Categories
Main Dish

Make a ‘rigaton’ of food with this sausage pasta bake

Sausage and Cheese Rigatoni
Sausage and cheese rigatoni is a delicious baked pasta with deep Italian flavors from marinara, roasted red peppers and plenty of cheese.

We decided to have a few friends over for dinner this past week, and I decided it was finally time for me to try this amazing-looking recipe for a baked Italian dish.

Joey was gracious enough to help me out by manning the saute pan. He was busy cooking the sausage and onion and asked, “When do I add the garlic?”

I looked at the recipe and paused.

“Well…um…you don’t,” I said.

“The garlic? What do you mean?”

“I mean, there is no garlic in the recipe.”

He looked at me, appalled, and I laughed and pointed to the large jar of minced garlic I already pulled from the refrigerator.

“Yeah, there’s no garlic in the recipe, but we’re totally adding some in anyway,” I said.

“No garlic. That’s just dumb,” he said.

You have to give the people what they want.

In this case, we ended up with a hearty, cheesy and delicious baked pasta, and it made so much that not only was I not sure it was going to actually fit in my casserole dish, but it barely looked like we even made a dent after enjoying big helpings at dinner.

This recipe comes from the blog “Foodie Crush.” You can find the original post at https://www.foodiecrush.com/baked-sausage-rigatoni/. I added garlic and some other herbs and spices to my version.

Sausage and Cheese Rigatoni
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Sausage and Cheese Rigatoni

Sausage and cheese rigatoni is a delicious baked pasta with deep Italian flavors from marinara, roasted red peppers and plenty of cheese.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword basil, fennel seeds, garlic, Italian parsley, marinara, oregano, paprika, parmesan cheese, provolone, ricotta cheese, rigatoni pasta, roasted red peppers, sweet Italian sausage, yellow onion

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage ground or removed from casings
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 small yellow onion diced
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic minced
  • 12 ounces roasted red bell peppers drained and diced
  • 25 ounces marinara sauce
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 16 ounces rigatoni pasta
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 8 ounces grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley chopped
  • 6 to 8 slices provolone cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and prepare a three-quart baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray, and set it aside.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage, fennel and onion and saute until the sausage is cooked through and the onions are soft. Add in the garlic and saute for another two minutes or so.
  • Dump in the diced red peppers, marinara sauce, oregano, basil and paprika to the pan and stir to combine.
  • While the sauce is warming through, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the rigatoni for just five minutes. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, stirring to coat it.
  • In another bowl, combine the ricotta, parmesan and parsley. (At first, you’ll wonder how it’s going to come together with all that parmesan, but just keep stirring. It will.)
  • Pour half of the pasta/sauce mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top it with half of the ricotta, and then place a single layer of three to four slices of provolone on top.
  • Finish it off with the rest of the sauce, the rest of the ricotta, and another layer of provolone.
  • Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes or until the top is brown and bubbly. Let the bake sit for five minutes before serving with some garlic bread.

Holy moly, you guys, this was delicious. It had great flavor, made a ton of food, and it was almost even better as leftovers the next day. It was also really easy to put together, which was nice for feeding a group. It also reminded me how underrated fennel seeds are as an ingredient. I can’t remember the last time I used fennel in a dish; I’ll have to make sure to do it more often.

I’m still not sure why it didn’t make the cut in the original recipe, but garlic was an excellent addition to the final product. And that was a good thing, considering I’m pretty sure I would have had to tackle Joey to keep him from adding it to the pan.

This piece first appeared in print on March 3, 2022.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish Side Dish

Want to be a French chef? You can d’ouille’ it!

Ratatouille is a vegetarian dish with lots of color, deep flavors and makes for a hearty meal or side dish.

In an online article, author Ossiana Tepfenhart explains that there are lots of foods we now consider “fancy” that were once “poor man’s food.”

Dishes that fit the bill include lobster, oysters and even caviar. 

Another dish that she could have included? Ratatouille. 

The summer stew, native to Nice, France, was once considered a humble dish for humble folks, but now (probably thanks, in part, to the animated movie with the same name), it’s a meal that sounds luxurious and expensive.

I’m here to tell you that it’s definitely not expensive (or it shouldn’t be), and it’s actually deceptively easy to make, as long as you’re ready to do a lot of vegetable chopping.

