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.
When schedules are tight, and you want a hearty dinner with little preparation, a pasta dinner with turkey meat sauce is the answer. I can’t tell you how many times I relied on this meal over the years. When my kids lived at home, pasta with turkey meat sauce was a regular, if not weekly dinner. Fortunately, they never tired of this very dependable and affordable meal.
Pasta served with a simple meat sauce made with ground turkey and canned tomatoes are the basis for this recipe. We use ground turkey a lot for burgers, meatloaf, or a meat sauce. Don’t get me wrong, I love a juicy beef cheeseburger and believe Bolognese sauce is food for the Gods, yet the boys preferred ground turkey. Luckily, when it comes to making a meat sauce, their preference for ground turkey was easy to satisfy. Unlike ground beef, ground turkey is the perfect choice when you want a quick meat sauce. Turkey does not require several hours of cooking to break down and develop rich flavor like beef does. In fact, because turkey is so lean, the longer it cooks the tougher it gets.
Originally, my intention for making this sauce was to create a meal that was easy to make, and my kids would eat. With little toddlers running around I often did not have time to chop a lot of vegetables. A substantial meal with little prep was the ideal dinner. Aside from the amount of time the turkey meat sauce needs to cook, the most difficult part is preparing the garlic. As for the rest of the meal, ground turkey quickly browns then cooks in a sauce of chopped up canned tomatoes, grated carrots, and the minced garlic. The time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta provides a window of 30 – 40 minutes. This gives the meat sauce plenty of time to cook. The result is a meat sauce with bright flavor, and my attention could easily move between making dinner and my children’s needs.
As the boys grew up and if time allowed, I added other vegetables or seasoning. It is a great sauce to use up any loose vegetables hiding in the refrigerator. Anything goes be it, red pepper flakes, pancetta, fresh herbs, winter squash, mushrooms, or other vegetables. You name it, this hearty sauce develops into whatever your inspiration desires. However, keep in mind, adding more ingredients changes your quick dinner into one requiring extra preparation and cooking time.
For a vegetarian/vegan pasta sauce: Tomato Sauce with Rosemary and Balsamic Vinegar
What I really like about this meal, is it so adaptable. I find it difficult to call this a recipe, instead, it is a foundation for endless possibilities. It is a simple family dinner that can easily be made with whatever ingredients are in your pantry or refrigerator. There is no need to measure, use what you have and adjust to your tastes. If you only have one 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, it will still taste great. If you don’t have fresh herbs there is no need to run to the store, used dried herbs. What is important is putting a nutritious homemade dinner on the table and enjoying time spent with your family and friends.
Spaghetti with Turkey Meat Sauce
- 1 lb (453 g) ground turkey
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic green germ removed and minced
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes optional
- 1 medium or 2 small carrots about 2.5 oz / 75 g grated on a box grater
- 1- 1½ tsp Kosher salt divided
- 1 28 oz (800 g) can of whole tomatoes in purée rough chopped
- 1 14.5 oz (411 g) can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1½ tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 lb box spaghetti or other favorite pasta
- 1 TB balsamic vinegar
- small handful of fresh basil leaves
- small handful of fresh parsley
Fill a stock pot 2/3 up with water and place on a burner over high heat.
Place another large saucepan or 5qt Dutch oven over a burner set to medium-high heat. Pour in 2 TB of extra virgin olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the ground turkey to the pot and break it up. Let the ground turkey cook undisturbed for about 3 minutes. Once the turkey meat starts to brown break up any large chunks and stir. Cook the ground turkey until the meat is no longer pink and the juices collected on the bottom of the pot have evaporated, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the grated carrots, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, if using, and ½ tsp Kosher salt. Stir and cook for about for a couple of minutes.
Add both cans of tomatoes with their juices, dried oregano, and dried basil to the ground turkey and stir. Bring the sauce to a brisk boil, then turn down the heat to medium. Add the granulated sugar, 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt and stir. Taste and correct for seasoning with more Kosher salt if needed. If you are using no-salt canned tomatoes, you may need the full 1½ tsp of kosher salt to the sauce. Don't add more sugar until it has simmered for several minutes. You should not need extra sugar, but sometimes a pinch is required. The sugar helps sweeten the sauce and balance the flavor.
Simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
When the sauce is done simmering, and just before serving, turn off the heat and add the chopped fresh herbs and balsamic vinegar to the sauce. Stir to mix.
Meanwhile, when the water comes to a boil add about 1 TB of Kosher salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta following the instructions on the back of the pasta box. Ideally, time the pasta to finish cooking just after the sauce is finished cooking.
Drain the pasta from the water and add a little olive oil and stir. Plate the pasta with sauce and serve with grated Romano or Parmesan Cheese.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
I am craving some cozy comfort and additional heat. My immediate options are to curl up wrapped in a blanket and read a sultry book, or I could build a fire in the fireplace and enjoy a nice cocktail with my husband. However, dinner is pressing and although I have been known to get passionate, no one can be comforting when they are hungry. A steamy pasta dinner comes to mind. Eating pasta is always comforting, and the heat can easily be added. Putting all my available ingredients together, I can create a pasta dinner with Brussels sprouts and sausage. A plateful of comfort and spice, all bathed in olive oil, garlic and hot red pepper flakes.
What I love about cooking with pasta is the ability to immediately create a meal with absolutely anything. If all you have in your pantry is a box of pasta and a can of tuna, a delicious dinner is at your fingertips. A no fuss, use what is available, pasta dinner. This recipe is an example of just that. I created a pasta dinner with spicy Brussels sprouts and sausage because, Brussels sprouts and sausage were my only options for dinner.
Our cupboards are not usually so sparse. We have all had those moments of staring blankly into the refrigerator or pantry, wondering what to make for dinner. Pizza delivery can often win out on such occasions.
I have to admit that for the past 33 years there has always been at least one box of pasta in my pantry. A box of pasta has saved the day more times than I can remember. With three sons who were all swimmers, a box of pasta always ready and available in my pantry, was an absolute necessity. These boys were always hungry. If I had pasta, additional vegetables, some protein, or a can of beans, I could squelch their hunger pains with a satisfying pasta dinner in 30 minutes.
I used to despise Brussels sprouts. They smelled bad, and in my opinion had a rancid flavor. Fortunately, my attitude was surprisingly altered. A few years ago, I tasted Brussels sprouts at a holiday dinner. The Brussels sprouts were bright green with a surprising sweet flavor and I had never tasted them like that before. Since that time, I turned into a devout fan. I realized that up until that point the Brussels sprouts I was familiar with were not properly cooked. In fact, they were overcooked. Unfortunately, this happened frequently to all the prepared vegetables of my youth, and I find it amazing that I have overcome my childhood disdain for them. If the Brussels sprouts are cooked properly, they will appeal to everyone.
Now a warm blanket of a delicious pasta dinner has enveloped me. The comfort of being with my family surrounds me, and my craving pangs are subdued. However, the idea of building a fire in the fireplace and enjoying a cocktail would be an added bonus. Reading a sultry book not a bad idea either. Enjoy!
Easy Substitutes for Pasta Dinner with Brussels Sprouts and Sausage
Substitute the Brussels sprouts with 1 head of broccoli or cauliflower. Cut the vegetables up into bite size pieces. You can blanch the broccoli in the pasta water before you cook the pasta, then add them to the sausage in the skillet. Be careful not to overcook the broccoli.
Substitute the sausage with 6-8 oz of diced pancetta or chopped bacon. Cook them until nicely browned.
Instead of pork sausage use chicken or turkey sausage. Depending on how they are prepared, keep the chicken sausage in its casings and slice them into bite size pieces on the diagonal.
For a lighter meal, replace the sausage with 6 anchovies filets. Add the anchovies with the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir the anchovies so they dissolve into the olive oil.
For a vegetarian option add walnuts or pine nuts to replace the sausage. Toast the nuts, then add them when you add the pasta.
