Orecchiette pasta originates in the sunny, southern province of Puglia, Italy. This pasta’s round concave shape led to its name, which means ‘little ears’ in Italian. The rigid exterior and cup-like interior captures chunky sauces and scoops up small vegetables, making orecchiette perfect to serve with sautes. I should mention that I didn’t find orecchiette on the regular supermarket shelves. We are lucky to have some real good Italian grocery stores in our area which definitely have them available.
You will notice, another ingredient I used in this meal is Italian sausage. Sausage is so common that people rarely stop and think about how and why they are made the way they are. Every country has a unique sausage tradition and puts their own twist on the classic meat.
Italian sausage is one of the more popular sausage varieties available, but its origins in Italy are actually different from what we are accustomed to in North America. The true Italian sausage or ‘salsiccia’ (sahl-SEE-tchay) is made of meats that have been seasoned heavily with chili and other hot ingredients and allowed to marinate and change the flavor of the meat overnight.
The more common Italian sausage that North Americans know, is a pork sausage with a fennel and anise mixture as a base seasoning. It is packaged as either HOT or MILD, the difference being in the amount of red pepper flakes that are used.
If you choose to try this meal, I think you will find it real tasty. We just loved it and I have to say it was actually the first time we had ever tried Italian sausage. I have always thought it would be too spicy hot for our liking. Needless to say, I went with the mild version.
Creamy Mushroom & Sausage Orecchiette
In a saucepan, cook sausage with a splash of olive oil, until browned & cooked through. Set aside.
Add butter to saucepan & saute onions until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Mix in garlic, cook another 2 minutes. Add mushrooms & zucchini, sauteing until tender-crisp, about 5-6 minutes. Return sausage meat to pan & keep warm.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt. Cook orecchiette pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta & return to pot. Fold in cheese, sausage/vegetable mixture, fresh parsley & pepper to taste. Slowly add chicken broth until preferred consistency is reached. Serve garnished with red pepper flakes & Parmesan cheese.
Salmon and zucchini have always been a great pairing, but have you tried this combo in some enchiladas?
Wild canned salmon doesn’t have to just mean sandwiches. This high quality protein makes for an incredible pantry staple that is ready when you need it. Add it to just about any plate … over top a green salad, in a wrap, served over rice, pasta, zucchini noodles, potatoes or squash etc., etc.
When I originally developed this recipe, it served as a filling for some jumbo pasta shells. After a few modifications, it became an enchilada meal.
As their original form as Mexican street food, enchiladas were simply corn tortillas dipped in chili sauce and eaten without fillings. There are now so many varieties, which are distinguished primarily by their sauces, fillings or form. Here are a few examples:
Enchiladas suizas are topped with a milk or cream based white sauce such as bechamel.
Enfrijoladas are topped with refried beans.
Enchiladas verdes are sauced with salsa verde and typically made with white corn tortillas, poached chicken breast and cheese.
Entomatadas are made with tomato sauce.
Enchiladas montadas are a stacked variation.
Always on the quest for something different!!
Salmon & Zucchini Enchiladas
In a saucepan, saute onion, zucchini & mushrooms until tender-crisp; place in a large bowl & set aside.
In saucepan, melt butter & remove from heat. Stir in water & sauce mix. Return to heat & bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat & simmer 3 minutes.
To bowl of sauteed vegetables add drained salmon chunks & a small amount of cooked 'dill sauce'. Lay out tortilla shells on a work surface & divide mixture between them. Blend together remaining dill sauce, reserved salmon juice & soup.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a 9 X 13-inch baking dish, spread some sauce over the bottom. Lay filled, rolled tortillas single file in baking dish. Pour remaining sauce over all & top with grated cheese combo. Bake about 30-40 minutes.
Pasta is without a doubt, one of the most versatile ingredients to cook with. It can be prepared in so many unique ways with different sauces. Pesto sauce is one of those … a simple sauce with simple ingredients that packs a huge flavor.
