Peter Aitken's Recipe Collection

Back to main table of contents

cooking recipes kitchen food 12

Pasta

Note: You'll find a few more pasta recipes in the Seafood section

Pasta with chicken and mushrooms, risotto style

Inspired by a Mark Bittman recipe. Cooking pasta this way gives a very creamy, rich result.

1/2 lb raw pasta (see note below)
3 TB olive oil
1/2c chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2c sliced mushrooms (shitake are more flavorful but the standard white 'stools work fine too)
3-4c chicken stock
2c diced cooked chicken

Use a heavy 4 quary saucepan. Heat the oil over medium heat and add the mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just starting to brown. Add the pasta and stir for 1-2 minutes until the pasta is coated with the oil. Add 1/2c stock and stir almost constantly until the liquid is almost gone. Continue adding stock 1/2c at a time, stirring until the liquid is almost gone, then repeating. After 10 min start testing the pasta for doneness - the total time will depend on the type of pasta used. Note that you may not use all the stock. When the pasta is done to your liking, stir in salt and pepper to taste and add the chicken. Cover and let sit for a few minutes, then serve (with grated Parmesan if desired).

Note: You can use pretty much any shape of pasta for this, including long pasta broken into short lengths. My favorite is fusilli. Use a good quality pasta such as de Cecco (of course!).


Vegetarian lasagna

The sauce:

1/2c diced fresh mushrooms
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3c each diced carrot, green pepper, and celery
1/4c olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried Italian herb blend
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 piece lemon peel (perhaps 1/4 of a lemon worth)
1-28oz can diced or crushed tomatoes, with juice
1-28oz can pureed tomatoes
1-6oz can tomato paste
1c dry red wine
Worcestershire sauce*

* Omit this if you are a strict vegetarian because it contains anchovies.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the vegetables. Sauté over medium heat, stirring, until the onion is transparent and the garlic is showing a faint trace of brown. Add the bay, herbs, and pepper and stir for a moment. Add the 3 tomato items and then stir in the lemon peel and wine. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes or until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Remove the bay leaf and lemon peel and stir in a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Taste and add salt if needed.

The assembly and final cooking:

1 lb lasagna noodles
1/2c chopped onion
1 TB olive oil
1-1/2 lbs frozen chopped spinach
8 oz sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4c chopped fresh parsley
2 lb ricotta cheese
3 eggs
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4lb parmesan, Romano, or asiago cheese, grated
1 recipe sauce (above) at room temperature

Put the spinach in a colander and allow to thaw and drain. Use your fingers to squeeze out as much of the remaining water as possible.

Sauté the mushrooms in the oil for a few minutes and then add the onions. Continue until the onions are wilted and the mushrooms have given up their water (or else the lasagna will be soggy). Allow to cool.

Mix the ricotta, parmesan, spinach, beaten eggs, mushroom/onion mixture. Add some black pepper and taste for salt. If you do not want to taste raw eggs, add them at the end after you have corrected the salt.

Cook the lasagna noodles in boiling salted water for about 2/3 of the time recommended on the package. This keeps them firm and easy to handle - they will finish cooking later. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Spread a thin layer of olive oil on the bottom of a 14x10x3 inch lasagna pan (or use 2 smaller pans). Top with a single layer of noodles, cutting the noodles if needed to fill gaps - do not overlap. Spread a layer of the cheese mixture on the noodles, sprinkle on some mozzarella, and top with sauce. Repeat additional  layers in the same order. Ideally you will end with a layer of noodles with a final layer of sauce over them, but it's not critical as long as the topmost layer is sauce. 

Note: I always have some leftover noodles. Just save them and use in soup, etc.

Cover the pan with foil. You can cook it immediately or refrigerate for up to 6 hours. Bake, covered, at 350f for 45 minutes (50 if it had been refrigerated). Remove the foil and bake for another 15 min. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 min before serving.


Pasta with artichoke hearts and cream

1 package (9 oz) frozen artichoke hearts
1/2 red bell pepper
1c sliced mushrooms
1/2c chopped fresh basil
1c heavy cream
2 TB olive oil
1 TB flour
1/2 lb of some medium-sized tubular pasta
Romano cheese

Thaw and drain the artichoke hearts. If necessary, cut them into quarters lengthwise. Cut the red pepper into 1/2 inch strips. You want about equal amounts of hearts, peppers, and mushrooms.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the 3 veggies and sauté, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add S&P as desired. Add the flour and stir for a minute or so. Add the cream and basil and simmer, stirring, until thickened.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta per directions and drain. Add to the sauce and mix. Serve with shaved Romano on top.


Pasta with zucchini

Easy to cook and delicious, this dish really says "summer" to me. Serves 4.

