Tag Archives: pasta

Accidental Vegetarian: Rustic Pasta

Eating vegetarian appeals to me on many levels: It’s healthy and lighter generally, and, as an animal lover I do struggle with eating mammals at times. Rob and I consciously buy from local farmers where possible. I want to know where my meat came from, that it was raised with care and an eye to it’s quality of life, and without antibiotics and hormones  But bacon is so damned delicious and my resolve to eat less meat fades in the light of a frigid Ottawa winter. A steak cooked medium-rare and served up in a Thai coconut curry sauce or a pork and green chile stew is just that more comforting and soul sustaining than a tofu stirfy or portabello burger, in the grip of a -32 windchill. So, when I stumble across a recipe that coats the mouth with such satisfying, savoury richness and flavour and delivers that feeling of being sated, sleepy and happy AND it is vegetarian, I am very happy.

This recipe was shown to my daughter Hannah by her friend, Bridget (Hi, Bridget!) when they were in their late teens.

Rustic Pasta with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic and Thyme

1 sweet onion, medium chop
2 pints of cherry tomatoes. A mix of varieties is nice. Buy the sweetest ones you can.
2-3 large cloves of garlic, sliced thin (I use a hand held mandoline)
A glug of good quality olive oil. I use Frantoia (alla Mario :))
A couple of sprigs of thyme, remove stems. You can use any woody herb on hand such as Rosemary or sage. Lightly chop to bruise herb.
Salt and pepper
Rustic pasta like garganelli
Parmesan or Pecorino for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss onion, tomatoes (halve any large ones), garlic and thyme with a good glug of olive oil (don’t skimp, it’s a large part of the finished sauce), salt and pepper to taste. Roast in oven for about 40 minutes. Tomatoes should have  blistered and lightly charred skins. Turn oven off and leave to keep warm. Cook pasta. Stir tomato sauce and serve on top of pasta. Sprinkle with fresh grated cheese. You can easily adjust this recipe to serve as many people as you like.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.




Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!

As the joke goes, there are only two seasons in Ottawa: Winter and construction season. It’s kind of like that for me – Tomato season and “not tomato season”. During tomato season, I have them for breakfast, sliced on toasted bread, sometimes with cucumber and a little salt and pepper. For lunch and dinner in salads, and quite frankly any other way I can get them. Heirlooms, big ol’ beefsteak tomatoes and regular vine-ripened red tomatoes all float my boat in a big way.

Sure, your local supermarket sells something they call tomatoes all year ’round. Raised in hothouses, bred for uniformity, heartiness for shipping, and colour, and cross-bred in labs with chunks of styrofoam and flavour inhibitors, these are tomatoes like the cheese sauce on Seven-Eleven Nachos is cheese.

With local tomatoes at their peak flavour, we thought we’d do a sampling of recipes this week that highlight them in various forms.

The first was a Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup from Gourmet Magazine. It was full of bright, fresh tomato flavour and went very well with good bread from Art-is-in Bakery.

The second was a delicious appetizer of Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes with Fontina and Thyme from Closet Cooking, out of which we made a dinner. Fresh cherry tomatoes, mixed with herbs, garlic and oil, then roasted in the oven. When they were done, they were covered with a layer of shredded fontina cheese and put under the broiler until bubbly. Again this was served with a nice baguette. The richness of the fontina was a great backdrop for the sweet, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes.

Lastly, it wouldn’t seem right to finish off a week of tomatoes without making a pasta sauce. This dish was inspired by Scott Conant’s Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce – A “too simple to be THAT good” dish, served at his Scarpetta restaurants.

It involves blanching and peeling ripe tomatoes, crushing them into a pot, with an onion sliced in half, some minced basil and oregano as well as a large pinch of chili flakes, and simmering them down for a couple hours. In a separate pot I poached some local vegetables in olive oil  — mushrooms, red pepper and garlic, slowly for 2 hours.  When the oil was deeply flavoured with the vegetables, I added a 1/3 cup of the oil to the tomato sauce.

I also made an executive decision to dump the strained, poached vegetables into the sauce. The peppers added sweetness, the mushrooms added an earthy meatiness and the garlic dissolved and blended into the mixture.

