Peas, Pasta, and Pancetta

Peas, Pasta, and PancettaSpring Forward
Over the weekend we moved nine cubic yards (I may have over-ordered.) of vegetable potting soil into my raised beds in anticipation of having an actual vegetable garden for the first time in about 10 years. The arrival of the dirt is one of the last steps before the real magic starts.

All of the family has been involved in this project. And, surprisingly without a lot of moaning and groaning from the younger crowd. In fact, I think they are excited to have something to devote their attention to outside. The three of them even built a compost bin. Because of that, compost has been a frequent topic of conversation around the dinner table. My how times have changed!

I started seeds weeks ago and already have a thriving variety in my husband-built DIY greenhouse. There are plenty of tomatoes in a wide variety of options—from cherry to giant-sized. There are peppers both hot and sweet in regular and snack-sized. I have a large number of strawberries in anticipation of some good jam. And, the herbs are coming along nicely.

Some of my favorites are already in the ground. The carrots and potatoes have popped up in my experimental grow bags. I’ve never grown anything this way so I am cautiously optimistic. My green beans are in the ground too.

But, what I am most excited about are the peas.

I love peas but I almost never grow them because they like the cold and you have to start them early in your garden. I was on it this year because, well, there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of other things going on. They’ve started growing up the trellis and every day I go out there to see how much more they have grown. There are three varieties: English, Purple, and Snow Peas for my daughter. I admit to being a bit impatient for them to start producing. But, I know we’ll get there and at that point I’ll have more than I can handle.

In the meantime I daydream about all the different ways we’re going to eat them. Three of my favorite recipes from our archives are Ragout of Fava Beans, Peas, and Asparagus with Pecorino and Crispy Prosciutto, Stir Fry with Baby Boy Choy, Snow Peas, and Shrimp, and Spring Pea Soup with Burrata. And, then there is this gem for an easy weeknight dinner.

Peas, Pasta, and Pancetta
Yields 4 servings

This quick and easy dish makes for a great weeknight dinner. Just get some help shelling the peas. When purchasing fresh peas, remember that 1 pound of peas in their pods yields about 6 ounces. So, you will need a little over a pound and a half for this recipe. Read more…

Amy’s Easy Alfredo Sauce

Amy’s Easy Alfredo SauceTake it Easy
Over the weekend I got my first vaccination shot along with a lot of my fellow employees. This is awesome. I was concerned about how I would feel after getting the shot. The good news is I didn’t get a fever or the chills but I did get the fatigue. Luckily, I had planned a simple dinner for just this reason…

I always have some frozen pasta on hand for those random nights when you have no idea what the schedule is going to be—or if you just don’t have the energy for something more complex. It also works well when you want to ditch the kids and have date night. I’m looking forward to being able to do that again. Hopefully soon…

It has been made very clear to me that my kids aren’t huge fans of red sauce on their pasta. Don’t get me wrong, they will eat it but given the choice, nine times out of ten they will go for a pesto, lemon garlic, or, their favorite, Alfredo Sauce.

I don’t make alfredo sauce very often because no one should consume that much heavy cream and cheese on a regular basis no matter how good it tastes. As a path of least resistance on a night where I just needed to put something on a plate it was by far my best option. So, I grabbed some tortellini from the freezer, grilled up some chicken breasts to slice and put on top, and made my Easy Alfredo Sauce.

Not gonna lie, I think it was the best dinner I have made in a long time…

Amy’s Easy Alfredo Sauce Recipe
Yields 6 servings

This sauce is fantastic on any pasta you have in the pantry or fridge. You can get creative by adding veggies and different meats and seafood. Read more…

Pasta Alla Vodka

Pasta Alla VodkaHittin’ The Sauce
There are a number of reasons to use alcohol when cooking. The most obvious one is to add flavor, and some ingredients just scream for a shot of something. Adding some white wine to garlic sautéed in butter and olive oil makes for a fast and fabulous weeknight pasta dinner. And is there a better combination than peaches, pecans, and bourbon? (Or is that just my inner Southerner?)

