweet jarred pasta sauce, the results won’t be as good

In a large pot, heat oil and sweat the onions until tender. Add garlic and stir an additional minute or two. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes.

The meat preparation
While the sauce is simmering, gather the following ingredients in a large bowl:
1lb each ground beef and ground pork ( ground veal can replace the beef)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (or parsley)
1tsp dry oregano or 1 tbsp fresh
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Once the sauce has simmered for 15 minutes, add the meat preparation and stir to blend well. Let simmer uncovered for 40 minutes, stirring regularly. Adjust seasonings. I like to add a good handful of freshly chopped basil.

Delish…

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Monday Night Pasta Inspiration!

Roasted Squash Pasta 1

As I got home from work yesterday, panic set in! I had been away all weekend and still had a bunch of vegetables left from last week’s basket delivery. If I didn’t shake the day’s exhaustion off and started cooking, these would spoil for sure. I was not about to let that happen!!! My weekly delivery of local and fresh veggies directly from the farmer sometimes interferes with life… Hmmm, wait a second, let me rephrase this: LIFE sometimes interferes with the godsend goodness from my local farmer. So I opted to make a pretty decent cream of Romanesco with the 2 large heads of that lovely vegetable: that was getting rid of the leeks, the Romanesco and some organic sour cream I had in the fridge. But I still had a few veggies in the fridge that didn’t really seem to work together. So I grabbed a coffee and watched Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals trying to mentally find some inspiration for squash and spinach. As much as I love the energy that Jamie puts out (some of his simple recipes look absolutely fabulous), it irks me to no end that he sets EVERYONE up for failure with the «not realistic» 15 minute meals… Sure, if your ingredients are all out, clean and ready to chop… If you have some stashed away minion that will clean up the mess… If you have Samurai chopping skills that let you whiz thru the veggies like a pro… Well, maybe then could one accomplish a full dinner in 15 minutes, commercials included!!! I am digressing here but I was still trying to find the inspiration necessary to create my own mess in the kitchen and get a decent meal on the table. It would not happen in 15 minutes, I needed to accept that. And I needed to use up what I had without spending several hours leafing through my indecent collection of recipes, scattered through books, magazines, computer files and mobile Apps.

So I scanned the fridge and pantry: whole wheat spaghetti, perfect! Pasta is always a great vehicle to a weird concoction of some sort and the boys love pasta. Hazelnuts: I could use that for a neat twist on things (bonus, mine were already toasted). Oh look, a half a tube of goat cheese in the deli drawer! Hmmm, that would work… I also had a squash I had never seen before, courtesy of my super-duper local farmer who loves everything heirloom and organic. I also had some fresh spinach, awesome. Sadly, my lovely fresh sage had gone brown which is too bad because I think in the end, adding fresh sage would have elevated the flavour profile. So I was now on a mission and the recipe was starting to take shape in my head. Now this was a complete ad-lib meal and I did not jot down quantities as such but I can sort of work the numbers closely enough for those of you who need exact measurements. In the end, the comment my husband made was: «Wow, this pasta is really awesome»! Need I say more???

Roasted Squash, Hazelnut and Goat Cheese Spaghetti

1 box of whole wheat spaghetti

Olive oil or avocado oil

1 squash, any kind, roughly the size of an acorn squash cut in slices with skin left on

1 small tube or half a large tube of creamy goat cheese, crumbled

1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

1 bunch of spinach roughly chopped

2-3 leaves of fresh sage, minced (optional)

Salt and Pepper

 

  • Pre-heat oven to convection roast at 450°F
  • Spread squash on cookie sheet, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with S&P. Massage the oil all over the squash. Set to roast for about 40 minutes, flipping once. The squash is ready when the outside starts to take on a golden hue and the inside is tender. (I opted to prepared my soup while the squash was roasting)
  • Once the squash is done, let cool slightly, remove skin and cut up in large chunks. You can do this ahead of time and save until you are ready to make the pasta.
  • Cook the spaghetti until al dente. Throw in your spinach in the last 30 seconds of cooking time. Important: before draining, reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Drain spinach in spaghetti in colander and set aside
  • Return pot to stove on medium heat. Add ¾ of the reserved pasta water and half of the goat cheese. Cook until the cheese starts dissolving into the water. Return the pasta & spinach to the pot and toss well to coat. Add the remainder of the goat cheese, a good drizzle of olive oil and sage if using. Adjust seasoning to taste. Saving a handful of roasted squash and hazelnuts for the garnish, toss them in the pasta and gently fold in. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the reserved squash and nuts
  • Serve immediately!

Roasted Squash Spaghetti