A friend approached Joe and said, “Joe, I just tried this great soup. It is called pasta ee fa-gee-oli. You have to try it.”
Joe responds laughing, “That’s not how you say it. It is pronounced pasta fazool.”
“No Joe. It’s pasta ee fa-gee-ol-ee.” It is pasta and bean soup and it is delicious.”
“I’ve eaten pasta fazool my whole life. It is Dad’s favorite soup and he loves to make it. In our house, we call it, pasta fazool.”
How do you say, “Pasta e Fagioli”?
Actually, according to online reference, you do not pronounce the “e” and fagioli has two syllables, fa-joli. The pronunciation is very lyrical and dances off the tongue with the accent on the “joli”. Saying “fagioli” is fun and so is saying “fazool”. The rhythm of the Italian word is upbeat and more captivating than the English translation, “beans”. Yet no matter how you say it, pasta e fagioli is delicious and needs to be in your soup repertoire. It is an Italian soup made with pantry staples of beans and pasta created out of necessity from humble origins. At its core, the soup is made with only four ingredients, beans, pasta, onion, and garlic. 5 ingredients if you count the water. 6 if you count the parmesan cheese. In my household, we always count the parmesan cheese.
Pasta e Fagioli
From my research, there are as many versions of pasta e fagioli as there are neighborhoods in Italy. Traditionally, pasta e fagioli has a stew-like consistency, somewhere in the middle of thick and thin. Too thick and it tastes gloppy, too thin and it is less filling. If Goldilocks were Italian, the three bears would leave pasta fagioli instead of porridge for Goldilocks to sample. She would taste each bowl of pasta fagioli to find the one that was “just right”, with the proper consistency and texture. Whether pasta e fagioli is thick like a stew or not, it is a magical soup with comforting flavor from the beans, pasta, aromatics, and parmesan cheese. Like Mac and Cheese, pasta e fagioli is pure comfort food and not only fuels the body but soothes the soul.
Italian heritage of Pasta e Fagioli.
Switching It Up
Traditional pasta fagioli recipe does not use stock because the soup’s foundation is the same water that cooks the beans and pasta along with aromatics and leftover rinds of parmesan cheese. Cooking everything in one pot helps develop the stew-like consistency of the soup. Plus, using rinds from parmesan cheese adds a nutty and cheese flavor to the water that is really lovely. It is a great technique to use when you need to bump of the flavor of a mild tasting broth or soup.
For my version, I made the soup with a thinner consistency, but it is loaded with lots of pasta, beans, and tomatoes. I chose not to cook the pasta and beans together but cooked them separately. Often, pasta gets gummy in soups because they become saturated and overcooked. I find this very unappetizing and do my best to avoid gummy pasta whenever possible.
Additionally, I made this soup with fresh cranberry beans and the cooking liquid turns dull and grey. I worried that the bean cooking liquid would make the soup unappealing. So, erring on the side of caution, I cooked the beans separately as well. By cooking the pasta and beans separately this gave me more control over the lifespan of the cooked pasta, the consistency of the soup, as well as the color and overall appearance.
Instead of using plain water, I combined vegetable broth, pasta water and the bean cooking liquid to make up the soups’ stock. This mixture keeps the traditional elements but lightens it up both in flavor and viscosity. I chose vegetable stock over chicken stock because chicken stock makes everything made with it taste like chicken soup.
Cranberry beans are stunning to look at with its’ ivory color and magenta splatter. Unfortunately, the beans lose their fun purple appeal as they cook, creating beans with an ivory-grey tone and ugly grey-beige liquid. The vibrant colorful appearance is gone. Have no fear, despite the dull cooked appearance, cranberry beans have a lovely mild and herbal flavor from the aromatics in the cooking liquid. When you cook fresh beans, do not salt the water. Instead add onions, garlic, and herbs to season the liquid. The cranberry beans will absorb all the aromatics and taste wonderful.
If you can find cranberry beans, buy them. This time of year, fresh cranberry beans are available at Farmer’s markets or specialty grocery stores. A pound and a half of cranberry beans in their shell will give you enough beans for this soup. The bonus of using fresh beans over dried beans is they do not take as long to cook, and there is no need for the overnight soaking.
To save time, use canned cannellini beans, reserving their liquid for the stock and rinsing them. Look for the low salt, or no salt variety as canned foods are often high in salt.
More soup recipes
Not only does pasta fazool have the power to nourish the body for a day of hard work, but it also has the power to heal emotionally. Eating soup is grounding, comforting and uplifting on any given day. I am not sure why all I know is how I feel after eating a bowl of soup. While eating soup there is a sense of timelessness and that might be the reason for the feeling of calm and comfort.
Making soup gives me the same satisfaction and reassurance. I find it to be a meditative process with a delicious outcome. What I love about making soup is I can use up odd and end pieces of food like vegetables, chicken or fish and give them new life. Pasta fagioli is the perfect foundation for such an activity. You won’t get the traditional soup, but the premise is the same. Use what you have in the pantry or the refrigerator, even if it is just pasta and beans, and transform those leftovers into a substantial meal.
I dedicate this post in loving memory to my father-in-law, Phil Palumbo. There is no special occasion for this dedication other than I cannot say pasta fazool or enjoy eating this soup without thinking of him and feeling his love.