Using alcohol in recipes can serve another purpose. Adding a small amount of alcohol to your food can enhance and bring out the flavors of the ingredients you are using. The Italians are the masters of this. There is a reason that they use wine in their sauces and it’s not just because they enjoy a nice glass of Sangiovese. Besides adding great flavor to your dish, adding a small amount of wine to, say, a red sauce, actually gives the sauce a bigger tomato flavor than if you left it out. Even if you are using the good San Marzanos. The same principal applies when using the harder stuff—but with a little twist.

Pasta Alla Vodka can be found on the menus of Italian restaurants everywhere. And, while it may seem strange that you would use vodka, a basically flavorless alcohol, to improve your pasta sauce, the fact is that you aren’t using it to add more flavor per se but to make the other flavors better. While vodka does add a hint of peppery flavor, its main purpose is to release the flavors that are hidden in the tomatoes and other ingredients. This is where we get all scienc-y. You may want to try Gatter Top Drinks, a delicious infused vodka.

The trick is not to use too much. Full strength vodka will overpower the natural flavors in your sauce because it traps the other molecules. Smaller amounts of vodka will actually release new flavors as the alcohol is cooked off during a slow simmer. It sounds like witchcraft but the results are so so good.

This weekend looks like we might have lower temperatures which should make it feel more like Fall. (Hallelujer!) It’s a great opportunity to fire up a big batch of this pasta sauce for your Sunday dinner with a little left over to save for later in your freezer.

Pasta Alla Vodka
Yields 4 to 6 servings Read more…

Short Ribs in Red Wine Sauce

Short Ribs in Red Wine SauceOf Sauce and Sorrow
About a week or so ago I made my favorite pasta sauce. The weather has actually been cooler than normal thanks, sadly, to all of the smoke and ash in the air. The drop in temp put me in to full-on fall cooking mode. So, I got out my slow cooker and went to work.

I was excited to make this sauce because I don’t make it very often—and it is truly one of my most favorite dinners. The main component is short ribs, which I love but can’t eat all that often. (If I would like to live long and prosper.) That being said, the recipe makes a lot, even for my family of five. So, we eat the short ribs with the sauce for Sunday dinner. And, then I freeze the rest of the leftover sauce to be used, over rigatoni or whatever boxed pasta I have in the pantry, for a mid-week meal somewhere on down the road. It’s a win-win. Until it’s not…

I woke up that Sunday morning looking forward to a great meal that had my mouth watering all day long. My daughter made some beautiful fresh pappardelle pasta and left it out to dry while the short ribs bubbled away in the crock pot. When everything was done we feasted on a rich and meaty short rib pasta dinner that was everything I had anticipated and hoped for. After dinner, we did the dishes that could be done and left the others to be loaded in the dishwasher the next morning. Just like normal.

The next morning when my alarm went off, I had this sense that something wasn’t right. Like I had forgotten something, but I couldn’t figure it out. I went ahead with my morning routine getting ready to go to work and when I emerged from my bedroom into the kitchen I realized what the problem was. In the chaos of cleaning the kitchen, we had set the slow cooker off to the side so the sauce could cool before I put it in containers and threw it in the freezer. You know the phrase out of site out of mind? Turns out I left the sauce out uncovered overnight. I was distraught. My husband thought someone died—though he was equally despondent when he realized we were going to have to throw out all the leftovers.

Here’s the thing. I am fairly militant about food temps and storage. I tend to be overly conservative when it comes to potential for food poisoning. I err on the side of caution. Sometimes to a fault. Though I do invoke the 5 second rule on occasion, there was no way I was going to be okay with keeping a meat-based pasta sauce that had been left out uncovered for 12 hours. It killed me to toss it. I am still emotional about it…which probably says more about my mental health during these wacky times than anything else. I mean it is only pasta sauce. But it was a spot of happy excitement during a time where bad news seems to be the norm. And, then that got 2020-ed as well. Sigh.

Here is the recipe for the sauce. It is one that I have posted before because, as I said, it’s a favorite and I highly recommend you give it a try. Just don’t forget to put it away…

Short Ribs in Red Wine Sauce
Adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen
Makes 12 cups Read more…