It’s also a great dinner if you have a vegetarian eating at your table and can also suit vegans, as long as you substitute vegan parmesan into the recipe.

And I know this is technically a summer dish, but I can tell you there were still enough veggies hanging around at my local grocery store to accomplish this one, and as a hearty, warm meal, it suits these early fall days perfectly.

This recipe is inspired by a recipe from Bianca Zapatka. You can find it on her blog at https://biancazapatka.com/en/best-ratatouille-recipe/. I mostly used a video by the blog “One Dollar Kitchen” you can find on Pinterest. I added extra garlic in my version and replaced fresh herbs with dried.

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Ratatouille

Ratatouille is a vegetarian dish with lots of color, deep flavors and makes for a hearty meal or side dish.
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine French
Keyword basil, bell pepper, crushed tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, parmesan, rosemary, thyme, vegan, vegetarian, yellow onion, yellow squash

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil divided
  • 1 yellow onion diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 1 yellow pepper diced
  • 6-8 cloves garlic minced
  • 28 ounce crushed tomatoes
  • 4 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 small eggplant sliced
  • 2 small yellow squash sliced
  • 2 small zucchini sliced
  • 6 roma tomatoes sliced
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated parmesan for serving

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  • Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and bell peppers and saute until they’re soft. Add the garlic and saute until it’s fragrant.
  • Add in the crushed tomatoes, basil, and salt and pepper, and cook for a couple minutes.
  • Arrange the eggplant, squash, zucchini and tomatoes in a spiral in the skillet, starting around the outside edge and working your way in. (Stand the slices up on their ends, rather than laying them flat, and arrange them tightly.)
  • Mix the remaining olive oil with the rosemary and thyme in a small bowl, and spoon or brush the mixture as evenly as possible over the top of the vegetables. Top with more salt and pepper.
  • Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for one hour.
  • Serve alone, with pasta or as a side dish and sprinkle servings with grated parmesan.

This has great depth of flavor, and we had an absolute ton of leftovers after making this for just two of us, so I would caution you to plan accordingly.

And after you make ratatouille at home, you can officially say you’ve practiced your French cooking. You don’t have to tell anyone its origins. After all, considering the prices nowadays of lobster, oysters or caviar, I think it’s safe to say things can change.

This piece first appeared in print on Oct. 14, 2021.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish

Spring is time to come out of your shell

Chicken Alfredo stuffed shells can be made easily with a rotisserie chicken and jarred Alfredo sauce.

With the weather finally warming up, it’s about the time of year when you begin meeting yourself coming and going, it seems.

There are so many activities outdoors, and staying inside after the harsh winter on top of a pandemic makes me want to spend every moment I can out in the yard or taking a walk instead of standing in front of the stove. If you’re a fan of a kiddo involved in spring sports, your life is about to get pretty busy, too.

This week’s recipe pays homage to that. You can make it as complicated or as easy as you like.

If you’re in a hurry, I’d definitely recommend using jarred sauce, shredding up an already-cooked rotisserie chicken and maybe even skipping the pasta shells and cooking some lasagna noodles to layer in there instead.

Regardless of how much time you spend, though, this dinner is a really yummy one.

I found this on the Julie Evink’s blog, “Julie’s Eats and Treats.” You can find her original post at https://www.julieseatsandtreats.com/chicken-alfredo-stuffed-shells/. 

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Chicken Alfredo Stuffed Shells

Chicken Alfredo stuffed shells can be made easily with a rotisserie chicken and jarred Alfredo sauce.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword Alfredo sauce, basil, chicken, garlic, mozzarella, oregano, parmesan, stuffed shells

Ingredients

  • 30 large pasta shells cooked according to package directions
  • 1 pound chicken breasts cooked and shredded
  • 1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella divided
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan divided
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh Italian parsley optional
  • 15 ounces garlic Alfredo sauce

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray.
  • While the shells are boiling, combine cottage cheese, 3/4 cup mozzarella, 3/4 cup parmesan, egg, garlic, oregano, basil and salt and pepper, stirring well. (If using the fresh parsley, dice up 1/4 to 1/2 cup and add it in, too.) Add in the chicken and stir until everything is well mixed.
  • In the prepared dish, add about one cup of the Alfredo sauce to the bottom.
  • Spoon the chicken mixture into the drained, prepared shells and place them, crowded tightly but in a single layer, in the dish.
  • Evenly distribute the remaining Alfredo sauce over the shells, along with the reserved cheese.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is slightly browned and the dish is heated through.
  • Serve garnished with more parsley, if using.

