Archive for pasta

Light Chicken Alfredo

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Our family is split down the middle on the question of red or white sauce with pasta.  I’m in the white sauce camp, and my difficult daughter agrees; she doesn’t like the texture of tomatoes.

I’m not a huge fan of carbonara, because of the quantity of eggs involved AND I tend to spoil the recipe by wandering away mid recipe to make a phone call so that my spaghetti carbonara invariably turns to scrambled egg spaghetti.


This light Chicken Alfredo recipe leans on just two eggs, still includes heavy cream, but lightens the sauce with a generous quantity of chicken stock.

I threw in crispy turkey bacon and caramelized onions for added oomph: I only wish I’d used more garlic…

It was still very good indeed.

I am indebted to my stock online resource for this Chicken Alfredo recipe.

To make a gluten free friendly version of this recipe, simply use gluten free pasta and double double check that there is no wheat filler or yeast in the chicken stock that you use.

Butter Tomato Sauce: Grazie, Marcella Hazan

In this season of bountiful tomatoes, I’m always on the hunt for a good use of them.  Thanks to the esteemed Marcella Hazan’s justifiably famed Butter Tomato Marinara, I recently discovered a new one.  Here’s the recipe.

I did use fresh tomatoes, which means I peeled them.  Not my favorite use of time, but the first time I try a new recipe I try to follow it accurately.  Since the rest of the sauce was so blissfully simple and undemanding, I actually might repeat this method.  But, it is also recommended to use high quality canned (read:  already peeled) tomatoes, and particularly if I were feeding a crowd, I would go that route.


Per the recipe, I peeled and coarsely chopped the tomatoes, and placed them in a pot with butter, salt,  and an onion cut in half.




I simmered it, uncovered, on med-low for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and mashing the large tomato pieces with the spoon.



When the sauce was a uniform texture, it was done.  I served it with fresh spinach gnocchi, topped with parmesan cheese and snipped basil leaves pulled from the garden that afternoon.

Gracie, Marcella.


Giada’s Pesto

Giada DiLaurentis, we salute you!


 Her Avocado Arugula Pesto recipe got my super finicky son–”Mr. I’ll have a Plain Hamburger, please” to eat a puree of green things.  For that reason alone it deserves an award in my book.

The recipe had been sent to me by my dear friend  Farah Kapoor, fantastic cook and epic hostess.  She had served it to 3 generations of her family, all with various dietary preferences and quirks, and they all loved it.  So I thought I’d give it a try.  Not one to tempt fate, I didn’t even bother offering it to Mr. Burger, for whom vegetarian, green, and flavorful are nearly curse words (can we say teen rebellion?  Remember, his mom is an avid foodie).  When he saw his sister’s plate heaped with fettuccine slathered in green goodness, he asked for some.  After recovering from severe shock, I scooped a generous mound into a bowl for him and away he went.  (Full disclosure, I did not reveal that it contained a variety ingredients that he would normally avoid, just said it was fettuccine with pesto.)


Giada’s Pesto, pre-puree.

I followed the recipe  pretty much verbatim–but I skipped toasting the almonds, just tossed them in as is.  So, thank  you, Farah, and thank you Giada, for this wonderful new addition to our family’s meal rotation.

Have you discovered any fabulous recipes of late?

We all really liked it, although my husband, a traditional pesto devotee, said he’d like more basil and less arugula.   Good news!  In this recipe, there is a lot of potential for variation.  Next time I’ll honor his request.  Farah tells me she is going to try adding fresh spring peas.  And now that the Headhouse Farmers’ Market is open, with a bountiful selection of locally grown green things, I’ll experiment with all kinds of things.  Stay tuned!





How to Make Ricotta Gnudi

Gnudi with marinara sauce and arugula salad, Buon appetito!

Gnudi with marinara sauce and arugula salad, Buon appetito!