Pasta e Fagioli
Some people say "Cheese" when having their pictures taken, but in our family, we say, "Pasta Fazool." It is a family tradition started from Joe's dad because it is such a fun word to say. No matter how you say it, Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta Fazool, or Pasta and Beans is a hearty heartwarming soup made from pantry ingredients and just hits the spot when every you need a pick-me-up.
It may look like a lot of ingredients in this recipe for such a basic soup, but each ingredient is consistent with the Italian tradition of using simple pantry ingredients and creating something magical. You can make this as easy as you wish by using store-bought stock and canned beans, or follow my lead and make everything from scratch. Yet, I hope one day, when you are stuck inside from bad weather, you take the time and make this soup from scratch. There is nothing like a homemade soup and its heartwarming lift you get from spending the day creating something delicious to eat for your family.
Cooked pasta absorbs a lot of the liquid in the soup. As a result, some people add warm pasta to individual bowls of the soup instead of the pot. This prevents the pasta from getting gummy from overcooking. But I believe the pasta adds flavor and a nice consistency to the soup, so I do not do that. To prevent the pasta from overcooking, make sure you cook it al dente because the pasta will continue to cook in the warm soup. Also, when I heat up leftovers of pasta fagioli, I add more vegetable stock to loosen it up.
- 2 cups (500 ml) dried cannellini beans or great northern soaked overnight Or, fresh cranberry beans
- 1 onion cut in quarters
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and smashed
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs rosemary or one sprig sage
- 1 rind parmesan
Pasta e Fagioli
- 6 slices bacon cooked and cut into ½ inch pieces optional -see notes for substitutes
- 4 TB (1/4 cup / 60 ml) extra virgin olive oil or you can use a combination of rendered bacon fat and olive oil
- 2 celery stalks diced
- 1 onion, cut in small dice
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 3 bay leaves
- Bouquet garni of 3 parsley sprigs, 1 sprig sage, 2 sprigs rosemary
- Beans from the bean recipe, drained from their liquid. Or 1-14.5 oz can cannellini beans, great northern beans, or kidney beans
- 2 Parmesan rinds, plus grated or shaved for serving
- 4 cups (1 liter) vegetable stock
- 2 cups (500 ml) water, or a combination of pasta water and the bean's cooking liquid
- 1 - 14.5 oz (425 g) can diced tomatoes with liquid
- 4 - 6 oz (125 -175 g) dried pasta such as ditalini, small elbows, or small tube-shaped pasta
- Parmesan Reggiano cheese grated or shaved
If you are using fresh cranberry beans you won’t need to soak them overnight as they have not been dried out.
If you are using dried beans and forgot to soak them overnight, place the beans in a large pot filled with water. Bring the pot of water to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and soak for one hour. Drain the water and proceed as directed for cooking the cranberry beans.
If you are using canned beans, drain and reserve the bean liquid. Rinse the beans. Begin the recipe at step 1 under Pasta e Fagioli.
Place the fresh cranberry beans or soaked beans in a large pot and add the quartered onion, 3 cloves of garlic smashed, 3 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of rosemary. Bring to a boil then turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook until tender, but not breaking apart, about 35 minutes for fresh cranberry beans, or 1 hour or longer for the dried beans. Check the beans frequently so you do not overcook them.
Remove the aromatics, onion, garlic, herbs, pour the beans into the bowl of a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl to catch the liquids. Drain the beans and reserve the bean water. Set aside.
Pasta e Fagioli
In a 5 qt Dutch oven or large stock pot, add the olive oil, (or a combination of olive oil and rendered bacon fat to equal 4 TBS (1/4 cup / 60 ml)), set over medium heat. Heat up the oil to melt the bacon fat if using. Add the onions and celery and a Kosher salt. Sauté until the vegetables are soft and transparent, being careful not to brown the vegetables, about 5-8 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and minced garlic and sauté until for about 1 minute.
Once the vegetables are soft, add the vegetable stock, and 2 cups water (or a combination of pasta water, bean cooking liquid, and water). Add the bay leaves, bouquet garni, parmesan rinds, and chopped tomatoes with their liquid. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Continue to simmer the stock and add the cooked beans and crispy bacon pieces. Simmer for ten to twenty minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add the cooked noodles and cook until they are warmed through.
Serve hot with thin slices, or finely grated Parmesan Reggiano.
Pasta e fagioli is best eaten the day it is made but it can be reheated on the stove or in a microwave. You may want to add some extra stock when heating up leftover soup, as the beans and pasta will absorb the liquid in the soup.
Joe's dad often added scraps of meat like ham to the soup to make it more substantial or cook the beans with a ham bone. According to Joe, Dad often used the soup to use up odds and ends of food that was leftover in the refrigerator or the pantry.
I like bacon in this soup as it adds a lovely smokey flavor. Pieces of fried prosciutto are a nice addition as well, but it does not have the smoky flavor of bacon.
If you do not eat pork, a traditional substitute is anchovy filets. Add 4-6 fillets to the sautéed onion and celery when you add the red pepper flakes. You want to cook them down so they melt into the oil before you add any liquids.
