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Pasta versatile as meal, side dish

February 5, 2014
By ESTHER MCCOY - Food editor , The Herald-Star

Pasta is a versatile ingredient on the pantry shelf and can be added to any sauce, vegetable, meat or liquid to make a complete meal or side dish.

The shapes of this versatile product are many, so the recipes can be changed to your liking, but some are better at holding sauce than others, if that makes a difference to the cook.

When I first got married I was told the way to test if pasta is done is to throw a strand against the kitchen wall. If it slides down quickly, it should remain in the boiling water a minute or two more. If it sticks, it's done. Then hurry and drain the pasta water, but save a cupful in the event you need to remedy a thickened product before serving.

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PASTA, PLEASE — It isn’t easy to eat pasta with marinara sauce without getting some tomato sauce smeared around your face. Ellie Grace Dumbaugh, 2, seems to enjoy doing both during her lunch time. Tests have shown that elbow macaroni is easier for youngsters to deliver to the mouth than long strands of spaghetti or thick penne pasta.
-- Esther McCoy

Woman's Day magazine printed some clever uses for uncooked spaghetti strands that can be used for more than dinner. You might need one of these hints sometime.

If you can't find a ruler in your desk drawer, use a piece of spaghetti. It will double as a straight edge in a pinch, uncooked, of course.

Insert uncooked spaghetti through each plugged-up hole in a salt or pepper shaker and swirl it around a few times to loosen stuck-on seasoning.

Pluck an olive, maraschino cherry or pearl onion from the bottom of the jar by piercing it with the end of a piece of spaghetti.

To make a knife block, cut dry spaghetti so it is the same height as a straight-sided, wide-mouthed jar or container that is taller than the longest blade of a knife. Loosely pack the pasta inside, then slide the knives in point-side down.

Craft a centerpiece for your dinner table with a wheat-like decoration. Bundle a few pounds of dry spaghetti together with a rubber band. Fan out the top and bottom by twisting the ends clockwise, then knot a thick ribbon around the center.

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Now that the clever pointers for other pasta uses have been discussed, let us go on to recipes that sound enticing. This one is from the Taste of Home Cooking School Cookbook.

Bow Ties with Italian Sausage in a Cream Basil Sauce

3 cups bow tie pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

19-ounce package sweet Italian sausage links, removed from casing. The package can be between 12 and 19 ounces, whatever your favorite brand carries

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped or 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, Italian style, drained and coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups light cream

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for 8 to 10 minutes or until aldente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside. Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add decased sausage, crumbling it as it is cooked. Add red pepper flakes and continue cooking until sausage is no longer pink. Add onion and garlic to skillet and continue until onion softens. Stir in tomatoes and salt. If using fresh tomatoes, saute for 3 minutes until softened. Add light cream and Parmesan cheese; simmer gently until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Stir in cooked pasta and basil. Heat through, about 3 minutes. If desired, garnish with a sprinkle of fresh basil and shaved Parmesan cheese.

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This is a budget recipe that is told by Cooking Light magazine to be $2.23 per serving. It is ready in half an hour as well.

Rigatoni with Meaty Mushroom Bolognese

6 ounces uncooked rigatoni

8 ounces of 90-percent lean ground sirloin

1 tablespoon olive oil

2/3 cup carrots, diced to 1/4 inch

Medium red onion, chopped

8-ounce package presliced mushrooms

8 ounces of zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided

4 garlic cloves, mined

14.5-ounce can unsalted diced tomatoes, undrained

3 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated and divided, about 1/4 cup

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain and keep warm. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef; cook 2 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Remove beef from pan and set aside. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat pan. Add carrot, onion and mushrooms; saute 5 minutes or just until tender. Stir in zucchini; 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and garlic; cook 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in beef; cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and crushed red pepper to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 8 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream; cook 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper and 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese. Divide pasta among four bowls. Top each serving with 1 1/4 cups sauce; sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons cheese and serve.

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This recipe calls for roasted garlic and fresh tomato sauce, using bow tie pasta, but the recipe states that penne pasta works well, too. It is from Taste of Home Family Time magazine. It is 441 calories from a recipe that serves four.

Pasta with Roasted Garlic and Tomatoes

1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes

12 garlic cloves, peeled (I would use considerably less.)

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups uncooked bow tie pasta

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened, 4 ounces

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a bowl, toss tomatoes and garlic cloves with oil; transfer to a greased 15-by-10-inch baking pan.

Roast 14 to 16 minutes or until very soft. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Cool tomato mixture slightly. Reserve 12 cherry tomatoes for serving with pasta. Transfer remaining tomato mixture in a food processor. Add cream cheese and salt; process until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Drain pasta; add to tomato mixture and toss to coat. Top with reserved tomatoes.

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This is a one-pot meal that contains frozen peas and sweet red pepper in a heavy cream sauce. It is from Family Circle magazine. It is not high in calories, containing 412 calories for the six serving recipe.

Fettuccine Alfredo

1 pound fettuccine

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Small, sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 cup fat-free half and half

1/3 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Cook fettuccine following package directions, about 10 minutes. Add peas and red pepper during last minute of cooking; drain. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine half and half, cream, butter, garlic powder, salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer. Gradually whisk in cream cheese and take off heat. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Place drained pasta mixture in a large bowl and toss with sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and the chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

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This is almost like macaroni and cheese but with spinach and artichoke hearts added. It is from Taste of Home magazine and has 448 calories per serving. It makes enough to feed four.

Spinach-Artichoke Rigatoni

3 cups uncooked rigatoni or large tube pasta

10-ounce package frozen cream spinach

14-ounce can water-packed artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained and quartered

2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat broiler. Prepare rigatoni and spinach according to package directions.

Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water; return to pan. Stir in artichokes, 1/2 cup mozzarella, parmesan, salt, pepper and cooked spinach, adding some of the reserved pasta water to thin, if desired. Transfer to a greased 2-quart broiler-safe baking dish; top with remaining mozzarella. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat 2 minutes or until cheese is melted.

(McCoy can be contacted at emccoy@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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