6 small zucchini (6" long and 1" in diameter)
2 lb fresh ripe tomatoes
2/3c olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2c diced onion
1/3c diced carrot
1 lb pasta (I suggest spaghetti or linguini)

Heat 1/3c oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and continue for another 4-5 minutes. Add the coarsely chopped tomatoes and their juice (you may skin them if you like but I do not think it is necessary). Simmer uncovered until reduced and thickened - this may take 30 minutes or it may take longer depending on the tomatoes and how you like the sauce. Add salt to taste.

Cook the pasta according to directions. Try to time the pasta so it is done while the zucchini are cooking. Drain, return to pan, and mix in a ladle-full of sauce.

Heat the remaining oil in a non-stick skillet. Add the garlic clove, peeled and cut into quarters, and cook until just beginning to color. Remove garlic and discard. When oil is quite hot, cut zucchini in half lengthways and then in half crossways. Add to pan and sauté, tossing frequently, until zucchini is lightly browned and barely cooked thru. It is essential not to overcook the zucchini - you want a bit of "crunch"
remaining in the center.

Divide the pasta among 4 plates. Put some more sauce on top, then the zucchini. Serve with lots of freshly grated Romano cheese.


Pasta alla Norma

This is a traditional Sicilian recipe and can be exceptionally good. More than most recipes, this one depends on top quality ingredients. If your tomatoes are not quite ripe, or the eggplant are a bit on the old side, make something else!

2 lb ripe tomatoes, plum-type or regular, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
2 medium onions, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium or 3 small eggplant
A big handful of fresh basil, cut into thin strips
Olive oil

Slice eggplant (unpeeled) into 3/4 inch slices. Cover with salted water and, if necessary, a plate to keep them submerged. Soak for 1 hour then drain and dry on paper towels. While the eggplant is soaking put the tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a saucepan and simmer until it has reached the desired thickness. Put through a food mill and return to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in basil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Drizzle with high quality olive oil just before serving. sauté the eggplant in olive oil until cooked through and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve sauce and eggplant over pasta, preferably spaghetti. Sprinkle generously with salted ricotta cheese. If you cannot find salted ricotta you can use crumbled feta or pecorino.


Pasta with kale and beans

I originally got this recipe from my mother. It is exceptionally good, particularly when made with garden-fresh kale. It is healthy as hell, too!

1 large bunch fresh kale (don't use old kale, it will taste awful)
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3c olive oil
1-16 oz can white beans (Great Northern or navy), drained with 1/2 c of liquid reserved *

Carefully wash kale and trim stems away from the leaves. Coarsely chop leaves (1-2" pieces). You should have 4-6 cups although the exact amount is not critical. Sauté onion and garlic in oil in a skillet until transparent (do not brown). Add kale and cover. Cook slowly for about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes. By this time the kale will have cooked down to a manageable volume. Keep cooking slowly, covered, until the kale is tender to your liking. Depending on the kale this can take anywhere from 5-20 minutes more. Mix in the beans and liquid, cook for another few minutes. Correct seasoning and serve over pasta sprinkled with plenty of Parmesan cheese. Crusty bread and a crisp Italian white wine go well with this dish.

* If you prefer, cook 1/2c dried beans according to package directions. Reserve 1/2c cooking liquid.


Lasagna

This is a traditional lasagna recipe that I have developed over the years, drawing from many recipes in cookbooks and magazines and making changes until I got it just the way I like it.

1-28 oz can diced tomatoes (I use Hunts)
1-12 oz can tomato paste (I use Hunts here too)
1c diced onion
1/2c each diced carrots and celery
1 TB finely minced garlic
1 tsp sugar
1/2 TB salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 lb ground chuck
2 spicy Italian sausages
1 lb ricotta 
1 lb whole or part skim milk mozzarella (do not use the pre-shredded pizza cheese)
1/3c each grated parmesan, romano, and asiago, mixed
1 lb lasagna noodles (I use DeCecco's short, wide noodles).
A 9x13x2 inch baking pan.

In a large sauce pan, place the sausages and 1/2c water. Cook over medium heat until the water is evaporated and  the sausage is browned and cooked through. Remove sausage, let cool, and slice thinly.

Add 2 TB olive oil to the pan and sauté the onion, celery, and carrot for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir for a couple minutes more. Add the ground chuck, raise the heat, and cook, stirring, until the meat has lost its pink color. At this time you may want to check to see how much fat the meat has produced and, if desired, remove it using a bulb baster. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt, sugar. and Italian seasoning. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have another pot of cold water ready. Put 4 noodles in the pan and cook for half the recommended time (4 minutes for the DeCecco). Remove to the cold water, keeping noodles flat, then place cooled noodles on a towel until you need them. Repeat until all the noodles are partially cooked.

Put a layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan, followed by a layer of noodles. Cut noodles as needed to fit - do not overlap. Then repeat layers of sauce/sausage/ricotta/mozzarella/grated cheese and then noodles again. Do not worry about spreading the ricotta in a perfectly even layer. You can scatter tablespoon-size blobs and it will spread out during cooking. Finish with a layer of noodles followed by sauce, mozzarella, and grated cheeses. I always seem to have 4-5 noodles left over, and save them for soup.