For a plant based version, omit the bacon, anchovies, and parmesan cheese rind. You will need additional seasoning to add more body and flavor to the pasta fagioli, which can come from additional garlic and herbs. Or maybe a small amount of miso though not too much to change the soup's Italian flavorings. I have yet to try nutritional yeast, but that is another option as well.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Macaroni and cheese must be one of the most popular foods around and it is easy to understand why. Mac and cheese is pure comfort food with the creamy and cheesy sauce coating tube-shaped pasta. I can’t decide which type of macaroni and cheese I like more, stove-top mac and cheese or baked, as both have their merits. For this blog post, I decided to go with baked mac and cheese because I love the layer of crispy breadcrumbs over this cheesy casserole. They add welcome textural contrast to the smooth and creamy macaroni. In my opinion, this classic baked mac and cheese is the ultimate mac and cheese because it is creamy and gooey in a good way, with lots of cheese and extra flavor from the herb-infused sauce.
What is Mac and Cheese?
What is the foundation ingredient in Mac and Cheese? Other than the macaroni, it is the Mornay sauce made with cheddar cheese. A Mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce, (white sauce made from a roux and milk ) with melted cheese. These two sauces are two of the five mother sauces from French cuisine and are the backbone to a lot of American food.
Traditionally, a Mornay sauce is made with Gruyère cheese, so for this recipe, I decided to stay with tradition and use Gruyère cheese. Because mac and cheese would not be mac and cheese without the sharp taste of good cheddar, I combined a blend of two kinds of cheese for a full-flavored cheese sauce. Most mac and cheese recipes call for using all cheddar cheese, but the texture of a sauce made with only cheddar cheese is gritty. There is nothing wrong with it as it is the nature of the cheese, but it is just not that pleasant to eat.
Extra Cheese Flavor
I discovered to make a smooth cheese sauce with cheddar cheese, using two types of cheeses is essential. Plus the proportion of cheddar must be less than the second cheese in the sauce. Making cheddar cheese the less prominent cheese diminishes the gritty texture and makes a velvety smooth sauce. I recommend two cheese combinations, one with 12 oz (350 g) of Gruyère and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar. Or, for a more economical meal substitute the Gruyère with 12 oz (350 g) of Colby jack cheese and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Either combination produces a silky and cheese forward sauce perfect for mac and cheese.
This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s Mac and Cheese and where I got the idea of combining Gruyère cheese with cheddar cheese. After my disappointing mac and cheese with 100% cheddar, I sought out more inspiration to fix the gritty texture and her recipe did just that. There is a lot of cheese in this recipe and it is very rich. Yet the combination of Gruyère with its’ aged and nutty flavor with sharp-tasting cheddar give this sauce extra body and flavor. The cheese flavor comes through and is not mild which is a common complaint about a lot of macaroni and cheese recipes.
If Gruyère cheese is too expensive you can use a combination of Gruyère and Swiss cheese or substitute the Gruyère with Colby jack. Colby jack is a milder tasting cheese and usually a favorite with younger children. These two options give you two mac and cheese recipes, one for adults and one for children. Although the recipe has so much cheese in the sauce I believe children will like both versions.
My Extra Step
What makes my recipe different from The Barefoot Contessa’s is I steep the milk with garlic and herbs before I make the Mornay sauce. This extra step really makes a difference in flavor. Fortunately, it does not add extra time because you can easily steep the milk while you wait for the pasta to cook. Unfortunately, it does give you one more pot to clean, but I promise you it is worth it. Dried bay leaves, fresh sage and garlic steep in warm milk and change the sauce from ok to distinctive. Steeping herbs is one of my favorite ways of adding extra flavor without changing the look of the sauce. The sage flavor in this sauce is not too herby or assertive and comfortably rounds out the cheese and cream flavors like putting on a brand new pair of socks. Its soft, comfortable and invigorating.
And Then Some
There are countless ways to change-up mac and cheese. Listed below are just a few examples.
- If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy sauce add a 4 – 8 oz (125 – 225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes after you mix the sauce with the macaroni. Personally, I believe this recipe has more than enough cheese in it, but people love the extra cheese.
- If you use the Colby jack and cheddar cheese combination, add about a half cup (125 ml)of Romano or Parmesan Reggiano to the macaroni after you mix the cheese sauce and pasta. The Romano or Parmesan will add some extra flavor to this mild cheese sauce.
- Caramelize two onions then add to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Add blanched broccoli flowerettes or cauliflower to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Fried prosciutto is also delicious. Tear pieces of prosciutto and cook them up in a skillet with extra-virgin olive oil until crispy.
- Add frozen peas to the stock pot with the pasta 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
- For pure decadence, add 1 ½ lb (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. (Ina Garten’s Lobster Mac and Cheese recipe).
- Use Ina Garten’s recommendation and add sliced tomatoes over the top of the casserole, then add the breadcrumbs before baking.
- Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Serve Mac and Cheese with Rolled Stuffed Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Classic Mac and Cheese and Then Some
A classic macaroni and cheese recipe with a smooth creamy-cheesy macaroni filling. I added an extra step of infusing the milk with fresh herbs and garlic to develop extra flavor in the sauce and complement the cheeses. Sprinkle toasted breadcrumbs seasoned with parmesan cheese, ground garlic and dried herds over the macaroni and cheese before baking in the oven. The breadcrumbs add a welcome crunch and textural contrast to the delicious and gooey macaroni.
