Recipe: Pasta Bolognese

Servings: 2-4

Prep. time: 10-15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 strips prosciutto, cut into small pieces
  • 6-8 oz. lean ground beef*
  • Approx. 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • White wine (cooking/dry)
  • Marsala wine (cooking/dry)
  • Chicken stock
  • Cinnamon
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 8 oz. pasta**

*I prefer 90-93% lean.

**I used medium shells. Papadelle and other long, wide noodles are great with this sauce, but small pastas, like shells or orchiette, are great too.

Directions

Heat a large, nonstick pan over medium-high heat, then add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon to a plate covered in paper towels to drain. Add a little butter and olive oil to the bacon fat in the pan and add the onion and carrot, cooking until tender and fragrant, then add the prosciutto and continue to cook. Add the beef and cook, breaking the meat up as it cooks. Add a splash of marsala and splash of white wine and the garlic and continue to cook, letting the wine reduce and the beef continue to brown and cook. Crumble in the bacon strips and add the tomato paste, stirring to combine, then cook for approx. 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, a little more of each wine, and reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. Add in a pinch of cinnamon (a quick whiff of the sauce should let you know it’s there, but don’t add too much; 1-3 tsp. is probably enough) and paprika (1-3 tsp.), as well as some salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, covered. While the sauce is cooking over low heat, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 6-8 minutes, or until al dente, then drain, and add the finished pasta in with the sauce, tossing to coat. The finished sauce should be a brownish-orange color, scented with cinnamon and paprika, and it should be somewhat thickened.

The sauce, as it's cooking

The sauce, as it’s cooking

Pasta Bolognese

Cook’s Commentary

There are many different ways to make a bolognese sauce—some recipes call for plum tomatoes while others call for just tomato paste, some use ground beef and veal while others use ground beef and pork, some suggest pairing it with long pasta noodles while others encourage the use of smaller pastas—I looked at many of these differing recipes and went my own way. Beef is the bulk of the meat in this dish, while the bacon and prosciutto add a little texture and saltiness to the sauce. Cinnamon and paprika add a heat and sweetness that balances the tanginess of the tomato paste and the salty-savory flavors of the meats. Chicken stock and wine create a sort of brothy sauce that soaks deliciously into the pasta noodles. It’s a hearty meal perfect for cold weather, and the sauce is delectable sopped up on a piece of bread at the end of the meal, and absolutely perfect paired with a red zinfandel or other sweet red wine.

Recipe: Romesco Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1, 1 inch thick slice of fresh, crusty bread, toasted and pulled into chunks
  • 1/2 cup whole, unsalted almonds
  • 1 large tomato
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, skins on*
  • 1 to 2 red bell peppers, halved, seeds and cores removed
  • 1 to 2 fresh cayenne peppers, stems removed**
  • Approx. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Splash of sherry or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garlic powder, if desired

*Cut of the little bit of root end from the cloves to make it easier to remove the skins later.

**Substitute with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if desired.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375*F. Place the almonds on a smaller, ungreased baking sheet and roast for 3-6 minutes, until fragrant, then remove and set aside. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray (like Pam). Place garlic, tomato, bell pepper, and cayenne pepper on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and toss to coat. Roast for approx. 20 minutes, until the skins of the tomato and bell pepper blisters and everything is tender. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, then pull the skins off of the tomato, bell pepper, and garlic cloves and toss the skins. Add the roasted ingredients, bread, olive oil, vinegar, paprika, and salt and pepper to a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve as a dip, spread, or sauce. Sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Makes approx. 1.5-2 cups.

