As I’ve experimented with conjuring up new dishes, I’ve made quite a few that just weren’t that fantastic, and which I don’t deem  recipe sharing-worthy. But some of them were rather pretty or at least were interesting enough that I decided to post them anyhow.

The first dish was in my somewhat recent let’s-caramelize-everything phase. (Ok, I really only caramelized onions and leeks, but I did it a lot!). The idea here was to try to have different contrasting flavors from the five tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. (Umami is an earthy, savory, fermented taste. Examples of foods with an umami component are miso soup, mushrooms, sauerkraut, and cheese.) The base of the dish was Israeli couscous (a toasted pasta much larger than standard couscous), which I cooked in stock, so that was the salty component. Caramelized onions served as the sweet component, and sun-dried tomatoes and blue cheese were the umami components. At this point, I have to admit that I didn’t realize that sun-dried tomatoes fit in the umami category. I was thinking of them as having a bit of a sour component. So this dish really only had 3 tastes. It wasn’t too bad, but didn’t come together quite the way I hoped.

Caramelized Onions, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Blue Cheese on Israeli Couscous

Caramelized Onions, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Blue Cheese on Israeli Couscous

The second dish was an attempt to drastically transform tomato vodka sauce into something lower-fat. It’s supposed to be made with heavy cream, but at fifty calories and five to six grams of fat per TABLESPOON, there was no way that was going to happen. So I found a few recipes online and kind of mashed them together. I ended up using half and half, in a smaller quantity than the recipes called for. What I ended up with was some perfectly lovely tasting red sauce, but you couldn’t tell that it had a dairy component (very predictably, now that I look back on it). But it did look nice on top of some Pappardelle’s Venetian Calamari Linguine, topped with shaved pecorino romano.

Venetian Calamari Linguine with Ultra Low-Fat 'Tomato Vodka Sauce'

Venetian Calamari Linguine with Ultra Low-Fat 'Tomato Vodka Sauce'

Next was another pasta dish. I normally use grilled shrimp when I make Pappardelle’s  Chipotle Black Bean Tagliatelle, but I had some left over chicken that particular week, and used it instead. So…I kind of have to make something up here, because paging through the scattered notebooks I use to record my ingredient measurements, I can’t find this dish at all. But I like the photo, and seem to be hung up on having four items in this post. So, let’s see… I know I used shredded chicken, yellow bell peppers and garlic, and obviously topped it with cilantro. I’m fairly certain I used chicken stock and reduced it to make a sauce, since I’ve been practicing Reduction Mania in the kitchen for several months now. The best bet is that I added cumin, a bit of red pepper, lime juice, and I think a few squeezes of tomato paste prior to reducing it. If I remember correctly, this one could would have been shareable, but I’ve obviously lost my notes!

Pappardelle's  Chipotle Black Bean Tagliatelle with Cumin-Lime Shredded Chicken

Pappardelle's Chipotle Black Bean Tagliatelle with Cumin-Lime Shredded Chicken

I was really hoping this one would turn out wonderfully, but it was another good-but-not-great result. For the base I used a mixture of black and red quinoa, cooked in stock. On top of that was caramelized leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, and softened goat cheese…which, as I’m writing this up, I realize is pretty much a direct repeat of dish #1 with 3 variations. Quinoa instead of Israeli couscous, leeks instead of onions, and goat cheese instead of blue cheese. Ha! Well, that’s obviously EXACTLY where I got the inspiration for this one.

The important thing was that I had fun making all of these, even if they didn’t quite turn out right. And these ones were close enough that they’re worth a second try, with a few adjustments.

Over the past week, I used up a bunch of left over Pappardelle’s Pasta (mainly so I could get some new varieties at the Farmers’ Market!). While making sauces for each of them, I tried a few things that I learned in the cooking class I recently took at Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. I didn’t really keep track of the amounts I used in terms of herbs or liquids, or how long I cooked the sauces, but just tasted and adjusted ingredients as I went along, and added liquid or reduced the sauces down as needed. With pasta dishes like these, I don’t think precision is particularly critical – either with ratios of ingredients, or for that matter, cooking time. If my sauce was done before my pasta, I just turned the heat down, and added some pasta water if needed to make the sauce more liquidy when it was time to serve. (Saving pasta water is one trick I learned in class – the water is warm and starchy, so it works perfectly to tweak the viscosity of a sauce at the last minute).

