Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Cavatelli Con le Noci

Campania

Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

I’m skipping the second two recipes from Calabria for now because they require the oven and I just can’t do it in the middle of this New York heatwave. So, we move on to Campania.

The name of Campania means “countryside.” The region was originally referred to by the Romans as campania felix, Latin for “fertile countryside”. The capital of Campania is Naples, one of the most well-known Italian cities. In this region, you will find the iconic Mt. Vesuvius, the ruins of ancient Pompeii, and the coastline towns of Positano and Amalfi.

Orecchiette (“little ears”)

One of Campania’s regional recipes is Cavatelli Con le Noci, Cavatelli with Walnuts. “Cavatelli” in Italian means “little caves,” so called because of the little grooves in the center. Those grooves make this pasta perfect to use with thick or hearty sauces because it collects in the “caves.”

This is one of my favorite recipes in this project so far. It’s so delicious with minimal amount of work. Having said that, I did need to make adjustments to the recipe.

First, I cheated. The recipe gives ingredients and instructions for making fresh cavatelli. Making fresh pasta is not difficult, but it does require time, which is something I’m in short supply of. So, I took the easy way out and used dry pasta. That was alteration number one.

The second alteration was not my fault. I went to the store to buy cavatelli, and thanks to Murphy’s Law, they had every type of pasta you could possibly want except the one I needed, cavatelli. I had a bag of orecchiette at home, so I decided to just use that. Orecchiette means “little ears,” and also do a good job of catching sauces in their “cups.” Continue reading

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Pasta con le Fave

Abruzzo

The first recipe in my Regions of Italy project is Pasta con le Fave, or Pasta with Fava Beans. This dish is typical of the Vomano valley of Abruzzo. Although the original recipe calls for marjoram, fresh marjoram can be difficult to find. Oregano is related to marjoram and is more readily available. Note that it’s also stronger in flavor, so you may want to cut back a little on it, if strong herb flavor isn’t your thing.

The pasta called for here is maltagliati, which literally means “badly cut.” They are flat, very wide, short noodles that look like someone got drunk, took a pair of scissors, and went crazy on some dough. You may have a difficult time finding this pasta (although it may be available where specialty Italian products are sold), so you can improvise: cook some pappardelle, place them in a bowl, and use kitchen shears to snip them into squares.

The original recipe did not indicate how well the onion should be sautéed, so I decided on soft and translucent. It also said nothing about whether or not to skin the fava beans. Now, here’s the thing about fava beans. When you remove fresh favas from their pods, they have a skin, or jacket. Although this skin is edible, it can sometimes be tough and cause gas. It’s a much more pleasant experience to eat favas without their skin. The creators of this recipe may have assumed that the readers know to remove the skins, but that’s not always the case. So, I’ve included that step in my instructions.

This is very much a peasant dish, but it’s regal in its simplicity and respect of ingredients. Enjoy! Continue reading


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Red Lentil Pasta with Sauteed Mushrooms

Having grown up in a traditional Italian family, pasta was part of my natural landscape. But today, pasta comes in many varieties. I don’t mean just shapes—those have always been. I mean ingredients. And because so many people are carb conscious, and/or avoid wheat, pasta manufacturers have come out with pasta made from wheat flour alternatives. It is now made of quinoa, farro, corn, kamut, black bean flour, and other ingredients.

For this recipe, I found a beautiful red lentil pasta. It’s made with 100% red lentil flour in place of regular flour, so it’s completely gluten free. Its flavor is earthy and nutty, and it pairs very well with sautéed mushrooms. Unfortunately, like any brightly colored foods, they lose their pretty pinkish hue once cooked. I found this particular bag at Eataly in Manhattan, but you can find “alternative” flour pastas in large supermarkets, Italian markets, gourmet shops, and, of course, online.

Enjoy!

Red Lentil Pasta with Sauteed Mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz. baby bella or cremini mushrooms
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 oz. red lentil pasta
½ tablespoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a wide skillet, preferably cast iron. Add the mushrooms and 2 teaspoons kosher salt and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have browned. This will take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.Fill a medium saucepan three-quarters with water and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and ½ tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until it’s al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl.If the mushrooms have cooled off, reheat them briefly. Add them to the pasta and season with pepper. Mix in the parmesan. Serve hot.


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Farro Linguine with Asparagus and Lemon-Pepper Sauce

This recipe is a combination of two classic Italian pasta dishes: aglio e olio (garlic and oil) and asparagus with lemon-pepper sauce. (Both individual recipes, by the way, can be found in my pasta edition of the Vegetarian Italian: Traditions ebook series.)

One night after work, I was contemplating dinner. I wanted to do something a little different, but I wanted to keep it easy, and not stray too far from familiarity (I was tired and irritated from work, so simplicity and comforting were my top criteria).

Pasta is always easy, always comforting, and I had just happened to buy a bunch of pencil-thin asparagus. I also had lemons…and so I came up with this. Two savory Italian classics in one delicious dish, and the combo is not any more work than just one recipe alone.

Farro is an ancient Italian grain that is related to spelt and emmer, but is not actually spelt, as some believe. It’s commonly used in Italy, but is becoming more available in the U.S. Farro pasta is nutty, nutritious, low in calories, and is often well tolerated by people with gluten sensitivity (although those with Celiac disease should avoid it). Farro pasta can be found in Italian groceries, as well as gourmet shops. And, of course, online. Try it—I think you’ll find it an addicting alternative to whole wheat pasta.

Enjoy.

