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Carrot Pecan Pesto

November 11, 2015 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu, Pasta No Comments

Pesto is traditionally thought of as a pasta sauce that is made of fresh blended herbs, garlic, olive oil, grated cheese and pine nuts. Its most common ingredient is fresh basil. However, there are a number of creative variations that have popped up over the years. I like to do a half and half blend of basil and mint, and my sister-in-law makes a delicious pea pesto. This carrot and pecan version of pesto makes for a fantastic addition to your Thanksgiving menu. It would work well as an appetizer with fresh veggies or crackers. If pasta is part of your Thanksgiving dinner, it would be a nice alternative to a traditional marinara sauce/red gravy. And you can bet that slathering it on top of a turkey sandwich would be heavenly!

Before you break out your food processor or food chopper, you’ll want to first roast the carrots and pecans in the oven for 15 minutes. This will soften the carrots for easier chopping and will enhance the flavor of both the carrots and pecans. I decided to use pecans in this recipe because I feel that their taste is very complementary to carrots. You can use walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, or any holiday nut combination of your liking.

Carrot Pecan Pesto

1/2 lb baby carrots (1/2 of a small bag)
1/2 cup pecans
vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
dash of ground ginger
1 tspn fresh thyme, plus additional for garnish
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375˚. Lightly coat the carrots with a small bit of vegetable or canola oil. Place the carrots and pecans onto a baking tray. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven.

Place the roasted carrots and pecans, parmesan cheese, ginger and thyme into a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Keeping the machine running, slowly add the olive oil until fully incorporated. You may need to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl a few times. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with additional sprigs of fresh thyme.

 

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Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)

October 27, 2015 Pasta, Soup No Comments

With the cooler fall air rolling in, now is the time of year that I enjoy making soups and stews. This past weekend’s brisk weather was the perfect time for me to make a pot of Pasta e Ceci (pronounced as pasta & chichi), which is a cousin to the famous Pasta e Fagioli. Instead of using the traditional kidney or cannelloni beans, this recipe uses garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas. Many pasta e ceci recipes use ingredients similar to other pasta and bean dishes, such as pancetta, fresh rosemary and thyme, and a mirepoix (sautéed carrots, celery and onions). My recipe is a bit abbreviated, but I promise you it does not lack in heartiness or rich flavor! My version of this dish can be prepped and served in just under an hour, which makes it a practical and comforting dish for any chilly weekend or weekday meal.

 

 

Pasta e Ceci

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbspn olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 14oz can stewed tomatoes
1 16oz can garbanzo beans/chick peas, drained
1 32oz can/container of low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 tbspn grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
1 cup short cut pasta, such as dilatini or elbow macaroni
salt and pepper

Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion, stir to evenly coat. Let simmer until onions become soft and translucent. Add garlic, stir. Simmer for 30 seconds, until garlic becomes fragrant. Add stewed tomatoes and their juices, along with about 1/3 can of beans. Add bay leaves, stir together. Let simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Using a potato masher, rough-smash the tomatoes and beans, making a chunky broth. You can also use an emulsifier or remove the beans to puree them and add them back into the soup for a creamier texture, but I prefer to mash them along with the softened tomatoes. Add the remaining beans, along with 3 cups of the broth. The soup will thicken up as it cooks, so you can add the remaining broth as needed. Add 1tbspn grated parmesan, stir. Cover the pot, reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pasta, stir well. Again, the soup will thicken up as the beans and pasta cook and expand. You can slowly add more broth or water as needed, or to your liking. Heat another 5-10 minutes until pasta is cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve with crusty bread. Top with additional grated or shaved parmesan cheese.

The basic ingredients...plus a little wine!

The basic ingredients…plus a little wine!

Early stages of the soup.

Early stages of the soup.

Rough-smashing the beans and tomatoes.

Rough-smashing the beans and tomatoes.

Served with shaved parmesan cheese and crusty bread.

Served with shaved parmesan cheese and crusty bread.

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Chicken Cacciatore Casserole

February 19, 2015 Entrees, Menu, Pasta No Comments

Family recipes, whether followed to the tee or slightly altered, are a key ingredient to keeping family traditions alive. They are a major inspiration for many big weekend and holidays meals, and the backbone to my food blog. For this recipe, I’m taking one of my Grandmother’s signature dishes, Chicken Cacciatore (which you can find on my blog by clicking here), and am slightly adjusting some of the measurements to make it into a casserole. Although the presentation and serving size are just a bit different from the original – I made adjustments to better serve a large crowd – the spirit and essence of Grandmom’s dish is still the main highlight. There’s nothing wrong with adding a new twist to a classic family dish, and I’m sure that my Grandmom would approve of this recipe!

