Pasta Milanese

This dish literally took my entire family to create. When we were in Michigan, my mom gifted me with some pork from my cousin’s pig. Heather and Rick raise a few pigs every year at their home. Come fall, the pigs are butchered and my cousins share some of the meat with our family. I’d heard that their pork was pretty amazing – their pigs are fed day-old produce from the farmers near where they live, so they eat everything from sweet corn to peaches. Not a bad diet for pigs or people!

I unwrapped the bacon my mom gave me, and knew that we would be rationing the precious slabs to get as many meals out of it as possible. The smell of smoke wafted from the chilled bacon – it’s very lean, almost ham-like. For our first bacon experience, I decided to make an old family favorite – Pasta Milanese, with the fresh bacon as the star ingredient.

Pasta Milanese is a great cook-from-the-pantry dish that comes together quickly – you can have this on the table in under a half hour. Milanese was a favorite dish in our family and always disappeared from the table when mom made it (though she would make this with prosciutto or sliced pepperoni instead of bacon). I’ve changed my mom’s recipe a little bit – minimizing the amount of oil I used, and heating the dish up with lots of red pepper flakes and black pepper. This was a fantastic lunch from the pantry, and the fresh basil made me long for summer on this subzero winter day.

Pasta Milanese
Serves 2

6oz brown rice penne pasta (dried)
2 thick slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 cup sliced onion
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan, grated with microplane
1/4 cup sliced oven roasted tomatoes (substitute sun-dried tomatoes)
2 T fresh basil, sliced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

  1. Bring 3qts of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the rice pasta to the boiling water and stir to make sure the noodles don’t stick to each other. Cook according to the package directions.
  2. While the pasta cooks, make the “sauce”. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon to the hot pan and cook for a minute or two, then add the onion to the pan, and saute until the bacon begins to crisp and the onions caramelize – about 5 minutes.
  3. Turn the sauce burner down to low. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic and pepper to the pan along with the olive oil, if needed – if there’s some bacon fat in the pan coating the onion, you may not need the additional oil.
  4. When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander, then toss the pasta into the pan with the bacon and onion mixture. Quickly toss the pasta with the ingredients, then add in the basil, oven-roasted tomatoes and parmesan cheese and toss the pasta gently before serving.

537 cal/serving, 160cal from fat, 19.1g fat, 30mg cholesterol, 260mg sodium, 190mg potassium, 70g carbs, 4g fiber, 2g sugars

Garlic Scape Pesto

Garlic scapes are in season for about 3 minutes in the early summer, and whenever I see them at the market, I snap up a bunch or two. This week, we were fortunate to get a nice bunch of them in our farm share. I love their silly curliques, and the tangle they make in a bag. The flavor of scapes is milder than dried garlic, and less astringent than green garlic, which makes it perfect for pesto, or the white bean dip I made awhile back.

Mark and I were off work today for the 4th Holiday, and just puttering around the house all morning, when we realized that we hadn’t eaten breakfast and lunchtime was passing us by as well. Digging around in the fridge for something I could whip up quickly, I came up with a bunch of basil whose time was rapidly expiring, and the beautiful bag of scapes which put pesto pasta on the menu. The whole meal was about 20 minutes in the making – now that’s fast food!

Pesto is so simple to make, and so versatile, I seem to make a batch at least once a month in the summertime, so that I can stockpile small cubes of pesto in the freezer for the winter months. I also prefer my pesto without parmesan cheese, and instead garnish the finished dish with parmesan. Pesto also freezes much better without the cheese in it. I topped our bowls of pasta with some leftover runner cannellini beans that were lingering in the fridge, and a few toasted pine nuts.

Garlic Scape Pesto
Serves 8-10

6-7 garlic scapes, blossoms removed (if garlic scapes are out of season, substitute 1-2 cloves garlic & mince in food processor before adding other ingredients)
1 cup packed basil leaves
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil, approx.
salt & pepper to taste

Chop the garlic scapes roughly into a few pieces each. Place scapes and basil in the food processor and pulse until herbs are finely ground, stopping to scrape down the bowl a couple of times. Add the pine nuts, and pulse again. While the machine is running, drizzle the olive oil in slowly. You’re shooting for a wet consistency for the pesto, so if it’s a little dry after you’ve added the half-cup of oil, drizzle in a bit more. When you’ve got the consistency you like, season with salt and pepper to your taste, and then serve finished pesto over pasta, or warm boiled potatoes, salmon – whatever you like!

Creamy Mushroom Pasta with Rosemary

My husband does not like mushrooms. This is a problem, because I adore them. I love their meaty texture, and ability to absorb whatever flavors you cook them with. Mushroom risotto is one of my favorite comfort foods. Grilled portobellos with garlic and balsamic – heaven. Mushrooms sauteed with garlic and thyme, served with brown rice – a fine meal for any night. I love fungi.

When Mark is working late or goes to Michigan to hang with his best friend, I often find myself cooking with mushrooms. Last Friday was just such a night, as Mark was out shopping for a new bike with our friend Greg who is our go-to source for all bike related info. I didn’t want to take the time for cooking risotto, didn’t have enough eggs for an omelet, and was too hungry to wait for brown rice to cook, and the idea of a creamy, mushroom pasta popped into my head. For a quickly improvised dish, this was a delicious, comforting meal. The combination of mushrooms, rosemary, and a splash of cream and white wine really hit the spot.

Mushroom Pasta for One
Serves 1

1 T butter
1 1/2 cups sliced raw mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup half & half
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste
3oz dried pasta

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for pasta.
  2. Heat a 10″ skillet over medium heat and add butter and mushrooms. Saute until mushrooms are tender, about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Drop the pasta in the hot water and cook to al dente while you finish the sauce.
  4. Add garlic, rosemary and thyme and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add white wine, and cook for 1 minute. Add half & half and reduce for a couple of minutes, add salt, pepper and parmesan cheese to finish, and remove from heat.
  5. Drain the cooked pasta, and pour into your serving bowl. Pour the sauce over the pasta and enjoy!

