Category Archives: pasta

Cooking Pasta in a Drought

We here in north central Connecticut are in a severe drought.  This is becoming somewhat of the norm in recent years.  I have a well and I’m constantly thinking about ways to save water.  I have a rain barrel to collect some of what comes off the roof.  I capture the water that drips from the window air conditioner and water the umbrella pine with it as the pine likes water and was severely stressed (better now that it’s getting buckets of water from the air conditioner).  And I use the water captured by the dehumidifier in the basement to fill the birdbaths.  There are other ways I conserve water but I won’t go into that. 

Drought Monitor Map CT

Drought Monitor Map CT

The map above shows the severe drought we are experiencing in our part of the state.

I have been planning meals with an eye towards less water consumption and pasta has been off my list for quite some time now.  The recommended cooking method for one pound of pasta requires boiling it in 4 to 5 quarts of water and then draining and rinsing with even more water.  Too wasteful as far as I’m concerned so it was off my menu.

The National Pasta Association facts and figures shown below state that Americans consume 6 billion pounds of pasta each year.

Pasta Consumption in the U. S.

Pasta Consumption in the U. S.

If you use 4 quarts of water to boil one pounds of pasta, then we Americans are using at least 24 billion quarts of water to cook our pasta annually and even more to drain it. That 6 billion gallons of water. 

I had a half box of Barilla gluten free ziti in my pantry for quite a while and I had some really ripe tomatoes that I wanted to make a sauce with.  I wondered if I could cook the pasta directly in the sauce?  I searched the internet and found quite a few articles about cooking pasta in very little water.  The claim was that pasta doesn’t need 4 or 5 quarts of water to cook; the job can be done, and done very well, in much less water.

There were variations of suggestions as to how to do this. Some said to cook 8 ounces of pasta in 1 and 1/2 quarts of boiling water. Some said to put the amount of pasta you want in a pot and add cold water to just cover it.  Starting this way with cold water prevented the pasta from sticking together.  Some said to cover the pot and some said to just stir it occasionally uncovered.  I figured what the heck, I’ll go for starting with cold water in an uncovered pot. I added a little salt to the pot.  Remember, this is gluten free Barilla. I wasn’t sure if it would work as well as regular pasta.

I put the heat at medium high and once the water started to simmer I turned it down to medium.  I stirred it every minute or two and let it continue to simmer.  In about 12 minutes it looked like this and it was very al dente.  I didn’t want the pasta to get mushy so that’s when I took it off the heat.

Al Dente

Al Dente

After standing for about three or four minutes, and a little stirring, this is what it looked like: wp-1473267004026.jpg

Not a drop of water to drain out.  The pasta was cooked perfectly.  I added it to my sauce and voila, a perfect meal with no wasted water. 

This method of cooking works with the shorter cuts of pasta like my ziti. The pasta has to be submerged under the water without sticking out to cook properly. Stirring helps to assure that each piece is submerged.

I could see making macaroni and cheese this way by combining some butter and cheese with the cooked pasta. One pot and no wasted water.  Love it.


Gluten Free or Not?

A couple of weeks ago I had some buttermilk that was reaching its expiration date and I was contemplating making a loaf of soda bread with it.  But then I saw a program on Public TV about gluten.  The doctor on the show said that humans were originally “hunter / gatherers” and that is how our DNA is structured.  It was relatively recently in human history that agriculture and the sowing of seeds was introduced.  However, our DNA is still that “hunter / gatherer” DNA and has not adapted to wheat and related grain products.  He went on to say that even if we don’t have Celiac Disease, he believes the majority of humans are sensitive to gluten in varying degrees.  He mentioned joint pain as one of the results of that gluten sensitivity.  Hmmm….that was the end of even thinking of making that soda bread for me.

I contemplated the “gluten” issue for a few days.  I thought back to when I was a teenager, many, many years ago.  There was a product called “Thomas’ Gluten Bread” that I loved.  It was lower in calories, was brownish in color and toasted up great with all kinds of nooks and crannies.  But they don’t make it any more.  Today there are gluten free products on the market shelves, but for the most part the prices are high.  I guess, if you are gluten intolerant, you pay the price. 

So I experimented with a gluten free diet for several days.  It’s difficult to say if I felt any better eating this way as I didn’t really have any aches or pains to begin with.  I think I’ll continue with trying this gluten free approach for a little while and see what happens.