I was inspired to make these Ricotta Gnudi, from last month’s Bon Appetit.  Normally, I’m not a great homemade pasta girl.  The availability of staggeringly good fresh pasta for purchase is a sufficient deterrent for me to avoid this labor intensive task, so I prefer to support local artisans.  I also am not a fan of Gnocchi.  It often sounds good, but ends up a leaden, doughy lump which I enjoy for 2 bites and regret for all subsequent ones.

But Gnudi is different.  This post from sol kitchen Gnocchi vs Gnudi gives an excellent description comparing  the two pasta types.  I also learned that Gnudi may be a play on “nudi”, Italian for “nude” because it is like  naked ravioli.  Finally, I think gnudi is something that is best made at home as opposed to purchased.  This recipe was actually quite simple.


Gnudi in the bowl

I was initially turned off, thinking that shaping the dumplings would be labor intensive, but it really wasn’t.  All in, I spent about 15 minutes prepping.

Looks aren't everything

Looks aren’t everything

Full confession, my gnudi were rather irregular in shape; the directions said to shape them into little footballs.  Mine looked more like oversized amoebae.   But they were delicious anyway, and the shape was largely irrelevant.

To serve, I heated some leftover marinara from a previous meal (though you could certainly open a jar if it’s the good stuff).  The result:  a light, fluffy, ethereal puff which I will absolutely make again.  This would be lovely with a browned butter sauce or  pesto.  And I’d be inclined to experiment with spinach, parsley, and other chopped leafy greens to add to the dumplings.



Gnudi boiling in the pot

The only drawback:  while photographing the final product, I dropped my phone into the bowl and drowned it in sauce.  Dio Mio!

Marc Vetri’s Pasta with Venison and Pear Ragu

A cook’s dream: impressive dish, with a complex flavor but truly simple!


Me cook like Marc Vetri?    Trust me, it’s easier than you think.  Ok, not in all things, but you really need only one show stopper to justify bragging rights.  Here’s mine…..

Venison Pear Ragu with thanks to Marc Vetri

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 lb venison sausage

2 cups red wine

1-2 cups water

4 parmigiano rinds

2 firm, ripe pears

1 lb fresh pasta

1/4 cup grated parmigiano cheese, for serving

Heat 2 Tbsp oil in large pot.  Remove sausage from casing and brown for about 5 minutes.  Add red wine and parmigiano rinds and cook til liquid is reduced by half.  Add enough water to almost cover ingredients, turn heat to low, and simmer, covered about 2 hrs.  At this point, you can leave it for a day or so, or proceed with the recipe.  Peel and chop pears.  Heat remaining Tbsp oil in skillet, and saute pears, seasoning with salt and pepper til they sweat, about 5 minutes.  Add to ragu.  Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente, drain, and dump it into the ragu to blend thoroughly.  Remove rinds,  serve topped with parmigiano cheese.




Scallops and Lemon Fettuccine

Poor husband.  His business travels always result his his missing the dinners planned by his foodie teen daughter and executed by his food blogger wife.   Following up on the homemade pizza dinner, the young lady requested a dinner featuring scallops and fresh pasta.  Naturally, our culinarily conservative son stuck with a burger that night–though he did have a grand time with the pizza.

Here’s what we came up with:  Lidia Bastianitch’s Lemon Alfredo, and sauteed dry scallops.  I recently learned from another Lydia–the fishmonger at John Yi Seafood in Reading Terminal Market that dry scallops are better for a sauteed or grilled dish because they brown well.  Wet scallops, which are a few dollars cheaper, are better in stews, curries, soups and other sauce-based dishes because they don’t brown.  It has to do with the way the different types hold and release water–I didn’t get all the technicalities, but as you can see from the picture, the dry ones do brown.

I started by allowing the scallops to reach room temp, then salting and peppering them.

Next, I placed them in a buttered skillet, browned them,  gave them a spritz of lemon juice and a splash of white wine.  I turned them frequently, and cooked them for a total of about 8 minutes.

