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

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Smoothy, creamy and oh-so-decadent mashed potatoes are the perfect addition to a Thanksgiving table. Extra credit for being able to make them the day before.

Well folks, we made it to election day. Our country has been been mired in dissension and bitter opposition these past few months leading up to the election. It certainly hasn’t been pretty. It seems that we can’t agree on anything. Maybe that’s why we’ve established holiday rooted in gratefulness, family and unity each November after the tension of Election Day. Because if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s a good meal. Particularly carbs. Especially carbs. We are one nation, indivisible, with liberty and carbohydrates for all. Or something like that 😉

Politics aside, it’s time to get down to the real business of November. Thanksgiving is just over two weeks away! It’s time to start menu planning, list making, grocery shopping and nail biting. That last one is avoidable. While Thanksgiving dinner is arguably the most important meal to cook all year, it does not have to be the most stressful. I’ve got a handful of foolproof Turkey Day recipes coming your way to ease the anxiety over what to make and how to make it. I can’t say I can provide much in the way of assistance for annoying family members, but I do have two suggestions: 1- seat them as far away as you can manage and 2- pour an extra glass of wine (for you. or them. or both!)

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

First up are Perfect Mashed Potatoes. Hyperbole? Nope. They are really that good. Velvety smooth, creamy, rich and slightly garlicky. Plus, they can be completely prepared a day ahead and put in the oven to warm through on Thanksgiving. My biggest secret for not going absolutely bananas on Thanksgiving is to do as much ahead of time as I can. So a dish that can be prepped ahead of time is a lifesaver. However, I’m not going to sacrifice deliciousness for the sake of cleaning one less pot or pan on the big day. Fortunately, that’s not an issue with these mashed potatoes. These are hands down the yummiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever tasted. I ruined my supper the day I made these, because I couldn’t stop sneaking one more bite.

These are slightly more high maintenance than my standard method for mashed potatoes, which involves leaving the skin on and mashing in the pot in which the potatoes cooked. However, this is Thanksgiving and  you can make them in their entirety ahead of time, so I think it’s worth the marginal extra effort. And truthfully, peeling the potatoes is the worst part. So pick that annoying cousin and stick them in the corner with a potato peeler and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Once the potatoes have boiled until tender, pass them through a potato ricer (which I think is really fun, so save that task for yourself. It’s the little things.) Stir in butter, cream cheese, heavy cream and two heads of roasted garlic. Drum up your reserves of self control as you ladle the prepared potatoes into a baking dish. Cover with foil and stick in the fridge until the next day. Remove the potatoes from the fridge about half an hour before you plan to cook them, to take some of the chill off. Dot the top of the potatoes with a little more butter and stick into the oven for about half an hour. This works out well, as they can wait to go in the oven until the turkey comes out to rest. Of course, you can prepare them right before serving and skip the oven, if  you prefer. Either way, once they are on the table you can enjoy, unbutton the top button of your pants and accept the compliments that come your way. Gobble Gobble!

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut until large chunks (1 1/2 to 2 inches)
  • 2 heads roasted garlic (instructions to follow)
  • 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/2 cups) butter
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper

Instructions:

Place potatoes in large pot. Fill pot with cold water until potatoes are covered by at least 1 inch. Bring potatoes and water to a boil and boil until potatoes are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Drain potatoes in colander.

Pass potatoes through a potato ricer back into the now empty pot. Stir in 2 sticks butter, cream cheese, heavy cream, roasted garlic, salt and pepper. Spray 9×13 dish with nonstick cooking spray and pour potatoes into dish. Cover with foil and place in refrigerator until ready to use. Alternatively, you can serve at this point, dotting the top of potatoes with remaining butter.

If potatoes have been refrigerated, remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to baking. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove foil from top of potatoes and dot the top of the potatoes with remaining 1/2 stick of butter. Bake about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are warmed through.

To Make Roasted Garlic: Cut the tops off of two heads of garlic. Place garlic in the center of a piece of foil and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fold foil over garlic to make pouches. Roast at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, until soft and golden. When ready to use, squeeze garlic cloves from paper.

Serves 12-14.