Make macaroni and cheese with any tubular shape pasta like elbows, shells cavatappi or a small penne or ziti shapes are nice. But it is important to undercook the pasta before you add it to the sauce. The pasta will continue to cook while baking in the oven so undercooking it beforehand prevents the macaroni from getting soggy and limp.
Macaroni is a great make ahead casserole and you can make it two days in advance. Store in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. Make the casserole up to the point before putting on the breadcrumb topping. You can also freeze it for up to 2 months. Make sure you freeze it in a freezer-to-oven safe baking dish.
If refrigerated, take the casserole out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking to bring up to room temperature. Remove the plastic wrap then add the breadcrumbs. Bake covered in foil for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until hot and bubbly.
If frozen, remove the plastic wrap and cover the casserole with foil bake for one hour, then remove the foil and bake until hot and bubbly.
Best eaten hot on the day it is made.
Store leftover macaroni and cheese covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The sauce gets drier, but it heats up well in a microwave.
Macaroni and Cheese
- 4 cups (1 L) whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 sprig fresh sage
- 1 lb. tubular shaped pasta like elbows shells, or cavatappi
- 6 TBS Butter
- 6 TBS all-purpose flour
- 12 oz grated Gruyère cheese or Colby Jack
- 8 oz grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 1-2 tsp Dried herbs like parsley oregano, or sage or Italian seasoning
- 1-2 tsp ground mustard
- 1-2 tsp hot sauce like Frank’s Red Hot
- Several rounds of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs, or use 2-3 slices of whole grain bread
- 2 TB melted butter
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Parmesan Cheese
- ½ tsp granulated garlic
- 1-2 tsp of dried herbs like parsley, oregano, sage or basil
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190 °C / Gas Mark 5) with the rack in the middle position. Butter a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish.
Cook the pasta and Flavor the Milk
Heat a large stock pot filled with water until boiling. Season with salt and cook the pasta for half the amount of recommended time. Drain the pasta. Shake out any excess water from the colander then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the pasta and toss to coat. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat up the milk and cream with the sage, bay leaves, and smashed garlic clove in a saucepan to just shy of boiling. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 5 minutes, making sure the milk does not boil. Turn off the heat then let the milk and herbs steep for 15-20 minutes.
Make the Topping
While you are waiting for the pasta to cook, make the topping. If making fresh breadcrumbs, take the bread slices and rip each slice into four pieces then place in a bowl of a food processor. Process the bread until it becomes crumbly but not gummy. Add the melted butter, parmesan cheese, and dried herbs if using, and process until combined. Pour the breadcrumbs into a small bowl and set aside.
If you are using panko breadcrumbs, pour the melted butter into a small bowl with the breadcrumbs and mix together. Add the parmesan cheese and dried herbs if using. Mix together and set aside.
Make the Sauce
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and stopped sizzling, add the flour and whisk to blend. Continue to whisk the butter and flour to make a roux for about 5 minutes. You want to remove the flour taste and smell. Be careful not to brown the roux.
Remove the herbs from the milk and add the milk into the roux a little at a time. Whisk the milk and roux continuously to thoroughly mix them together between each addition. Make sure you get into the crevasses of the pan to mix in all the milk and flour. Cook the sauce for about 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. You know it is done when you dip a wooden spoon in the sauce then run your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce does not run and break the line, the sauce is done.
Once you have a thick sauce with a smooth texture, add the ground mustard, and hot sauce (if using), and a few rounds of freshly ground black pepper. Whisk them into the sauce and taste. Add the grated cheese in increments whisking the cheese and sauce thoroughly between each addition. Wait until the cheese has melted between each addition as well. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as needed.
Assemble and Bake
Scrape the cooked macaroni into a bowl with the cheese sauce then stir to mix. If you are adding add-ins like crispy bacon or broccoli, add them now. Pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish.
Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the macaroni in an even layer.
Place the macaroni filled baking dish on a rimmed sheet pan to collect any sauce that bubbles over while baking. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the topping is brown and crispy and the macaroni is bubbly. The internal temperature should register 165°F (74°C) Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
And then some:
If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy mac and cheese, add up to a half pound ((225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes to the macaroni mixture and stir to combine.
Add a half cup (125 ml)of grated Parmesan Reggiano to the Macaroni and cheese sauce before scraping it into the baking dish.
Caramelize two onions, then add them to the mac and cheese before baking.
Add blanched broccoli or cauliflower flowerettes to the mac and cheese before baking.
Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half-inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Or try fried pieces of prosciutto.
Add frozen peas to the boiling pasta water 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
Add 1½ lbs (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Add sliced tomatoes over the top of the mac and cheese then sprinkle with breadcrumbs before baking. (Ina Garten's recipe)
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
This time of year, I want to eat fresh local tomatoes every day until there are no more. For some reason, the finality of tomato season resonates more than other vegetables. Maybe fresh corn is equal in its limited and anticipated season, but real tomatoes picked ripe tastes like summer and the ground from which it has grown. There is nothing like it.