While the scallops seared, and the pasta water came to a boil, I prepared the sauce to Lidia’s specifications, starting with the grated lemon zest and butter in the skillet.  It took all of about 6 minutes.

The arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette was the perfect accompaniment, keeping the lemon flavor motive infused through all items on the plate.  I tossed the leaves with a squeeze of lemon, a generous sprinkling of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and olive oil.

The returning husband did get to enjoy the leftover pasta 3 days later…..

How to Make Crab Marinara

Making Crab Marinara turned out to be far more adventurous than I expected. Remember the lobster  scene in Annie Hall?

My experience was not far from that.

I asked the fishmonger for 6 crabs and a pound of lump crabmeat, figuring I’d cook the whole crabs in the sauce to infuse flavor, then add lump crabmeat before serving.  He complied, and home I went.   Imagine my shock and horror when I discovered, upon starting to cook, that the crabs were still alive.  Yup.  I opened the bag to dump them in the sizzling garlic and was greeted with snapping pincers and a flurry of legs.

I composed myself, secured a pair of long-handled tongs, and began battle.  I grabbed the first one, but as I attempted to transfer him into the pot, he fought ferociously and with such force that he separated his leg from his body.  I retained hold of the disembodied leg in the tongs, and the rest of the crab fell to the floor and scurried under the table.  I chased him, finally grasping him again, this time by the middle, and tossed him into the pot.  The remaining crabs were less feisty, and I was more prepared.  I managed the rest without incident, lost of limb (mine or the crabs’) and resumed cooking.

In the end, this was a spectacular summer feast, and once I got past the fact that I had to kill my dinner, the preparation was quite simple.

Here’s the recipe:

Crab Marinara

2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP chopped garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
6 cups marinara sauce–either make your own or purchase a high quality jarred version
6 live crabs
1 bunch fresh basil (about 10 leaves)
1 lb lump crabmeat, picked over for shells

In large pot, heat oil with garlic, salt, and pepper flakes.  Add sauce, bring to simmer, and add crabs, then basil.  Simmer, covered, over low heat 1-2 hrs until sauce takes on flavor of crabs.  Remove crabs from sauce, add lump crabmeat, heat through and serve over al dente pasta.

NOTES:  For the adventurous, you can leave the crabs in the sauce; some people enjoy eating the meat from the shells.  (I am not one of those people–far too messy and labor intensive).  I personally enjoy this with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, but many purists eschew cheese with fish.  Your call!

Penne Restaurant, Great Italian in West Philly

We had the good fortune to be invited to a birthday celebration at Penne last night.   We were greeted by friendly bartender who poured us aperitifs before we proceeded to our table.  We downed them,  then encountered a pleasant hostess, who seated us at a booth, and finally, our server, who was affable without being intrusive–which can be a tough balance to strike. 

One minor side note on seating:  in the future, I will request a table.   The booth’s seat was uncharacteristically low and table  high, which made me feel like I needed a telephone booth to sit on, despite my respectable 5’7″ stature.  But onto the food….

We started with a bowl of fried calamari.  Normally I detest this dish for its resemblance to greasy, fried teething rings.  In fact, I never eat it, but my husband, who loves it, seized the opportunity to order it for the table.  But this version was a revelation. The calamari was tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and not at all greasy.  The sauce, a spicy tomato caper dip was a welcome departure from the typical tomato sauce that usually accompanies this dish.  I still only ate about 3 bites, but I enjoyed them.

 My husband handled the wine order, and he did an excellent job.  The birthday girl was Luisa, and husband found her namesake Pinot Grigio on the list.  Fortunately, it was the perfect pairing on a scorching summer evening for our pasta dinners.

My first course was a soup from the specials menu: sweet corn broth with tiny roasted garlic and scallion gnocchi. It was fantastic; the broth was light, but had an intense and deep flavor of sweet summer corn, and the gnocchi had a delightful crispness to them.  A really unique and seasonal dish!