This is a great casserole to create ahead of time and slip into the freezer or fridge to bake later. While you’re busy cooking one, why not go ahead and assemble a second one, too?

I often love cooking from scratch and taking some time preparing food, but when the birds are chirping and the temperature is rising, sometimes it’s OK to just go easy on yourself.

Grab a plate, go eat outside, and enjoy the arrival of April.

This piece first appeared in print April 1, 2021.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish

A gift of casserole is not easy to ‘spaghett’

Baked spaghetti is an easy-to-assemble casserole that can be baked right away or frozen for a future meal.

Whenever a friend or family member is under the weather or hurt or grieving, one of my first inclinations is to try to feed them. 

An article from 2016 by Adam McDaniel lays out the reasons human beings love to share food—part of it being sharing culture and part of being sociology.

“Food has a knack for bringing people together, forging bonds and creating conversation,” he wrote.

Sharing food is a way for us to help understand one another, and in the case of a sick or injured friend, I would argue that it’s one of the few ways I feel like I can nurture someone—since I’ve decided to forgo getting a medical degree.

That desire to care for someone is the reason this week’s recipe is absolutely perfect. It’s not only an easy weeknight dinner that is a true crowd pleaser, but it’s easy to toss in the freezer to enjoy later—making it a great gift when someone might need an extra meal at their house.

This comes from the blog “The Cozy Cook.” You can find the original post at https://thecozycook.com/baked-spaghetti/. I changed up some of the amounts of ingredients and the herbs and spices in my version.

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Baked Spaghetti

Baked spaghetti is an easy-to-assemble casserole that can be baked right away or frozen for a future meal.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword basil, bell pepper, casserole, cream cheese, freezer meal, garlic, green onion, ground beef, ground sausage, marinara sauce, mozzarella, oregano, parmesan, parsley, ricotta, spaghetti

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces spaghetti
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground sausage
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic minced
  • 32 ounces marinara sauce
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees (If you’re baking this right away. It can also be prepared for the fridge or freezer.). Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray, and set it aside.
  • Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  • In a large skillet, brown the hamburger and sausage over medium heat until cooked through, crumbling as you cook. Drain any excess fat.
  • Add in the onion, pepper, basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper, and saute until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the garlic and saute for about one more minute.
  • Add the marinara sauce, ricotta, parmesan and cream cheese. Reduce the heat to low, and stir constantly until the cheese is melted and all of the ingredients are well-combined.
  • Add the cooked, drained pasta and stir to coat all of the pasta with the sauce.
  • Add half of the pasta to the prepared dish, and top it with half of the mozzarella. Add the other half of the pasta, and finish with the rest of the mozzarella.
  • If refrigerating or freezing, cover the dish with a double layer of aluminum foil. If not, bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and just starting to brown around the edges. Let the casserole sit for about five minutes before digging in.
  • If you’re baking it later, let it thaw in the refrigerator, and then bake for 25 to 30 minutes covered and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown around the edges.

This was cheesy and warm and very simple—everything I look for in a quick weeknight meal. In my case, I made a double batch, baking one for Joey and I that night and assembling another to deliver to someone I thought could use a night off from cooking.

If you decide to follow suit, I highly recommend using a large stock pot to cook in. I ended up having some trouble with fitting all the ingredients in my large skillet.

And even if you don’t have someone to deliver this to, you might make a double batch and freeze one for yourself for a future evening that you need a night off.

Sometimes a gift to yourself can be just as comforting. 

This piece first appeared in print on Feb. 18, 2021.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish Pressure Cooker

Cheesy pasta is just the thing to ‘Philly’ you up

Philly cheesesteak pasta doesn’t taste exactly like the sandwich, but it’s a good homage to the original and full of lots of cheesy goodness.

One of the spots Joey and I chose to visit for our honeymoon over a decade ago was Philadelphia, Pa. 

As one must when visiting Philadelphia, we tried Philly cheesesteaks at several restaurants around the city.

True die-hards will be sad to know that I was not brave enough to try any of my sandwiches with Cheez Whiz and opted for provolone instead, but they were absolutely delicious, and I have been chasing those flavors since that trip. That’s why I decided to try a pressure cooker casserole that promised the same taste as a Philly cheesesteak this week.

Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver in that realm, but what it did give me was a delicious, quick and easy dinner that I would definitely eat again.

This recipe comes from the blog “Taste and See.” You can find the original post at https://tasteandsee.com/instant-pot-philly-cheesesteak-pasta/. I changed up the amounts of some ingredients in this and clarified some directions in my version below. I will also note that this recipe is written for use with a pressure cooker, but you can easily make this by sauteing the meat and veggies in a large skillet, boiling the pasta normally, and then adding the ingredients together in the skillet. I would just leave out the beef broth.

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Pressure Cooker Philly Cheesesteak Pasta

Philly cheesesteak pasta doesn't taste exactly like the sandwich, but it's a good homage to the original and full of lots of cheesy goodness.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword basil, bell pepper, garlic, onions, oregano, parsley, Philly cheesesteak, pressure cooker, provolone

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion diced
  • 1 large green bell pepper diced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon basil
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 3/4 cups dry macaroni pasta
  • 12 ounces provolone cheese cut into small pieces

Instructions

  • In the pressure cooker, heat the oil on the saute function (medium heat). Add the onions and green peppers, stirring regularly, until they begin to soften.
  • Add the ground beef and saute, breaking it apart as you do. Once the meat is cooked through, drain off any excess fat.
  • Add the salt, pepper, basil, oregano, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, Worcestershire and beef stock, and stir, making sure to scrape the bottom of the crock to get any cooked-on bits.
  • Once everything is well combined, add the pasta to the pressure cooker, and stir again to submerge the noodles.
  • Seal the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes. Manually release the pressure, add the cheese and stir until it is melted and well combined.
  • Serve hot.

As I said, this certainly doesn’t taste exactly like a cheesesteak—probably because it’s missing the actual steak component—but it was super yummy. There was tons of cheese and lots of flavor from the onions and peppers.

It reheated really well for leftovers, too.

I’ll have to keep hunting for my white whale and probably learn to just make the traditional cheesesteaks in my kitchen instead of hoping for a casserole to fulfill my cravings. Regardless, I think I’ll stick to the provolone. It may take another decade until I’m ready for the Cheez Whiz.

This piece first appeared in print on Jan. 14, 2021.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Side Dish

How ‘yam’ I still surprised at this point?

Garlic parmesan roasted sweet potatoes are perfect for those who are tired of marshmallow-covered sweet potato side dishes.

I managed to hit the local grocery store at just the right time a few nights ago to score a couple huge steaks on a great sale.

I was pumped about my luck, and I decided to grab a few sweet potatoes for a side dish to go along with them for a killer meal.

When I got home, I proudly presented my purchase to Joey, who immediately looked at the sweet potatoes on the counter and said, “Oh! Are you going to make those savory sweet potatoes again?”

So, yes, in the short time since I discovered the recipe I am sharing with you this week, I have already made this twice, and since there are still two more sweet potatoes in my kitchen, I have a feeling I will be producing this a third time in the very near future—not that I’m complaining.

I have always been a huge fan of sweet potatoes in any form, and Joey likes them but tends to hate how much sugar gets dumped in for a lot of side dishes. This recipe, then, was right up his alley.

The recipe I tried, by Christina Cherrier, comes from the site “Eat Well 101.” You can find the original post at https://www.eatwell101.com/garlic-parmesan-roasted-sweet-potato-recipe. I added extra garlic and herbs, as well as more parmesan, in my version below.

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Garlic Parmesan Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Garlic parmesan roasted sweet potatoes are perfect for those who are tired of marshmallow-covered sweet potato side dishes.
Course Side Dish
Keyword basil, garlic, oregano, parmesan, parsley, sweet potato, thyme

Ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatoes peeled and sliced thinly
  • 4 to 6 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter melted
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated or shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon thyme

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and prepare about an eight-inch baking dish (preferably one with a lid or you can cover it with aluminum foil) by spraying it with cooking spray.
  • Add all of the ingredients (leave out a bit of parmesan to sprinkle over the top of the dish) to the bag, and shake to coat the potatoes as evenly as possible.
  • Arrange the slices so they just slightly overlap in a spiral pattern in your baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the top.
  • Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, checking every 5 minutes after that to see if your potatoes are fork tender.
  • When they are done, remove from the oven and serve.

Remember that the thicker your potato slices, the longer they will take to bake. Mine ended up being done at about the 40-minute mark.

