PASTA WITH CREMINI MUSHROOM RAGU

I could have added the denomination VEGAN to the title of this post, but was afraid to cause The Great Bewitching Exodus of 2021. So, yes, it is a vegan recipe but will please any omnivore around. Phil and I included. It is hearty, satisfying and with a depth of flavor that will surprise you. I started from a recipe published by America’s Test Kitchen, but I am a lot happier with my considerably modified version.

VEGAN MUSHROOM RAGU
(from The Bewitching Kitchen)

2 pounds cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms
2 large carrots, peeled
2 large stalks celery
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup texturized soy protein (I used this one)
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Reserve about 1 cup of cremini mushrooms whole. Working in batches, pulse the remaining cremini and shiitake mushrooms in food processor until pieces are about 1/2 inch in size. Transfer to a bowl. Pulse the carrots and celery in the food processor, add them to the bowl with the mushrooms. Add the can of tomatoes with the juices to the processor and run it until smooth. Reserve.

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add processed vegetables, season with salt and pepper. Mushrooms will release liquid, so keep cooking until it seems dry. Stir tomato paste, cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly. Add the wine and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, texturized soy protein, vegetable broth, soy sauce, and more salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp each). Simmer for 5 minutes, quarter the reserved cremini mushrooms and add to the sauce. Simmer everything together gently for about 10 minutes.

Adjust seasoning, and serve over cooked pasta of your choice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: You are probably not very thrilled about the texturized soy protein, as it is one exotic ingredient to buy, but I’ve made this recipe without it and the difference in texture is quite striking. I highly recommend you include it. If you want to omit it, add a little water to the sauce and simmer it longer. I also recommend that you get the brand I bought because it is apparently the best one out there.

It is tempting to compare it with Bolognese sauce, but I rather not go there. Let me just say you won’t be disappointed if you try this version, and it’s something that might come in handy if you want to entertain a person who is vegetarian or vegan. I’ve made it three times so far, and it will show up again at our table, maybe as a lasagna version.

ONE YEAR AGO: A Magical Marinade

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INCREDIBLY SIMPLE TIMES FOUR: MAY 2018

Time to showcase recipes that are so simple they hardly qualify as such.

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #1

CACIO E PEPE

Hard to believe I had never made this dish until now. It is such a classic, but for one reason or another I only had it in restaurants and not even that often. Guess what? After inaugurating it, I enjoyed it three more times over the following month. It is so simple and so delicious!  You must make it. I tried it with zoodles a couple of times, works wonders too. I was inspired by Geoffrey Zakarian in a recent Kitchen episode.

CACIO E PEPE

pasta of your choice
Kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground (coarse) pepper (or to taste)
grated Pecorino-Romano cheese to taste
drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Two genius touches: first, you will cook the pasta in a pan just large enough to hold it, with about 1 inch water from the bottom. Add a little salt to the water. Cook without closing the pan until al dente.

Second: toast the pepper in a small skillet until fragrant, just a minute or so.

The pasta will be cooked with just a little water left, a water full of starch from the pasta.  Turn off the heat, add the pepper and cheese. Stir well, adjust seasoning with salt.

Serve and enjoy!

to print the recipe, click here 

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #2

SCRAMBLED EGGS WITH RICOTTA, TURMERIC & ZA’TAR

Another non-recipe for you. This simple concoction was my lunch more often than I care to admit. I tend to have these “phases” in which I might enjoy the exact same recipe over and over and over, not getting tired of it. Amazing what a little ricotta does to add creaminess to a simple scrambled egg. Add a couple of crackers, and I am a happy camper. For those who eat breakfast, this is a must-try. In a way, it’s my breakfast too, I just happen to “break-my-fast” a lot later than most people…

Heat some oil or butter in a non-stick pan. Don’t let it heat too much, add 2 eggs, slightly beaten, immediately drop in the center about 1/4 cup ricotta cheese, season with salt, pepper, and 1/4 tsp of turmeric. Cook, stirring gently over low-heat to your liking. Sprinkle za’tar when it’s almost ready to serve. Enjoy with bread or crackers.

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #3

AIR-FRIED NEW POTATOES

Cut new potatoes in half. Add to a pan with a little cold, salted water. Bring to a boil, cook for about 8 minutes. Drain. Drizzle a little olive oil, salt, and Herbes de Provence. Place in the air-fryer, cook at 390 F (or as high as your machine will go) until crispy, 15 to 20 minutes maximum. Shake occasionally. The pan, not necessarily yourself, but depending on what’s playing I say go for it.

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #4

RICE WITH TURMERIC AND CARDAMON

We eat rice often, usually plain. But every once in a while it’s nice to guild the lily a bit. I love the color of turmeric and the flavor of cardamon. Together they make a simple bowl of rice shine. Literally.  Inspiration came from the newest book by Nigella Lawson, At My Table.

RICE WITH TURMERIC AND CARDAMON

1.5 cups of rice, rinsed and drained
2.5 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 to 1/4 tsp turmeric
3 cardamon pods, crushed

Add all ingredients to a pan. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat close tightly the lid.