Penne is known for their homemade fresh pastas.  Our table sampled a good assortment, one better than the next:

Birthday girl Luisa had the ravioli filled with zucchini, goat cheese, and potato, topped with herb pesto and pine nuts, which she thoroughly enjoyed.   I’ve mentioned before that potatoes, pretty much in any form, are a serious temptation to me, and their use here was unexpected and delicious.

I had the linguine with clams.  This was a bit of a departure for me, because linguine with white clam sauce is a signature dish of mine so I normally wouldn’t order it in a restaurant.  But this version had some alternative ingredients that intrigued me–red pepper linguine and  bacon.  I’m happy to report that it was terrific.  The clams were tiny and toothsome, the linguine was perfectly al dente–not always easy to execute with fresh pasta, and the bacon was a great crispy-salty foil to the clams and noodles.  I don’t think I’ll mess with my version of the dish, but never say never.

My husband had the tagliatelle puttanesca with swordfish.  The briny capers were an excellent accompaniment to the steaky, mild fish, and the pasta was, again, perfectly cooked.

For dessert, we sampled the chocolate amaretto cannoli and the blueberries with lemon-thyme  mascarpone.  They did not disappoint!

If you hurry, you can still catch the special menu deals available through  University City Dining Days, going on now through July 26.

Meatballs Mastered, Finally!

Since I’ve been on the topic of my culinary New Year’s Resolutions, I was reminded that one of them was to master meatballs.

For some reason, the ability to craft these delectable orbs has eluded me for decades.  Mine were either too mushy, too dry, lacking flavor, falling apart, overly seasoned–I simply never struck the correct balance.   It was just last week that I managed an affirmatively good version, earning even the approval of my very discriminating  daughter.    My son, on the other hand, never met a hunk of ground beef he didn’t like, so my trials and errors never went to waste. 

I recalled the seemingly unorthodox but very sound meatloaf advice from Down Home Diner’s Chef Jack McDavid–to  use a dough hook for thorough distribution and emulsification of the fat and flavors.  Figuring the principle was the same with meatballs, I used his method.    And it worked!

Here’s what I did…..

For the meatballs:
This made about 2 dozen.

2 1/2 lbs 85% lean ground beef
1/3 cup chopped garlic (I used the jarred stuff and it worked beautifully–use less if fresh)
2 cups Italian style seasoned bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/4 cup beef broth or water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Blend all ingredients thoroughly, using dough hook  if possible.  With wet hands, form the mixture into firmly packed balls approx 1 1/2 inches in diameter and drop them into simmering marinara sauce.  Cook on low heat for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve over pasta, on sandwiches, or solo.  (These also freeze really well.)

Ok, next resolution…..It’s only July.

Lingune alla Vongole

June being seafood month, I scanned our old blogposts to see what seafood recipes we had posted.    I was shocked to see that I had not yet shared one of my ultimate go-to seafood dishes with you, dear readers.  I am referring to linguine alla vongole, or linguine with clam sauce, which is practically a signature dish of mine. 

So, without further ado, here it is:

Linguine alla Vongole (serves 4)

2 TBSP olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/2 tsp salt
4 cans minced clams, drained, juice reserved
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 lb linguine

In large skillet, heat oil and add garlic, pepper flakes and salt.  Stir to release flavors, and add drained clams.  Saute and sear 1 minute.  Add clam juice and wine.  Stir and simmer 15 minutes (or longer).  Meanwhile, in boiling, salted water, cook pasta to al dente (1 minute less than the box suggests).  Drain thoroughly, and top with the pasta sauce, then cheese and parsley.

NOTE:  in summer, when we are near the beach and enjoy the availability of uber-fresh shellfish, I often purchase small clams to enhance this dish.  The most common name for these clams is “little necks”, but I’ve also seen them referred to as “cockles” and “pasta necks”.  Whatever you call them, you should scrub their exteriors to remove all sand and grit.  Then, about 5 minutes before serving, pour clams into sauce, cover and steam 5 minutes until clams have all opened.  Any clams that remain sealed should be discarded.