These are absolutely delicious and a nice departure from a lot of the traditional ways sweet potatoes are served. They have a ton of flavor, and they also reheat really nicely.

With our leftovers, I added in some crumbled sausage and a couple runny eggs for a delicious breakfast.

Eventually, Joey did acknowledge that I got a great deal on my steaks for dinner, and he was pretty excited about them, as well. But if I had to make a wager, I know what he would claim as his favorite part of the meal.

Well, at least he likes his veggies.

This piece first appeared in print on Dec. 17, 2020.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish

‘Ciao’ down on Tuscan sausage pasta

Tuscan sausage pasta only uses two pots and is a quick, 30-minute dinner with lots of delicious Italian flavors.

Is it just me, or has it been particularly difficult to decide what to make for dinner lately?

OK, so I know it’s definitely not just me—it’s Joey, too. If you’re not having this same “let’s stare at each other until one of us breaks and makes a decision” moment every evening, I envy you. Honestly, a few days ago, I just ate a bowl of cereal like I was still in college. Joey judged me pretty hard, but he stopped when I pointed out that he didn’t have any idea of what we should eat, either.

After a few days of this same routine, I decided that I was going to find something new online, make an executive decision, and we were going to have at least one pre-planned meal, and let me tell you, the recipe I tried was not only super delicious, but it was quick and used a minimum of dishes to accomplish, too.

The recipe I found was on the blog “Salt & Lavender.” You can find the original at https://www.saltandlavender.com/tuscan-sausage-pasta/. I increased the garlic in my version.

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Tuscan Sausage Pasta

Tuscan sausage pasta only uses two pots and is a quick, 30-minute dinner with lots of delicious Italian flavors.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword 30-minute meal, basil, cream sauce, garlic, pasta, sausage, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces uncooked pasta of your choice
  • 10-11 ounces hot or mild Italian sausage
  • 6-8 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon or spicy brown mustard
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes drained
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh spinach
  • about 1 teaspoon fresh basil minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • parmesan cheese to taste

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta according to package directions.
  • While the pasta is cooking, if the sausage is in casings, remove them and then cook the sausage over medium heat in a large skillet until the sausage is cooked through. (Crumble it as you cook it.)
  • When the sausage is nearly cooked through, remove it from the pan and drain off all but about 1/2 tablespoon of grease.
  • Add the garlic, broth, mustard, flour and lemon juice and stir, scraping the bottom of the skillet as you do so to loosen any cooked-on spots. After about one minute, add the sun-dried tomatoes and heavy cream, and cook for two more minutes, stirring regularly. Add the sausage back to the pan (careful to avoid adding grease back in with it), and stir regularly, letting the sauce thicken.
  • When the sauce has thickened to your liking, add in the spinach, basil and salt and pepper and stir until it wilts slightly. Add in the pasta and stir to coat. Top with parmesan, and serve.

I used spicy sausage, and it was really, really good. I also think you could get away with just using milk in the sauce, although it may not want to thicken as nicely.

Joey was pleasantly surprised by both how delicious this was and that we avoided the normal “What do you want for dinner?” conversation that evening.

Unfortunately, my plan completely backfired, as he announced after the first bite that I should be in charge of always deciding what we’re eating every night, since I’m apparently really good at it.

I told him he shouldn’t push his luck. After all, I doubt he’ll be as keen on the idea when he sees the family-sized box of raisin bran I have in the pantry.

I used spicy sausage, and it was really, really good. I also think you could get away with just using milk in the sauce, although it may not want to thicken as nicely.

Joey was pleasantly surprised by both how delicious this was and that we avoided the normal “What do you want for dinner?” conversation that evening.

Unfortunately, my plan completely backfired, as he announced after the first bite that I should be in charge of always deciding what we’re eating every night, since I’m apparently really good at it.

I told him he shouldn’t push his luck. After all, I doubt he’ll be as keen on the idea when he sees the family-sized box of raisin bran I have in the pantry.

This piece first appeared in print on Aug. 27, 2020.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish

Let’s embrace the ‘pasta’bilities this week

Ziti pasta bake is full of lots of cheese and Italian herbs. It’s perfect for a quick weeknight meal.

Until I began this column, I had no idea how many variations of pasta there are.

I used to think I was pretty knowledgeable until I continued to discover new types that often were tough to find in small-town Kansas grocery stores.

