Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree

I wanted to make a pasta dish that had sauce different from pesto, marinara, or bolognese, and Giada de Laurentiis’s healthy eggplant-based sauce sounded interesting!  The original recipe calls for mint instead of basil, but I thought basil would pair better with a protein.  I picked shrimp for this dish, but I think chicken would go just as well.

Here is the recipe as adapted from Giada’s.  If you want to eat this with meat, simply cook your meat through separately, cut into bite size pieces, and mix it in with the pasta and sauce.  I sauteed a pound of shrimp in a little oil, salt, and pepper and added it in during step 5.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicy)
  • 1 pound dried rigatoni pasta
  • 1 cup mushrooms, stems removed and cut in half
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves, plus a couple extra, slivered, to finish
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl combine the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spread the vegetables out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the eggplant is golden, about 35 minutes.

    Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water (salty like the ocean!) to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but a bit under done, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta but reserve 2 cups or so of the cooking water.
  4. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor or blender. Add the torn basil leaves, mushrooms*, and additional 3 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until almost smooth.

    Ready to Pulverize
  5. Return the pasta to the cooking pot, pour sauce over it and about 1/2 cup of cooking water and cook together over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing occasionally to coat pasta evenly. Add more pasta cooking water a little at a time if needed to loosen the sauce.
  6. Transfer pasta and sauce to a serving bowl; garnish with extra herbs, pine nuts and parm, and serve.

*The original recipe didn’t call for mushrooms, but I had bought a package to throw in a vegetable soup and had some left over.  I had meant to roast them with the eggplant and tomatoes but forgot. I threw them in raw, and they soaked up all the sauce-y goodness once pureed, and cooked enough in step 5.  The mushrooms added a nice earthy compliment to the sauce, but simply omit if mushrooms aren’t your thing!

You can easily make this vegan by forgoing the cheese.

This was earthy and delicious!  I made this the first time a few months ago, while you could still get local eggplant and tomatoes.  I made this again recently, and the produce was from South America.  I didn’t enjoy it as much the second time around, as I think all that distance traveled to get to me made a difference in the taste.  I can’t wait for summer eggplant and tomato season to come around when eggplant and tomatoes are in their peak!!

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree
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Orecchiette Bolognese

When you get engaged, one of the most common questions people ask you is “were you surprised?”.  I know I ask that question a lot, and I definitely got a lot of that when Kevin and I got engaged last summer (yes – it’s official!).  I knew we would get married some day, and we had talked about it a lot.  I guess I just didn’t really worry or think about when.

Looking back, I totally missed the signs.  I had gotten a massive respiratory infection right before 4th of July weekend, and I sounded like a man. A real butch chain-smoking bearded lumberjack kind of man.  Apparently, Kevin had planned to propose that weekend but since I got sick, he decided to bump it a week.  He said that he felt bad I didn’t get to take advantage of the 3-day holiday weekend so he wanted to plan a date for us (clue #1). He had talked a number of times about how special Descanso Gardens was to him and his family and had told me about some of the great memories from his childhood with his grandparents and cousins there.  I had never been, so when I found out that’s where we were going, I didn’t suspect anything (clue #2).  He had a glass of whiskey a little before we left at 2pm (clue #3), but I attributed it to the fact that maybe he needed one after braving the first weekend of the Nordstrom Half-Yearly sale with me that morning.  It was also a warm day, but he was full on sweating – and I don’t mean a delicate dew across his nose.  We’re talking a thick stripe of sweat all the way down the back of his shirt, poor guy (clue #4).  And then there were the awkward silences (clue #s 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10) whenever we would get to a really beautiful, secluded picturesque setting in the garden.   I thought it was because he was tired of all of the steep inclines we were scaling or the mild heat. Throughout the afternoon, we both said how it would be nice to do something special at Descanso someday – like a wedding or take pictures or something.

Then, we got to the rose garden.  I was noting how gorgeous Descanso was and turned around for a quick moment to take in the surroundings. I remember saying, “what do you think?” and not getting an answer.  I heard him say, “Al?”, and when I turned around, he was down on one knee holding up a ring.  He had beads of sweat beading down his forehead and this look on his face that I’m pretty sure I make when I think I’m about to get hit in the face or when I look directly at the sun. He asked me to marry him.  Instead of saying yes the way most girls would say when the man of their dreams pops the question, I said “Is this for real?”.  I have no idea why I said that (What if he said “naw, just kidding”?), but he reassured me it was and I said yes.  So here we are.  We won’t be getting married at Descanso after all, but we did do our engagement photos there thanks to our phenomenal photographer, Rodney Ty. Here’s a sneak!

