30 Minute Dinners: Asparagus Carbonara

Easy Carbonara Pasta with Asparagus
Just do it – in a skillet: Pasta Carbonara with Asparagus.

My favorite cooking vessel is my cast iron skillet: it’s one stop shopping in the kitchen equipment department. Not only is a cast iron skillet handy on the stovetop, you can use it in the oven and even on the grill. Last night I used my skillet to make this simple carbonara pasta dish.

Carbonara is the Italian version of chicken soup – a comforting dish for all ages – which consists of pasta and cured pork (guanciale) or bacon, whisked in a slick sauce of eggs and gads of grated Pecorino cheese. The method is quick. It relies on the heat from the freshly cooked pasta to sufficiently cook the eggs and melt the cheese, while the sauce is vigorously stirred to prevent the eggs from scrambling. From start to finish, this dish can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes.

I often mix in vegetables to my carbonara, which add extra oomph to the dish and allows me to call it a one-dish family meal, replete with the nutrients from the veggies. Peas are a year-round contender, since frozen peas can easily be added to the mix. In the springtime, though, I like to add fresh asparagus.

Asparagus Carbonara

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves 4

8 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 pound orecchiette
3/4 pound thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook the bacon in batches in a large skillet over medium heat until the fat renders and the bacon is crispy. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel. When cool enough to handle, break into small pieces. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet.
2. Whisk the eggs and cheese in a bowl until blended and set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the orecchiette and cook according to the package instructions until al dente; drain.
4. While the pasta is cooking, add the asparagus, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until the asparagus are bright and crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Add the drained pasta to the skillet and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly add the eggs and cheese, stirring constantly to coat the pasta and to prevent the eggs from cooking. Add the bacon to the skillet and stir once more. Serve immediately and garnish with additional grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Spring Rolls Deconstructed – Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad

Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut DressingShrimp and Rice Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

If you like spring rolls, then you will love this salad. All of the goodness stuffed into a rice paper wrapped Thai or Vietnamese roll – rice noodles, shrimp, crisp veggies, fresh herbs, and chiles – is jumbled together in a big bowl of salad. The result? You might be tempted to call it a deconstructed spring roll, with all of the great flavor minus the labor of actually making a roll. Once all of the ingredients are prepped, it’s quick to assemble for a light and healthy dinner. The dressing is the magic touch that pulls this colorful dish together. It has all of the ingredients you’ll find in an Asian dipping sauce and then some: ginger, garlic, Sriracha, lime, and peanut butter. The trick is to blitz all of the dressing ingredients in a food processor (including the lime sections!) to form a thick and potent sauce. In fact, you might want to make extra dressing to keep on hand – it makes a great dipping sauce for cruditées or tossed with cooked Asian noodles.

Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Serves 4

Dressing:
1/2 cup canola oil
1 lime, peel and pith removed, quartered
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons coarsely grated peeled ginger with juices
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sriracha
2 teaspoons runny honey

Salad:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt
4 ounces rice noodles, cooked per manufacturer’s instructions, room temperature
3 scallions, ends trimmed, white and green parts sliced on the diagonal
1 large carrot, cut in matchsticks
1/2 English cucumber, seeded, cut in matchsticks
2 cups coarsely chopped Napa cabbage
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup sugar snap peas, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 red jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup fresh coriander sprigs, coarsely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts for garnish

1. Place all of the dressing ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp in one layer, sprinkle with the red pepper flakes, and lightly season with salt. Cook until the shrimp are pink on both sides and just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning as needed. Transfer to a plate.
3. Place the rice noodles, scallions, carrot, cucumber, cabbage, bean sprouts, snap peas, jalapeño, mint, and cilantro in a large bowl. Add the shrimp and half of the dressing and toss to combine.
4. Divide the salad among plates. Scatter the peanuts over the salads and garnish with additional mint and cilantro. Serve with the remaining sauce on the side.

Simple Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, and Breadcrumbs

You won’t regret buying out of season tomatoes with this fresh and easy pasta recipe. Hint: a little roasting will do the trick.

Easy Gemelli Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes

If you’re like me and can’t resist buying hothouse grape tomatoes in the middle of the winter – even when we know better – this recipe will address any buyer’s remorse. It’s not the fault of the tomatoes, of course. They do look irresistible, but looks can be deceiving with these plump and oh-so-red tomatoes, which often disappoint in the flavor department when they are out of season. Not to worry – this recipe allows for a little off-season tomato indulgence with no regrets. Thanks to slow roasting, they will deflate from their impossible pertness to a more relaxed version of themselves, and any hibernating juices and natural sugars will be released. Along with a little simple seasoning to give them some oomph, and you will have a sunny and versatile condiment to beat the winter blues.

