Now that I’ve got that admonition out of the way, here’s the rest of the post…
It’s the holiday season, and we’re really excited to be able to throw a holiday party for friends this year– had to skip 2020, of course. Traditionally we go all out when it comes to food, and this time I was looking for a vegetarian dish– something warm and filling, with a flavor profile that went along with the rest of our (admittedly meat-heavy) spread. I focused my search on caramelized onions (a favorite) and came across a recipe for jumbo pasta shells stuffed with a cheese and onion mixture that sounded right up my alley. The original recipe called for chicken or beef stock, but I replaced it with vegetable stock with no ill effects.
I’ll admit that this is a bit time-consuming– slicing the onions, even with a mandoline, took long enough that my eyes were tearing up a decent bit, and caramelizing them took a full 30 minutes. Once the onions were done, however, the rest of the recipe was pretty simple– just stir up a filling, stuff the cooked pasta shells (boiled while the onions cooked), and whisk together a sauce before putting it all in the oven. I will say that the finished dish– while delicious– is just a tiny bit lacking when it comes to being a main dish. I think it needs a touch more heft to really hold its own, but since I can’t think of anything I’d add, I’ll just plan on using this as a side dish for future dinner parties.
Okay, now that I’ve got that out in the open, here’s the backstory: I picked this recipe from Food52.com because I needed something to use up some extra anchovy fillets I had leftover from something else (and I can never just throw stuff like that away). I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but by the time the sauce was simmering on the stove I could tell from the aroma that I had a winner. The anchovies and sun-dried tomatoes combine to make a complex sauce that doesn’t taste particularly fishy or tomato-y, but still tastes incredible– it’s all that natural monosodium glutamate, which makes for some amazing umami flavor. A generous pinch of chili flakes and a squeeze of lemon brighten things up for a nicely balanced sauce. In case you can’t tell, I highly recommend it.
So apparently a year or two ago, this recipe (or a variation thereof) swept the internet with its simplicity and deliciousness, and I just missed it. But I discovered it recently and have promptly added it to my slate of weeknight dinners, because it’s just that easy and just that good. Basically, you chuck a block of feta and some cherry tomatoes into a baking pan, roast them for a bit, then toss in some cooked pasta and basil and you’re basically done.
With a sprinkle of crushed red pepper and some garlic, the finished dish is pretty fantastic, even if it’s not the most attractive thing in the world. The feta is creamy and salty, the tomatoes are bright, and you get an extra kick from the pepper to go along with the slightly sharp garlic (it’s barely cooked so it retains that sharpness). I will totally be making this over and over again!
I used farfalle, but any pasta shape would work pretty well here, I think. Just make sure there’s enough space in your roasting pan to add and toss your pasta, or you lose some of the convenience!
Ever since I first made this sauce I’ve been a huge, HUGE fan. The recipe is seemingly everywhere and it’s so simple, so perfect, so delicious you just want to eat more and more of it… it’s Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce With Butter and Onion. Three ingredients (not including salt, but that hardly counts), but they come together in a way that defies explanation. The butter adds so much richness to the tomatoes, and the onion in the background just adds to the overall roundness and balance of the sauce. It’s my very favorite tomato sauce, and it comes together with pantry ingredients in under an hour.
Seriously, I beg you to try it the next time you want a weeknight treat. How to make it?
When I was a kid my dad would occasionally make eggplant for dinner– he’d slice it lengthwise, put some kind of seasoning on the cut side, and roast it in the oven until the insides went all brown and mushy. I thought it looked disgusting. This was not aided by the fact that Dad would tell us that the brown part in the middle was actually a giant worm that lived inside every eggplant and was extra tasty when cooked. Ugh!
That story put me off eggplant for a while, honestly, and while I eventually recovered enough to enjoy eggplant parmesan and Chinese-style eggplant with spicy bean sauce and pork, I never really felt the urge to make eggplant myself.