The first pasta I cooked was Gluten Free Chipotle Lime. I just love how black beans go with this pasta, so I intended to use beans again, but to kick things up a notch, I decided to use some of the dried heirloom black beans I had from Whole Foods. Right before I started the beans, I got the idea to put a couple of very large minced garlic cloves and a small bit of salt in the water I used to cook them. And I’ve decided that from now on, I will be cooking all my black beans with garlic. They were outstanding! These particular heirloom black beans were great the last time I made them (I swear they smelled like a turkey cooking in the oven while they were simmering), but the garlic raised them to an entirely new level. I also decided to try removing the skin and seeds from the tomatoes, despite the fact that I usually make fairly rustic tomato sauce and leave them in, just to use the technique from my class. If you slash the bottom of the tomatoes with a knife and put them in boiling water for 15 seconds, you can literally pull the tomato skins off in a couple of pieces. It’s pretty amazing how well that works. I sauteed onion, pepper and and garlic in olive oil, this time putting the onion and pepper in first, and then adding the garlic, as per what we were told in class. I don’t really seem to have a problem with the garlic burning when I put it in before the onion and pepper, but when I do put it in first, the smell always seems less garlicky after the first 30 seconds, so I’ll probably keep experimenting with the practice of adding it after the onions. Once all of that was sauteed, I added the tomatoes and cooked them down a bit, and then threw in the black beans and a lot of chopped cilantro at the end. My husband and I thought this was the best sauce I’ve made for the Chipotle Lime pasta to date. So this dish had some great improvements with suggestions from class.

Pappardelle's Chipotle Lime Pasta with Black Beans and Tomatoes

Pappardelle's Chipotle Lime Pasta with Black Beans and Tomatoes

My next pasta ‘redo’ was the Autumn Harvest Orzo, which has pumpkin, chestnut, and sage orzos. I decided to embrace the spice mixture and Thanksgiving theme of the orzo this time, so I planned to use oven baked chicken (yeah, it’s not turkey, but it’s poultry), as well as sage and thyme. I took a pound and a half package of organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs from Costo, brushed the pieces with olive oil, and using another hint from class, salted and peppered them liberally before cooking. I put them in a large baking pan lined with aluminum foil and baked them at 400 degrees until they got to 165 degrees inside (I’m thinking it was about 45-50 minutes). [Note that I’m at about 5400 feet of altitude, so the temperature is about 25 degrees warmer, and the time longer than it would be at sea level.] Because I was hyper-careful to make sure that the internal temperature was hot enough, I overshot a bit and possibly (who am I kidding? definitely) cooked it a bit too long, ending up with what I affectionately referred to as desiccated chicken. But you know what? It really tasted great anyway! And since I planned to use it in two dishes with sauce, it actually worked out perfectly. It’s a bad picture, but you can see the substantial difference in mass before and after baking. There’s no coating or anything on the chicken, the dark, brownish color is just from baking.

Organic Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs - Before and after Desiccation

Organic Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs - Before and after Desiccation

For the sauce, first I sauteed onion and garlic in olive oil. Then I brought a pot of chicken stock to a boil, and added the orzo, onion, garlic, half of the baked chicken, and some sage, thyme, and pepper, and then cooked it until the liquid was mostly absorbed, and the orzo was done. The result was awesome tasting. It was really like a mini-Thanksgiving feast. The chicken tasted tender, and had a lot of great roasted flavor, and the sage and thyme heightened the flavors of the orzo. We considered this one a great success, and I’ll definitely be repeating it.