My recipe this week called for ziti, a tube-shaped pasta I’m definitely familiar with, but my local store didn’t have any in stock, so I opted for some penne instead.

That got me to thinking that there are at least three tubular pastas I could think of: ziti, penne and rigatoni, and I decided to do some digging to figure out what the real difference is.

An article online by Brette Warshaw went into great detail about the minuscule differences between the three—most notably, the length. Standard penne is 2.12 inches long, ziti is 2 inches, and rigatoni is 1.8. Other than that, there are small differences in end cut and ridges, but that’s really about it from a visual standpoint. So, when I made this week’s recipe for a ziti pasta bake, I just grabbed what was available as far as tube-shaped pasta and hoped I wasn’t making a mistake.

The recipe I tried comes from the blog “Together as Family.” You can find the original at https://togetherasfamily.com/cheesy-ziti-pasta-bake/. I added lots more herbs in my version.

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Ziti Pasta Bake

Ziti pasta bake is full of lots of cheese and Italian herbs. It's perfect for a quick weeknight meal.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword basil, cheese, cream cheese, garlic, Greek yogurt, marinara, mozzarella, oregano, parsley, sour cream, spaghetti sauce, ziti

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces ziti
  • 24 ounces spaghetti sauce
  • 14.5 ounces petite diced tomatoes undrained
  • 8 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 2 teaspoons basil
  • 2 teaspoons parsley
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 6-8 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set it aside.
  • Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the sauce, diced tomatoes, cream cheese, basil, parsley, oregano, garlic, onion powder, salt and pepper.
  • Once the pasta is done, drain it (don’t rinse it) and add it to the mixing bowl and stir.
  • Pour half of the pasta mixture into the baking dish and then spread the sour cream over the top. Sprinkle on about half of the mozzarella, spread the remaining pasta on top, and then finish with the rest of the cheese.
  • Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the top of the cheese is melted fully and slightly browned.
  • Serve with some garlic bread.

This was creamy and cheesy and really yummy. It was also meatless, and I didn’t miss the protein at all. You could easily use a meat sauce in this, though, if you would like to.

And despite the use of penne, it was pretty good. I will warn you, though, that apparently my substitution is not without controversy. Chef Paula Ghosh wrote a blog post about ziti vs. penne, and she notes that despite the two pastas having similar origins, ziti is meant to be used in baked dishes, and penne is meant to be mixed in with sauce.

She claims that even seemingly insignificant differences in pastas can change the entire flavor profile of a dish. Since she’s the expert, I suppose I’ll have to take her word for it, but I can tell you this was great even with the penne. It might be even better if you followed the pasta rules.

This piece first appeared in print on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Appetizer Main Dish Side Dish

Mushrooms are easy ‘caprese’ for dinner

Caprese portabella mushrooms take the flavors of a caprese salad and presents them in a warm, pretty side dish.

On our honeymoon, Joey and I visited a great Italian restaurant in New York City. It was the most expensive meal of our vacation, with us spending a generous gift from a family member that was earmarked for just that purpose.

The place wasn’t all that fancy to look at, but when your waiter is so quintessentially Italian that he’s singing along with the opera music playing in the background, you know you’re about to experience something authentic.

We ordered a bottle of wine, and our waiter suggested an appetizer of some fresh mozzarella that was flown in from Italy the day before, so we decided to go for it.

He plopped a plate in front of us with a giant mound of mozzarella, garnished with fresh basil and tomatoes—and we had no idea how to eat it.

This week, we again enjoyed that flavor combination with a slightly less intimidating side dish, and it was delicious. I will admit this is on the pricier end of recipes from what I normally suggest, but if you’re looking for something special—or you find a good sale—keep this one in your recipe box.

This recipe comes from the blog “Fat Girl Happy.” You can find it at https://www.fatgirlhappy.com/caprese-portabella-mushroom-recipe/. The only difference we made was leaving out the suggestion of balsamic vinegar, and I put amounts to the ingredients.