I brushed the flavoured oil on thin slices of Art-is-in baguette with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and a light dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to crisp in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes. The rest of the oil has been set aside for salad dressings and cooking over the next couple days.

There’s no recipe here. I winged it and so should you. I used enough tomatoes for pasta for 4 – I figured 2-3 medium tomatoes per person. We served this pasta with a Caprese salad, made with Bufala mozarella, fresh basil and heirloom tomatoes with salt, pepper and a drizzle each of olive oil and basalmic vinegar.

It’s important to note, when we substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth in the soup recipe, all three meals are entirely vegetarian. All three also have rich, meaty flavours due to the prime ripe tomatoes and the way they’re cooked. There’s leftover pasta sauce in the freezer, to be brought out mid-winter when I need a taste of Summer-becoming Fall.

Penne & Red Pepper Sauce

Penne with red pepper sauce is “what I make” – penne pasta with a creamy and flavorful roasted red pepper sauce. It’s made frequently in our apartment and even served to company on occasion.

This is another one of my favourite recipes that my mom made often. I am known to quadruple the recipe for a much saucier pasta experience: just add three more of everything. The ground almonds add a slight texture, while the garlic and parmesan add just a bit of sharpness to the already distinctive and sweet flavour of the roasted red pepper.

Penne with Red Pepper Sauce

Penne pasta
1 red pepper
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon cream cheese
1 tablespoon ground almonds
1/4 cup parmesan cheese and extra for sprinkling
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Frank’s Red Hot sauce

Line a baking sheet with tinfoil. If you don’t, you will be “soaking” your baking sheet in the sink for days afterward because this gets very messy.

Cut the pepper into quarters and place on a baking sheet, skin side up. Put the pepper into the oven at about 400 degrees until the outer skin is blackened and the inner flesh is soft. If you’re impatient, put it under the broiler for a few minutes. Alternatively, you can hold the pepper over the flame from a gas stove until the same desired effect is achieved.

Allow the peppers to cool enough to remove the skin, or toss them into a paper bag for a few moments to steam off the skin. While you’re waiting, boil a pot of water and add your penne. The sauce won’t take longer than it takes to boil the pasta, and it’s important to have your sauce ready to go right away because the only thing keeping the dish hot upon serving is the heat from the pasta itself.

Place all other ingredients – garlic, cream cheese, ground almonds, parmesan, and hot sauce – into a blender. Remove the skin from the peppers and add them to the blender. Blend. Add olive oil until you have a smoother sauce, and salt and pepper “to taste” – whatever that means.

I don’t add Frank’s to the actual sauce anymore, instead transforming my penne with red pepper sauce into a mere delivery system for the hot sauce once it’s plated. Matt is less excited when I make it lately, saying it doesn’t have the “love” in it that it once did. I think he is just missing the Frank’s, because the two are easily confused. Once served, more parmesan cheese can be sprinkled on top.

The recipe is incredibly versatile, and it can be transformed into a lighter dish by merely oven-roasting any veggies you have on hand – sliced onions, whole garlic cloves, peppers, tomatoes – with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Throw it all in the blender for a perfect pasta sauce, including or foregoing the cream cheese depending on your taste. Fresh basil is also a tasty addition to the original recipe.

Click HERE for a printable version of the recipe.

RT9: Backwoods Tennesee Cajun

We are up early this last day we are to spend in Nashville, so that we can head into the pretty little town of Franklin for breakfast and to explore a little. We are breakfasting today at Merridee’s Breadbasket. It is a very busy place on a Saturday.

The atmosphere is warm and homey with blue-checked oilcloth covering the tables, rustic worn oak floors, brick walls and exposed rafters. We manage to snag a just-vacated table and take our spot at the end of a very long line to place orders.

After a long wait of twenty or more minutes our number is called. Both of us are having egg, ham, and cheese biscuits and one of their famous cinnamon rolls to split. The house coffee is fine but has a distinct hazelnut flavour. The orange juice is bottled from concentrate. Our sandwiches are made on an excellent, buttery ham and cheese biscuit which is too crumbly to eat by hand and we have to resort to fork and knife. The thinly sliced ham has been lightly pan fried and has a nice sweet-to-salty ratio. The processed cheese and fluffy egg omelet are delicious.