Pappardelle's Autumn Harvest Orzo with Chicken, Sage, and Thyme

Pappardelle's Autumn Harvest Orzo with Chicken, Sage, and Thyme

The third pasta I made was the Italian Pesto Pasta Blend, which is a mix of basil, cracked pepper, garlic parsley and sun-dried tomato flavored pastas. I planned to use the other half of the baked chicken, as well as shiitake mushrooms and sundried tomatoes for this one. I decided to try using white wine in the sauce, which is something I haven’t really done in the past unless using a recipe that calls for it. First I cooked the mushrooms over medium high heat in some avocado oil, then set them aside until I was ready to use them. Then I sauteed half an onion and several large garlic cloves, then added chicken stock, a bit of white wine, sliced sundried tomatoes, and the chicken. For herbs, I ended up using a teaspoon or so of an herb blend called ‘Italian seasoning’ which I bought at some point for some forgotten recipe. But it’s actually a nice blend of marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil, so it went with the pasta pretty well. I thickened the sauce towards the end with some cornstarch, so it would coat the pasta more and not just run to the bottom of the bowl. I found the end result fairly tasty, but my husband wasn’t quite as taken with the flavor. I ended up adding maybe a touch too much wine as I was adjusting (it overflowed the spoon I was measuring it into over the skillet – doh!), so it was perhaps a bit too acidic. I thought it was quite an attractive dish, though.

Pappardelle's Italian Blend Pasta with Chicken, Shiitake Mushrooms, Sundried Tomatoes and White Wine Sauce

Pappardelle's Italian Blend Pasta with Chicken, Shiitake Mushrooms, Sundried Tomatoes and White Wine Sauce

The end result of all of these dishes, the Italian Pesto Pasta Blend included, was that the sauces complimented the pastas better than on previous occasions, so I was very pleased with the outcomes, and happy with the tips I picked up in my class.

Over the past two weeks I’ve made a few fairly simple, yet really flavorful pasta dishes. I give most of the credit to Pappardelle’s Pasta, available both at the Boulder Farmers’ Market and in the Boulder Whole Foods. Most of the Pappardelle’s flavors we’ve tried are so bold tasting that they require very little in addition. They do have simpler flavors like Cracked Pepper, Santa Fe Corn, Yellow Bell Pepper and Whole Wheat, so there are some types you can use with your bolder sauces.

Italian Pesto Blend

A couple of weeks ago at the farmers market I saw cannellini beans in the shell, and since I enjoy fresh fava beans so much, I decided it would be fun to try another kind of fresh bean. As I was pondering what to make for the week, trying to think of something to use with the Pappardelle’s Italian Pesto Pasta I bought, I thought that cannellini beans might be good. I planned to just use olive oil, garlic, and basil in addition.

Italian Pesto Pasta with Cannellini Bean Ingredients

Ingredients for Italian Pesto Pasta with Cannellini Beans

Lulled by a false sense of competency from my experiences with shelling fava beans, I jumped in and started working on the cannellini beans. Well, fava beans kind of have a built-in zipper (if you grab the part on the non-stem end, you can rip it down the side of the bean). This is definitely not the case with cannellini beans. The shells of cannellini beans are much thicker than that of fava beans, and to be honest, if I didn’t have usable fingernails I’m not sure how long it would have taken me. I did finally arrive at a somewhat time-saving technique of sort of breaking the bean right on the bean bulge itself – that seemed to liberate the little guys better than any other technique.

Cannellini Beans -  Shells and Beans

Cannellini Beans - After Shelling

Once shelled, I boiled the beans for about 25-30 minutes. I started checking at about 15 minutes, just because I had never used them raw before, so wasn’t quite sure how long they would take. I swear after around 20 minutes, the vapor coming from the saucepan smelled like gingerbread. Really. That didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever, but I love gingerbread, so I really do know what it smells like. Unfortunately, all of the combinations of search terms I could think of to try turned up nothing on the internet, so…I’m not getting a lot of concurrence with my apparent gingerbread delusion.