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

 

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

pappa-al-pomodoro

Creamy Kielbasa, Kale and Potato Soup

creamy-kielbasa-kale-and-potato-soup

Is there anything more comforting than a hot and hearty bowl of soup on a chilly day? I don’t think so. Right about now I could use a cool, blustery day where all I do is hang out in comfy clothes while eating a warm bowl of soup on the couch. This right here would be my soup of choice. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll have that kind of down time anytime soon. But at least I can have the soup. And what a soup. Turkey kielbasa, kale and potatoes are cooked in a flavorful broth and finished off with a little heavy cream of richness and texture. There are a million variations of this soup across the internet. This is mine and I think it’s pretty fabulous. A lot of versions use Italian sausage, but I like the flavor and meatiness of turkey kielbasa. The result is a super tasty and satisfying soup that’s on the table in no time. It’s pretty healthy, too, even with the addition of heavy cream.

creamy-kielbasa-kale-and-potato-soup

This soup is a great option to whip up on the weekend for a quick and easy lunch. It holds up well in the refrigerator, so make a double batch for the week ahead. There are a couple of simple steps to maximize deliciousness here. First, brown the turkey kielbasa in olive oil before preparing the rest of the soup. Then remove the kielbasa and add in at the very end, rather than simmering with the soup the whole time. The turkey kielbasa can get tough if overcooked, so this ensures that it remains tender and juicy. You’ll also want to add the heavy cream at the very end. If you’re making extra to serve later in the week, just remember to stir the soup before scooping out portions as the broth and cream will separate a bit in the fridge. This soup will be in regular rotation in the cold months ahead.

Have a great and cozy weekend, friends!

creamy-kielbasa-kale-and-potato-soup

Creamy Kielbasa, Kale and Potato Soup

A healthy and hearty soup of juicy turkey kielbasa, potatoes and kale in a flavorful broth enriched with a little heavy cream. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 13 oz-1 lb turkey kielbasa
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 lb yukon gold potatoes, diced
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bunch kale, chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

Heat olive oil in stockpot over medium high heat. Brown turkey kielbasa 3-4 minutes, then remove to a bowl and set aside. Add onion and carrot to pot and cook until onions are translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook an additional 30 seconds, until garlic becomes fragrant.

Add chicken broth, potatoes, rosemary, thyme and bay leaf to pot. Season with salt and pepper. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer about 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add turkey kielbasa and kale to pot and cook 3-4 minutes, until kale is wilted and kielbasa is warmed through. Stir in heavy cream and serve.

Serves 4.

 

Grandma Pisani’s Pasta Fagioli

grandma-pisanis-pasta-fagioli

My grandma’s recipe for pasta fagioli departs from the typical soup version of the dish. Instead this is a hearty pasta dish, quick and economical enough to make on a weeknight when the pantry is bare. Grandma’s pasta fagioli is the definition of comfort food: warm, delicious and packed with love and happy memories. 

My love for cooking started in my Grandma Pisani’s kitchen. She has a tiny stool that says “Happiness is Retirement”, or something to that effect. When I was a little girl, Grandma would pull the stool up to the counter and patiently walk me through the steps of her recipes. She started with the  quick and simple ones, keeping in mind my small hands and attention span. Scrambled eggs, or “eggies”, as we called them, were an early favorite. As the years progressed, we moved on to grilled cheese and pan fried sausages, to cookies and Christmas kolachi. Grandma let me taste each ingredient, so I knew the difference between butter and oleo (margarine), between provolone and cheddar. The dishes we made were never complicated or fancy but were always delicious and full of her boundless love. They are the recipes I turn to when I’m feeling blue, homesick or under the weather. On a dreary Sunday afternoon, nothing makes me happier than making a big batch of meatballs and sauce, Grandma-style. The savory aroma and divine taste evaporate all of the years and miles and place me right back in Grandma’s kitchen, where nothing very wrong could ever happen and all problems could be cured with a cookie, a cup of tea and a hug.

Fortunately, not all of Grandma’s greatest hits are weekend-only affairs. This pasta fagioli is a perfect example. Lightning quick and made entirely of pantry staples, this is a busy weeknight’s saving grace. The entire dish is done in the time it takes the water to boil and pasta to cook. Chopping a little garlic is the extent of the culinary skill needed to pull this one off. Saute the garlic in some olive oil flavored with a pinch of red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning. Add some tomato sauce and red beans (red because my Dad and uncles used to pick the beans out- lunatics!- so Grandma used red beans to make this task easy for them) and simmer while the pasta finishes. Reserve some pasta water, drain pasta and toss in the sauce. Add pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce so it coats the pasta. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle on some shredded Parmesan and dinner is on the table. This is humble, good food, perfect to warm bellies and souls as the cold months approach.

