Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken

creamy-butternut-squash-pasta-with-chicken

Well, we’re in the midst of the winter doldrums now. The holidays are in our rearview mirror. The last of the cookies have been eaten, the cork put back in the champagne bottle (for now, anyway.) There’s not a whole lot to look forward to this time of year. It’s dark when I leave the house in the morning and it’s dark when I arrive home in the evening. Oh, and I’ve spent the past two weeks battling the most brutal cold that will. not. leave. The one redeeming quality of this time of year is that it is the perfect occasion for cozy, hearty meals. So, how about some creamy, decadent comfort food to warm our bellies and our souls?

creamy-butternut-squash-pasta-with-chickenThis creamy butternut squash pasta is a real treat. Butternut squash is roasted with shallots and sage until sweet and fragrant. While the squash roasts, boil some water and cook your pasta of choice. I chose rigatoni so that there would be plenty of nooks and crannies for the delightfully sweet and savory sauce to hide. The squash and aromatics are pureed until smooth with rich, creamy mascarpone cheese and some starchy pasta cooking water. Toss the sauce with the pasta and parmesan cheese and this is a divine winter meal. I served it with thinly sliced chicken, to make a full meal. However, this would also make a stellar side to roast beef or pork. Or skip the protein and dive headfirst into a luscious, creamy bowl of carbs and take advantage of the other redeeming quality of winter- bathing suit season is far away 🙂 Enjoy!

creamy-butternut-squash-pasta-with-chicken

Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash (1.5-2lbs), peeled, seeded and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 shallots, quartered
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage, plus more for garnish
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 lb pasta (I used rigatoni)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 chicken breasts, grilled and thinly sliced (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450. Toss squash, shallots and sage in bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and mix to coat. Spread ingredients into single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Roast 20-25 minutes,until squash is tender.

While squash is roasting, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of starchy pasta water before draining pasta. Set pasta aside.

Transfer squash, shallots and sage into bowl of food processor. Puree until smooth. Add mascarpone and 1/2 cup reserved pasta water and puree again until well combined. Add additional water as necessary to ensure consistency of sauce will coat pasta easily.

Combine pasta and sauce in the pasta pot. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Stir in parmesan cheese. Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with fresh sage. Serve with grilled chicken, if desired.

Serves 4

Pappa al Pomodoro (Tomato and Bread Soup)

pappa-al-pomodoro

If you’re living the low-carb life right now, you might want to look away. Here, look, this Veggie Breakfast Hash is a low-carb dream. But if you stick around, be prepared to break all the low-carb rules. Because…I went and put a loaf of bread in our soup. Not just on it, in it. And I’m not even a little bit sorry. It’s SO stinkin’ good. Pappa al Pomodoro is an Italian tomato soup thickened with, you guessed it, bread. While this may not sound like anything particularly special, please trust me when I say this soup will make you a believer. I love all tomato soup, but this is by far my favorite way to eat it. Day old ciabatta bread is browned with the aromatic soup base and whisked into creamy tomato soup until dissolved. It’s very rich and hearty, so while it’s not an everyday recipe, it’s a perfect “sometimes” treat. Save the grilled cheese for another night- this soup is a meal all on its own.

pappa-al-pomodoro

Start by sautéing onion, celery, carrots and garlic in a combination of butter and olive oil. Add in some cubed, day old ciabatta and toast the bread for a few minutes to let it absorb some of the oil and flavor from the aromatics. I used a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes because I like the way the heat stands up to the bread and cream. But if you are heat-sensitive, scale it back to a half a teaspoon, or a tiny pinch, or omit entirely. Use a blender or food processor to puree canned San Marzano tomatoes (this soup is made of humble, inexpensive ingredients. Spring for the fancy tomatoes, they’re worth it.) Add the tomatoes, some chicken broth and dry red wine to the pot along with a bay leaf and some basil. As the soup simmers away, the bread will soften in the liquid. When ready to serve, use a whisk to break down the bread, which will thicken the soup. Top it off with some heavy cream because: a- it’s delicious and b- at this point, why not? Serve with some homemade croutons, courtesy of the remaining ciabatta. Simple, hearty and so much more delicious than the sum of its parts, this Pappa al Pomodoro is sure to become a cold weather favorite in your household.