Pesto sauce originated in Genoa, which is located in the northern region of Italy. The Italian word for pesto: pestare, means to pound or to crush. It was originally prepared with a marble mortar and wooden pestle. However, the translation may be a bit misleading because preparation does not consist of pounding, rather it is of grounding.
Traditionally, pesto is made of crushed garlic, fresh basil and pine nuts blended with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. There are many variations of pesto and while the most popular is a pasta sauce, it can be used for a spread or dip, salad dressing or as an accompaniment to steak, poultry or fish. Red pesto is either made from sundried tomatoes or red bell peppers.
This pasta meal comes together easily in a short space of time. Sometimes its the simplest dishes that are truly the best!
Baked Shells w/ Pesto, Mozzarella & Meat Sauce
In a saucepan over low heat, saute onion in olive oil for 5-7 minutes. Add ground pork, 2 Tbsp water, pepper, sage, red pepper flakes & ginger. Cook, stirring until no longer pink.
Add salt, dried basil & diced tomatoes; bring to a boil then lower heat & simmer for 20 minutes. Stir periodically. At the end of cooking time, stir in pesto & remove from heat.
While sauce is simmering, cook pasta shells al dente. It is important not to overcook shells as they will be further cooked in the oven. Drain pasta, add cooked sauce & gently toss.
Place half of the pasta in a baking dish & sprinkle with half of mozzarella & Parmesan. Top it up with remaining pasta & sprinkle with other half of the cheeses.
Bake for 15 minutes until cheese is golden & pasta is hot & bubbly.
- Don't hesitate to bake your pasta in individual servings.
As I mentioned in the previous blog, new year’s eve food = finger food. I thought I’d post one other recipe for the occasion. Meatballs seem to check all the right boxes. Crispy, savory, spicy and can be eaten in a single bite. These lemon chicken meatballs are kind of an interesting blend of chicken and bacon. The lemon sauce is a bit unusual in that it uses lemon jelly powder but rounds out nicely with some garlic and ginger spice.
The idea of being able to do some of the prep work ahead of time always appeals to me. These meatballs can be made anytime and frozen raw or cooked. Just perfect when you are ready to serve them.
I’ve probably said this before, but deep fried food never appeals to me. Baking these little morsels still achieve’s a great taste. Hope you give them a try!
Lemon Chicken Meatballs
Preheat oven to 350 F. Fry bacon until crisp & drain on paper towel. Crumble & set aside.
To skillet, add onions & garlic. Saute & remove with a slotted spoon. In a large bowl, combine bacon, onions & garlic with remaining ingredients; mix well.
Form into 1-inch size meatballs & place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine dry jelly powder & cornstarch. Add broth, dressing, garlic & ginger; stir until jelly powder is dissolved.
Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until sauce is thickened, stirring frequently. Pour over meatballs & stir to coat. Serve with picks.
Today, November 28th, our American neighbors are celebrating their Thanksgiving Day. It encompasses both religious and secular aspects … being both a harvest festival and a festival of family.
Here in Canada, our Thanksgiving was celebrated on October 14th. When it comes to this occasion, some dishes are required eating. Turkey, gravy, cranberries and don’t forget the stuffing.
Stuffing can be whatever you want it to be. I love stuffing, dressing, filling or whatever you choose to call it. Something that has never left my food memories, was my mother’s turkey stuffing. Of course, I’ve tried to replicate it and I think I’m fairly close but then the ‘taste of a memory‘ equation comes in and ….
In the bottom of one of her cupboards she kept a brown paper bag. In it were dried herbs still on their stems. This seemed to be the magic ingredient whatever they were.
I can honestly say I love the stuffing almost more than the ‘bird’. Over the years, Brion and I have had stuffing that contained rice, cornbread, oysters, apples, mashed potatoes, bacon, various types of breads, etc., etc..
