Cacio e Pepe Pasta Pie – and a complaint

I generally don’t like to complain, because if you stop and think about it, complaining serves no purpose whatsoever. If you can change something, do it. If you can’t, work around it and move on.

That mindset has worked out quite well for me, until recently. I am faced with a dilemma that I HAVE to complain/vent about, because I can neither fix it nor work around it. My gripe? The school system. Here’s the situation: Sabrina’s graduation ceremony is at 8:00 a.m. on a Thursday. I have to get her to the school by 5:45 a.m., so she can attend the senior breakfast, then the entire class boards a charter bus that will take them to the ceremony site – which happens to be about 25 minutes from the school.

That, however, isn’t where the problem lies.

The problem is that Alexander naturally wants to attend his sister’s ceremony. It’s an epic day in her life and he really wants to be there to commemorate it with her.  Side note: The realization that she’s not going to be at the school next year hit him hard about two weeks ago. She has a potential plan to attend college in Indiana, and Alexander was genuinely upset, concerned about her ability to still have dinner with us every night. She just looked at him like he’d fallen out of the sky and said, ” I told you that you’d miss me someday!”

I gritted my teeth and took another sip of wine, because at that moment I realized she might actually move away this summer. Is it too early to start turning her room into an office? I’m kidding, I’m kidding…

Anyway, due to a school district member’s clever planning abilities, the rest of the high school students have final exams scheduled for the day of the graduation. And they thought that was a good idea? Why on earth would they plan the graduation ceremony on a day when the other students have finals that they obviously can’t miss? Why not have the ceremony in the afternoon? Or early evening? The other high schools in the district are scheduled for the following Saturday. How did we get the short end of the straw?

Oh – and one more thing: we (the family) are supposed to be at the ceremony site at 7:30 a.m. Again, no problem. Except that Alexander starts school at 8:45 a.m. Last time I checked, I was unable to be in two places at the same time. So I have to drop him off at 7:00 a.m. in order to make it out to Cedar Park by 7:30 a.m. Ok, I can do that. 

Then I made the mistake of saying, out loud, that I was going to go into the school office and see what could be done about having Alexander attend the ceremony. Surely I can’t be the only parent with this complaint? Sabrina put her hand out , looked straight at me, and said, “Mom, stop. Don’t be confrontational.”

Me? Confrontational. I think that’s a compliment. 

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Cacio e Pepe Pasta Pie – adapted from Food and Wine

I learned a very valuable lesson while making this – don’t judge a recipe by the simplicity of the ingredients. I am probably going to make this again for Sabrina’s graduation dinner – it’s equally delicious hot, or at room temperature.

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • Butter, for greasing
  • marinara sauce, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a pot of  boiling water, cook the spaghetti until barely al dente. Drain well.

In a bowl, mix the milk, Parmigiano, eggs, pepper, and 1 1/2 cups each of the Fontina and cheddar. Add the hot pasta, and mix well using two forks or tongs to get everything blended together, and that the pasta has a chance to absorb some of the liquid. Pour into a buttered 9-inch springform pan, then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup each of Fontina and cheddar on top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Transfer to 
a rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove the ring, cut the pie into wedges and serve with marinara sauce.

 

Pork Ragu

I don’t know about you, but Sunday is one of my favorite days of the week. I suspect that it’s most likely a throwback to my childhood, when one Sunday a month, Mom would spend the better part of the day cooking up a big pot of sauce for our dinner. The process was an event in itself, as she would shoo us kids (and Dad) out of the kitchen so there weren’t any distractions, and begin what I now recognize as a true labor of love. The sounds were unmistakable – the pots being pulled from the cabinets, the chopping of the onions, the blender grinding up chunks of bread for homemade breadcrumbs…….. and it didn’t take long until the house was filled with the aroma of her delectable homemade meatballs, spicy Italian sausage, and falling-off-the-bone meaty pork ribs…..mmmmm.

Eventually, Dad would sneak into the kitchen and slyly steal a meatball or two….and feign innocence  when questioned by three sets of eyes wanting a bite as well. It wasn’t fun being at the bottom of the food chain….