We savour the soft sweet buttery cinnamon roll that has a nice, loose, icing sugar topping which we prefer over a hard glaze. Overall the atmosphere at Merridee’s is one of hustle and bustle and noise. It’s clearly THE place to be for locals on a Saturday morning, but it is not the spot to enjoy some quiet time with a newspaper. Take your cinnamon bun home and enjoy it in the shade of your front porch. Or hotel.

Merridee's Breadbasket on Urbanspoon

We spend 45 minutes walking Main Street and enjoying the shops before heading over to The Factory, a 12-building complex that is a converted factory most notable for manufacturing stoves. One shop of note in the plaza is a well appointed antique store with numerous relics from the American Civil War. Oh how I would love a cannonball but my luggage was already over the weight limit on the way in. Instead we purchase some frames which contain small bits of the conflict and personalize it and let you feel the ghosts of a time gone by. A bit of pipe, a hand struck nail, buttons, dice, a harmonica reed, a bullet…

As we are leaving to meet our friends, Josee and Trevor for lunch, we get a surprise phone call from a another friend who I have known since she was just 1 year old. We did not think we would get to visit with her this time, but she caught us just as we were leaving the Factory and tells us she lives just three minutes away. After a short but sweet visit we head into town and have a refreshing lunch at Calypso Cafe, which specializes in Caribbean fare and makes a great salad.

Calypso Cafe on Urbanspoon

We are a little early and pop into the Dog and Cat Shoppe around the corner. I am in kitty heaven. They have three cats and multitudes of kittens roaming free and sleeping everywhere. I spend 15 minutes with an adorable baby tortie sleeping in my arms while I look for “presents” to bring home two my two kitties. After lunch the boys head on out to shop at Nashville’s Guitar Center and us girls go on a two mile hike on the lovely walking trails in Nashville.

Dinner tonight has been suggested by Trevor and Josee. They tell us it is really a backwoods hole-in-the-wall which serves pretty good cajun food. We are game, especially if it is a hole-in-the-wall. That’s where you will find some of the best cooking.

Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Cafe is an hour and fifteen minute drive from Franklin to Santa Fe, Tennessee (the locals pronounce it “Santa FEE”) mostly on a winding two laner through gorgeous country. Rolling green hills, pretty mansions and beautiful more modest bungalows, horse farms and fence rows and even the occasional beat up trailer add spice and variety to this drive. We hit two detours and are completely lost to the backwoods of Tennessee save for Stella 3000, our GPS. She finally pulls us up at a small, yellow building. The parking lot is full of cars and trucks. It is a surprise because I have no idea where they all came from. There is not the kind of population in the area it would seem, to support a restaurant here. We enter, give a name and go outside and wait to be called. No waiting time is given. Several more people show up and put their names in. Some of them are smarter and have brought coolers of beer knowing they will have to wait in the heat for a table.

We sit outside and enjoy a pleasant, warm Tennessee evening. After about twenty minutes we get called in. Papa Boudreaux’s is small, boasting only seven tables. The entire place inside and out is decorated in yellow and purple, with a side of beads and football memorabillia. A flattie on one wall is showing a game between Oregon and LSU. “Papa” alternately yells with approval and swears his disgust at the TV.

Right beside our table, Ronnie Fruge serenades us on his Gibson, and chats between folk, country and cajun tunes and some of his own. Trevor and Rob are a tough audience being guitarists/singers themselves. Ronnie is a treat and is the genuine article. Papa’s is old school and accepts only cash or cheques. There is no alcohol for sale but you are welcome to bring your own in.

As we peruse the small menu on the chalkboard, people continue to pour in and put their names on the waiting list before heading back outside to wait. Our waitress returns to our table with our drinks and some warm baguette and butter to take our food orders. I ask her what the best thing on the menu is as I am tempted by several things. She tells me it’s the crawfish-shrimp etouffee. I order that and skip apps because I want to have dessert here. Rob orders some boudin balls and pasta with chicken and andouille, Trevor orders fried scallops and garlic shrimp and pasta, Josee gets the shrimp creole.