Pasta with Sauteed Shrimp, Mozzarella, Basil, and Romesco Sauce

Pasta with sauteed shrimp, mozzarella, basil, and romesco sauce

Steak sandwich with romesco sauce and arugula

Steak sandwich with romesco sauce and arugula

Cook’s Comments

I am in love with making all kinds of pesto—spinach and walnut, basil and pine nut, mint and pistachio—and this sauce is a lot like a creamy pesto. Roasted almonds give it a nutty flavor and slightly gritty (in a good way) texture. Bell peppers and cayenne peppers add heat, while sweet and tangy tomato help mellow the heat. This sauce is incredibly versatile—perfect with just about any meat, great tossed with pasta or slathered on a piece of crusty bread, and lovely as a sandwich spread. It’s easy to make, absolutely delicious, and one of my all time favorite sauces.

Recipe: Roasted Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Approx. 8 medium-to-large tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 2 small onions, peeled and cut into quarters
  • A handful of misc. vegetables*, cleaned and cut into chunks
  • 5-10 cloves garlic, root ends cut off, unpeeled
  • 1 (fresh) cayenne pepper
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried basil
  • Dried parsley
  • Dried oregano
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Cooking spray

*This sauce can handle some extra veggies to give it a little extra body and flavor. I had a small eggplant left over from the farmer’s market and I peeled that and added it to the bunch. In other recipes I’ve found, I’ve seen people call for carrots, celery, or squash. I’d stick to one of the aforementioned ingredients—no broccoli, spinach, radishes, etc. Nothing with too strong of a flavor or too much texture.

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Cover a large baking sheet/pan with foil and lightly spray the foil with cooking spray, like Pam. Place the tomatoes, onions, garlic, misc. vegetables, and cayenne pepper on the tray, drizzle in olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning (about 1 tsp. each), and toss to coat. The vegetables should glisten with the olive oil, but not be drenched (you can always add a little more as it’s cooking). Put the tray in the oven and cook for at least 1 hour (preferably 2-3) for maximum flavor. Once cooked through and fragrant (but not burnt), remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Peel the skins off of the tomatoes and pop the garlic cloves out of their skins (cutting the ends off at the beginning should make it so that you can squeeze the cloves right out of their skins and discard these skins/peelings. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender, or use a stick blender, and blend together the ingredients until smooth. Serve hot with pasta or other dish, or freeze and use at a later time.

Serves: 4

Prep time: 10 min.

Cooking time: 1-3 hours

Roasted Tomato Sauce ingredients

Ingredients for the sauce

Pasta and Chicken with Roasted Tomato Sauce

The sauce, tossed with farfalle and chicken

 

Cook’s Comments

My absolute favorite thing about this sauce is the amazing aroma that fills my apartment while it’s cooking. It doesn’t take much longer than 10 or 15 minutes for the smell of sweet onion, warm garlic, and tangy tomato to fill the air, and the longer you let this cook, the better the aroma and flavor. This is an easy sauce to make—perfect for a weeknight meal or a day when you’ve got work to do around the house (because you simply throw everything on a pan, put it in the oven, and forget about it for a few hours while you do your thang). It’s tomato sauce, so it works in a variety of dishes—pasta sauce, pizza sauce, lasagna, and probably even as a tomato soup base.

Recipe: Basil Pesto

Basil pesto…you see it in little glass jars at the grocery store, swirled into pasta at restaurants, and spread on sandwiches at lunch joints. It’s a very simple mixture that can be whipped up in minutes using a food processor. It’s so easy, in fact, you really should just make it yourself! Raw garlic, which has a spicy quality, and toasted pine nuts add a punch of flavor to the mix of fresh basil and parsley, while the olive oil and cheese help pull the mixture together into a delicious sauce and spread. Perfect in pasta, blended into butter or mayonnaise as a spread, spread on bread or a sandwich, or added to grilled chicken or fish—basil pesto is something everyone should know how to make.

Yields: Approx. 1/2 cup
Prep. time: 5 minutes
Assembly time (no cooking required): 5 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Special equipment: Food processor

Ingredients

  • Approx. 2-4 oz. fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (toast in oven for 2 minutes at 350*F)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
Add all of the ingredients to the food processor and pulse to thoroughly blend. Use the mixture as a sauce or spread. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. 
This sauce is packed with flavor: “spicy” garlic, fresh basil and parsley, nutty and salty Italian cheeses, and toasted pine nuts all create a strong flavor that works well in all sorts of dishes. 