Descanso Gardens
Descanso Gardens

The day we had our engagement shoot, I was in a rush to get something to eat before meeting up with Kevin, and the only place nearby that didn’t have a wait was a quick service Greek spot.  Being the considerate person I am, I told them not to put hummus or garlic sauce on anything so Kevin wouldn’t have to breathe in my essence for the rest of the day.  However, I did not realize how much raw onion would be in my pita until I wolfed down my first bite. I pulled out as many as I could find, but it was too late. Those suckers were STRONG.  My breath nearly set his eyebrows on fire in the afternoon, but he was a great sport about it.  I love the photo below because his face totally shows him being torn between trying to smile and look happy for the photo while my breath was really making him cry.  Sorry, hun!

Onion Breath!
Onion Breath!

Anyway, Kevin LOVES orecchiette, so making that for his birthday dinner a couple months ago was a no-brainer.  It pairs really nicely with some sort of Italian fennel sausage.  I’m not entirely sure why that is.  My theory is that it’s because the sausage falls apart into little curds of ground meat when its casing is removed, and the orecchiette almost serves as a little bowls to catch it before it falls to the bottom of the dish the way it would with penne, farfalle, or so many others.  But Kevin doesn’t really like fennel.  Or sausage.  So, figuring out what else would pair well with the orecchiette took some thinking.  Okay, maybe not a lot of thinking, because really – who doesn’t love a good hearty Bolognese?

Orecchiette Bolognese
Orecchiette Bolognese

I didn’t make the pasta from scratch, but I did do the Bolognese.  Here is a recipe as adapted from Anne Burrell.  Note that this recipe is a TIME COMMITMENT.  It’ll take you about 5 to 5.5 hours from start to finish – but it’s worth the time and effort!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1″ dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2″ inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1″ dice
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket, or round… or a combination
  • 2 C tomato paste
  • 3 C hearty red wine  (Don’t go super cheap on the wine – use one that you would drink!)
  • Water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied in a bundle
  • 1 pound orrecchiette
  • 1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.  The bottom of your pan should look like this when you move the veggies aside:

    Cook the Veggies til the Water Disappears
    Cook the Veggies til the Water Disappears
  2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food makes for a more flavorful dish. Don’t rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

    Brown Your Beef!
    Brown Your Beef!
  3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don’t be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it down. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

    Simmer
    Simmer
  5. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the orecchiette. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn’t matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  6. While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the bolognese from the pot and reserve.
  7. Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining bolognese. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.

This bolognese was so delicious and didn’t require heavy cream or butter, like a lot of other recipes do.  The sauce can totally be frozen in a freezer-friendly ziploc baggie if you have a ton of leftovers – just pre-portion everything out.  When we made our leftovers, we thawed a portion of the sauce in the fridge overnight, and then added a lot of minced veggies (mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower) when we heated it up again on the stovetop.  It made a little sauce go a long way and added some extra nutrition and bulk to the meal. Delish every time!

Vanilla Roasted Pears

Kevin and I hosted a fun Saturday evening in Los Feliz for Tony and Julie a few weekends ago, basking in the warm afternoon sun cocktail in-hand on the outdoor patio of Katsuya at the Americana followed by a fun four-course homemade dinner courtesy of Kevin and yours truly.

The Capitellis!
The Capitellis!

Apologies in advance for the poor photo quality and plating, as I used my phone’s camera and only briefly had the food on a plate before we shoveled it down our throats.  Classy bunch, I know.  No time for fluff and positioning when there was food to be eaten!

First Course - Cheese & Charcuterie
First Course – Cheese & Charcuterie

To start, we put together a simple cheese and charcuterie board with Supreme brie (my fav), a gouda-cheddar blend, red wine (chianti) salami from Trader Joe’s, and a Trader Joe’s prosciutto (my absolut fav storebought prosciutto).  We threw in some granny smith apple slices, and wheat and flax crackers.  Tony apparently is a big chocolate beer guy, so Kevin decided to pick up a couple of chocolate stouts for the boys to try.

Second Course - Arugula Salad
Second Course – Arugula Salad

For the second course, we made a simple arugula salad topped with homemade candied walnuts, julienne fuji apple, and shaved (not grated!) parmesan cheese, all drizzled over with a homemade brown sugar balsamic vinaigrette (1/4 C balsamic vinegar, 1 chopped shallot, 1/2 C olive oil, 2 tsp brown sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp fine black pepper – whisked together and sitting for at least an hour).

I didn't remember to take a photo til midway through eating this dish...
I didn’t remember to take a photo til midway through eating this dish…

For the entree, we did a wheat rotini pasta dish with simple grilled shrimp, pan-friend kale, and Trader Joe’s sundried tomato.  We also added a touch of Trader Giotto’s Organic Vodka sauce to add a little bit of moisture to the dish – Kevin’s genius idea.