In acknowledgement to the USA Thanksgiving today, I am featuring a stuffed turkey breast. This particular stuffing is really what makes this recipe delicious. The white meat of the turkey has a tendency to be dry, so adding bratwurst sausage with its higher fat content, and not to mention great flavor, keeps the breast moist. The turkey, bratwurst and cranberry sauce are all wrapped in bacon to make a ‘all-in-one‘ main course.
Roast Turkey with Bratwurst, Cranberries & Sage
Heat a drizzle of oil in a skillet & saute onion gently for 10-15 minutes until caramelized. Place in a large bowl & set aside to cool. Line a 9 x 51/2 x 3-inch (23 x 13 x 7 cm) loaf tin with a double strip of foil, leaving plenty overhanging on either end to use as handles once meat is cooked.
Stretch each piece of bacon a little with the back of a knife. Arrange slices so the base of the tin is covered with overlapping bacon & the slices come neatly up the sides in a single layer, overhanging generously. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the bacon.
Add sausage meat & sage to cooled onion. Combine well, then pack half the mixture into the loaf pan. Spread over about a third of the cranberry sauce.
Cut each turkey breast in 3 strips. Layer roughly half the turkey on top of the stuffing mix, filling the gaps like a jigsaw, but keeping the turkey in one thick layer, then season. Spread over a little more cranberry sauce, then top with remaining stuffing, cranberry sauce & turkey in the same way, making sure there are no gaps between the layers. The parcel should be full to the top when you are finished. Fold over the overhanging bacon & wrap the tin in foil paper.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Place the tin on a baking tray & bake for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the tin from the oven & allow to cool for 10 minutes. Carefully lift the parcel out of the tin, using the foil handles. Roll the parcel over onto baking tray removing the foil.
Return to oven for about 15-20 minutes until the outside is crisp & browned. Test the internal temperature with a meat thermometer, it should read 170 F when its ready. Cover loosely with foil & leave to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh sage leaves if you wish.
When it comes to cooking, plantains are really more of a vegetable than a fruit. Grown extensively in Ecuador, plantains are usually cooked before eating, both when green and at various stages of ripening. When they are ripe they turn yellow than black. Plantains are larger and firmer than their banana relative and not sweet. With their bland, starchy, somewhat potato-like flavor, plantains take well to many cooking methods.
In October of 2018, I had posted a blog on Baked Patacones w/ Guacamole. Patacones or fried plantains had been my initial introduction to this vegetable in Ecuador. After enjoying them there, I have since made them a few different ways. I understand you can add them to stews, boil and puree them like mashed potatoes or bake with sugar and cinnamon for dessert.
Today, I wanted to make stuffed plantains but decided to do it in individual servings as opposed to leaving them in their skins. Of course, you can’t eat plantains without some avocado mayo, right!
Stuffed Plantain Cups
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil & lightly butter.
IF YOU PREFER, PREPARE AVOCADO MAYO AT THIS TIME.
Using a sharp knife, cut both ends off the plantain. Slit a shallow line down the long seam of the plantain, peel only as deep as the peel. Remove plantain peel by pulling back. Place plantains on baking sheet & lightly spray with cooking spray. Bake for about 15 minutes, turn & bake for another 15 minutes or until golden & tender.
While the plantains are baking, add 2 Tbsp of oil to saucepan, followed by onions, garlic & tomato sauce. Allow to simmer about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning, add about 1/2 cup water if necessary. Add ground meat & seasonings. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes more then add the small pepper.
Adjust oven to 375 F. Butter 4 custard baking cups. Lightly mash plantains. Scoop 4 equal parts into custard cups. Press against sides to form 'cups'. Sprinkle a small amount of grated cheese in bottom of each cup then divide meat filling between them. Bake for 10 minutes; remove from oven & top with remaining cheese. If you like, place back in oven for another 5 minutes. Serve warm with Avocado Mayo.
