Posts Tagged ‘Pasta’

This Valentines day had no advance planning.   We don’t usually do anything special, but we’ll take any excuse to make an indulgent dinner.  Mister and I had thrown around some ideas by email while we were at work, but nothing was really sounding great.  We were both leaning seafood though, and when we got home and found the dregs of a bag of frozen shrimp that was nearing freezer burn we decided that a deeply unhealthy, creamy, dreamy shrimp alfredo pasta was in our future, but I still wasn’t excited.  And then Mister pulled the trump card out of the pantry – a can of smoked oysters.

Ah, oysters, the food of love.  Natures aphrodisiac.  Yeah….ugly little suckers though, aren’t they?  The shells are quite pretty, but take them out of there and you are left with what are essentially the ocean’s snot balls.  (wonderful delicious snot balls)  Smoke them, and they turn into the least appetizing looking things I have ever put in my mouth.  But give them a saute and put them in your mouth anyway, because they are delicious.*  Smokey, briny, firm but tender, they add a really special twist to an otherwise standard seafood dish.   Just eat them with your eyes closed.  Look it’s romantic already!

Smoked Oyster and Shrimp Alfredo

  • ~1/4-1/2  lb medium sized shell on shrimp.  (I’m guessing here on quantity, I was finishing off a bag of frozen shrimp and I think I had about a dozen of them.  Exactness does not matter for this one.)
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • ½ large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can smoked oysters
  • black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • ¼ cup white wine (I actually used champagne.  It was open!)
  • ~3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan (freshly grated parm is very fluffy. I don’t pack it in at all when I measure it, so if you are smashing it down, or using non-freshly grated cheese, reduce it to more like 1 cup or even less.  Add, taste and add more if needed. I don’t recommend the green can here, but feel free to try it and tell me how it turns out)
  • ¾ lb long pasta of choice (we used thin spaghetti because that’s what we had. Any long noodle works)
  • salt if needed
  • Optional: fresh parsley.  I was sad we didn’t have any, it would have been the perfect finishing touch.

Shell the shrimp and put the shells in a small saucepan with about ½ cup of water.  Simmer the shells till they turn pink and then turn off the heat and let it sit while you prep everything else.   Set the naked shrimps aside.  Set a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a deep sided skillet, and add the onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are starting to get nice and brown.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.  Add the oysters, including all the oil from the can.  Saute for a minute, mixing very gently to avoid breaking up the oysters.  Add a good coating of black pepper.

Push the onion-oyster mixture to the side of the pan and sprinkle the flour over the remaining butter.  Mix the flour and butter well and cook briefly to get rid of the raw flour taste, but don’t let it brown.  Pour in the wine, followed  by the strained shrimp-shell-stock (I just poured it through my wire mesh strainer straight into the skillet).  Whisk, whisk to incorporate the flour-butter paste into the liquid.  It might be lumpy at first.  Just keep the heat on medium and keep on whisking.  It will come together after a few minutes.

Now would probably be a good time to get your pasta into the hopefully boiling water.

Once you have the flour incorporated into the stock+wine, reduce the heat to medium low and mix the onions and oysters in from their lonely side of the pan.  Gently stir it all together, and start adding the cream.  Just add a generous splash at a time and mix it in.  Keep adding until it looks good to you.  We went pretty creamy, but if you were trying to be a little less indulgent you could use less cream, or use half-and-half .   Add the cheese and mix well.   Drop in the shrimp and let them cook, stirring occasionally until they are pink all over.  This will only take a few minutes.   Taste for seasoning and add salt and more pepper if needed.  Between the cheese and the oysters ours didn’t need any additional salt.

By this point the pasta should be done.  You want it just shy of al dente – transfer it into the pan with the sauce, reserving some of the pasta water if needed to thin the sauce out a bit.  Mix it all around to get all the pasta nicely coated, and let it cook for another minute and then remove it from the heat.   Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley if you’ve got it.  And serve.

And then if you’re like us, go sit on the couch and eat your creamy smokey briny pasta with glasses of champagne while watching How I Met Your Mother.  Mmm…now that’s romance.

*The saute part is mandatory.  I won’t eat them straight from the can…the texture is weird at room temp, but it fixes itself when they are heated.  I like them on toast, with some caramelized onions and maybe some ricotta cheese.


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‘Mater Sauce with Meats

My sister is a good cook, but she generally doesn’t make much meat.  Whenever she comes over for dinner, or I offer to cook at her house her immediate request is for “meats!”  Especially when she was pregnant, all she wanted was meat.  Preferably meat cooked by me or Mister.  So when I spent a weekend at her house late in her pregnancy stocking up her freezer, of course one of her first requests (besides empanadas) was Meats!

I wanted to make something that would work as a family dinners, but would also be a reasonable quick meal for her when her husband wasn’t home.  Lil’ Sis isn’t leftover adverse, and she LOOOVES noodles, so spaghetti sauce seemed like the obvious  choice (with meat, of course).  This recipe makes a ton of sauce.  It’s definitely a simmer all day kind of recipe, but it doesn’t require much baby sitting, and at the end of the day you’re rewarded with  freezer full of  delicious hearty meals for nights where you can’t be bothered to do anything besides boil some noodles.  (And maybe throw together some salad. Balanced meals are your friend.)

‘Mater Sauce with Meats

Makes about 10 cups of sauce.

  • A #10 can of crushed tomatoes (or 4 regular big cans)
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 2 mild Italian sausages, casing removed
  • 2 diced medium yellow onions
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1.5 tsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan

In a large pot (~8 qts), over medium high heat, crumble the ground beef and sausage and brown well.  It doesn’t have to be fully cooked, but get lots of browned surfaces on there.  Remove the meat and set aside.  Pour out the  grease, leaving 1-2 Tbsp in the pot.