As much as I love fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes are high on my list for having exceptional flavor, particularly roasted cherry tomatoes. Roasting cherry tomatoes concentrate their natural sweetness giving them an amazing punch of pizzazz. As a result, paring roasted cherry tomatoes with other foods, just makes everything taste better, especially creamy cheese, fish or grilled meats.
One of my favorite ways to use roasted cherry tomatoes is to mix them with pasta and make a pasta sauce. Other than chopping up fresh tomatoes and adding them to pasta, roasting cherry tomatoes are one of the easiest methods for making a pasta sauce. Just scatter the tomatoes over a sheet pan, drizzle olive oil and salt, then roast for 30 minutes or so. The other bonus to roasting cherry or grape tomatoes is there is no splatter on the stove or countertop.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
I started roasting cherry tomatoes after I saw a photograph of burrata with roasted cherry tomatoes drizzled with basil pesto. Immediately, I knew this appetizer was something I had to discover. Since then I roast cherry tomatoes whenever I get the chance. I especially like to roast them alongside tender white fish like sole, plaice or turbot. They give the delicate fish a much-needed flavor boost.
Roasting cherry tomatoes for pasta sauce requires nothing more than a generous dose of good olive oil and fresh herbs. When they bake together in the oven the juices from the tomatoes and olive oil blend and create a silky sauce that clings to the pasta. There is not a lot of this pan juice, so it is important to use the right size pan to prevent the pan juices from drying out. If that does happen, deglaze the pan with some of the pasta water or wine, then pour the glaze over the pasta.
This summer I never missed an opportunity to roast garlic or onions. So, whenever I roasted vegetables like broccoli, I scattered cloves of garlic, still in their papery skins and roasted the cloves along with the other veggies. Like roasted cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic is one of those foods that just make everything taste better. It does take some time to get the garlic browned and sweet, but I help the process along by slicing large garlic cloves in half. When all done, you can smear the roasted garlic cloves on bread, or spread it over the roasted vegetables for added depth of flavor.
For this recipe, the garlic will not get as caramelized because it only takes 20-30 minutes to roast cherry tomatoes. Yet, in this short timeframe, the garlic becomes soft and sweet. Once the tomatoes are finished I fish out the garlic cloves and remove the papery skins. From there you can decide if you want the garlic cloves left whole in the sauce or chopped up. I decided to chop mine up making sure there was roasted garlic throughout the pasta sauce. Feel free to prepare the garlic any way you wish. Yet, I do not recommend you mince the garlic before you roast it, as garlic burns easily. Burned garlic tastes very bitter.
How Much Pasta
I once read a note written by Marcella Hazan that when making a pasta dish, it is the pasta that is the primary ingredient, not the sauce or added ingredients. Therefore, the add-ins should be limited in proportion to not take away from the pasta. I love pasta as much as anyone, but I prefer my pasta meals filled with lots of add-ins. This way for every bite I get the fresh flavors of the added ingredients and pasta. Additionally, it is healthier to eat pasta with lots of vegetables because they help slow down the metabolism of the pasta from the extra fiber. This is a long-winded explanation for how much pasta to serve with 2 pounds ( 1 kg) of tomatoes. My preference is a half-pound of pasta, (250g), but use the amount you prefer.
Mix it Up
Add creamy goat cheese to the spaghetti and roasted cherry tomatoes. Scatter spoonfuls of goat cheese on each plate or on the serving platter after the spaghetti and roasted tomato sauce are mixed together.
Add fresh ricotta cheese to the spaghetti and roasted cherry tomatoes. Serve the pasta meal with a tablespoonful of fresh ricotta cheese on the side.
Add shrimp to the sauce. Five minutes before the tomatoes finish roasting, scatter peeled and seasoned shrimp on the roasting pan with the tomatoes. Roast until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through. Toss the shrimp and tomatoes with spaghetti or another choice of pasta.
Spaghetti with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Roasted cherry or grape tomatoes develop a lovely concentrated sweetness and a melty and silky texture perfect for pasta sauce. In this recipe the tomatoes roast along with fresh herbs, garlic, and shallots for an extra flavor boost.
I listed two amounts of pasta in the recipe. Use either a half-pound or a full pound of pasta with 2 lbs. of cherry tomatoes. If you are in the camp that pasta is the main and featured ingredient, then cook the full pound. Yet, if you are like me and enjoy more add-ins with a pasta meal, then a half-pound is preferable. This way you get more tomatoes with each bite. A half-pound of pasta with the roasted cherry tomato sauce is enough for 4 servings.
- 2 lbs (1 kg) cherry or grape tomatoes washed and dried
- 8 cloves of garlic peel intact
- 4-6 small shallots peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
- 3 TB (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil plus more for finishing
- ½ tsp Kosher Salt
- A few rounds of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 sprigs of fresh herbs like basil or thyme
- ½ - 1 lb. (250 - 500 g) pasta like spaghetti linguine, or see note
- Romano Cheese for serving
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and place the oven rack in the middle position.
Keep the skins on each garlic clove, but trim off the root end. This will make peeling the roasted garlic easier when the cloves are hot. If any of the garlic cloves are large, slice them in half lengthwise with the skins still on.
Depending on how large your shallots are, slice them in half lengthwise or in fourths lengthwise if they are too big.