Pappardelle’s Italian Pesto Pasta has four different flavors (and shapes) mixed together: Basil, Cracked Pepper, Garlic Parsley and Sun-Dried Tomato. It really did invoke pesto as you were eating it.  Aside from shelling the cannellini beans, this was an extremely quick and easy dish to make, but it was really quite great tasting.

Italian Pesto Pasta with Cannellini Beans
serves 2

1 lb cannellini beans in the pod
5 oz Pappardelle’s Italian Pesto Pasta
3 tsp olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 basil leaves, finely chopped
Shaved  pecorino romano
Salt and pepper to taste

Shell the beans, then boil in water until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and set aside. Cook the pasta. With a few minutes left on the pasta, sauté garlic in 1 tsp of olive oil for a minute, then turn off the heat. Drain the pasta, and then toss it with another 2 tsp of olive oil, the garlic, the beans, and several minced basil leaves. Add a little shaved pecorino romano and salt and pepper to taste.

Pappardelle's Italian Pesto Pasta with Cannellini Beans

Pappardelle's Italian Pesto Pasta with Cannellini Beans

Sweet Potato Pappardelle

I had been eyeing the sweet potato pappardelle at the Papperdelle’s Pasta stall all summer, but was waiting for fall to try it. So now that it is feeling cooler and the leaves are starting to turn, I finally bought some. This pasta pretty much begs for a butter sauce, so I planned to do browned butter, brown sugar and sage. I had also acquired a red kuri squash (or ambercup – I’m really not sure, I’ve GOT to start taking notes when I buy things), and thought that might be good in addition. I was a little worried it would taste too similar to the pasta, because in the past I’ve made a couple of things with sweet potatoes and squash that were too one-note, but it actually worked really well.

Sauce-wise, I attempted to make brown butter, but that didn’t really end up as anything you could remotely called a success. I’ve tried making brown butter a couple of times in the past and really not had good luck (burned milk solids), so after two failed attempts, I bailed and decided to just finish the pasta off with uncooked butter, letting it melt over the pasta. Two tablespoons of butter was a big splurge for us, but given the rest of the dish was nearly fat free, I just went for it. (We also use Land O Lakes light butter, which has about half the fat of regular butter. Is that shameful for a foodie to use?  Possibly.  But it helps keep the fat intake down. As my husband pointed out, the decreased fat is no doubt the bulk of why my attempts at brown butter fail, but I’m just not willing to use that much full-fat butter at home.)

Pappardelle's Sweet Potato Pappardelle & Ingredients

Sweet Potato Pasta Ingredients

I had never tried red kuri (or ambercup – whichever) squash before, so as I was cleaning it I was kind of surprised to find greenish/orange…guts? (I’m not really sure what you call the stuff inside a squash, technically speaking). And there was a lot of it, so that the flesh of the squash was actually pretty thin. I guess that’s why people like to use them for shells for stuffing of some sort. It was a very nice, mellow tasting squash, that I will definitely get again in the future.

Red Kuri  Squash

Red Kuri Squash

Sweet Potato Pappardelle with Red Kuri Squash, Garlic, Onions, Butter and Brown Sugar
serves 2

1 small winter squash
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp brown sugar
a sprinkle of cinnamon and/or clove, to taste
salt to taste

Hollow out and peel the squash, steam it, then chop it into small pieces. Start the pasta. Sauté the onions and garlic in 1 tsp of olive oil until the onions are translucent, then set aside. Once the pasta is done, drain it, then put it back in the saucepan over low heat with the butter, 1 tsp olive oil, the onions and garlic, and about a tablespoon of brown sugar, stirring until the butter is melted. Add salt to taste. Add cinnamon and/or clove to taste, if desired.