Recipe: Pecorino-Romano Cheese Sauce

The other night, we had thawed chicken breasts, leftover grilled veggies, and three cups of heavy cream crowded together in the fridge, and for me this was just another night of “how can I pull these things together to create a dinner that tastes good AND helps clear out the fridge.” The answer was simple: Make a sauce with the cream and toss it with the chicken, veggies, and maybe some pasta (which, of course, we always have on hand in the pantry). So, sauce. Cheese sauce made the most sense. But what kind of cheese? Well, I had an assortment to choose from— Gouda, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Jarlsberg—and I chose Pecorino-Romano, craving its distinct salty flavor. A little garlic, some onion and seasonings, and a splash of chicken broth added to the cream and cheese mix created a velvety, salty sauce that brightened up lightly-seasoned chicken and previously-grilled veggies.

Yields: About 1-1.5 cups
Prep. time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • Approx. 1/4 cup chicken stock/broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2-3/4 cup shredded/grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. dried basil (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano (or more, to taste)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Cornstarch (mixed with water; as needed)
Directions
In a medium pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter, then add the garlic and onion and cook for approx. 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is fragrant and slightly soft. Add the chicken stock, then slowly whisk in the heavy cream and increase the heat to medium. When the mixture starts to bubble slightly around the edges, slowly add in the cheese, whisking constantly. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the cheese is almost completely melted. Whisk in a little regular milk if the mixture seems a little thick or lumpy. Add the white pepper, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper and whisk to combine. Let the mixture cook over medium to medium-high heat until thickened. If it seems a little thin, add a little bit of cornstarch (mix about 1 tsp. cornstarch with about 2 tbsp. cold water, then add it to the sauce). Serve over chicken, pasta, rice, vegetables, potatoes, etc. 
This sauce is creamy, salty, cheesy, and surprisingly light despite the heavy cream. It may seem quite salty and strong when tasted straight from the pot, but once tossed with warm pasta or poured over roasted red potatoes or a grilled chicken breast, it’s absolutely perfect—bright and flavorful. We had it as a pasta sauce, tossed with pieces of sauteed chicken, whole wheat farfalle pasta, and grilled vegetables (squash, zucchini, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and onion) and it was ridiculously tasty. We had some sauce leftover, so we ate it over breaded chicken breasts and roasted new potatoes the next night, and it worked so well. Despite being a cream sauce, its bright, cheesy flavor works well in warm weather dishes.

Recipe: Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce

My mom’s request that I make something for dinner that my dad and I would like that she wouldn’t mind missing (she was out with friends tonight) led me to bell peppers. My mom loathes just about any kind of pepper, particularly bell peppers—she picks around them when I cook dishes that include them and she can taste the slightest hint of them in a dish (though, strangely, she makes a roasted red pepper soup that she will actually eat). My dad and I, on the other hand, are pepper fans, so I wanted to create a pepper-centric dish for us to enjoy. This creamy bell pepper sauce, tossed with pasta and chicken, creates a quick and easy meal that’s perfect for any season. Bell peppers, heavy cream, pine nuts, and a handful of other ingredients blend to create a light, spicy-sweet sauce that’s creamy and delicious.