Country Pork Rib Ragu

The season may technically be Spring now, but here in the Midwest, we’re still in the heart of the Hungry Season, when the local produce options are still a steady diet of roots, roots, roots. We look longingly at Californians, who are beginning to taste the first fresh tastes of the season – but that’s still a good 2 1/2 months away for us.

So, while we may shed our parkas for spring coats and get back on our bikes, the kitchen is still in the winter season. And that’s okay, because I have bits of sunshine tucked away in the freezer in bags of frozen fruit from last summer that help us anticipate the bounty ahead. Our meat farm share, Grass is Greener Gardens, helps to keep my creative culinary juices flowing with providing us with a variety of different types and cuts of meat each month – as well as fabulous eggs, local cheeses and dried beans. And so, I came to the package of country-style ribs in the freezer this weekend.

Not feeling much in the mood (or weather) for BBQ, I decided on a slow-simmered vegetable ragu, that would take advantage of the flavorful pork. This one takes an hour and a half to cook, but once the dicing and browning is done, you can pretty much just let bubble away unattended. And the finished sauce is flavorful, robust, and perfect to spoon over a nice bowl of pasta.

Note to my Chicago readers – if you’re interested in joining a farm share, enrollment for our meat share for May-October is right now – download a form from Grass is Greener Gardens, and support local, sustainably raised meat. We love it, and we hope you do too. You can enroll for our veggie farm share through Home Grown Wisconsin’s website as well. If you don’t live in Chicago, look for farm shares near you at Local Harvest.

Slow Simmered Pork Ragu
Serves 4, makes 1 quart of sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds pork country-style ribs, trimmed of fat
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 medium onion, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup red wine
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes

  1. Heat oil in 12-inch, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season ribs with salt and pepper and brown. 3 minutes on each side. Transfer ribs to plate; pour off all but 1 teaspoon fat from skillet. Add onion, celery, carrot and sauté 2 to 3 minutes. Add wine and simmer, scraping pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, until wine reduces a bit, about 2 minutes. Add garlic, rosemary and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Return ribs and accumulated juices to skillet; add tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently, turning ribs several times, until meat is very tender and falling off the bones, 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Transfer ribs to clean plate. Turn heat up to medium, and bring sauce to a gentle boil, uncovered, allow sauce to thicken and spoon off fat that accumulates at the edges of the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. When the ribs are cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and shred with fingers, discarding fat and bones. Return shredded meat to sauce in skillet. Bring sauce to a simmer over medium heat and cook, uncovered, until heated through and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. To serve, toss sauce with drained pasta, and serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili has been a family tradition for as long as I can remember. On family vacations to Kentucky or Tennessee, we always stopped in Cincinnati to visit Skyline Chili to enjoy a plate of spaghetti, and a hot dog liberally covered in chili, cheese and onion.

Later, Mom would order packets of the Skyline Chili seasonings from Ohio, and make the chili for us at home…it was always a big hit. If you’ve never had Cincinnati chili, you’ll have to adjust your idea of what chili is – this one is not very spicy, and not very tomato-y…its simply meat, onion and seasonings. And the seasonings are a balance of chili against cocoa and brown sugar…while it’s not exactly sweet per se, you can definitely detect the cocoa in the sauce.

Since becoming gluten-free, I can no longer make the chili from the little Skyline Packets – they don’t list wheat as an ingredient, but I sure got the unpleasant reaction when I made it, so, like everything else, packets are out, and cooking from scratch is in.

The recipe below is from Cook’s Illustrated, from Feb 08 – I’ve adjusted some of the proportions of seasonings to my own tastes, but as you add chili powder, sugar and cocoa and let it simmer, you may decide that the chili needs a little more of one of them to balance the flavors to your liking.

Cincinnati Chili
Serves 6 as a main course

2 tsp table salt or to taste
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
1 T vegetable oil
1 large onion, minced
3 cloves garlic , minced
3 T chili powder
1 T dried oregano
1 1/2 Tb cocoa
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 c chicken broth
2 c water
2 T cider vinegar
2 tsp dark brown sugar
2 c plain tomato sauce
hot pepper sauce

Serve with:
Pasta, grated sharp cheddar cheese, minced onion

  1. Bring 2 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of the salt to a boil in a large pot. Add the ground beef, stirring vigorously to separate the meat into individual strands. As soon as the foam from the meat rises to the top (this takes about 30 seconds) and before the water returns to a boil, drain the meat into a strainer and set it aside.
  2. Rinse and dry the empty pot. Set the pot over medium heat and add the oil. When the oil is warm, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and browned around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the chili powder, oregano, cocoa, cinnamon, cayenne, allspice, black pepper, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until the spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth, water, vinegar, sugar, and tomato sauce, scraping the pan bottom to remove any browned bits.
  3. Add the ground beef and increase the heat to high. As soon as the liquid boils, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chili is deep red and has thickened slightly, about 1 hour. Adjust the seasonings, adding salt and hot pepper sauce to taste, or adding more cocoa powder or chili powder if needed.
  4. Serve over pasta in individual bowls. Spoon the chili over the pasta and top with the cheese and onion. Serve immediately. Chili also freezes very well, just be sure to let it defrost in the fridge.

268 cal per 3/4 cup chili, 80 cal from fat, 10g fat, 80mg cholesterol, 910mg sodium, 760mg potassium, 13g carbs, 4g fiber, 5g sugars, 33g protein
Brown rice pasta: 100 calories per ounce