 

 

Chicken Cacciatore Casserole

4 chicken breasts, cut into 1″ cubes, lightly dusted with flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tspn rosemary
1 29-oz can tomato sauce (you’ll start off with about 2/3 of the can)
1 large red or green bell pepper (or two small), cut into small pieces
1 cup water
2 tblspn vegetable oil
pinch sugar
salt & pepper to taste
1lb cooked pasta (ziti, mini shells, or whatever you prefer!)
breadcrumbs
*although I don’t prefer them, you can also add mushrooms to this dish

Step 1: The Sauce
In a large frying pan, brown chicken and garlic in oil until chicken is golden brown. Add vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Simmer until liquid evaporates. Add rosemary, about 2/3 of the tomato sauce, remaining water, sugar, salt and pepper. Add peppers, stir together, cover slightly, let cook for 30 minutes.

Note – I’m suggesting that you start off with 2/3 of the tomato sauce. A full can may be too much to add to the pan. You can add in the remaining 1/3 of tomato sauce when stirring in the pasta. The added sauce will pick up the flavors while baking.

Step 2: The Pasta
Preheat oven to 350˚. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta until al dente. When pasta is done, mix it together with the sauce in a 13″x9″ baking dish. If the pasta doesn’t get fully coated, add the remaining 1/3 can of sauce, stir together. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs. Cover with aluminum foil, place in oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until slightly bubbling and hot.

Serve and enjoy!

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Baked Pasta, Chicken and Artichoke Hearts in a Lemon Cream Sauce

May 8, 2014 Entrees, Menu, Pasta No Comments

For this recipe, I’m combining chicken with two of my favorite ingredients – lemons and artichoke hearts – to make a tasty and filling baked pasta casserole, perfect for the spring season. You’ll need a little bit of time to prepare this dish, as it is a multi-step recipe. For the first step, we’ll sauté the artichokes and chicken in a lemon, wine and butter sauce. For the second step, we’ll prepare Lidia Bastianich’s lemon cream sauce recipe. We’ll then combine everything and bake it for 30 minutes. This is a great dish to serve to your family and friends as a beautiful weekend afternoon meal.

 

 

 

 

Step 1: Sautéing the Chicken and Artichokes

Ingredients:
1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ to 2″ pieces
2 tbspn olive oil
2 tbspn butter
1 shallot, minced
zest plus juice of one lemon
1/4 cup white wine
6 oz jar artichoke hearts, roughly chopped

Directions:
Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When butter melts, add chicken. Sauté until chicken is browned and cooked. Remove chicken, set aside. Add shallots, cook briefly until shallots start to soften. Add wine to deglaze pan. When the liquid starts to reduce, add lemon zest and juice, stir well. Add artichoke hearts and chicken, stir well. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until liquid reduces by half. Remove from heat, set aside.

 

Step 2: Preparing the Lemon Cream Sauce

Recipe courtesy of Lidia Bastianich
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter
zest plus juice of 2 lemons
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream

Directions:
Drop the butter into the large skillet, and set it over medium heat. As the butter melts, scatter in the grated lemon zest; stir it around until sizzling. Pour in the white wine and lemon juice, add the salt, stir, and bring the liquids to a bubbling simmer. Cover the skillet, and let cook for a couple of minutes.

Uncover the pan, and slowly pour in the cream, whisking it steadily into the simmering wine and lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquids reduce to a saucy consistency you like, 2 or 3 minutes more.

Note: as you are making the lemon cream sauce, you will also start to prepare a pot of boiling water to make 1 lb of pasta (zit, rigatoni or small shells will work well with this dish). As the sauce simmers, start to boil the pasta.

 

Step 3: Combining the Ingredients

When the pasta is done boiling, you will combine the pasta with the chicken and artichoke mixture (and its reduced liquid) in a 13″x9″ baking dish. Carefully pour the lemon cream sauce over the pasta mixture and stir it until the pasta, chicken and artichokes are all covered with the sauce. Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake in a 350˚ over for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, stir, serve and enjoy.

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