And now for the real subject matter of this post – dessert!  I wanted to make something that we could make and eat right away, rather than the types of things I typically make in advance (i.e., cupcakes, cookies, bars, etc.).  Also, baking at Kevin’s means either needing to be self-sufficient as far as not needing the typical tools and machinery goes, or bringing all the machinery myself.  We settled on a vanilla poached pear recipe (below) as adapted from one I found on Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4-5 slightly-under-ripe, fragrant, medium pears, peeled if desired, halved though the stem and cored (I used Bosc)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.

2. Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut-side up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar. Nestle the vanilla pod among the fruit (I first slit my halves lengthwise into quarters). Pour the water into the dish. Dot each pear with some butter.

Pears, Vanilla Sugar, and Butter - Easy!
Pears, Vanilla Sugar, and Butter – Easy!

3. Roast the pears for minutes brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. Turn the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes longer. A paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance.

Slightly Blistered Pears
Slightly Blistered Pears

4. Serve warm, spooned with the caramelized pear drippings from the pan over vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla Roasted Pears
Vanilla Roasted Pears

I LOVED this recipe – it’s a nice light dessert that I could eat probably every day.  When (not “if”) I make this again, I might substitute the white sugar for a little less than the same amount of brown sugar just to get a little more of a molassesy-sticky texture to the glaze. MMM

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Shrimp Pasta

I can’t say enough how much I love those sun-dried tomatoes from Trader Joe’s.  I use them in everything – salads, omelettes, sandwiches, vegetable dishes, you name it!  I found a great recipe in an issue of  Womens Health magazine for a sun-dried tomato pesto last year and finally got around to making it in January …and now I’m finally getting around to writing about it.  Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:
PESTO:

  • 1/2 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) whole tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano or basil
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

PASTA AND SHRIMP:

  • 10 ounces angel hair pasta
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Directions:
To make the pesto:
1. Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl, cover with hot water, and let soak for 10 minutes, or until softened. Drain and reserve the liquid.
Love the Color!
Love the Color!
2. Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor (a blender works just fine too). Add the walnuts and garlic and process briefly to combine. Add the whole tomatoes, parsley, oregano or basil, cheese, and oil and process until smooth. Add just enough of the reserved tomato soaking liquid to form a paste; process again until smooth.
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
To make the pasta and shrimp:
3. Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Drain and place in a serving bowl.
4. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, or until the shrimp are opaque. Sprinkle with the black pepper and salt.
Pan-Fried Shrimp and Veggies
Pan-Fried Shrimp and Veggies
5. Place in the bowl with the pasta and top with the pesto. Toss well to combine.
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Shrimp Pasta
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Shrimp Pasta

I really hate prepping shrimp, so I don’t make shrimp dishes very often.  The de-veining process is so tedious and… well, gross.  I mean really, is there nothing worse than pulling a string of poop out of a dead animal that you are about to then eat?  I will say that it was so worth it at least for this recipe.  I loved this dish probably more than the last shrimp dish I made (also found in Womens Health).

If I have somehow managed to not destroy your appetite with that last sentiment and you are thinking about making this, note that the pesto can be tightly covered and stored for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or up to 4 months in the freezer.  You can put the pesto in ice cube trays, freeze them, and thaw the cube for use as the perfect individual-sized portion of pesto for a plate of pasta!

Turkey and Quinoa Meatballs

Mixing it up, and adding a post about the dinner I made with my brother’s help the other night.  My dad is diabetic and can’t have carbs at night, so he tends to lean towards meat and vegetables for dinner.  However, my brother has inherited ghastly high cholesterol, so he has to stay away from most meat and stick with vegetables and carbs all meals of the day.  Neither of them are fish fans, so I decided to make one of my favorite lean dishes – turkey-and-quinoa meatballs with whole wheat pasta and chunky vegetable sauce.  My dad could stick with the meatballs and chunky veggie sauce, and my brother could have a lean meatball or two, and then veggie-and-carb load.

I found the recipe for the meatballs a couple of years ago on WholeFoods.com, and loved that the moisture that the extra vegetables and quinoa provided along with the healthnut “brownie” points.  The recipe calls for beef, but the meatballs have tasted like meatloaf instead of meatballs the times I’ve made this with beef so I usually use turkey instead.

Turkey and Quinoa Meatballs with Chunky Vegetables and Whole Wheat Pasta

The meatballs have diced onions, garlic, quinoa, grated carrot and zucchini, and traditional herbs and spices.  If you plan on making the meatballs at home, it’s definitely not a weeknight type of meal because of all the time that goes into prep in mincing/grating vegetables.  Alone, the meal altogether takes me 2-3 hours to make.

The sauce is composed of just a bunch of chopped vegetables cooked til tender in some EVOO, mixed and heated together with some Prego, and then throw over some whole wheat pasta.  Easy!