Add some extra sweetness by adding a handful of golden raisins. They are a perfect pair with the Brussels sprouts and pine nuts.
Pasta Dinner with Spicy Brussels Sprouts and Sausage
- 1 lb box favorite pasta such as campanelle, penne, or farfalle
- 2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- ½ lb sweet sausage* casing removed
- 3 cloves of garlic green germ removed and minced
- ½ tea red pepper flakes
- ½ tea crushed fennel optional depending on type of sausage
- 1 lb Brussels sprouts
- ½ cup vegetable or chicken stock
- Zest of 1//2 a lemon
- Small handful of parsley chopped
- Fresh Fennel fronds minced optional
- 1 Tb butter
- About ¼ cup reserved pasta water
- Grated Romano Cheese for serving
Trim off the ends of each Brussels sprout, remove any discolored or loose leaves, and cut into quarters. Set aside.
Fill a stock pot with water. Turn heat to high and boil water.
Place a 10 – 12-inch skillet on a burner and turn it on to medium high heat. Add the olive oil. When the olive oil is hot and shiny, add the sausage. Cook the sausage until it is no longer pink and completely cooked through. Use a wooden spoon, or fork, to stir the sausage and break it into crumbly chunks. When just cooked through, turn off the heat and remove the sausage from the pan using a slotted spoon. Set the sausage aside on a plate, or in a bowl.
Meanwhile, when the water comes to a boil add 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt and the pasta. Cook according to the directions on the back of the box, making sure the pasta is al dente when finished. Frequently stir the pasta to prevent the pasta from sticking together.
Turn the heat back on and add the minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and crushed fennel. Cook briefly until you begin to smell the garlic then add the Brussels sprouts and ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt. Stir to mix the Brussels sprouts with the garlic and red pepper flakes, then allow the Brussels sprouts to cook through and get golden brown on the sides. Add extra olive oil if the pan if it is dry.
Add the vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water to the pan then stir to combine. Cover the skillet with a fitted lid, and cook the Brussels sprouts until they become soft but still bright green, about 4 minutes.
Uncover the pot and turn off the heat if the pasta is not ready.
Once the pasta is done, collect about ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta. Add the cooked pasta back into the stock pot then add the sausage and Brussels sprouts. Stir to evenly combine then add the parsley, lemon zest, fresh fennel fronds if using, about 3 Tb of pasta water, and butter. Gently stir to combine.
Serve immediately while hot with grated Romano or Parmesan Reggiano cheese.
A lot of stores and brands make their own sweet or spicy Italian sausage. I have not discovered one that I really like. The sausage is usually seasoned with an herb or spice, or other ingredient that dominates the flavor. usually that added ingredient does not go well with what I am making. Often black pepper is overwhelming and I find it to be very bitter. Thus, I usually do not buy the store brand. I have had consistent results with Premio Brand, Sweet Luganiga Sausage, or their breakfast sausage. It is available at most supermarkets in my area. A breakfast style sausage, not Jimmy Dean, is another option. If you have a favorite sausage that you prefer, please use it. However, I recommend to taste and adjust the seasoning throughout the cooking process.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Do you know that feeling you get when the family or friends are together and all is good with the world? It can happen spontaneously by a simple gesture or after a big heartfelt moment. I treasure those moments, the feeling of complete satisfaction and joy. Peace. At those times the little things do add up and are greatly appreciated. A simple “Thank you”, carries a generous statement of gratitude. “You are doing a great job”, gives a small boost of confidence. “I am here”, builds reassurance that you are not alone. Even a home cooked meal gives family and friends a time and place to gather, share show gratitude, promote confidence and feel connected.
I know it sounds cliché, but in our home that moment and feeling would happen when we served pasta for dinner. When pasta was on the table, everyone was happy. A pasta dinner satisfied all taste and food preferences in the family. There were no protests at dinner, even if it did include an ingredient that was not a particular favorite. That offending food would get pushed aside and everything else devoured without complaint. When the, “… What?… Why? …Really?…Again? …I hate that,” dinner drama was not a focal point of the evening, the five of us would be relaxed, the conversation would flow, jokes told, and all was right with the world.