Simmer for 20 minutes without opening the pan. Turn off the heat, open the lid, add a tea towel on the surface of the rice, close the lid again.

Let it rest for 10 to 30 minutes if you have the time, but it’s still nice if served right away.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

I hope you enjoyed these simple recipes. It’s nice to have a bunch of quick choices that you can make without even thinking too much. The scrambled egg, for instance, I don’t even measure anything. I sprinkle some turmeric, I add ricotta until I feel it’s going to be creamy enough, sometimes I add za’tar, sometimes Herbes de Provence, it’s never exactly the same twice in a row, but whatever you do it will be delicious.

New Potatoes: if you don’t have an air-fryer, you can still do the same on top of the stove or even roasting them in a super hot oven. The texture I get with the air-fryer is pretty unique, though, and allows that fried aura without too much fat. Love it.

ONE YEAR AGO: Tangential Quiche with Asparagus and Fennel

TWO YEARS AGO: Fakebouleh

THREE YEARS AGO: Yellow Squash Soup

FOUR YEARS AGO: Grilled Chicken with Tamarind and Coconut Glaze

FIVE YEARS AGO: Chicken-Apricot Skewers

SIX YEARS AGO:  Asparagus Quiche

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EIGHT YEARS AGO: Mellow Bakers: Corn Bread

 

 

 

ZUCCHISAGNA: A TWIST ON A CLASSIC

I don’t think there is such a thing as a person who doesn’t like lasagna. I may have already mentioned that the technician of the lab where I did my PhD in Brazil did not like chocolate nor french fries. Outrageous! She still loved lasagna, proving the point I just made. I hope you’ll let this stretch in Logic 101 slide… 😉 Anyway, I am a lover of this Italian classic, but it’s one of those dishes that can make you feel super full at the end of the meal, even if you exercise severe portion control. Layers of pasta with bechamel, meat sauce, usually a pound of cheese per square inch…. I never order it in restaurants, and confess to making it at home only once in a blue moon. Using thin slices of veggies to play the role of the pasta lightens things up quite a bit. You can use eggplant, butternut squash (Anne Burrell has a great take on this version, BTW), and of course, zucchini as I did here.  A couple of details are important to keep in mind, though. You must pre-cook the zucchini slices or you’ll run the risk of having a watery, unappetizing concoction in your hands. And use a light hand on the cheese.  The delicious meat sauce should be the center of  your attention. Vegetarians? This dish is not for you, sorry. Primal-afficionados? Grab your forks, and dig in!

Zucchisagna1ZUCCHINI RIBBON LASAGNA
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled plum tomatoes, with juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
12 ounces ground turkey, preferably dark meat
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
5 medium zucchini, trimmed
olive oil and lemon juice for brushing zucchini
1 + 1/2  cups full-fat ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Make the sauce: Pulse tomatoes with juice in a food processor until finely chopped. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook shallot and red-pepper flakes, seasoned lightly with salt, stirring occasionally, until shallot is tender. Add turkey; cook, breaking up any large pieces, until browned. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer until thick, about 20 minutes. Stir in oregano and 1 teaspoon of salt. Let cool.

Make the lasagna: heat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with the egg, season with salt and pepper. Reserve. Slice zucchini lengthwise into thin strips (about 1/8 inch thick) using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Brush each slice with a 1:1 mixture of olive oil and lemon juice, and cook on a griddle or grill pan for a few minutes on each side until the slices get some color. Blot on kitchen paper and let them cool to room temperature. Place 5 or 6 zucchini slices, overlapping slightly, in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Top with 1 cup sauce. Dot with ricotta. Repeat twice with zucchini, remaining sauce, and ricotta, alternating direction of zucchini at each layer. Finish with a final layer of zucchini, cover the dish with ricotta, sprinkle the Parmigiano on top.

Bake uncovered until lasagna bubbles and top is nicely brown, about 50 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

composite1

Comments: As I read the recipe from Martha Stewart’s site, a few things bothered me. First, the use of raw zucchini to assemble the lasagna.  In my opinion, that is asking for trouble. Second, the ingredient lists TWO medium zucchini for the full recipe. Unless their zucchini was treated with massive doses of auxins, two won’t be enough.  I used 4 medium zucchini, 50% more ricotta than called for, and my ingredients were enough to assemble a 7-inch square dish instead of an 8-inch.  Of course, some variation is expected, but overall I think the recipe as published in her site had some issues. My version worked great, this was a delicious meal, satisfying without that feeling of “I am going to explode if I don’t go for a walk” often associated with the real lasagna.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but… when you want something lighter, try this version. It won’t disappoint you at all…