While I don’t have her recipe for that treasured family piece of history (something about copyrights, patents and not in my birthright……), one bite of this sauce immediately transported me back to those Sunday evenings, when dinnertime meant pasta, sauce, wine, and bread…. all while surrounded by your family.

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Pork Ragu – adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 1 1½-lb. boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup dry red wine

Season pork with pepper. Heat ¼ cup oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Sear the meat, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 10–15 minutes; transfer to a large plate.

Drain all but 2 tbs. fat from pot. Reduce heat to medium and cook onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Tie rosemary, oregano, and bay leaf into a bundle with kitchen twine; add to pot along with pork, tomatoes, and wine. Add water just to cover meat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer, until meat is very tender, 1–1½ hours.

Discard herb bundle. Using 2 forks, shred meat in pot; cook, uncovered, over medium heat until sauce is thickened, 8–10 minutes. Serve over pasta with freshly grated cheese.

 

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Sausage Breadcrumbs

I think I mentioned that last week, J and I took a whirlwind sojourn to Vegas to have dinner with the Queen Mother (and Dad!) for her birthday.

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“Whirlwind” doesn’t begin to describe our trip, if you want the truth. We landed at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday, and my brother was graciously waiting to pick us up. We headed straight to Mom and Dad’s house for celebratory champagne to kick off the evening festivities, then went to dinner at Mastrioni’s. After eating and drinking our way through copious amounts of crab, veal, pasta, wine and 4 different desserts, we went back to Buckingham Palace (as J refers to it) where I promptly crashed. (I actually crashed in the car, which I’m known for…)

The next morning we gathered round the breakfast table for eggs and waffles (Dad’s specialty), then J and I headed back to the airport for our 10:30 a.m. flight. We landed in Austin at 3:30, picked up the kids and made our way to the house. At this point, it was 5:45 and I had NO IDEA what we were going to do for dinner. J, very sweetly, said, “We could order a pizza and make it simple.”

Instead, I pulled out a magic trick and put this on the table 30 minutes later.

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Impressed? So was I. Of course, having a well-stocked pantry does help – and like most pasta recipes, this one is infinitely adaptable to what you have on hand. I was trying to avoid a trip to the store (even though it’s only a mile away), so I used up various bits of vegetables that were in the fridge. Also, I added a teaspoon of crushed red pepper and a fair amount of parmigiano reggiano cheese.

Because cheese = happiness.

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Sausage Breadcrumbs – adapted from Food and Wine

  • 1/2 pound pasta (I used rigatoni, it’s what I had on hand)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1/2 pound brussels sprouts, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup sliced red/orange peppers
  • 1/2 pound loose pork sausage
  • 1 cup panko
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the brussels sprouts and sausage and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the sausage is browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the panko and cook until crisp, 3 minutes. Season with pepper. Drain the pasta. Top with the brussels sprout mixture, drizzle with olive oil and serve with lemon wedges.

 

Mushroom Ragu

Before we head into what will surely probably most definitely be a chocolate and sugar filled weekend, allow me to share with you a surprisingly savory and gratifying dinner that I made a few weeks ago.

In my previous life, I never would have given this recipe a second glance. An Italian ragu-style sauce made with just mushrooms? Without meat? No tomatoes? It’s egregious, unthinkable, and quite frankly, a little disturbing.

Yet, I made it, and I ate it. With gusto, and a whole lot of cheese.

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Delicious, even if it was outside my comfort zone of sauce. I think next time I’ll serve this over a piece of chicken instead of over pasta. Of course, that sounds suspiciously like Chicken Marsala to me…….

Mushroom Ragu – adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound mushrooms, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Marsala
1/3 cup heavy cream
5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Parmesan

In a large skillet heat the oil. When almost smoking, add the onions and garlic over medium-low heat until the onions have wilted, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and season with pepper. Raise heat to high and saute until mushrooms are tender and all the liquid has evaporated. Remove pan from heat and pour in Marsala. Return pan to stove and allow wine to evaporate, about 3 minutes.  Add heavy cream and mix well. Take the pan off the heat and add the fresh herbs and Parmesan and mix thoroughly.

