Mock Bolognese So Good, Your Friends Won’t…Err…Make Fun of You

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In a family with two working parents and a rambunctious two-year-old, I only have a few priorities when it comes to weeknight cooking. I need something relatively simple, something relatively nutritious and something relatively delicious. All three are probably a step down from how things were in the past, but I’m OK with that.

How simple? I’d really like it if my knife prep was the most time-consuming aspect of the meal. We’ve been doing a better job with nutrition by cutting out a bit of meat from our diet and focusing on more vegetables. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask that my pasta sauce taste better than Prego. So when I thought about how I could bring some of the slow-cooked goodness of bolognese to a Tuesday night, I decided to swap out the meat for mushrooms and see how I can amp up the flavor a bit.

The keys were to get a good caramelization using vegetables that didn’t take too long to break down (mushrooms, shallots, garlic), liberal use of tomato paste and a good dash of Worcestershire sauce for some sweetness and anchovy flavor. The result was a richly flavorful sauce that nicely coated the noodles but didn’t weigh it down.

Your diners might not accuse you of spending all day in the kitchen, but if I can get something this good and still have time to watch some Pajanimals with my kid, I’ll take it.

Mock Bolognese (Mushroom Ragù)

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The Bargain Ham Incident

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So it’s the second day after Christmas and I’m in my local grocery store when what do I see? All of the leftover hams that weight ten pounds or more are marked down to 99 cents a pound! Am I interested? Heck to the yeah! I grab two and make a mad dash for the checkout counter and before you know it I’m stuffing my bundles of pig joy into the freezer next to my emergency vodka. Sweet!

Fast forward to yesterday, when I’m wondering what to do for dinner and I suddenly remember my major swine score. So I thaw out contestant number one and pop it in the oven next to some scallop potatoes that I threw together. About 40 minutes later–voila! I sit down to enjoy my dirt-cheap ham dinner feast. It was so good I couldn’t wait to fire up a ham-steak-and-egg breakfast this morning. Then a few hours later I treated myself to a lunch consisting of a cold ham sandwich with mustard and Swiss cheese. Now I’m getting ready to make my dinner when what do I see staring back at me from inside my fridge? That goddamn ham! About eight and a half pounds worth. What was I thinking? Deal schmeal! This feels more like a sentence—and there’s no time off for good behavior. I’m now deep into day two of all things ham and it’s déjà vu all over again.

But wait a minute–maybe I’m approaching this wrong. Maybe if I didn’t think of it as ham I wouldn’t have a problem choking down another plate of it. What if it wasn’t ham, but it was its upscale Italian cousin pancetta? Now we’re talkin’! If I think of it as pancetta, then I could make this:

Katt’s NOT Pancetta and Angel Hair Pasta Dish

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Cooking with Fabio: Drunken Red Spaghetti

Has anyone else missed Fabio Viviani? I know I’d take his crazy Italian ramblings over this year’s boring Top Chef-testants any day. Well, not to worry—I just stumbled upon his new web series, in which Fabio and his disturbingly hot mom cook up drunken red spaghetti—pasta doused in red wine and smothered in pecornio, walnuts and caramelized pancetta. I love this dish because he doesn’t add just a little bit of booze. Uh-uh. He adds enough wine to turn those noodles purple! Now that’s Italian.

Also – check out his nickle-and-dime pasta serving size trick at 2:40!

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No Such Thing as Too Much Pumpkin…or Goat Cheese

Even though Thanksgiving feels like it was ages ago by this point, I”m still in the process of using up all the leftovers. Evidently I”m not alone; my ES sistas have been working through the same issue by creating their delicious Pumpkin Stuffed Shells and Turkey Parmesan recipes.

Anyway, I ended up with a lot of leftover canned pumpkin, which was great for me because I happen to loooove pumpkin in both sweet and savory dishes. Still riding my fried sage leaves craze, I dreamed up this savory and secretly quite healthy pasta dish, which combines spiced, roasted cauliflower, chicken breast chunks, and gobetti pasta as a base. That combo is then smothered in a creamy goat cheese pumpkin sauce, then topped with paprika, roasted pumpkin seeds, fried sage leaves, and yet more goat cheese. This pasta was a good way to use up leftover pumpkin, but stands on its own; you don”t need leftovers as an excuse to whip this up for dinner!

Roasted Cauliflower-Pumpkin Pasta with Goat Cheese, Pepitas, and Sage

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Cheesy Pumpkin Stuffed Shells with Browned Butter Sage Sauce


Well, hey there Endless Simmerers!  Hope everyone had a fantabulous holiday last week and enjoyed copious amounts of leftovers.

I don’t know about you, but it is getting cold up in my neck of the woods.  Time for comforting, bubbly, cheesy foods.  AmIright?

Katt brought you some classic stuffed shells earlier this month, but now it’s time to get a little crazy. This meal was based purely on cleaning out the fridge.  I had some ricotta from my first attempt at ravioli making (not exactly a fail, but not exactly a win) and some pumpkin from Thanksgiving-y things.

So, this love child was born.

Enough chit chat.  Let me show you how this came together.

Cheesy Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

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Stuffed Shell Weekend

When the temperature drops there are a lot of people who enjoy preparing and eating soups, stews and chilis. Me, I go straight for the Italian dishes! Pasta in a good meat sauce topped with cheese is my cold weather comfort food. So when the weekend arrives I like to prepare meals that will provide me with multiple nights’ worth of dinner options, like my stuffed shells in a vodka cream sauce.

This will make enough extra sauce that you can either freeze it or use it later in the week over rigatoni or spaghetti. And these shells are so filling that you’d better invite some friends over to help you eat this; otherwise you’re going to have it as leftovers for a good week!

Katt’s Stuffed Shells in Vodka Cream Sauce

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Don’t Mess With the Classics!

I’m not Italian but I love Italian food. It’s satisfying, hearty and soothing…and it’s relatively simple to make. Some dishes are so simple in fact, that what separates a fantastic dish from a great dish is the quality of the ingredients more so than the cooking techniques. Take the classic Italian dish spaghetti carbonara; it’s spaghetti, pancetta (or guanciale), pecorino romano cheese, pepper and eggs. That’s it! The only real variation is whether or not you going to add garlic (which I always do). The best version of this dish is the one made with fresh pasta instead of boxed, and guanciale instead of pancetta. Guanciale is a cured pork cheek which carries a ton of great-tasting fat and, if it’s available to you, is a better choice than pancetta—although not by much. When I have a great piece of guanciale I don’t use any olive oil. I’ll do a slow, low-heat sauté of the meat, which will render its delicious fat without requiring the aid of the oil. Now that’s classic!

But if you look up this recipe on many of the food and cooking websites, you’ll get some whacky variations that totally destroy this dish. And most of them come from American cooks that try to ‘improve’ this classic by making it ‘healthier.’ Substituting wheat pasta, egg whites and ground turkey sausage may make it lower in fat content, but where do you think the taste comes from? And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy for us health-conscious Americans is 78.2 years. For native Italians? 81.7 years! Those wine-swilling, chain-smoking Italians would never THINK to use turkey sausage in this dish so why should you? You ever hear Mario Batali talk about his cholesterol level? Get real! If eating this classic is shaving a few years off my life, so be it! Just stop calling your turkey-and-wheat-pasta versions carbonara, ‘cause they’re NOT!

Katt’s Classic Spaghetti Carbonara

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