Add the tomatoes, garlic cloves and shallots to a rimmed baking sheet or shallow flameproof baking pan, large enough to hold the vegetables in one layer. You do not want the pan to be too big or the juices from the tomatoes will dry up in the oven.
Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes, garlic, and shallots, then sprinkle them with Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Toss in half of the fresh herbs, then use your clean hands and mix until all the vegetables are nicely coated with olive oil.
Slide the pan into the oven and roast for 20 minutes. After twenty minutes check the tomatoes if they are soft and starting to split. Also, the garlic will look soft and starting to brown, along with the shallots. You can stop roasting now or roast an additional 5 -10 minutes more to really soften the tomatoes and garlic. Once done to your liking remove from the oven.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Cook the pasta al dente, just done with a little bite in the middle. Remove the pasta from the water and add to a bowl. Reserve some pasta water to deglaze the pan and add to the sauce. Ideally, you want to time it, so the pasta is done at the same time as the tomatoes.
Right after you take the tomatoes out of the oven, carefully (the garlic is very hot) remove the papery skin from the roasted garlic. You can add the garlic cloves back in with the tomatoes whole or chop them up.
Add the tomatoes, garlic, and shallots to the spaghetti scraping as much of the pan juices to the bowl. If your pan juices dried up, set the roasting pan over two burners then add some pasta water and deglaze the pan. Reduce the juices then add to the pasta and tomatoes.
Toss the spaghetti to get the tomatoes evenly mixed in. Add a little more pasta water if it seems dry. Sprinkle the remaining fresh basil over the pasta and drizzle with more olive oil. (This is a good place for adding your best quality olive oil.) Serve immediately with grated Romano cheese and fresh black pepper.
I believe just about any shape pasta will taste nice with the roasted cherry tomato sauce. Spaghetti and linguine are traditional choices, but tubular or unusual pasta shapes like campanelle are nice. I recommend shying away from flat pasta shapes like bow ties, farfalle, or ones that are small.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
A silky and chunky mushroom sauce recipe perfect with fresh or dried, long wide shape pasta. With a pound and a half of mushrooms, it has a deep mushroom flavor seasoned with dry Spanish sherry and fresh rosemary.
My stress level is very high now and I desperately need to chill out. In-between two nor’easters, extended power outages, and no internet, I migrated my website from one hosting service to another. Maybe I should have waited until the storms cleared, but then I would still be waiting. No internet.
For over a week my website fluctuated between it’s old home and new one, appearing with different styling and connections. Just like we went from house to house seeking warmth and shelter after the storm. Fortunately, we had a place to go, not like my website that was floating between two homes.
Mushroom Sauce to Sooth the Soul
Amid cleaning out my refrigerator and freezer and restocking our supplies, I spied a pint of store made fresh cream of mushroom soup. I grabbed it up like it was the last pint of soup in the store. Instinctively, I knew other than my internet service returning, cream of mushroom soup was the medicine I needed to calm my mind.
Back home, with each sweet and earthy slurp my body melted into the serene soup. Selfishly, I wanted more and next to mushroom soup, pasta with mushroom sauce grounds me. Like cream of mushroom soup, mushroom sauces for pasta is at the top of my favorite food list. When two of the most comforting foods combine, it is difficult to hold onto any worries. It is time to make this at home.
How to store mushrooms Once I open a sealed package of fresh mushrooms, I put any remainder mushrooms in paper bag. Mushrooms get slimy in plastic bags and containers.
Pappardelle with Sherry Mushroom Sauce
Wide flat noodles are my preferred pasta shape with this smooth mushroom sauce. Often pappardelle or tagliatelle are hard to find so penne is a good substitute. If you can get fresh pasta go for it, but make sure you time the pasta to reach just shy of al dente when the sauce is done cooking. Fresh pasta is best eaten right after it is cooked.
This recipe is adapted from Lidia's Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali, Tagliatelle with Mushroom Sauce.
- .5 oz (14 g) dried porcini mushrooms*
- 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
- 1 lb. (454 g) dried or fresh pappardelle pasta or tagliatelle, or penne
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 1.5 lbs 750 g assorted mushrooms, sliced thin
- 1 leek cleaned and minced
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 2 TB fresh rosemary minced (thyme or sage)
- 3 TB tomato paste
- 2 TB dry sherry or Cognac
- 1 - 1.5 cups (250 - 375 ml) reserved mushroom liquid, or a combination of vegetable or chicken stock and mushroom liquid
- 2 TB butter
- Handful of Italian parsley chopped for garnish
- Fresh finely grated Romano cheese
Reconstitute the dried mushrooms
Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over the mushrooms. Stir the mushrooms and poke at them to submerge the mushrooms under the water. Quickly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the liquid my lifting them out with your hands or a slotted spoon and rest them on a cutting board. Pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer, lined with a double layer of cheese cloth, into a small bowl. Finely chop the reconstituted mushrooms and set aside. Reserve the mushroom liquid for later.
Fill a large stock pot with water and bring to boil. Once the pasta water reaches a vigorous boiling point and add about 2 teaspoons of Kosher salt.