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Grandma with all of her grandchildren ❤

As is typical for a family recipe, there are a million stories and memories associated with this pasta fagioli. When my parents started dating, my dad brought my mom to dinner at Grandma’s house unannounced one evening. It was the first time my mom was meeting my dad’s family and Grandma was less than thrilled with her lack of notice. She had made this pasta fagioli and homemade pizza(!) and was embarrassed at the modest dinner she had prepared. Of course, my mom was floored by the delicious home cooked meal she was served and has raved about the pasta fagioli ever since. Which just goes to show, simple can be best and Grandma knows what she’s doing. Love you, Grandma!!!

grandma-pisanis-pasta-fagioli

Grandma Pisani’s Pasta Fagioli

This pasta fagioli is a hearty and economical pasta dish. The sauce just lightly coats the pasta. If you prefer a more saucy pasta, you may increase the amount of tomato sauce in the recipe by 1.5 to 2x the amount called for. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups ditalini pasta
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • salt and pepper

Instructions:

Bring large pot of water to a boil. Season water generously with salt. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat in large skillet or saucepan. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning and cook another 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomato sauce and kidney beans. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Simmer sauce gently until pasta is done.

Once pasta is done, reserve 1 cup of pasta water and then drain pasta. Add pasta to sauce and toss to coat. Add reserved pasta water as necessary to ensure sauce evenly coats pasta. Taste and season again with salt and pepper. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Brown Butter Parmesan Polenta

brown-butter-parmesan-polenta

I had my first taste of fall on the drive home from work this evening and it was delightful. While the temperatures are still summer-like, the rest of nature is easing its’ way into autumn. The light in the afternoon is softer and more golden. A few overly ambitious trees have already started to make the change from green to vibrant yellow, and a few overly ambitious neighbors have already put their mums and pumpkins out on the front porch (slow down and let me catch up, guys!) All we need now are cool temperatures and oversized scarves.

Nothing drives home the feel of fall like creamy, cheesy comfort food. If the comfort food in question combines cheese AND carbs, I’m even happier. And if wine is involved- I’m in heaven! Wine, cheese and carbs form the holy trinity in my kitchen. Which means that served with a glass of wine, this brown butter parmesan polenta is ideal autumn comfort food. Polenta is sometimes overlooked as a side dish for more common carbs like pasta and potatoes. But when treated with a little TLC it is more than deserving of a spot on your table. Like pasta and potatoes, it is super versatile and can work with whatever flavor profile you’re aiming for. In this case we’re dressing up creamy, mild polenta with rich and nutty brown butter. Earthy sage and salty parmesan cheese round out the perfect fall side. The end result is creamy, warm and divine, like a soft checkered blanket wrapped around your shoulders. Excuse me while I have a moment.

This brown butter parmesan polenta makes a perfect side to a fall staple like Quick Pork Chops with Apples and Sage Cream Sauce. Or you could easily turn it into a main course on its’ own with the addition of sautéed shrimp or grilled chicken. If you wind up with leftovers, be warned that the polenta will solidify once refrigerated. Don’t sweat it. Turn it into a new dish by warming it in a skillet until the exterior is browned and top it with sautéed greens and a fried egg.

I hope you enjoy this one! What are your favorite fall comfort foods?

Brown Butter Parmesan Polenta   .jpgBrown Butter Parmesan Polenta

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 cup medium or coarse grind cornmeal (Bob’s Red Mill sells cornmeal packaged as polenta, but medium to coarsely ground cornmeal is fine)
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

In medium saucepan, bring milk and 2 cups water to a boil. Add 1 tsp salt. Reduce heat to a simmer, then add cornmeal, whisking as you add it. Continue whisking until no lumps remain. Allow cornmeal to come to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook the cornmeal 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until creamy. You may need to add additional water to stop the cornmeal from getting too dry. Add about ½ cup at a time as needed.

While cornmeal is cooking, prepare brown butter. In small saucepan, heat butter over medium heat. Once butter starts to foam, add sage. Continue to cook butter and sage until the butter starts to brown. Then remove pan from heat and transfer butter and sage to a bowl to stop cooking.

When polenta is finished cooking, add ¾ of the butter and parmesan to the polenta. Stir to combine. Add remaining 1 tsp kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Transfer polenta to serving bowl, and top with remaining brown butter and parmesan.

Serves 4-6.