I have used brown rice pasta (gluten free) in the past and liked it.  The price, of course, was higher than regular wheat pasta.  So I was excited to see gluten free pasta recently in the regular pasta section of my grocery store.  One was Ronzoni and the other was Barilla.  The price was the same for both (under $3)…the package was 12 oz.  I bought the Barilla.

Barilla Gluten Free Pasta

Barilla Gluten Free Pasta

You can see from the package above, it is made with corn and rice.  The calories are about the same; wheat pasta has 210 calories for a 2 oz. serving and this pasta has 200 calories for that same size serving.  There is twice as much fiber in wheat pasta.  The Barilla box says one of the ingredients is “rice flour”; the pasta is light in color and I’m assuming it is not brown rice flour.  Cooking time for the Barilla gluten free was 10 minutes (the same as for wheat pasta).

Sauteed Mushrooms

Sauteed Mushrooms

I had about 4 oz. of mushrooms that I wanted to use up, plus broccoli and asparagus.  I also had some frozen shrimp as well as a can of DelMonte zesty jalapeno chopped tomatoes. 

I cooked the pasta (I used spaghetti) according to the package directions and drained and rinsed it under cold water.  I will use the same pot to toss the pasta with the vegetables and shrimp later.

I sauteed the mushrooms in a little olive oil quickly over medium heat, removed them to a bowl and sprinkled lightly with salt and marjoram.  I sauteed the chopped broccoli in the same pan and while it still had some crunch to it, moved it to the bowl with the mushrooms and very lighty salted it.  I did the same with the chopped asparagus.  I didn’t cook the vegetables all together as I didn’t want them to steam and become soft.  I wanted each to be cooked “al dente” as they would continue to cook a bit as they rested and when added to the tossed pasta. 

Sauteed Shrimp and Garlic

Sauteed Shrimp and Garlic With Vegetables

I then quickly sauteed the defrosted and shelled shrimp in the same pan but added a little bit of butter to the pan first.  I tossed in about 3 cloves of chopped garlic and sauteed briefly until the shrimp were just done.  I moved the shrimp and garlic to the bowl with the other vegetables. 

Some chopped onion was sauteed in a little olive oil in the larger pot in which I had cooked the pasta.  When the onion was just translucent, I added half the can of chopped tomatoes (I’ll use the other half in the lentil soup I’m making tomorrow).  I simmered that for about 10 minutes and added some dried oregano and a touch of cayenne.  Then I added the cooked pasta and tossed it with tomatoes.  Once that had warmed a bit, I added the shrimp and vegetables, tossed and served when heated.

Gluten Free Pasta with Shrimp and Vegetables

Gluten Free Pasta with Shrimp and Vegetables

I sprinkled a little crumbled goat cheese on top…

A Sprinkle of Goat Cheese

A Sprinkle of Goat Cheese

The taste and texture of this gluten free pasta was not noticeably different than regular wheat pasta.  This would certainly be a good dish to serve to family and friends who are gluten sensitive.  And I believe even those who are not gluten sensitive will enjoy it as well!


Looking Out My Backdoor – November 25, 2013

This past Saturday was breezy but relatively warm, around 50 or so.  A cold front was to come through overnight and I wanted to finish raking leaves before that arctic blast arrived.  I uncovered a little periwinkle flower as I raked.

Periwinkle Flower - November 23, 2013

Periwinkle Flower – November 23, 2013

The cold air arrived overnight accompanied by howling winds.  The next morning, there was a very light dusting of snow and the temperature was around 20.  And the wind was still howling.  Of course, I had to go outside and see if there were any photo opportunities…

Leaf, Pine Needles and Dusting of Snow on Periwinkle - November 24, 2013

Leaf, Pine Needles and Dusting of Snow on Periwinkle – November 24, 2013

After I finished raking the day before, the yard looked pretty good.  But the wind that had started overnight found lots of leaves to spread all over the yard and even brought down a few smaller branches of the trees out by the barn.

Frozen Water in Birdbath

Frozen Water in Birdbath

The water in the little copper birdbath was frozen solid and the lambs ears were sprinkled with snow.  Even though the sun was brilliant, the temperature never got out of the 20s all day.

Dusting on Lambs Ears

Dusting on Lambs Ears

Let’s move from the frigid outdoors to the nice warm kitchen now.  The other day I made some roasted vegetables and I used organic golden beets, brussel sprouts and more.  The beets were especially beautiful…very fresh and the tops were too gorgeous to discard, so I saved them and tried to figure out what recipe I could use them in.