pappa-al-pomodoro

Pappa al Pomodoro

Ingredients:

Soup:

  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 loaf day old ciabatta bread, cubed
  • 2 28 oz cans San Marzano tomatoes, pulsed until coarsely pureed in food processor
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (such as Pinot Noir)
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup torn fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • pepper

Croutons:

  • 1/2 loaf day old ciabatta bread, cubed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • pepper

Instructions:

Heat butter and olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery and cook 7-8 minutes, or until tender. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook another minute, until garlic is fragrant. Add bread and toss with aromatics. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, red wine and chicken broth to the pot. Stir in bay leaf and basil. Season with 2 tsp salt and pepper to taste. Allow soup to come to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow to cook about 40-45 minutes. While soup is simmering, prepare croutons (instructions below). When ready to serve soup, remove bay leaf and use whisk to beat soup until bread is dissolved and broken down. Stir in heavy cream. Taste soup and adjust salt and pepper accordingly. Top with croutons and fresh basil.

To prepare croutons, heat oven to 375. On sheet pan, toss ciabatta cubes, olive oil, cheese,salt and pepper until bread cubes are well coated. Spread into single layer and cook until crisp, about 20-25 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Serves 6-8

Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics by Ina Garten

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Truffled Pappardelle with Pancetta and Asparagus

truffled-pappardelle-with-pancetta-and-asparagusHave you carried over any routines from your childhood household to your adult life? I have retained so many that I’m 95% sure I have morphed into my mother. (Which is a pretty awesome thing, my mom is the best!) For example, like my mother before me, my Thursday nights are for cleaning the house while Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune play in the background. The first 15 minutes after arriving home from work are reserved for a fresh cup of coffee and a magazine. And Friday nights are “no cook” nights. While there were occasional Friday evenings where we had tuna noodle casserole, by and large our Friday nights were pizza nights. Nothing was so simultaneously thrilling (pizza!) or terrifying (I didn’t want to open the door and awkwardly pay the delivery guy) as seeing the Pizza Hut delivery car pull into the driveway.

For the past 5 years, my husband and I have carried on the Friday night pizza tradition. However, in the past few months pizza hasn’t really been hitting the spot. I want something…else. Sometimes we’ll pick up Chinese from the place around the corner. Other times, if I’m reeaaally nice, I can convince Justin to drive out to our favorite Thai restaurant to grab takeout. And no, I really don’t feel like eating out on Fridays. For one, I’m exhausted, and two, my cats have been home by themselves all week and need our attention, thankyouverymuch. Surprisingly, the most satisfying Friday night dinners in recent history have been the ones where I’ve gotten over my initial weariness, poured myself a glass of wine and gotten to work in the kitchen. Maybe it’s the little thrill of bucking tradition. More likely it’s been the phenomenal and phenomenally easy pasta dinners I’ve thrown together. Today’s Truffled Pappardelle with Pancetta and Asparagus is one such home run.

truffle-papardelle-with-pancetta-and-asparagus

This recipe was inspired by the meal I ordered at our anniversary dinner a few weeks ago at  Chow Bistro. It’s one of those recipes that is delicious and impressive and has the added bonus of being unexpectedly simple to make. Perfectly al dente pasta is tossed with crisp bits of pancetta, lightly charred asparagus and coated with savory, slightly funky (in the best way) truffle butter. Plus, it’s topped with a fried egg. Fried eggs = happiness in my book. If truffle butter is a deal breaker for you, or if you simply can’t find it, you can easily substitute browned butter. The result is a rich and special occasion-worthy pasta dish that is done within 30 minutes. Go ahead and invite some friends over for a weeknight or Friday night dinner- they’ll think you’re a rockstar with this meal.