Prepare the mushroom sauce
While the water is coming to a boil, heat a large skillet, about 12 inches (30cm) or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil add all the fresh mushrooms to the pan. (If you use a smaller pan, you may want to sauté the mushrooms in a couple of batches.) Sauté stirring occasionally until they are cooked through and all their liquid has evaporated.
Add the minced leeks, garlic, minced reconstituted porcini mushrooms, half the minced rosemary, Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper then stir to coat the vegetables. Cook until the leeks are soft about 5 minutes. Push aside the vegetables to uncover the hot spot of your pan and add the tomato paste to toast it over the hot spot for about a minute. Mix the tomato paste with the vegetables and cook for 4 minutes. Add all liquids, 1. 5 cups (375 ml) broth (combined with or without mushroom water) plus the sherry, and the butter. Turn down the heat to medium and simmer the mushroom sauce until the butter is melted and incorporated into the sauce, about 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Add the pasta to the salted boiling water and cook until al dente. Refer to the directions on the back of the pasta box. Occasionally stir the pasta so the strands do not stick together. Once cooked, remove the pasta from the water using tongs and add it directly into the pan with the mushroom sauce. Toss to evenly coat the pasta with the sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining minced rosemary and serve.
Serve immediately garnished with minced parsley with finely grated fresh Romano cheese.
Dried porcini powder is another way to get earthy mushroom flavor when cooking with cultivated mushrooms. Start with 1 teaspoon. Taste, then adjust with more if needed.
More mushroom recipes for the mushroom lover:
Mix up the Mushroom Sauce
Instead of a pasta sauce, spread the mushroom sauce over polenta, grilled steaks, chicken or white fish.
Top bruschetta with the mushroom sauce. Toast slices of crusty French or Italian bread then paint each slice using a garlic clove. Top the garlic toasts with the mushroom sauce and serve as an appetizer.
Add some cream or crème fraîche to the mushroom sauce for a creamy adaptation. Start with a half of cup (125 ml) and taste. If you use cream add it with the stock, but do not let the sauce boil. If you use crème fraîche, add it at the end before you add the pasta.
Switch up the herbs to reflect the season. Mushrooms taste delicious with thyme, rosemary and sage, but in the summer months, try it with basil.
Experiment with the texture. For a slightly smoother sauce, purée half of the sauce until smooth, then add the purée back with the other mushrooms. Adjust the thickness with more stock.
For a heartier mushroom sauce, add roughly chopped tomatoes to the sauce before you add the stock. Proceed as directed.
If it wasn’t for free Wi-Fi at various stores in my area I would not have been able to get my website up and running and publish this post. Thanks to Panera and Starbucks for providing the service. It was a real-life saver for many people like myself during the aftermath of two nor’easters within a weeks’ time. This is not an ad or a sponsored post, just a friendly thank you.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Next to avocados, cold sesame noodles is one of my all-time favorite foods. Often, I crave that nutty sesame taste with light but rich silky noodles. My first introduction to sesame noodles happened during my college years when I was living in the West Village of New York City. I had very little money to spend so I often looked for food that was within my meager means. Next to spending $2 for a falafel sandwich, cold sesame noodles was the next best deal.
My favorite sesame noodles came from a tiny restaurant in China Town called Little Szechuan. These noodles were light and not weighted down with peanut butter and sesame paste. They also had a great spicy kick. To this day I have not had sesame noodles that even compare the Little Szechuan’s noodles. Often, I walked from my apartment on West Street in the Village to China Town just to have these spicy Szechuan noodles.
Little Szechuan was a tiny restaurant located in a remote area of China Town. At most it had a total of 6 tables and was located on a hidden narrow street leading to another meandering road. I can’t remember the name of the street or how I knew about it. Yes, it sounds odd to describe a place in Manhattan as “remote”, but they exist, even on an island populated with over 8 million people.
Because I adore anything made with sesame seeds, it is not a hard job researching and testing recipes for the perfect cold sesame noodles. My main criteria are, they are not thick and gloppy with peanut butter. I want to taste the toasted sesame and not be weighed down by a pasty sauce. However, peanut butter is an important ingredient in sesame noodles because it keeps the sauce emulsified, like Dijon mustard does in a vinaigrette. Without peanut butter, the tahini or sesame paste will taste chalky and dry.
As I researched and tested many recipes over the years, I discovered they usually share the same ingredients. The main difference is how many of the specialty Chinese ingredients are used vs a more available substitute. The main differences come down to the proportions of each ingredient to get the deep umami and spicy flavor without feeling like you just ate a brick.
Unfortunately, if you want to make cold sesame noodles you must buy some specialty ingredients. The primary ones are the dark sesame oil and the sesame paste or tahini. The other ones are easier to work around. For instance, instead of Chinese sesame paste use tahini. Black vinegar has a deep dark flavor that adds a nice element, but rice vinegar is much more common and affordable. I specified garlic chili paste but chili oil is as common in most recipes. Or you can make the garlic chili paste or chili oil if you prefer. It is a lot to think about and these ingredients do add up, so do what is best for you. The good news is, if you invest in buying some of the ingredients like sesame oil, it will keep for a long time in the refrigerator. Also, there are other recipes to use them in.
