Pasta rule the world. As the story goes, Marco Polo “discovered” the frilly, shapely, or stringy noodles in China and brought them to Europe in the 15th century. This is still a good story, yet the idea of making dough-to-boil from durum semolina seemed to have existed in Italy since the 13th century. Regardless, Chinese or Italian, pasta rule my cooking world too.
Everybody cooks pasta once in a while. But very few people make their own. Count me into that group. I just don’t have the time to hang fettucine up to dry like my friend Edda (picture on right). A store-bought packet of Barilla (insert your favorite brand here) would do it for me. Good for you, if you grow your own tomatoes to cook a fresh sauce. I don’t have the luxury to be so purist yummy. But if you, like me, get real happy with quick-and-easy recipes, here are three of my main staples from the pasta season.
Pasta Bolognese (1 lb meat, 1 lb pasta) for 6 Persons
Fry in a saucepot on medium heat in 2 Tbs. olive oil:
- ½ large (or 1 medium) onion, diced, for 7 minutes to glaze; then add
- 1 jalapeño pepper, diced, cook together a bit more; add and brown
- 1 pound of lean chuck (turkey, chicken, pork, beef, or 2 cans of tuna), while stirring regularly; add
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 2 tsp. salt (or to liking)
- ½ tsp. oregano (go easy, rather less)
- 1 tsp. basil
After meat-spice mix is browned (ca. 15 min) add
- 1 jar of marinara pasta sauce (24 oz./680 g)
- 1 can tomato sauce (15 oz./426 g)
- cup of frozen veggies (optional)
and let this slowly bubble for 15 min, stir frequently. In the meantime set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Follow package directions for cooking pasta.
Finishing up the sauce in 5 minutes:
- 2 Tbs. sugar
- 1 tsp. fresh grated pepper
- 2 Tbs. capers (or chopped olives)
- 1 swig of fresh sweet cream (optional)
- ½ cup of red wine (optional)
Here come the flavor makers:
Chop up EITHER fresh parsley OR cilantro OR rosemary to add to your sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Parsley will give you a rather northern European flavor, cilantro a Mexican/Oriental reminiscence, and rosemary the totally Italian/Mediterranean experience.
Serve the steaming sauce over the hot pasta (spaghetti, fettucine, fusilli, penne etc.) and sprinkle Romano or Parmesan cheese on it. Bon appetite!
WAIT: We are not done. You made enough sauce for 2 meals. Fill half of the sauce into an airtight plastic container and freeze that portion for later use. Because next week we will be making . . .
Hit-the-Spot Lasagna for a Party of Eight
Lasagna must not be complicated at all. The great advantage: it is baking independently while you are free to entertain your guests with appetizers and stories. I adapted a recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook for non-boil pasta. At first I had trouble with the pasta getting cooked all the way through. But I have learned a little trick. Preparation time 20 min; baking time 1 hour.
Here is what you do:
Grease a 9 x 12 inch glass/ceramic casserole with olive oil; pour ½ of a 15 oz. can tomato sauce in the form and distribute evenly across the bottom. Heat up the oven to 350F.
- 1 pound of your homemade Bolognese sauce
- 1 can of tomato sauce (15 oz.)
- 1 packet of no-boil pasta for lasagna
- 1 container ricotta cheese (15 oz./425 g) mixed with
- 1 egg (& chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, optional)
- 3 cups of shredded cheese (mozzarella, Colby, cheddar etc.)
LAYERING: Put a layer of non-boil pasta over the tomato sauce at the bottom of casserole. Spread a layer of the ricotta/egg mixture (ca. half of amount) over the pasta. Then cover the ricotta with half of the Bolognese sauce, top it off with a layer of cheese.
REPEAT: lasagna sheets, ricotta mix, Bolognese sauce, shredded cheese
TOP OFF: Finish with a layer of pasta sheets, “paint” that with the remaining ½ can of tomato sauce, sprinkle cheese over it. Finally, carefully pour a cup of water around the edges of casserole to raise liquid to about half height. Casserole should be evenly filled close to the brim.
BAKING: Bake the lasagna covered with aluminum foil for 30 min, remove foil and bake for another 30 min. Take it out and let it rest for 15 min. Serve with a fresh mixed salad.
Carbonara Noodles for Any Day
Spaghetti Carbonara, a toss up of pasta with egg/cream mixture, apparently happens when you mix scalding hot pasta with the raw egg, which in itself “cooks” the eggs done. But I have never been so fancy. I will start with any kind of boiled noodles and roast them straight out in a skillet. (I have pasta left over from the Bolognese 2 days ago.)
What you need:
- ¼ stick of butter
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- cooked pasta noodles, enough for a large skillet (ca. 4-5 cups)
- 2–3 eggs, whisked with
- ½ cup of sweet cream
- 1 cup of frozen veggie mix (optional)
- 1 cup of shredded cheese
- 2 stalks green onions, chopped
- 5 sprigs cilantro (optional)
- salt & pepper to liking
Sautee the chopped onion in a large skillet until glazed, add the pasta and (optional) frozen vegetables to be heated through, pour the egg mix on, continue to shuffle, add herbs, cheese, salt & pepper, keep shuffling until egg is set. Serve immediately with a nice mixed salad.