Pappardelle is a medium wide egg pasta usually sold in adorable little “nests.” The cute factor obviously makes it that much more tasty. While the water is coming up to a boil and the pasta cooks, diced pancetta is browned in a large skillet. Once the pancetta is crisp, remove it from the skillet and rest in a bowl lined with paper towels. Toss the asparagus into the skillet and quickly cook it in the fat rendered from the pancetta. If you have time before the pasta is done, you can take the asparagus out of the skillet, fry the eggs and set them aside. Otherwise you can quickly fry them up after the pasta is plated. Once the pasta is done, toss it into the skillet with a generous amount of truffle butter, the asparagus and pancetta and toss until everything is coated in decadent, buttery goodness. Shave parmesan over the pasta, top each serving with a fried egg and eat! Give this a try one Friday night, or any night. The only loser here is the local pizza shop- they’ll miss you!

truffle-papardelle-with-pancetta-and-asparagus

Truffled Pappardelle with Pancetta and Asparagus

If you cannot find or do not like truffle butter, you can substitute an equal amount of browned butter. Truffle butter can be found near finishing butters in grocery store.

Ingredients:

  • 9-10 oz dried pappardelle pasta (1 package)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz diced pancetta
  • 1 bunch asparagus, about 1 lb, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 Tbsp truffle butter (or browned butter, if desired)
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs

Instructions:

Fill large stockpot with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add salt to water. Add pappardelle and cook until al dente, per package instructions (around 7 minutes.) When pasta is done, reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water and drain.

In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add pancetta to skillet and cook until browned and crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove pancetta from skillet to bowl lined with paper towels. Add asparagus to skillet and cook until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Season asparagus with salt and pepper. Remove asparagus from skillet and add eggs. Season with salt and pepper and fry until the whites are set and yolk remains runny. Set eggs aside.

Reduce heat under skillet to medium. Add truffle butter, pasta, pancetta and asparagus. Cook until truffle butter is melted and all ingredients are coated. Taste and season again with salt and pepper. If the pasta looks dry, add reserved pasta water in small increments until you reach desired consistency. Note that this will not be a heavily sauced pasta.

Portion pasta onto plates and top each serving with parmesan and fried egg.

Serves 3-4

truffle-papardelle-with-pancetta-and-asparagus

Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma with Garlic Sauce and Cucumber Tomato Salad

oven-roasted-chicken-shawarma

So let me preface this recipe by saying that I am by no means an authority on Middle Eastern cuisine nor am I an expert on the traditional means of cooking shawarma. What I DO know is that I am exceptionally glad that I can close my office door when I eat lunch, because I’m pretty sure I moaned in ecstasy when eating this oven roasted chicken shawarma and accoutrements for lunch today. It’s just. so. good. Tender chicken thighs are marinated in a garlicky, lemony spice blend and are quickly roasted in the oven then crisped under the broiler. The result is out of this world delicious. Topped with a quick garlic sauce made with pantry and fridge staples and a fresh and crunchy tomato cucumber salad, this meal is truly a symphony of flavor and texture. This dinner has definitely earned a spot in our regular meal rotation.

oven-roasted-chicken-shawarma

It’s hard to believe that something this flavorful can be simple to make, but it’s true. The marinade comes together in a snap and the chicken marinates on your schedule. Only have an hour? Great. Need to toss everything together the prior evening or before work in the morning? You are in for a treat, my friend. You can’t argue with that kind of versatility. When you’re ready to make the chicken, coat a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and place the chicken in a hot oven. While the chicken cooks, whip up a quick (and yummy) garlic sauce and a fresh cucumber tomato salad. The cucumber tomato salad is a riff on Tabbouleh sans the grains. You know I love carbs, but save them for the naan (a soft, delicious flatbread) in this case. I found mini naan in the refrigerated section at Costco and I am obsessed, because they fit in the toaster. Warm, toasty naan on demand? Yes, please!

Once the chicken comes out of the oven, transfer it to a cutting board and chop into bite sized pieces. Drain excess juice from the sheet pan and place the chicken back on the pan. Broil the chicken for 5-10 minutes until edges have crisped and you’re ready to eat! The richly spiced, tender chicken, fresh salad and tangy garlic sauce complement each other so perfectly you’ll be amazed that this came from your own kitchen and not an NYC food truck. And since you’ve made it at home, you’ve controlled the amount of oil, fat and sodium in the dish so you can go back for seconds (or thirds) guilt free. If you make ONE dish in the next week, promise me you’ll make this. Please also promise me you’ll call me so I can come over. I’ll bring the wine!

oven-roasted-chicken-shawarma

Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma with Garlic Sauce and Cucumber Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

Chicken:

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • ¼ cup lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
  • 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 large red onion, cut into large wedges
  • Naan bread, for serving