I am feeling guilty asking to buy all these specialty foods. Fortunately, some of them are easy to get at your grocery store and might already own them. Soy sauce, tahini (Jayva brand is usually next to the peanut butter), and natural peanut butter are widely available. Rice vinegar is also located in the grocery with the other types of vinegar, or in the International section.
The other crazy thing is the packaging of the noodles. Unlike dried Italian pasta, most Asian noodle brands come in different size packages. I have seen them in sizes ranging from 5 oz to 12 oz. However, the amount of dried noodles or pasta you buy does not need to be exact. It is my opinion, the amount of sauce in this recipe is perfect for 10 ounces of noodles. If you need to make more, just double or make one and a half times the amount of sesame sauce to nicely coat your noodles. After you made it once you will learn how much sauce you need. You can find Asian noodles at the grocery located in the International food section and at Asian markets. You can also buy as many packs of dried Ramen noodle soup you want and throw out the seasoning packet.
Serve cold sesame noodles with
Cold sesame noodles are great for family gathering, vegetarian meals, or vegan dinners if your noodles don’t have eggs. When I want a more substantial meal I add shredded pieces of cooked chicken to the noodles for some extra protein. Other vegetables like broccoli also taste great with cold noodles.
Cold Sesame Noodles
- 10 oz Chinese Lo Mien Ramen, or spaghetti noodles
- 2 scallions sliced thin on a diagonal. White and green parts
- 1 medium 5 - 6.5 oz / 145 - 190 g seedless cucumber
- 2- inch piece of daikon radish or 1- 2 (3 oz / 88 g) watermelon radishes, or carrots
- 2 TBS 21 g toasted sesame oil,* extra to coat the cooked noodles
- 3 TBS 46 g / 150 ml soy sauce
- 2 TBS 25 g unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 TBS 40 g tahini or dark sesame paste
- 1 TB 21 g smooth natural peanut butter
- 1-2 tsp 4 - 8 g brown sugar
- 1 TB 18 g chili garlic paste*
- 1 tsp 2.5 g Chinese black vinegar8
- 2 medium garlic cloves green germ removed and minced or grated
- 1½ - inch 4 cm piece fresh ginger, minced or grated
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish
- roasted and salted peanuts rough chop for garnish
- chopped cilantro for garnish optional
Prep your vegetables
Peel and scrape out any seeds. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, then cut each half in quarters. Cut each quarter into 1 - 2-inch (2.5 - 5.5 cm) strips. Set aside
Peel the radish and slice into very thin disc less than 1/8-inch (2 mm) thick. Cut each disk into matchstick size strips. Set in a small bowl filled with ice water. Set aside.
Take the sliced scallions and add to a small bowl filled with ice water. Keep the scallions and radishes in their ice bath for 15 minutes, or until you assemble and serve the sesame noodles. Set aside.
Cook the Pasta
Bring a big pot of water to boil and cook the noodles according to the directions. Some noodles take 3 minutes to reach al dente, some take 10 minutes. If you are using the curly lo mien noodles stir with a fork to help separate the noodles without breaking them. Be careful not to burn your hand and overcook the noodles. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse in cold running water to stop the cooking. Once the noodles are cooled, shake out any excess water and carefully dump the noodles on a clean flour sack towel, or other lint free kitchen towel. Carefully pat the noodles lightly dry.
Plop the cooled noodles into a large mixing bowl add 2 teaspoon of dark sesame oil and using clean hands carefully toss the noodles until nicely coated. Set aside.
Make the sauce
In a medium mixing bowl add the toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame paste or tahini, peanut butter, brown sugar, chili garlic paste, black vinegar, minced garlic and minced ginger. With a wire whisk, whisk all the ingredients together until smooth and incorporated. Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning with using any of the sesame sauce ingredients you wish, if needed.
Add about 2/3 of the sauce to the noodles and toss with your clean hands to evenly coat the noodles. Taste and add more sauce if needed.
Drain the scallions and radishes and pat dry.
Add most of the remaining vegetables to the noodles, leaving some for a garnishing. Toss with your hands to mix together.
Scoop the cold sesame noodles out of the bowl and onto a serving dish and garnish with sesame seeds, chopped peanuts, cilantro if using, and remaining vegetables.
Do ahead note- If you make this in advance. Mix together the noodles and the vegetables and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Make the sesame sauce and cover with plastic wrap and keep on the counter until ready to serve. Add the sauce to the noodles right before serving.
There are two types of sesame oil. One is light in color and the other is darker because it is made with toasted sesame seeds. This recipe uses the darker sesame oil and is found in health food stores, Asian markets, or the international food section at your grocery store. Store dark sesame oil in your refrigerator, especially if you do not use it that often. My favorite brand is Spectrum and found in Health Food Stores, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods.
Chili garlic paste is found in most Asian markets and similar too Sambal Oelek. You can substitute these items with Hot Chili oil if you cannot find them. Add a little and taste as you mix the sauce, then add more as needed. If you want to keep your costs down and already have Sriracha sauce, use that instead. It has a very different flavor from the garlic chili paste but it does have a nice spicy flavor.
Black vinegar is also a specialty item found in Asian Markets. It has a very strong flavor and adds some great depth to the sauce. I totally understand if you want to skip out on buying it, but it will last forever in a cool pantry and is used in many Asian food recipes.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.