Farro Linguine with Asparagus and Lemon-Pepper Sauce

1 pound asparagus
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ lb. farro linguine (or other long pasta)
2 large garlic cloves, sliced

½ teaspoon paprika
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Zest from 1 small lemon

Grated parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Snap or cut off the woody bottom stems of the asparagus and discard. Place the asparagus on a platter, drizzle with half the oil, sprinkle with half the salt, and gently toss. Try to keep the asparagus all facing the same direction (this will make it easier to handle).Place the asparagus on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast until tender and lightly browned (the time will vary depending on the thickness of the asparagus, but anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes). Remove them from oven and chop them into bite-size pieces.Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and remaining salt and bring it to a boil, stirring often, until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain. Transfer the pasta to a serving platter. Add the chopped asparagus.Pour the remaining olive oil in a small pan with the garlic. Heat until the garlic is fragrant and just starts to color, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the paprika, swirl it, then immediately pour it over the pasta. Season with more salt and grind on as much black pepper as you like.Sprinkle the lemon zest over it. Top with the grated parmesan and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve.


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Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Kale & Creamy Avocado Dressing

Summer is finally here, and with the coming of sunshine and warm breezes comes the need for pasta salad. After all, you need something easy to bring to all those picnics, barbecues, and beach parties, right?

Pasta salad, however, need not be fattening or unhealthy. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. This pasta salad calls for whole wheat pasta, which already is healthier than regular pasta salad, but you can use gluten-free pasta as well. Rather than mayo or other fat-laden dressing, this one uses avocado. It makes the pasta creamy, rich, and loaded with nutrients (plus some good fat). Add raw kale to the mix and you’ve got a healthy, but delicious, alternative.

Kale can be tough, but squeezing kale with avocado softens the leaves. The salt in the dressing further breaks down the cell walls of the kale, helping it along its journey to tenderness.

This is an excellent start to the summer. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Kale & Creamy Avocado Dressing

Makes 4 servings.

8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups whole wheat pasta
2 teaspoons table salt
2 Haas avocados
2 tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 packed kale leaves, shredded*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ cup grated parmesan

Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil in a small bowl. Spread the tomatoes out on a small baking sheet lined with foil and roast until soft and charred, about 20 minutes.Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and table salt and bring to a boil. Boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente, about 8 to 12 minutes (depending on what pasta you choose). Drain and set it aside while you prepare the sauce.

In a food processor, combine the meat from the avocados, lime juice, 1 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Process until smooth.Place the kale in a medium bowl. Pour the avocado sauce over it and squeeze the kale with your hand until everything is well blended. Mix in the balsamic and red pepper flakes, if you’re using it.Add the cooked pasta and parmesan and mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust it to your liking.Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

*To shred kale, first strip the leaves off the stems by lightly pinching the stem and running your fingers down the stem to the tip, pulling the leaves off along the way. Stack a few leaves and roll them up into a tight log. With a sharp knife, slice the kale thinly.


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Roasted Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese

There’s something about mac ‘n’ cheese that makes people crave it, and it’s become American comfort food. It’s a humble, simplistic dish, but it’s such a part of our culinary landscape that everyone from famous chefs to food bloggers have “elevated” it to something grand. But whether you shave truffles in it, top it with a sunny-side egg, mix in cheese that was made by celibate monks in a cloistered hut in the Himalayas, or garnish it with gold dust, it’s still mac ‘n’ cheese.

But you can definitely make it your own. Use different cheeses and vegetables. If you’re a meat eater, you can add meat as well. Change up the pasta—you can go with the traditional elbows, or choose something more fanciful like gemelli, pipette, or campanelli. The only rule here is that you don’t cook it past al dente (tender but still firm), because it will cook a little more in the oven, and nothing ruins a mac ‘n’ cheese more than wimpy, mushy pasta.

You can use any kind of orange winter squash you like. I happened to have a piece of a round, squat variety that came out of my mother’s garden.

Some days are harder than others, and it’s those days when you need mac ‘n’ cheese. Enjoy!

Roasted Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Makes 4 to 6 servings

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
½ medium squash (butternut, kabocha, or similar)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. short pasta (elbows, gemelli, shells, campanelli, pipette, etc.)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups whole milk
2 teaspoons dry mustard
Pinch of nutmeg
3 cups shredded cheddar
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs (regular or whole wheat)

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a 1½-quart baking dish. Set it aside. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.Peel the squash and cut it into small pieces. Place the squash in a bowl; add the oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Mix well. Spread the squash out on the baking sheet. Bake until it’s tender and starting to brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer the squash to the baking dish. Lower the heat to 350 ˚F.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and table salt; cook until the pasta it’s al dente (varies depending on what pasta you use, but generally 8 to 10 minutes).  Drain thoroughly and add it to the squash.Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium pan. Stir in the flour and whisk for about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking often, until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the mustard, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper to taste.Stir in the cheddar and let it melt in. Pour into the baking dish with the squash and pasta. Mix well.Melt the remaining butter in a small pan. Add the parmesan and bread crumbs and stir to coat. Spread this over the mac ‘n’ cheese. Bake until it’s bubbly and a bit browned on top, about 30 to 35 minutes. Enjoy!

 


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Tomato Tagliolini with Fresh Peas, Asparagus & Squash Blossoms

The fun thing about pasta is that it comes in many shapes, sizes, and flavors. You can play around with it almost endlessly. When I saw this particular pasta, I was drawn by its beautiful red color, which comes from tomatoes. Once it’s cooked, it retains a soft reddish color and a mild tomato flavor. Continue reading