Garlic Sauce:

  • 1 cup nonfat greek yogurt
  • ½ cup mayo (low-fat is fine)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper

Cucumber Tomato Salad:

  • 4 firm Roma tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 ½ seedless (English) cucumber, seeded and finely diced
  • 4 green onions, very thinly sliced
  • 1 large bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp mint, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Instructions: 

Add chicken thighs and onion wedges to gallon sized resealable plastic bag. In medium bowl, mix 1/2 cup olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon and red pepper flakes in bowl until well combined. Pour marinade into bag with chicken and seal. Massage chicken until thoroughly coated. Place bag in a bowl and refrigerate at least an hour, up to 24 hours.

When ready to cook chicken, preheat oven to 425. Spread remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil on rimmed baking sheet. Remove chicken and onion from marinade and place on sheet pan. Bake 25-30 minutes. When chicken is done, take out of oven and remove chicken to cutting board. Preheat broiler. Chop chicken into small pieces. Pour juices from baking sheet into a bowl. Place chicken under broiler for 5-10 minutes, flipping halfway through, until crisp edges have formed.

While chicken is cooking, prepare garlic sauce and cucumber tomato salad.

To make garlic sauce, add all ingredients to medium bowl and whisk until smooth.

To make cucumber tomato salad, toss vegetables and herbs in olive oil and lemon juice.

Serve chicken with sauce and salad and warm toasted naan bread.

Serves 4.

Shawarma recipe adapted from the New York Times

Tabbouleh recipe adapted from The Mediterranean Dish

oven-roasted-chicken-shawarma

Cheesy Bacon Guacamole Chicken

cheesy-bacon-guacamole-chicken

By the time I’m halfway through the work week, I need all the help I can get. Is anyone available to do my laundry, pick up my dry cleaning, clean my house and maybe just do my job for me, too? No takers? Darn. I don’t know how those of you with kids do it. I’m lucky if my shoes match by Wednesday. Luckily I have a few simple and tasty last minute dinner recipes up my sleeve to save me from the after work hangries (hunger + anger, for those of you lucky enough to be unacquainted.) This chicken, for example, is ready in a snap and checks enough delicious boxes to keep me going until Friday. Cheese? Check. Bacon? Check. A heaping pile of guacamole? Ohhhhhh, check. Served over a bed of greens dressed with olive oil and lime juice, this is a delicious, relatively healthy low carb dinner. Served with tortilla chips and margaritas… can I come over?

This recipe has a lot going for it even beyond deliciousness. It’s done in 30 minutes and leaves virtually no dirty dishes in its’ wake. Start by lining a rimmed cookie sheet with foil and bake the bacon in a hot oven. No greasy splatters and the bacon grease can be rolled up in the foil and thrown out once you’re done. While the bacon sizzles away in the oven, prepare the remaining ingredients. Chicken cutlets are a favorite of mine for a quick weeknight protein. They’re easy enough to make yourself with a chicken breast, a sharp knife and a steady hand, but if you’re really pressed for time they are also easy to find in the grocery store. While the bacon is cooking you’ll have plenty of time to season the chicken, shred some cheese and mix a quick guacamole. The chicken is baked on the same sheet you use for the bacon, then topped with shredded cheese and bacon and popped back in the oven until the cheese and bacon melt into the chicken in a gooey delicious mess. Top each chicken cutlet with as much guacamole as you please and you are DONE! You could also use shredded cheese and store bought guac to make this even more of a time saver. Enjoy this quick and easy mid-week dinner and keep your chin up. There’s light at the end of this tunnel.

cheesy-bacon-guacamole-chicken

Cheesy Bacon Guacamole Chicken 

Ingredients:

  • 8 chicken cutlets (either purchased as cutlets or 4 chicken breasts cut in half to make cutlets)
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 slices bacon
  • 1 heaping cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 ripe avocados, mashed
  • ½ tomato, diced
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice of 2 limes
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450. Line rimmed cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place a baking rack inside of sheet. Spray baking rack with cooking spray. Place bacon on rack and bake for 15 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon from rack and chop when cool enough to handle.