Remove peel & pits from avocados. In a food processor, combine all ingredients & puree. Remove from processor, cover & set aside.
One of the first things Brion and I noticed when we lived in Ecuador for three months, was how much rice the grocery store had on its shelves. Brion is a true rice lover, so when we went grocery shopping, it was definitely on the ‘list’. To our amazement there was an entire isle, from top to bottom, dedicated to rice alone.
Rice has been a staple of the Ecuadorian diet forever, both along the coastal regions and in the mountainous areas. A large scoop of white, starchy rice accompanies most meals. In stores, you can buy brown rice, white ‘new rice’, aged rice (but not minute rice).
Shrimp rice is a classic Ecuadorian and Latin American dish. The fact that Ecuadorians love rice, anything you can think of, there is a rice-based dish for it, especially if it concerns any type of seafood. Because of the fertile soils and the humid, tropical climate of the coast, Ecuador also produces a stunning variety of fruits and vegetables, most notably bananas, melons and other exotic fruits like guava and passion fruit.
This is a short cut version of their ‘arroz con camarones’ (rice & shrimp) dish. Great little meal!
Cheesy Shrimp & Rice Casserole
In a large skillet, saute onions, peppers & garlic in oil until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce & salsa; simmer 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in shrimp & corn; simmer 2 minutes. Stir in bacon.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Spoon cooked rice in a buttered, 9 X 13-inch baking dish; top with shrimp mixture & cheese. Cover with foil. Bake casserole, covered, 35 minutes or until heated through, uncovering the last 20 minutes.
Mostaccioli, known in Italy as ‘penne lisce’, are a specialty of the Campania Region in Southern Italy, which includes the cities of Naples, Capri and Sorrento. This pasta is smooth in texture, tube-shaped with angled ends cut to resemble a quill or pen point.
Without realizing it, the pasta shape we choose plays an important role in the outcome of the dish. Long or short, smooth or ridged, thick or thin, with or without curves and crevices, different shapes of pasta capture sauce differently.
Shaped pastas pair well with sauces that have some texture. The crevices and twists will give pieces of meat and veggies a place to nestle into.
Short tubular pastas are great for sauces that are thick and chunky.
Long, thin, dried pasta need lots of lubrication. Olive-oil based sauces will coat, but not drown the pasta. The thicker pasta, like fettuccine can stand up to cream sauces and ragus. If your adding vegetables or herbs, cut them string-like rather than in cubes for ease in blending them.
This is a quick, low-cost meal but has good flavor.
In a bowl, combine meat, milk, crumbs, garlic, onion & seasonings; shape into 4-5 oblong patties. In a skillet, brown patties in hot oil. Remove to drain on paper towel.
Drain any liquid from skillet & wipe with paper towel. In the skillet, combine soup with water & bring to a simmer. Add meat patties; gently simmer, covered for about 10 minutes then add drained & rinsed kidney beans. Simmer 5 more minutes until beans are hot.
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Place on a large warm serving platter. Arrange patties over mostaccioli pasta. Pour sauce over meat & pasta; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese & serve.
The versatility of chicken, as well as the ease and speed with which it can be cooked make it one of the most popular meats around.
Chicken leg quarters, also referred to as whole chicken legs, consist of both the thigh and drumstick. This cut is sold bone-in/skin-on and for most part, quite economical. Because they are dark meat and many people prefer white meat, chicken legs are often over looked by the consumer.
I like to purchase these with six fresh leg quarters to the package. Usually you will find a bit of extra fat on them which needs to be trimmed as well as the backbone rinsed out. Freezing them in a meal size portions makes it so handy when ready to use.
Roasting them in a real slow oven temperature with just a little oil, salt & pepper always produces tasty results. After they have baked for an hour you can always turn up the temperature for a few minutes to crisp the skin if you wish.
Today, I thought it would be nice to do something a bit more special. Stuffing them with a veggie-cheese mixture not only tastes great but they had a nice visual effect on our plates.