Sweet Potato Pappardelle with Red Kuri Squash, Garlic, Onions, Butter and Brown Sugar

Sweet Potato Pappardelle with Red Kuri Squash, Garlic, Onions, Butter and Brown Sugar

Gluten-Free Chipotle Lime

One of my favorite Pappardelle’s Pasta flavors is the Gluten-Free Chipotle Lime. I’m not gluten-intolerant, but I think their gluten-free pastas taste really good, so I haven’t hesitated to buy them. It’s true the texture isn’t exactly the same as regular pasta, but personally I feel the flavor makes up for any differences. Previously I’ve made this pasta with black beans, tomatoes, and guacamole, but I bought A LOT of sweet corn at the Farmers’ Market, so I decided that this would be a perfect use for the first ear. I just did a simple sauce with tomato, garlic, onion, cilantro and chili powder, and was very pleased with how it came out.

Chipotle Lime Pasta Ingredients - Corn, Tomatoes, Onions, Garlic

Chipotle Lime Pasta Ingredients (not pictured: beans in transit from last minute run to the store)

Chipotle Lime Pasta with Sweet Corn, Black Beans and Tomato
serves 2

4 oz Pappardelle’s Chipotle Lime Pasta
1 ear sweet corn
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
2 tsp olive oil (smoked, preferably)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
chili powder to taste (I used adobo and chipotle)
freshly ground pepper to taste

Boil the ear of corn in water either on the stovetop or in the microwave, about 8-10 minutes. Once the corn is done, drain and set aside to cool. Start the pasta (this gluten-free type needs 14-16 minutes to cook). Meanwhile, sauté the garlic and onion in a teaspoon of smoked olive oil until the onions are translucent. Then add the tomatoes, salt, and sugar, and cook for several minutes until the tomatoes are softened. Then add the adobo and chipotle chili powders (about three shakes each), ground pepper, and cilantro. Stir well to blend, salt to taste, then turn off the heat until the pasta is done. Cut the kernels off of the corn cobs. When the pasta is done, drain it, then combine everything in the saucepan over low heat to ensure it is well-mixed and heated through.

Chipotle Lime Pasta with Sweet Corn, Black Beans and Tomato

Chipotle Lime Pasta with Sweet Corn, Black Beans and Tomato

This week seems to have been a long one, and quite draining. So my energy for cooking was already pretty low by last night. But I had some assorted Hazel Dell mushrooms I needed to use while they were still in their prime, and some Pappardelle’s Supreme Orzo that seemed like it might work quite well with them. I seem to get to the Farmers’ Market too late to procure cinnamon cap mushrooms most weeks (they go fast), but I saw a few in a box when I got there this past week, so I asked about them. Although they didn’t have enough for a full bag, the guy was happy to make up a mixed bag with shiitake and oyster as well – awesome!

I love Pappardelle’s orzo – it expands when it cooks, so you end up feeling like you’re eating a lot more pasta than the 2 oz I typically use for our servings. The Supreme Orzo has a variety of fire-roasted red pepper, porcini mushroom, and saffron orzos (I looked it up, it’s plural, plus it sounds cool). I decided to use just a few left over green onions and some garlic in addition to the mushrooms. I simply sautéed the vegetables, put them in a pot with the orzo, a bit of broth, and some water, and let it cook for a while (I did stir it several times, so it didn’t stick on the bottom).

I also had some yellow and green string beans that I used for a side. Both my husband and I have a fondness for string beans from childhood. (Of course in childhood, at least for me, they were the source of the dreaded ‘bean back’ that plagued my family whenever we went out to harvest a row of them. We had some pretty long rows of beans, and you had to do a bunch of hunching over to pick them. But nonetheless, I do love the string beans). We’ve always found that all you have to do to string beans is steam them, and then add a little salt (and a bit of butter if you like). Not much else is necessary. This is where our Pampered Chef microwave steamer comes in handy – I love it on work nights!

Orzo, mushrooms, garlic, green onions

Supreme Orzo with Mushrooms

serves 4

8 oz Pappardelle’s Supreme Orzo
3-4 cups of assorted mushrooms (I used oyster, cinnamon cap and shiitake)
3 green onions, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable broth
3 cups water
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp avocado oil (or sunflower, corn, or grapeseed oil)
1/2 tsp salt
a few shakes of cayenne

Slice the mushrooms if they are larger – if you’re using small ones, you can leave them whole. Heat the avocado oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, cook the mushrooms just a few minutes, stopping before they become juicy. Remove them from the pan, and set them aside. Turn the heat down to medium, add the olive oil to the same skillet, and sauté the garlic for about a minute. Add the green onions and saute for 30-60 seconds more, and then set aside.