Bake at 350 for about 50 minutes, until lasagna is bubbling around the edges and browned on top. If the top seems to be browning too fast, cover with foil. Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.


Meatballs (for "Spaghetti and ...")

Meatballs are one of my favorite "comfort foods." At least good meatballs are! It is so easy to make good ones, and here's my favorite recipe, modified from Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cooking.

1 lb ground chuck
2 slices homestyle white bread, crusts removed
1/2 c milk
1/4c minced onion
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated black pepper
1/2 tsp salt (approximately)
3 TB grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
fine dry breadcrumbs (optional)

Tear the bread into pieces. Bring the milk to a boil and pour over the bread, stirring so the bread absorbs the milk. Let cool then add to a large bowl with all other ingredients except the bread crumbs. Mix gently but thoroughly using your fingers. A prime cause of rubbery meatballs is too much handling, so take it easy! The goal is not a completely uniform paste but a mixture where some pieces of bread are still distinct. Pinch off a tablespoon of the mixture and cook in in a small frypan. Taste and add more salt to the mixture if needed. Form into balls 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter, again being as gentle as possible. At this point in the recipe, opinions diverge as regards cooking the meatballs. There are three schools of thought:

1. Drop the meatballs into your simmering tomato sauce. Cover and cook for at least an hour. Do not stir until they have cooked for at least 20 minutes - this lets the eggs set and makes the meatballs more resistant to breaking up. You may need to skim accumulated fat off the sauce before serving. This cooking method lets the flavors of the sauce and meatballs meld.

2. Roll the meatballs in the breadcrumbs and sauté slowly in olive oil, turning regularly, until browned and cooked through, about half an hour. Serve separately from the sauce. This method keeps the meatball and sauce flavors separate.

3. Follow method 2 but sauté the meatball just until browned, then add to the sauce. The middle road approach.


Duck ragu

I modified this recipe from one in the cookbook "Balsamico!" by Pamela Sheldon Johns. This is a wonderful cookbook for balsamic vinegar lovers.

1 duck
2-28 oz cans chopped tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, or the equivalent in peeled and seeded fresh tomatoes.
1-1/2c diced onion
2/3c diced carrot
2/3c diced celery
3 TB olive oil
1/4c balsamic vinegar*
1/4c minced Italian parsley
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary, or dried
1 tsp fresh, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1-1/2 lbs fresh fettuccini

Remove the meat from the duck, discarding the skin and bones or using them for another purpose. Put the meat thru the coarse blade of a meat grinder, and set aside. In a skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion, carrot, and celery over medium heat for a few minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the ground duck. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the duck looses its raw color and starts to brown. Reduce the heat and add the vinegar, scraping up any browned bits clinging to the pan. Add the drained tomatoes and herbs. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and if necessary add some of the reserved tomato juice to achieve the desired consistency. Simmer for 10 more minutes, and check seasoning. Cook the fettuccini al dente and toss with the sauce.

* There is no need to use the super-expensive balsamic vinegar here, although I am sure it would taste great if you can afford it!


Pasta with shrimp

Invented by my father. This recipe has no amounts specified so is best attempted by the experienced cook.

Cut large shelled shrimp into thirds, or use whole smaller shrimp. Make stock from the shells, then reduce it quite a bit. Grind together garlic and ginger. Add a little sake and grind some more. Let the shrimp pieces marinate in this for an hour or so. Then mix with the stock and some more sake to the consistency you want. Heat till shrimp pieces are done - it doesn¹t take long. Put it on your pasta, then sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. S&P to taste.


Macaroni and Cheese

Adapted from an Alton Brown recipe.

1/2 pound cavatappi (preferred) or elbow macaroni (see note)
3 TB butter
3 TB flour
2 tsp powdered mustard (Coleman's preferred)
2-1/2c milk, warmed
1/2 diced onion
2 bay leaves
1 tsp paprika (preferred) or a couple of dashes of Tabasco sauce
1 large egg
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated or diced
Salt and pepper to taste

The topping:

1c panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 TB butter

Cook the paste al dente and drain.

In a 2 qt saucepan, melt the 3 TB butter and add the flour and mustard powder. Stir over medium heat for a few minutes until completely blended with no lumps. Do not let the flour brown. Stir in the milk, onion, paprika/hot sauce, and bay leaves. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add a healthy grinding of black pepper. Beat the egg and stir it in rapidly so that it does not set before mixed. Add 3/4 of the cheese and stir, over low heat, until it is all incorporated. Remove from heat; taste for salt and add some more if needed. Stir in the pasta and pour into a greased casserole dish. Distribute the remaining cheese on top.

Melt the 2 TB butter and stir in the panko. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

Bake at 350f for 45 minutes.

Note: I think of cavatappi as elbow macaroni that went to finishing school. They are a bit longer, and sort of spiral in shape, and the outside is ridged, better to hold sauces and the like. De Cecco is one brand that is widely available.


edical writing