On the occasions when I combined two favorite foods in one meal, that made the evening a special occasion. My children love ham almost as much as they love pasta and a dinner of pasta with ham, (and peas), filled them with joy. Andrew, Evan and Taylor loved it so much, they ate the peas without complaint. If I asked any one of them what they wanted for dinner, pasta with ham was frequently requested.
Now that my sons are independent, they enjoy cooking this meal for their friends and significant others. Often, on a late weekend afternoon, I would get a call asking me how to make this pasta dinner. My oldest son, Andrew, claims that it was after he made pasta with ham and spring vegetables for Amanda, “the woman of his dreams”, their relationship went from casual to true love. Now, Andrew and Amanda are happily married so don’t underestimate the power of a good home cooked pasta dinner.
When it’s pasta for dinner, all is right with the world.
Pasta with Ham and Spring Vegetables
- 1 lb pasta penne, farfalle or fusilli are great choices
- 12 oz cured ham sliced in strips 1 inch by 1/4 inch
- 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
- 1 to 2 lbs of asparagus
- 1 small leek cleaned and white and light green parts sliced thin
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth preferably homemade or low salt store bought
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 Tbls chopped fresh tarragon plus one sprig of tarragon
- 1 Tb olive oil
- 1-2 Tb butter
- Kosher salt
Prep all ingredients before you begin cooking.
Clean and cut off the woody end of each asparagus spear. Hold onto to each end of an asparagus spear and bend it bringing both ends together. Where it snaps off, the bottom portion is the woody tip, discard. Cut the remainder of the asparagus spears into thirds.
Peel the garlic and remove the green germ (sprout of a new garlic plant), then mince the garlic,
Slice the ham to even strips shorter than the asparagus.
Fill a 5 qt stock pot halfway to three quarters full with fresh water. Set the stock pot with the water on a burner and turn the heat to high. Bring the water to a rapid boil and cook pasta according to the directions on the back of the pasta box.
Reserve some of the pasta cooking water when finished cooking.
Make the spring vegetable and ham sauce.
Begin preparing the sauce while you are waiting for the water to boil. Melt 1 Tbl olive oil and 1 Tbl butter in a large 12-inch skillet, or sauté pan. Once the butter has melted add the leeks and garlic to the pan. Add a small pinch of Kosher salt and sauté stirring lightly. Add the prepared asparagus and tarragon spear to the leeks and briefly sauté. Add about 1/2 cup vegetable broth, cover the pan, and braise the vegetables on medium heat for about 5 minutes. The asparagus will not be completely cooked through at this point. You want them to still be crisp with some liquid in the pan. Take the top off the skillet and add the sliced ham and peas. Continue cooking the vegetable and ham mixture at a low simmer, uncovered. This should be around 3-5 minutes before the pasta is done. You are just warming up the ham and peas since they are already cooked.
Putting it all together
Once the pasta is done, turn off the heat, scoop out some pasta cooking water and set aside, and drain out the water through a strainer. Return the pasta to the pot on the stove. Add the grated cheese and a small amount of the pasta water, start with about 1/4 cup or less, to the pasta and stir until the cheese is melted and everything is evenly distributed. Add the vegetable and ham sauce, minced tarragon, and 1 Tb of butter or olive oil to he pasta. Stir until mixed through.
Serve immediately with grated cheese and fresh ground black pepper on the side.
1.It is hard to mess up with pasta, with the exception of overcooking it. Over cooked pasta is mushy and miserable. Use the back of the box as a guideline for cooking time and begin tasting a couple of minutes before the recommended total cooking time. Cook the pasta al dente. There will still be a firm texture, but not chewy or raw tasting. The color of the pasta will have an even appearance and there will be nothing mushy or gummy about it. 2. Just like overcooked pasta, overcooked vegetables are a major disappointment. They lose their shape, texture and flavor when they are overcooked. I like my vegetables cooked but still crisp in texture with a bit of freshness left in them. Watch the vegetables and taste for desired doneness.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.