Golden Beet Tops

Golden Beet Tops

I came up with a winner…Pasta With Beet Greens.  My version is a slight variation of the recipe from Diary of a Foodie, Season Three.  Along with the beet greens and pasta, it has balsamic vinegar, toasted pine nuts, oil cured olives and golden raisins.  I used to avoid combining sweet and savory items together in a recipe.  I wanted my sweets sweet and my savory savory.  No intermingling.  But the combination of the plump sweet raisins with the tangy salty brine of the olives in this dish works!

Balsamic Vinegar, Oil Cured Olives, Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts

Balsamic Vinegar, Oil Cured Olives, Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts

I’ve never eaten oil cured olives before.  I have a friend who eats oil cured olive sandwiches.  These olives have pits mind you.  He just sprinkles some of these olives on white bread and carefully chomps away, spitting out the pits as he goes.  I know I would break a tooth doing this if I were so inclined to eat one of these sandwiches, which I am not!  The recipe goes like this:

Pasta With Beet Greens

1/4 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup of pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, finely choppped
2 medium red onions (1 lb.) halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 lbs. beet greens with stems (stems cut in 1 inch pieces and greens sliced)
1 cup of water, divided
3/4 lb. of penne
1/3 cup of golden raisins
1/2 cup of pitted brine cured black olives, coarsely chopped

Heat oil in a 12 inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers.  Add pine nuts and toast, stirring until golden, about 2 minutes.  Transfer to a plate with slotted spoon.

Toasted Pine Nuts

Toasted Pine Nuts

Add garlic to oil  remaining in skillet and cook, stirring, until golden.  Add onions and 1/4 tsp. salt and cook, stirring occassionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.  Add vinegar and cook, stirring, until most is evaporated, about 2 minutes.  Add beet stems, 3/4 cup water, and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until stems begin to soften, about 12 minutes.

Sauted Beet Greens

Sauted Beet Greens

Cook penne in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (2 Tbsp. salt for 6 qt. water) until al dente.  Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta.

Meanwhile, add raisins, then beet leaves to onion mixture in handfuls, turing each handful with tongs, until beet leaves are wilted before adding next batch.  Add remaining 1/4 cup water and 1/4 tsp. salt and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 5 to 6 minutes.  Add olives, then add past and cook, tossing and moistening with some of the cooking water as necessry, just until liquid has thickened slightly.  Serve sprinkled with pine nuts.

That is the recipe as written.  Because I don’t have a skillet that would be large enough to saute the vegetables and then add the pasta to that mix and also because I have an aversion to using more pots and pans than I feel is really necessary, I cooked the pasta first and drained it, saving 1 cup of the cooking water.  I then dried that same pot, added the oil, toasted the pine nuts in it and continued with the recipe.  

I added an additional sprinkling of balsamic vinegar just before serving and I sprinkled goat cheese on the top (which I really think nicely completes this dish).  It is marvelous!  The toasted pine nuts are so wonderful and their crunchy goodness goes so well with all the other ingredients. 

Pasta With Beet Greens

Pasta With Beet Greens

Swiss chard could easily replace the beet greens here, so you don’t have to wait for a nice bunch of beet greens to appear.  Try it, I think you will like it.

Chobani Macaroni and Cheese Recipe: Variation with Cauliflower

Somethings should be simple.  But I’ve learned that nothing is simple.  Not even finding a good macaroni and cheese recipe.

In Our Image 004-35My quest for the perfect mac ‘n’ cheese recipe was prompted by two novels that I’ve written.  The story line involves various topics such as extraterrestrials and UFOs, Rh-negative blood, out of body experiences and sleep paralysis (and I’ve had experiences with all of them in real life).  But the main character in the first novel, “In Our Image”, and its sequel “Abode of the Clouds”, is a down to earth, middle aged woman who loves to cook.  She cooks up a storm in both books and I thought it would be fun to put together a cookbook containing the recipes she makes in both books.Abode of the  Clouds 008-35