served1

Dinner is served: Zucchisagna with Baby Greens in Lemony Dressing

ONE YEAR AGO: Ricotta Meatballs

TWO YEARS AGO: Farro Salad with Roasted Leeks

THREE YEARS AGO: It all started with a roof

FOUR YEARS AGO: Carrot and Sweet Potato Puree

FIVE YEARS AGO: Impromptu Pasta Dinner

SPIRALIZER FUN

In five years of blogging, I probably mentioned this before once or twice: I am not too wild about cooking fads, and usually avoid them.  For instance, that one from years ago, foams.  You could not go to a restaurant that considered itself slightly upscale without foams bubbling around your plate.  Then we have the more recent bacon-mania. Because 90% of humans adore bacon, all of a sudden bacon started popping up in every single culinary item.  Chocolate-covered bacon?  Yes, it is out there!  Bacon ice cream?  Why not? Well, if I have to explain it, I guess we are from different planets. And let’s not get me started on the fried egg topping everything lately. I guess this fad is still in its exponentially growing phase. Having said all that, I am heavily into the spiral cutter thing. And I insist, this is not a fad. It is a nice way to treat vegetables, easy to use, fast to prepare, and a ton of fun to eat.  Zucchini is by far my favorite target,  and I’ve shared one of the ways we enjoy it almost weekly, uncooked, bright and fresh. Strands of zucchini can get mushy very quickly when cooked, but now I think I hit the perfect method to deal with them.

ZucchiniPasta1
LEMONY ZUCCHINI NOODLES & WHOLE-WHEAT SPAGHETTI
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

Whole-wheat spaghetti (1/3 of your regular portion)
3 medium zucchini, ends removed, cut in a spiral cutter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced (substitute tomatoes, spinach, anything you feel like)
lemon juice and zest
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. As the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil, saute the shallot and red bell pepper until the shallots are translucent and with a little bit of color, and the red bell pepper starts to soften. Season lightly with salt, add the zest of the lemon on top of the warm mixture, cover the pan and let it rest while you finish dealing with the pasta.

Ten seconds before the end of cooking time, add the zucchini strands to the pot.  Time ten seconds and immediately drain it, reserving a little of the cooking water.  Return it to the hot, empty pot, add the sautéed shallots and red bell pepper, squeeze a little lemon juice,  toss it all gently, and adjust with pasta cooking water if necessary.   Taste for seasoning, adding ground black pepper if you like.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

One of the things I love about this type of recipe is that you can vary the amount of pasta in it according to your mood or goals.  In the recipe I shared today, zucchini was prominent, pasta played a secondary role.  The resulting meal felt light and bright. A few weeks ago, I went the opposite way, and made the zucchini stay in the background. At that time I added wilted kale and sun-dried tomatoes to the dish. It was slightly heavier, and quite appropriate for the sorry evenings ahead, when the temperature will fall below 90 F, and I will go through a few boxes of Kleenex to deal with it.

zucchinikalepasta

If you are over the fence about getting a spiralizer, jump to the right side, the side where I am ready to play with you. You will not regret it, especially if you have kids who are over the fence about eating their veggies.  They might profess zoodles – like this tasty version from Mike’s blog –  their favorite dish ever!

ONE YEAR AGO: Beer-Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak

TWO YEARS AGO:  Secret Recipe Club: Corn Chowda

THREE YEARS AGO: Page-A-Day Calendar (Pits and Chief 5 minutes of fame…)

FOUR YEARS AGO: Home Sweet Home (our beloved Pits in one of his last photos)

FIVE YEARS AGO: Marbled Rye

CRISPY CHICKPEA AND CAPER SPAGHETTI

Absolutely delicious and a cinch to put together, I dare say that even chickpea haters might appreciate these little creatures when presented this way.  This was my first time roasting capers, but it won’t be the last. Great boost of flavor for an ingredient that already has quite a strong personality.

Pasta with Roasted Chickpeas and Capers
CRISPY CHICKPEA AND CAPER SPAGHETTI
(slightly adapted from Real Simple)

3/4 pound spaghetti
1 can chickpeas (15 ounce)  rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup capers, drained
1/4 cup olive oil  (I probably used a little less)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
salt and black pepper
1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oven to 400° F.  Combine the chickpeas, panko, capers, oil, coriander, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing once, until crispy, 18 to 22 minutes.

While the chickpeas are roasting, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pan.

Add the chickpeas, cilantro, and lemon juice to the pasta and toss to combine.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

roasted

Comments:  What a great, simple recipe this was! I’ve roasted chickpeas before, but they always turned a little mushy. The addition of panko-style bread crumbs brought a very pleasant crunch to the mixture.  Roasted capers were another very pleasant surprise. I love their sharp, pungent taste in any type of recipe. Roasting changes that sharpness quite a bit, I would say it takes some of it away, but at the same time intensifies the pure caper flavor.  Am I making sense?  😉  Make this pasta and see what you think.

served111Dinner is served! 
Grilled lemony chicken breasts and snow peas completed our meal…

ONE YEAR AGO: Leaving on a jet plane

TWO YEARS AGO: Crispy Herb-Crusted Halibut

THREE YEARS AGO: Almond Butter Cake

FOUR YEARS AGO: Bonjour!