While bacon is cooking, season chicken cutlets with chili powder, cumin, 1 tsp kosher salt and black pepper. When bacon is done, wipe excess grease from sheet with paper towels and place chicken on baking rack. Cook chicken 3-4 minutes, then remove from oven. Divide bacon evenly over chicken cutlets and top with cheese. Place chicken back into the oven for 2-3 minutes.

While bacon and chicken are cooking, prepare guacamole. In medium bowl, mix avocados, tomato, onion, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, remaining 1 tsp kosher salt and black pepper.

Once chicken is completely done, spoon guacamole on top and serve.

Serves 4, 2 cutlets per serving.

Philly-Style Italian Roast Pork

philly-style-italian-roast-porkI like to root for the underdog, don’t you? For example, JC was my favorite member of *NSYNC, not Justin. I like to see the Cleveland Browns win once in a while. And as far as Philly food goes, a good roast pork sandwich will get my vote over a cheesesteak any day. It seems most people outside of the Philadelphia area know of the famous Philly cheesesteak, but not so many know about the roast pork sandwiches. People! You’re missing out! I was once one of the uninitiated before I moved to the area. When I thought of shredded pork sandwiches, I thought of barbecue pulled pork. Philly-style roast pork is a different beast entirely. I became a convert with my first bite. Succulent, luscious chunks of pork with browned, crisp edges swim in savory broth that saturates the crusty bun. Topped with spicy banana peppers and sharp provolone cheese, it is a masterpiece of flavor and texture. Cheesesteaks are delicious, but roast pork is downright dreamy.

I love to make this Philly-style roast pork at home for a couple of reasons. Of course, it’s delicious. The house smells incredible as the pork slowly roasts in the oven. And OMG, the leftovers are divine and freeze really well. This is a great dish to make for a big game, tailgate or bonfire. It feeds an army, is hearty and delicious and can easily be made ahead. Meaning you are free to cheer on your team or catch on gossip.

While this recipe is simple, there are a couple of things to keep in mind to ensure you maximize the deliciousness. First, it is really worth the extra 10 minutes to thoroughly brown the meat on all sides before it goes in the oven. Obviously you will want to pat the pork shoulder dry with paper towels ahead of this step, to minimize splattering. Then get the oil good and hot and go at it. Next, since this recipe calls for a huge piece of meat, you’ll need a big cooking vessel. I used a 13 quart dutch oven. You could also use a roasting pan or even a 9×13 dish and cover with foil before putting it in the oven. If using either of these options, brown the meat in a very large skillet (unless your roasting pan is safe to use on the stovetop.) Finally, you cannot rush this. Check the pork after 3 hours, and if it shreds easily, it’s done. But if it doesn’t, just close the oven door for another hour and check it then. Cranking the heat too high will not do you any favors.

The Philly-style Italian roast pork sandwich is the kind of underdog I can really get behind. Now if Notre Dame could just pull out a win… There’s always this weekend!

philly-style-italian-roast-pork

Philly-Style Italian Roast Pork

6-7 lb pork shoulder (either boneless or bone-in)
2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 cups white wine
1-2 cups water
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

For serving: sandwich rolls, banana peppers, provolone cheese, broccoli rabe

Pre-heat oven to 325.

Prepare pork shoulder. Pat dry and trim excess fat (lots of fat will remain, that is fine). Mix salt, Italian seasoning and black pepper together in small bowl. Rub salt/herb/pepper mixture over all sides of pork shoulder.

In large dutch oven or roasting pan on stovetop, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Carefully place pork in oil and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Once pork is browned, reduce heat to medium and add onions and garlic to pan and cook 2-3 minutes, until translucent and fragrant. Add white wine and enough water to bring liquid about 1/3 of the way up the pork. Place lid on dutch oven or cover top of roasting pan tightly with foil. Cook 3-4 hours, turning the pork once per hour. When turning the pork, add water sufficient to come 1/3 of the way up the pork if some has evaporated. Pork is ready when it shreds easily with a fork.

Once pork is done, shred with two forks and toss with pan juices and onions. Remove herb stems, large pieces of fat and bone, if a bone-in pork shoulder was used. Serve on toasted sandwich rolls with banana pepper rings and provolone cheese. Sandwich can also be topped with sautéed broccoli rabe, if desired.

If making roast pork head, shred and refrigerate in pan juices. Heat in crockpot on low and keep warm until serving.

Serves 8-10.