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Caprese Portabella Mushrooms

Caprese portabella mushrooms take the flavors of a caprese salad and presents them in a warm, pretty side dish.
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Keyword basil, caprese, mozzarella, mushrooms, portabella, tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 5-6 portabella mushroom caps about two-inches in diameter
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces fresh whole-milk mozzarella
  • about 5 ounces grape tomatoes
  • about 1/2-ounce fresh basil leaves

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line a rimmed sheet pan with aluminum foil for easy cleanup and lightly spray it with cooking spray.
  • Scoop out the insides of each mushroom cap and arrange them, with the insides facing up, on the cooking sheet.
  • Lightly drizzle the mushroom caps with olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper.
  • Slice the mozzarella into equal slices—one slice for each mushroom cap—and place one slice into each.
  • Slice the grape tomatoes in half and place four to five halves on top of the cheese.
  • Bake for 15 minutes. (You may want to drain the sheet pan if there’s too much liquid on the pan, but we didn’t bother draining ours, and they were fine.)
  • Turn the broiler on high for one to three minutes or until the cheese starts to brown slightly.
  • Remove from the oven and top with the fresh basil and a little more olive oil and salt and pepper and serve while they’re nice and hot.

These were heavenly. We ate them as a side dish to some expertly prepared chicken breasts Joey made for us. It was a great dinner.

As for our Italian meal in New York, Joey and I discreetly glanced around at neighboring tables to see how we should dig into our mozzarella appetizer. Everyone else had opted to dive in with forks, so we did, too.

It was really good, although it was way more fresh cheese than the two of us could handle in one sitting, with entrees on the way as well.

That restaurant was one of the highlights of our trip, and we reminisced about it while we enjoyed our portabellas the other night. We’re no substitute for an Italian chef, but we certainly didn’t go hungry.

This piece first appeared in print on Oct. 24, 2019.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish Soup

It’ll be tough to ‘leaf’ leftovers of basil sausage soup

Italian basil sausage soup has deep tomato and spice flavors and freezes easily for quick leftovers.

I recently came across a photo of an adorable indoor herb garden and immediately became interested in having one myself.

I’m not much of a gardener, and I’m enough of a nerd that I love research, so I have spent more time than I’d like to admit over the past few weeks looking at which herbs are easiest to grow indoors and what kind of skill each one requires to keep alive.

Then I went shopping for the ingredients for this week’s recipe, and all my planning to really map out my herb choices went out the window when I realized that it was going to cost me an arm and a leg to purchase the two cups of fresh basil the recipe required.

I noticed, though, that my produce department had fresh basil plants for a much more economical price than the small packages of leaves in the refrigerator case, and I caved.

So now I have a basil plant, which graciously delivered lots of fragrant leaves on its first night at my house. I hope I can keep the poor thing alive.

This recipe comes from the website “The Slow Roasted Italian.” You can find the original post at https://www.theslowroasteditalian.com/2013/09/30-Minute-Hearty-Italian-Basil-Sausage-Soup-Recipe.html. I changed up the spices a bit in my version and simplified the directions some.

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Italian Basil Sausage Soup

Italian basil sausage soup has deep tomato and spice flavors and freezes easily for quick leftovers.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword basil, pasta, sausage, soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage
  • 3 carrots diced
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 15- ounce can cannellini beans rinsed and drained
  • 14.5- ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 8- ounce can tomato sauce
  • 6- ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 pound small pasta I used macaroni
  • 2 cups fresh basil chopped

Instructions

  • In a stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, carrots and celery. Stir regularly, breaking up the sausage as you go (You can also use rope sausage. Just remove the casing and slice it into half-inch rounds before adding it to the pot.)
  • Once the sausage is cooked through, add the chicken broth, beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and spices.
  • Stir to combine and bring the mixture up to a boil.
  • Once the soup is boiling, add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes (or until the pasta is done to your liking), stirring regularly to keep the soup from sticking to the bottom.
  • Reduce heat and serve once the mixture is no longer boiling.

I have been in search of some good soups to toss in the freezer for the plethora of nights when Joey and I either need to have a quick dinner or pack something to eat at the office for a late night of work. This recipe definitely fits the bill, and it’s filling several containers in my freezer at the moment.

I poured a little water on my basil plant this morning, where it sits in front of my kitchen window. If all goes well, it will eventually be replanted into an adorable pot, along with some other choice herbs.

If not, I might just stick to dried basil from here on out.

You’d think that having a 10-year-old schnauzer and a one-year-old beta fish would make me feel confident that I can keep something alive, but to be fair, I did a lot of research before adding both of them to our family, too.

Wish me—and my new plant—luck. We’ll both need it.

This piece first appeared in print on Sept. 5, 2019.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

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