Braised Onion Pasta

This recipe proves, beyond a shadow of doubt, that 4 simple ingredients can meld together into a phenomenal dinner.

I made this a few weeks ago, when I shooed the posse out of the house so J and I could have a “home date night”.  I wanted the benefit of having quiet, adult conversation without the hassle of having to go out to a restaurant. So I told the kids, in the nicest way possible, to get lost.

They it took it quite well. 

Anyway, J and I talked, drank wine, listened to  music, nibbled on assorted cheeses and salami while I made the onion sauce, then had our pasta (I also made pork cutlets milanese), and had a glorious evening together.

Did I mention the part about J plating gun parts on the cooktop during the evening?

It was so cool.

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Braised Onion Pasta – adapted from Food52

Don’t let the amount of butter turn you off – it might seem like a lot, but it works perfectly with the pasta.

  • 10 tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 lbs. yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 tbs. sugar
  • 1/4 cup Madeira
  • 3/4 pound hot cooked pasta (I used fettuccine)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, and fresh chopped parsley, for serving
  1. In a large (12-inch) skillet or Dutch oven (I used my Le Creuset), warm the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent.
  2. Stir in the sugar and a few grinds of fresh black pepper, and reduce the heat to low. Cook the onions slowly for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Patience is key! When they’re done, they should be dark, caramelized, and borderline jammy.
  3. Stir in the Madeira, cook for a few more minutes, and then add the cooked pasta to the pan. Shower on a generous dusting of Parmesan, and using two large spoons, toss the pasta well with the sauce.
  4. Serve with additional grated Parmesan and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

This is one of those moments when I swear I had this recipe posted on the blog

Swearing is so unladylike…..

However, a quick search revealed that, in fact, I had not. I’ve been making it for years, though, as it’s the perfect dinner to whip up when you have unexpected company arriving for dinner.

Not that I have much experience with that lately, really.

*cough*

Anyway, in other breaking news, I firmly believe the zombie apocalypse is occurring this week. Alexander cleaned his room yesterday. Himself. And vacuumed. And set up his alarm clock.

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And Sabrina reorganized her closet.

I’m calling my mother……

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – adapted from Tyler Florence

1 pound dry spaghetti
2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Add the pancetta and saute for about 3 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to ensure this does not happen.) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley. Pass more cheese around the table.

Spinach Artichoke Macaroni and Cheese

This project is proving to be a bit more challenging than I previously imagined. Challenging is a much shorter term than oh-lord-I-really-need-to-put-more-brainpower-into-this. You might think I’m referencing my goal of taking better pictures this year. Well, yes……… and no.

Yes that’s a goal, but not here, not today, not this minute.

What I’m actually referring to is the design on the Ranch house. J and I spent some time yesterday to redo  the kitchen and utility room layout. Holy smokes – ‘redo’ is an understatement – ‘completely redesigned’ is more like it. As I may have mentioned before, being in this rental house for the past 8 months was probably one of the best ideas we’ve had, because now we have a clear understanding of how we work together in the kitchen (exceptionally well!) and what we need/want to have at the Ranch. And we have determined that we need a lot more counter space, storage space, and (for him) workshop space.

And J has come up with a design for the posse’s bedrooms that is simply genius. That’s why he’s the brains of this operation :)

So while it’s safe to say that my photography skills have not improved thus far, we are only two days into the new year, and that means there’s plenty of time for improvement.

Seriously though, this was one of those recipes that was so good, and so easy – and based on the fact that there weren’t any leftovers, I do believe that it is a keeper.

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Spinach Artichoke Macaroni and Cheese – adapted from Food Network

12 oz pasta
4 tbs. unsalted butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 tbs. all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3 cups lightly packed shredded white cheddar cheese
1 generous cup shredded mozzarella cheese
One 10 -ounce bag baby spinach
One 15 oz can artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Position an oven rack at the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta half of the recommended cooking time. Drain and set the pasta aside.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, and whisk constantly until it begins to toast, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, and stir constantly until the mixture is thick like gravy, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar cheese. Once the cheese has melted, add the spinach, and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the artichoke hearts, pasta, and pepper. Transfer to a greased 2-quart baking dish.

Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the pasta. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 20 minutes.