That being said, when my local farmer’s market had a $1/lb. deal on eggplant, I decided it would be worth a shot to get myself a bagful. After a little digging online, I found this recipe, originally from Giada de Laurentiis but re-blogged by Smitten Kitchen. I tried making it with a few substitutions (canned tomatoes instead of the more expensive freshly roasted cherry tomatoes, omitting the pine nuts because I didn’t have any in my pantry), and it was pretty darned good! I decided to tweak it a little more to make it amazing, and the resulting recipe is something I’m definitely going to put into the rotation.
So despite the lack of a photo of the finished product (the above picture is pre-baking) this is a really good lasagna recipe. Hot sausage, gooey cheese, just enough spinach to make you feel virtuous… what more could you ask for? Seriously, it’s great, which is why it’s my go-to recipe to bring to new moms and dads who have just come back from the hospital and are too worn out to cook. In fact, I made this one for two friends (and baby makes three!) who are just now emerging from their haze of sleep deprivation and late-night feedings, so I hope they enjoy it! This is also why I don’t have a picture of the cooked dish.
Even if you don’t have a new baby, of course, this is a hearty, delicious dish for autumn and winter dinners. I took a few shortcuts with regard to some steps (jarred sauce is just fine for something like this!), so you could conceivably make this on a weeknight if you started early. I prefer to make it on weekends, though, and take the (ample) leftovers to work for lunch to combat the Monday blues!
Let me be upfront with you– this is not a pretty dish. It’s beige and sloppy-looking and won’t win any beauty contests. It won’t amaze your tastebuds with new and exciting flavors, either. But on the plus side, it’s reasonably healthy, quick and easy to make, and is basically the epitome of comfort food for a wintry evening. Also, it’s delicious, so you should make it.
While I’m sure the combination of beans, bacon, and cabbage has been around for a while, I somehow didn’t “discover” it until recently, when I was googling dinner ideas and came across a recipe in the Washington Post. I’ve adapted it to drastically increase the cabbage (and thus my perception of its healthiness), but aside from that it’s good as-is. The smokiness of the bacon combines with the creaminess of the beans to give it a really hearty flavor, and the cabbage just kind of melts into the dish, adding bulk but not hitting you in the face with cabbage-y flavor or odor. With plenty of black pepper and parmesan cheese, I’ve eaten this repeatedly this past winter, and regret nothing.
Like I’ve said before, I love making cute lunches for my daughter to take to school. It’s fun coming up with creative ways to make food look interesting, and one of the easiest things I’ve done is to make rainbow pasta. It’s just pasta, dyed with food coloring.
The great part is, you don’t have to cook it in special water or anything like that– just cook your pasta as usual. While it’s cooking, take a few drops of liquid food coloring or a tiny dab of gel food coloring and put it into a plastic sandwich bag. Put in a tablespoon of water to dilute the pigment. The water really is necessary, or it won’t coat the pasta evenly.
Then, when the pasta is finished cooking and still warm (doesn’t have to be right out of the pot, but you should do it within 5 minutes or so), put it into the bag, seal the bag, and toss it around until the colored water has coated the pasta.
And that’s it. Serve immediately and store any leftovers in the refrigerator for as long as you would regular pasta. If you do multiple colors, it’s best to store them separately so the dye doesn’t rub off onto other pieces of pasta.
Note: I find that red, yellow, green, and blue work best for coloring pasta, though yellow is kind of subtle. Purple/violet does NOT work well. Seriously, it turns the pasta this unappetizing grayish color– no one will want to eat it. So just skip that one.
I know it’s traditional to serve vodka sauce with penne, but all I had in the house was farfalle, so I went with that. But the sauce is really the star here, and always will be– spicy, creamy, rich but with bright tomato flavor, it’s a perfect comfort food. Plus, it’s made with pantry staples (the original recipe called for shallots and fresh tomatoes, but I think the modified one is just as tasty) and is quick and easy enough for a weeknight dinner!