Add roasted tomatoes to sauces and salads, use as a topping on pizza and crostini, or toss with pasta. In this recipe, I take advantage of the sludgy sheen of olive oil and tomato juice left behind in the pan after roasting. To sop up the flavorful oil, I sprinkle a layer of breadcrumbs over the pan to absorb the juices and toast the crumbs in the oven until golden. They are a delicious extra touch and garnish to this light and fresh pasta dish.

Gemelli with Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, and Olive Oil Breadcrumbs

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 4

1 pound grape tomatoes
3 garlic whole cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thyme sprigs
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound gemelli or fusilli
2 large handfuls of arugula, about 3 cups

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Scatter the tomatoes and garlic cloves on a rimmed baking sheet. Add the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and stir to coat. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the tomatoes and transfer to the oven. Roast until the tomatoes are softened and begin to release their juices, about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven and discard the thyme sprigs. When cool enough to handle, peel the skin away from the garlic and finely chop the cloves. Transfer the tomatoes and garlic to a large serving bowl.

2. Reduce the oven heat to 350°F. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the same baking sheet and stir to coat in the residual olive oil. Return the baking pan to the oven and cook until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes (they will brown quickly so watch them carefully). Remove and immediately transfer the breadcrumbs to a small bowl to stop them from cooking. Cool for 5 minutes and then stir in the 2 tablespoons cheese.

3. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Scoop out 1/2 cup cooking water and then drain the pasta.

4. Add the pasta, arugula, half of the breadcrumbs, and the 1/3 cup cheese to the tomatoes and toss to combine. If the pasta is a little dry, add some of the reserved water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until moistened to your preference. Divide the pasta between serving plates. Garnish with the remaining breadcrumbs and freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately

Grilled Cheese and Chutney Sandwich

grilled-cheese-chutney-tastefood

I like to call this grilled cheese sandwich a grilled ploughman. I lived in England for a few years, and one of my favorite food memories is the ploughman’s lunch which is standard pub fare. Essentially a cheese platter or cheese board, it’s a rustic and hearty arrangement of slabs of sharp, aged cheese (often cheddar), a dollop of sweet and spicy chutney or pickle, smears of piquant mustard, and wedges of fresh fruit, such as apple, heaped on a platter with thick slices of country-style bread. The best part is that it’s DIY, ready to assemble and devour to your taste.

I used the ploughman’s lunch as inspiration for this grilled cheese sandwich, essentially layering all of the traditional ingredients into a double-fisted melty sandwich, oozing cheese and balanced with fresh greens, crisp fruit, and a homemade apple-chile chutney, similar to piccalli, which is the English version of Indian spiced pickles. Happy New Year!

apple chutney tastefood

Ploughman’s Grilled Cheese with Apple Chile Chutney

Makes one hefty sandwich

2 slices sourdough or ciabatta bread, 1/2-inch thick
Salted butter, softened
2 ounces sliced aged hard cheese, such as sharp Cheddar or Gouda
1/4 cup arugula or more as needed
2 tablespoons Apple Chile Chutney (recipe below)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, or to taste

Make the sandwich:
Butter one side of each bread slice. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add one bread slice to the skillet, butter-side down. Lay the cheese over the bread. Cover the pan and cook until the cheese is mostly melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Place the arugula over the cheese. Spoon the chutney over the arugula. Spread the mustard over the unbuttered side of the second bread slice. Place the bread, mustard-side down, over the sandwich. Using a spatula, carefully flip the sandwich and gently press down. Cover the skillet and cook until the cheese is thoroughly melted and the bread is golden brown, 2 to 3 more minutes. Transfer to a plate, cut in half, and serve.