Our heroine, Connie, made a supurb macaroni and cheese.  Everyone raved about it (in the book, that is).  But, hard as it might be to believe, I had never made macaroni and cheese.  I think that could be because I felt that it was not good for you.  Loads of butter, cheese and pasta…I can almost feel my arteries clogging up just thinking about it.  So I began asking family and friends for macaroni and cheese recipes.  Some responded by looking at me like I was crazy, how can you not know how to make macaroni and cheese?  So, I started acquiring some recipes and started experimenting.  Most of them were absolutely revolting….gummy and dry or soupy.  And, I swear, my arteries were, in fact, clogging up just trying them.  Stephen2aaaaa

My dear brother, Stephen, (photo left, taken many, many decades ago) took my request to heart and started clipping macaroni and cheese recipes out of newspapers and magazines.  Over the past two years I’ve received dozens of recipes from him.  Most were not even worthy of a try.  There was one that had mashed butternut squash in it that sounded intriguing, and it really wasn’t bad, but just not exactly what I was looking for.  So I kept searching and found a recipe for Chobani Yogurt macaroni and cheese.  There was only 4 and 1/2 tablespoons of butter, and just slightly more than 8 ounces of cheese.  The yogurt was the ingredient that supposedly worked magic in this recipe.  It certainly sounded worthy of giving it a try.

My mother was always tweeking recipes.  She just couldn’t make it as written and I am certainly my mother’s daughter.  For some reason it occurred to me that this recipe might benefit from the addition of cauliflower.  Even though it had a relatively small amount of butter and cheese, subconsciously I must have thought that adding cauliflower would make it a health food or something. 

I made the recipe pretty much as writtenchobani mac n cheese 010-35 and can be found on the Chobani website.

I added about 1/3 of a head of cauliflower, chopped into florets measuring maybe 1 1/2 to 2 inches.  The recipe calls for the pasta to be cooked al dente; so I added the cauliflower to the cooking pasta just about 2-3 minutes before the pasta was done.  The result was amazing.  The flavor had a little tang, the texture was creamy and the cauliflower worked beautifully with the pasta and cheese sauce.  Yes!  This was it!

The next time I made this, I used brown rice pastachobani mac n cheese 002-35.  I had recently become a fan of “Tinkyada Pasta Joy” brown rice pasta.  I have a friend who is gluten intolerant and I made shrimp lo mein with these brown rice noodles and loved them.  The package says “good consistent texture, not mushy” and they are right.   This brand is available in the health food section at my local major grocery stores.  I highly recommend it!

And, since broccoflower was on sale that week, I replaced the cauliflower with broccoflower.  It turned out great! 

chobani mac n cheese 004-35

So now I’m finally getting to the recipe.  It calls for 8 ounces of pasta and 8 ounces (or even a little less as you are adding cauliflower) is all you should use.  If you use more, there will be less sauce and less flavor.  This recipe will easily feed 4 as a main course.  I haven’t tried to use any other yogurt other than Chobani as it is so good with that brand I don’t want to chance it with anything else.  Plus the inspiration came from the folks at Chobani and I feel a sense of loyalty I guess.

My Chobani Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Cauliflower Recipe

8 oz       macaroni
4 1/2 T   butter
1/2 C      onion finely chopped
1/3 C      flour
1 C         milk
1/2 C      Chobani plain non-fat yogurt
8 oz        cheddar cheese (or combo of your choice), shredded
2 T          parmesean cheese, grated
1/3 C      Chobani plain non-fat yogurt (scant 1/3 cup)
               salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1/4 C      Italian flavored panko breadcrumbs

Grease baking dish and preheat oven to 350.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water.  Calculate the cooking time to be 1 minute less than the al dente time (as the pasta will cook more in the oven).  About 2 to 3 minutes before the pasta is done, add the cauliflower to the pot.  Drain and  rinse with cold water.

Melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter in pot and saute chopped onion for about 3 minutes.  Add remaining 4 tablespoons of butter to onion and once melted, add the flour and whisk over medium-low heat for 2 minutes.  Slowly whisk in milk and then the 1/2 cup Chobani; once mixture has thickened, remove from stove.  Mix in cheddar and 1 tablespoon of parmesean.  Add the remaining Chobani (note: best to use a little less than 1/3 cup…like somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 cup).  Mix in about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and some cayenne.  Taste and add more salt and cayenne if desired.  Remember, the pasta and cauliflower wll dilute the saltiness somewhat, so keep this in mind.  Sprinkle the panko breadcrumbs and remaining tablespoon of parmesean on top.  Bake for 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned.

chobani mac n cheese 024-35

I served this with a side salad (always trying to get those veggies in somewhere).

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