The apps arrive first. Both the scallops and the boudin come with a chunky, spicy, tomato, onion, pepper relish. The scallops are large and perfectly fried. No greasy residue and great scallop texture. The boudin balls are fried as well,  have strong pork flavour and go well with the tomato relish.

Boudin balls with a perfect, lemony, garlicky tomato relish.

The mains arrive shortly and I am not disappointed. My etouffe is homemade, honest, authentic cajun food. The portion is quite large and I’m glad I skipped apps. The dish is chock full of plump Gulf shrimp and tiny crawfish tails. The creamy sauce is delicate yet contains a mild heat, cooled by the rice it is served over.

Shrimp and Crawfish Etoufee.

Rob’s pasta had a light barely there cream sauce that nicely tied together the flavours of the smoky andouille, the chicken and a little cajun heat.

Chicken & Andouille Sausage Pasta.

I tried Josee’s creole and it was a classic, rich, smokey tomato sauce with onion and pepper and a good kick of heat, the kind that makes you sweat a bit eating it. Trevor enjoyed his pasta but I never got a taste. It sure looked good!

Shrimp Creole

I’m glad we saved room for dessert. Louisiana chocolate bread pudding. And four spoons. It is a big portion with warm, rich, not overly sweet chocolate bread pudding with a fudgy sauce and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream all ready melting it’s descent into the goo.

Under all that is Chocolate Bread Pudding. The cuisine of Louisiana has given us new appreciation for Bread Pudding. We’ve had it three times at Cajun restaurants. All were magnificent.

Papa Boudreaux’s is an incredible treat in the backwoods of Tennessee and serves Cajun food as good as any you will find in the bayou state.

Papa Boudreaux on Urbanspoon

 Here’s a local Tennessee TV bit on the place:

 We had a great 3 days in Nashville and in Tennessee. It was a great mix of music, food and friends. The area is captivating and beautiful. Tomorrow finds us moving on to unfamiliar turf as neither of us have been to our remaining road trip destinations before, not counting Rob’s occasional overnight business trips, which are definitely not the way to discover a region and its offerings. Tomorrow the road leads through Kentucky, on to Evansville, Indiana. Goodbye to Nashville.

Bucatini and Memories of Rome

Is there anything more life affirming than a simple pasta made with fresh ingredients, shared with a loved one, a bottle of red wine, and lingered over on a warm, breezy Canadian summer evening in early July? It is truly an experience unto it’s own, however for me it evokes memories of pastas savored in sunny Rome on my first and hopefully not last visit.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana is a classic Roman dish. Simplicity at it’s finest. Prep time is short. Throw a few ingredients into a pan and while the sauce burbles happily, start to cook your pasta and before your rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond is finished you will have dinner. Uncork some red wine, grate some fresh pecorino and head out to your sunny deck or patio. Enjoy.

Because this dish is so simple and boasts few ingredients, the quality of those ingredients is important. I use only San Marzano tomatoes. They are grown in Italy in volcanic soil, imparting a richness not found in most canned tomato varieties. Generally they are around $4.50 a can, but remember they are the star of this particular show. Be aware that San Marzano “Style” tomatoes are the same tomato but not grown in Italian soil and are cheaper. A subtle difference, but we are trying to recreate memories of Rome. To save time, I use President’s Choice diced pancetta. You can use any long pasta, but bucatini, a long, hollow, straw-like, slurpy pasta, is traditional and available even in regular grocery stores so why not try it?

Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Servings: 6
Source: Chow (adapted)

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped, 1 cup
4 ounces pancetta, cubed
1 28 ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, coarsely chopped with juices
1 1/2 tbsp red chili flakes
1 pound  bucatini or pasta
pecorino cheese, for serving
3 tbsp parsley, chopped, garnish

1. Heat olive oil and butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until golden, 3-5 minutes. Add pancetta and cook until slightly crisp, 3 minutes more.

2. Add tomatoes and their juices. Add chilli flakes, salt to taste and reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. While sauce simmers, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta. Drain pasta but do not rinse, add to frying pan, and toss to coat. Add pasta water to thin if necessary.

4. Serve with grated Pecorino.

Click HERE for a print-friendly version of this dish.