Apple Chile Chutney

Add a mix of mild and hot chile peppers for flavor and heat. I used a red jalapeño and sweet Hungarian and Gypsy peppers in this batch. Makes about 2 cups.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion chopped
2 to 3 red chile peppers, depending on size and heat, stemmed and seeded, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons grated peeled ginger, with juices
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the chutney thickens, about 20 minutes. Cool completely, then transfer to a jar and refrigerate. The chutney will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Warm Wild Rice Salad with Dried Fruit and Nuts

Rice Stuffing

I am just going to come out and say it: I am not a fan of turkey stuffing (or dressing), and neither is my family. Whenever I make stuffing, it sits uneaten at the Thanksgiving table, before banishment to the refrigerator, labeled “leftover,” where it continues to sit for days, forlorn, neglected, and, frankly, wasteful. So, now I don’t make a stuffing for our turkey. Instead, I jam bunches of fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, and sage, as well as wedges of lemon or orange in the cavity to provide aroma and moisture while the turkey roasts. For serving, I provide potatoes and a grain dish to balance and fill out the feast. This rice salad is always a hit. It’s a great gluten-free starch substitute for stuffing, and the dried fruit and nuts stud the rice like festive jewelry, providing a pretty addition to the holiday table. Feel free to mix up the fruit and nuts, substituting raisins, chopped prunes, dried figs, walnuts or hazelnuts. For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock.

Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Serves 6.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 ½ cups wild rice or wild rice blend
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
½ cup chopped Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute until they begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, thyme, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the  dried fruit and pecans while fluffing the rice with a fork. Let stand, partially covered,  for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm.

Easy Homemade Granola

Basic Granola TasteFood

Why spend money on boxed granola when you can easily make it in less than 30 minutes? Now that school is in session, try making this recipe to keep on hand for healthy breakfasts and snacks. This recipe follows a basic ratio of 2 cups oats to 1 cup coconut to 1 cup nuts to 1 cup dried fruit. To that I embellish, adding different grains and seeds such as flax, sunflower, or even wheat germ, depending on what I have in the cupboard. Use this recipe as a template and mix and match your favorite nuts, fruit, and seeds to your taste – and consider doubling the batch, because it’s guaranteed to be gobbled up.

Easy Homemade Granola

Be sure to add any of the fruit after the granola has cooked to prevent the fruit from burning. Makes about 5 cups.

2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1 cup coarsely chopped raw almonds
1/4 cup pepitas or sunflower seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins, or more to your taste

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Combine the oats, coconut, almonds, pepitas, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk the syrup, sugar, oil, vanilla, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Pour over the oats and stir to thoroughly coat.

Spread the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Bake until light golden, about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven and add the raisins, stirring to blend. Cool completely. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one week.

Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup – Easy Pho

Chicken Pho TasteFood

Are you a fan of Pho? If you’ve never had it, Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup. It consists of a mountain of slurp-worthy rice noodles swimming in a rich and aromatic broth fortified with proteins such as chicken, beef, or tofu. The bonus is the garnishes – a cornucopia of fresh herbs, chiles, lime, and sprouts to scatter over the top, with squirts of hot sauce and hoisin for good measure. Pho is intoxicatingly good, highly addictive, and a perfect remedy to fight a cold or simply satisfy a craving for Asian spice and heat. Once you taste it, you’re likely hooked.

The key to an authentic pho lies in its broth, a time consuming affair best left to the weekend when you have the freedom to fill your home with exotic aromas, while a whole chicken or beef bones slowly cook, and the stock reduces to a flavorful soul-satisfying intensity. The challenge – as cravings go – is that sometimes you just want pho – now – when it’s not a weekend, when it’s an hour before dinner on a busy weeknight, when you’ve just arrived home, only leftovers are in the fridge – and the nearest Vietnamese takeaway is in the next county.

Here is a solution – an inauthentic version I call easy pho, or, more cutely, faux pho. Instead of making the stock from scratch, I use a good quality store-bought stock and embellish it with aromatics. It saves a lot of time, and is a perfect quick fix for a simple, healthy, and crave-satiating weeknight dinner.

Easy Pho – Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

This recipe is especially easy to make when you have  leftover chicken in the fridge, otherwise you can pick up a rotisserie chicken from the store, or quickly poach a couple of chicken breasts. Serves 4>

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 (2-inch) knob of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
6 cloves
2 star anise
1 (2-inch) stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
1 pound cooked chicken meat, shredded
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Garnishes:
Sliced red or green jalapeño chiles
Mung bean sprouts
Fresh mint or Thai basil sprigs
Lime wedges
Sriracha and Hoisin sauce

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and sauté until fragrant and the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and peppercorns and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock, fish sauce, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. While the soup is simmering, cook and drain the noodles according to package directions.
3. Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. Add the chicken to the soup and simmer over medium-low until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more fish sauce, sugar or salt to taste.
4. Divide the noodles between large serving bowls. Sprinkle an even amount of scallions and cilantro over the noodles. Ladle the soup into the bowls.  Serve with the garnishes.