Stuffed Chicken Leg Quarters
In a saucepan, melt butter, add onion & peppers; saute until tender crisp. Add grated zucchini, continue to cook for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat & place in a bowl. Add breadcrumbs, egg, salt, pepper & cheese. Refrigerate until cold.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Using fingers, loosen skin on chicken legs. Spoon some filling into each chicken leg working the stuffing down the drumstick. Combine the 2 Tbsp melted butter, dry mustard & Dijon mustard together & brush over chicken. Place the chicken in a shallow baking dish & bake for about 45 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from oven & serve.
I guess its my German heritage that gives that love for anything that resembles a dumpling. Whether sweet or savory doesn’t seem to matter, filling between two thin layers of pasta or dough is just plain good to me.
Around the world, Italian ravioli has many culinary ‘sisters’ in other cultures. Kreplach, in Jewish cuisine, is a pocket of meat filling covered with pasta. In India, the dish Gujiya, has a sweet filling, rather than savory. There are many similarities between Italian ravioli and certain Chinese dumplings as well.
Although ravioli can come in many shapes, including circular and semi-circular, the traditional form is a square. The word ‘ravioli’ comes from the Italian riavvolgere, which means ‘to wrap’.
Not being someone who enjoys to eat ‘out’, its a rare occasion (when we do), for me to be really happy with my meal. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I cooked a lot of ‘commercial’ meals in the food service industry years back. I guess I just got ‘burn out’ to that kind of cooking you might say.
Nevertheless, whenever we have chosen to go to the Olive Garden Restaurant, there is a meal I really do enjoy. It’s called ‘Ravioli di Portobello’. Today, I am re-creating those flavors in a casserole and adding some ground chicken to make it a little more interesting from Brion’s perspective.
Ravioli di Portobello Casserole
Portobello Mushroom Filling
Portobello Mushroom Filling
In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Saute onion until soft. Add mushrooms & saute for two minutes. Reduce heat & let simmer for 5 minutes or until liquid has evaporated & the mushrooms are fully cooked. Add seasonings. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine dry ingredients with eggs. Add water a little at a time, while stirring, until it forms a soft dough. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Roll out the dough, on a floured surface, into a rectangle that is 1/4-inch thickness. Place 1 teaspoon of filling about an inch apart in even columns & rows to cover half of your dough rectangle.
Before adding the top layer of pasta to the ravioli, moisten the dough around the filling dollops. Carefully fold the dough (without any filling on it) over the half with the filling dollops. Using the side of your hand, press the dough together between the dollops, accentuating the pockets of filling in each ravioli. This is very important step to ensure your ravioli will not leak while cooking.
Using a pastry cutter (or a pizza cutter), cut straight lines through the pressed down sections between the filling dollops. In a large kettle of boiling water, drop ravioli in a few at a time, being careful that they do do touch the kettle. When the raviolis float to the top, boil for one minute & then remove them with a slotted spoon. Keep warm in a covered dish, drizzling a tiny bit of butter or oil over them to prevent sticking until you are ready for them.
Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
In a skillet, melt butter & saute garlic, seasonings, sun-dried tomatoes for a few minutes. Add chicken broth & half & half; bring to a boil & continue to stir until thickened & creamy about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat, set aside until ready to use in casserole.
In a skillet, brown ground chicken until no longer pink; drain & place in a bowl. Add salt, garlic powder & pepper. In the skillet, melt butter, add onion & zucchini; saute until tender crisp. Stir in sun-dried tomato sauce.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a buttered 9 X 13-inch baking dish, spread 1/4 of sauce, layer 1/2 of the ravioli, another 1/4 of the sauce, half of the chicken & half of the cheese.
Repeat again except OMIT cheese. Cover & bake for 35 minutes. Uncover & sprinkle with remaining cheese. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. If you wish to garnish, chopped green onion & diced tomato are nice.