Put the orzo, broth, and water in a pot, and bring to a boil. Add the garlic, onions, salt, and cayenne. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is tender and has absorbed the majority of the liquid. (I actually turned the burner up just a bit from the lowest setting, because it didn’t seem to be doing much simmering on low-low. I also didn’t do a good job of tracking the time, but it was about 25-30 minutes.) If the orzo has absorbed all the liquid, and doesn’t seem tender, add a couple tablespoons of water, stir it up and see if that’s enough. Add more water if necessary. Once the orzo is done, add the mushrooms and cook until heated through.

Supreme Orzo with Mushrooms

Sometimes you make a dish that doesn’t really work (that’s the royal ‘you’ – employed here to refer to me).  Despite giving it your best, the end result is bland, unsatisfying, or maybe even kind of gross.  Lately vinegar seems to be the bane of my existence.  Okay, I suppose that is a bit of an exaggeration – let’s just say that vinegar has been making things difficult in my cooking life.  I love vinegar, and use red wine vinegar in Fattousch salad, balsamic vinegar in insalata caprese, sherry vinegar in bruschetta, apple cider vinegar in coleslaw – all with great results.  But I seem to be overdoing it in my pickle recipes, or vastly overcompensating and under doing it. And I’ve had two less than successful vinegar-related attempts at making a sauce for the Pappardelle’s Pacific Rim pasta I got at the Farmers’ Market.

The Pacific Rim pasta blend has a mix of of different types of pasta with Garlic, Cayenne, Cilantro, Curry Chive, and Lemon Ginger flavors. There is a note on their website that says with sesame oil, this pasta makes a ‘simple, yet delectable side dish’.  I, however, wanted to make more of an entrée.  So instead of listening to their wise suggestion, I glanced at what types of things were in the more complex recipes on the site, and decided I’d make something up on my own.  The first sauce I attempted was made of sesame oil, soy sauce, sherry vinegar, and hoisin sauce.  Now this one didn’t actually taste bad, but it completely overtook the flavor of the pasta, and I realized as we were eating it, that I had pretty much made a nice Americanized Chinese lunch buffet dish.  The sauce was nice and thick, and very sweet. Hmmm…Not completely what I was going for.

The second time, I planned to use some yellow squash, shiitake mushrooms, red pepper, garlic, and onion, with a nice, light sauce that would let the pasta flavors shine through.  Originally I planned to serve it with some grilled shrimp, but it was one of those days at work, and I was pressed for time, so I decided to use frozen edamame (well, thawed frozen edamame, of course).  I had some extra red chard, so I got that all prepped, and stuck it in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dish.

For the sauce I started with oyster sauce and a bit of soy sauce.  It needed something to brighten it up, so I added white wine vinegar.  And it actually tasted pretty good when I tried just a tiny bit of it with a spoon.  And it might have even been okay had I not dumped the entirety of what I made (about 5 Tbsp worth) into my sautéed vegetables.  It didn’t reduce down enough – and was already too concentrated a flavor as it was.  After eating an entire dish, it was vinegar overload.  And I completely forgot the red chard that I was so careful to prepare.  Okay then – note to self: If I buy Pacific Rim pasta again, just a bit of sesame oil is the thing to use.

And I learned a couple of good lessons – be careful with the vinegar and you really need to dial it back so you don’t overpower flavored pasta with things that are too strong. Plus, it wasn’t all bad – I had the best success I’ve ever had cooking mushrooms – on medium high heat and using sesame oil which has a higher smoke point than olive oil.  So that’s a positive.  And, it was rather pretty:

I was delighted to find that one of my new favorite food blogs, The Table of Promise, is featuring a blog carnival on this very topic! So see, this wasn’t a bad food week after all!

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