Yields: Approx. 2 cups
Prep. time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10-20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Special equipment: Food processor

Ingredients

  • 2, 12 oz. jars roasted red bell peppers (or approx. 2-3 fresh red bell peppers, roasted)
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted*
  • 5-10 leaves fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-4 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
*To toast the pine nuts: preheat the oven to 350*F and spread the pine nuts evenly over the sheet. Toast in the oven for 3-6 minutes, or until fragrant and light golden-brown. Pay attention!—These are easy to burn.
Directions
Add all of the ingredients, except the heavy cream and butter, to the food processor and pulse to blend. The finished mixture will be slightly textured and thoroughly blended. Pour the mixture into a medium pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Slowly whisk in all of the heavy cream, then add the butter and stir to blend. Adjust seasonings as desired (if anything, add more salt, pepper, and maybe a splash of lemon juice or dash of garlic powder). Serve hot over pasta, chicken, or food of your choice.
I tossed penne pasta and diced chicken with the sauce
This sauce is easy to put together and it’s packed with flavor without being overwhelming. Bell peppers aren’t very spicy, but that little bit of heat they do have, along with their sweetness, blends perfectly with pungent garlic and onion, toasty pine nuts, fresh basil, and nutty Parmesan. The heavy cream and butter give this sauce a light, creamy texture that makes this dish filling without feeling heavy or overly rich.

A variation on this sauce, using orange and green bell peppers instead of red bell pepper

Recipe: Traditional Red Pizza Sauce

As I shared in my basic pizza dough recipe post, my mom wanted me to help make homemade pizza for a Super Bowl party she’s hosting, and I worked off of a recipe from Food.com to create a delicious red sauce. This sauce has a TON of ingredients, which all blend together to create a rich, flavorful sauce perfect for pizza, or even as a pasta sauce. It’s easy to pull together and the flavors deepen when you allow the sauce to simmer for a while. Now, because I had to make up a big batch (enough to cover at least four pizzas), and was editing the original recipe as I went along, the amounts listed here are measured for a larger amount and I have not done the math to edit it to work for a single pizza—I trust you can figure this out. This sauce freezes well, and can be stored for a few months, so you can easily make this recipe as is and freeze the excess for future pizzas or for other uses (pasta, dipping sauce for mozzarella sticks or fried eggplant, etc.; we still had left over after making about five or six pizzas).

Yields: Approx. 3.5 quarts
Prep. time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30-60 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Special equipment: Blender, food processor, or immersion/stick blender

Ingredients

  • 6-8 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • Approx. 2 cups onions, chopped (I used 4 small-to-medium onions)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Approx. 45 oz. tomato sauce (I used a 29 oz. can, and then added a 15 oz. can when I realized I needed more)
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 2, 6 oz. cans tomato paste
  • 6-8 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3-4 tsp. dried basil
  • 3-4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 3-4 tsp. dried fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
  • 3 whole bay leaves (remove these from sauce before pureeing)
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • Approx. 1 tsp. black pepper
  • Approx. 2 tsp. salt
  • Approx. 2 tsp. sugar

Directions
In a large pot, heat the butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and slightly transparent. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste and stir to combine (the paste is thick, so be sure you stir it vigorously to break it down in the sauce). Add in the remaining ingredients (the cheese, herbs, spices, sugar, and salt) and stir to combine. Briefly bring the sauce to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot with a lid, and let it simmer for 30-60 minutes (I cooked it for 30 minutes; the longer you cook it, the more the flavors can blend). Remove the bay leaves from the sauce. 
To blend: If using an immersion/stick blender (this is what I did, because it’s the easiest and creates the least amount of dishes to wash), immerse the blender into the sauce in the pot and pulse to blend, stirring as you pulse, until the bigger chunks (onion, diced tomatoes, garlic) are broken up and blended into the sauce and the sauce is smooth. If using a blender or a food processor, pour as much as the sauce as possible (without overloading) into the holder on the unit and blend/pulse until smooth. Pour the smooth sauce into a clean bowl. Repeat this process with the remaining sauce until it’s all blended and smooth. Sauce can be kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen for a few months. 
This sauce is a little sweet, a little spicy, a little tangy, and oh-so-good. Fennel and oregano are classic pizza sauce flavors, and the combination of the remaining flavorings is just right. Allowing the sauce to simmer for a while gives it a great depth of flavor, making it the perfect addition to any pizza, pasta, or other Italian-esque dish.