Saute the onion and garlic in the meat grease until softened and starting to brown.

Sprinkle in the salt, peppers, and herbs and mix well.  Pour in the red wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to dissolve all the brown meaty goodness.  Let cook till the pot is nearly dry again.  Add the meat back in.

Carefully, because it will want to splatter all over the place, pour in the crushed tomatoes.  If for some reason you don’t get a kick out of buying the giant cans like I do, you can feel free to use 3-4 normal sized (i.e. 28 oz) cans.  But seriously how fun it is to have a can this big?

Regular sized diced tomato can provided for size reference only.  Also outing myself for using totally unfancy canned tomato products.

Stir well, bring to a simmer and let it just bubble away over low heat for several hours.  I think ours was going for about 6 hours.  It will darken in color and reduce slightly.  Also it will look like the surface of a bubbling pool of magma.

Add the grated Parmesan and mix in well.  Let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes and taste to adjust seasoning if needed.

Remove from heat and let it cool down a bit and then package for the freezer.

(if you want to get an A in food safety, use an ice bath to cool it quickly)

I like to use gallon ziplock freezer bags, and lay them flat to freeze.  They stack  neatly  and thaw much faster than a big block of sauce.  I put about 2.5 cups of sauce in each bag, squeeze out the air and then seal them up and lay them on a cookie sheet to freeze.  (insurance in case of leaks)

Alternately – cook up about 5 pounds of pasta and proceed to feed a small army.

Note: If you don’t have all day for simmering, add a small can of tomato paste before the red wine.  Let it cook for a minute or two before adding the red wine and then proceed as written.  You can reduce the simmering time to ~2 hours.


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Another quick weeknight dinner, inspired by Naturally Ella and the beef red-hots wasting away in our freezer.  We make our own sausage, and the beef red hots were a recent failure.  The flavor was good (definitely lived up to the name of red-hot) but the texture was all kinds of off, so they weren’t any good to just eat straight up.   We decided they needed a sauce to help the texture along, and I remembered seeing a roasted red pepper pasta sauce and tada!  A plan for dinner.   This was very tasty, though pretty damn spicy between the paprika and the HOT sausages.  Our sausages were also smoked, which I think was a great touch with the red pepper sauce.  Chorizo would make a good sub, but I think this would be tasty with just about any sausage that strikes your fancy.  I’d just adjust the seasoning to compliment your sausage.   Some of those fancy chicken sausages would be great, and much healthier.  🙂

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta w/ Beef Sausage adapted loosely from Naturally Ella

Serves 3-4

  • 1/2 box whole wheat penne pasta (or other chunky shape)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3 sausages
  • 2 red peppers  (or pre-roasted jarred peppers)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 6 large button mushrooms  (anybody surprised?  They are optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp hot paprika (smoked would be great)
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1 cup stock/broth (I used veal stock.   if you don’t have that, then match your broth to your sausage.  chicken with chicken.  beef with beef.  Ummm…veggie broth with pork probably.  Or just water)
  • 1 Tbsp-1/4 cup cream (I started off with just a splash, and thought that texture was nice, but ours was so spicy that it needed the extra cream for balance.  Your mileage may vary.  You could also omit the cream entirely.)

-Roast the red peppers:

Either hold them over the flame of a gas stove with your tongs till they are completely blackened, or if you are stuck with an electric stove, put them right up under your broiler and turn occasionally.  You want them to be truly black all over.

Once they are blackened, pop them into a plastic or paper bag for a couple of minutes with the top sealed.  You are letting the heat of the peppers steam the skin off.

Pull them out of the bag and scrape off the blackened skin.  It should come off with no problems at all.

Cut off the stems and take out the seeds and ribs and put the red pepper “meat” into the food processor.

Puree till smooth.  (I used the mini-chopper attachment for my stick blender.  I love that thing.  The whisk attachment is beyond useless though.)

-Mince the garlic and onion

-Slice the mushrooms and sausages into similarly sized chunks.  I 1/6th’d the mushrooms and cut the sausages into 1/2″ pieces, but I had big mushrooms and little sausages.

-Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet or saute pan and saute the garlic and onions until softened and starting to color

-Push the onions and garlic aside and turn the heat up to medium-high cook the mushrooms.  Scatter them in the pan in a single layer and let them get some color before flipping.  You may have to do multiple batches.  As each batch gets properly seared push them aside to join the onions and mushrooms and sear the next batch.

-By this point the bottom of your pan should be covered in brown deliciousness.  Sprinkle in a healthy pinch of salt and a couple of turns of pepper and the paprika and mix well into the veggies.

-Add the sausage and let them get a little crispy around the edges before turning the heat down to medium.

-Start the pasta cooking at this point in a pot full of well-salted boiling water.

-*Back to the saute pan*  Pour in the white wine and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pan (i.e. deglazing*) to get all those tasty bits in there.

-Add the stock, and bring to a simmer, lowering the heat if needed.

-Pour in the red pepper puree.

-Simmer till it thickens up a bit, and also till your sausage is cooked through if you are using a fresh sausage instead of a smoked (pre-cooked) sausage.   If you are using a fresh sausage wait a little longer to start your pasta, and simmer with a lid so as not to dry out the sauce.

-Add cream at your discretion and taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

-Drain the pasta while it is still a bit too al dente and mix it into the sauce to finish cooking.  If the sauce needs to be thinned out at all just add a splash of the pasta cooking water and mix well.


*Deglazing = scraping up the brown bits and letting them dissolve into some sort of liquid, typically wine or stock, in order to add extra deliciousness to a sauce or gravy.

I know I’ve got a wide range of cooking abilities in my 14 readers so I’m never sure whether to use specific terms or not.  Thoughts, oh faithful readers?

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