Tag Archives: parmesan

Crispy Salami and Pesto Tart

We are recovering from a month of hard core party weekends.  Living in a college town with big time football is always fun, but it’s sort of like having a vacation home in Florida — everyone wants to visit and it’s always time to imbibe.  I am not complaining because we love having family and friends around, but I will say that my liver might be crying “uncle.”  There are only so many mornings you can wake up slightly hungover and have to face a Bloody Mary at 9:00 AM — while your young children are screaming crazy demands like “I want breakfast.”

Beyond that, the pace is furious to get the shopping done, the sheets changed, the house cleaned, and the liquor cabinet stocked.   And then after the weekend is over, your house looks like a tornado has blown through, you have not caught up on any household chores, you are exhausted, and you basically have to get everything back in shape for the next weekend.

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So, cooking has not been first on my list lately.  I wish I could say that I have been making big pots of tailgate chili or lovely brunches served in the stadium parking lot, but it has been more like takeout wings, deli trays, barbecue chips, and store bought pasta salad.  I am *trying* to learn to recognize my limits and respect my sanity.

This weekend we had a party to go to and I offered to bring an appetizer.  The only problem was that my brother came into town the night before and we were all up way too late drinking rum cocktails with coconut water (he promised me it would stave off a hangover — so I can’t figure out whether I drank too many or too few).  Long and short of it, I was not feeling overly energetic the next day and made this tart with items that were all hanging around the pantry and freezer.  It turned out well, so I thought I’d share because it was so easy.

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And if I can ever get myself out from under the dirty dishes (my dishwasher is broken again — yeah!), children, laundry, Star Wars figures, and empty bottles for recycling, I might try to get back in the kitchen and cook something that doesn’t come with directions.

Salami and Pesto Tart

(Makes a 12×15 inch tart)

1 package of puff pastry, thawed (2 sheets)
8 oz. cream cheese (1 package), softened to room temperature
4 oz. pesto (mine was from the freezer)
1 egg
4 oz. thinly sliced salami, sliced into thin strips (prosciutto or other cured hams would be great too)
1 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2-3 T pine nuts
Parmesan Cheese, shaved into strips
Fresh basil, chopped
Heavy cream or beaten egg (to brush pastry with)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a sheet of parchment paper and roll out into a 12×15 inch rectangle.  Take remaining sheet of pastry and slice into one inch strips.  Lay strips on perimeter of the 12×15 inch rectangle (to make it look like a picture frame).  Prick lower rectangle all over with fork (don’t prick sides).  Bake pastry for 15 minutes, pricking center rectangle with a fork if it puffs too much.  The goal is to keep the center of the rectangle flat, while allowing the sides to puff.

2.  Meanwhile, with an electric mixer whip the cream cheese with the pesto until well combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and add in one egg.  Mix well.

3.  In a small saute pan, heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat and add salami strips.  Fry until strips have rendered some fat and are slightly crisp.  Drain on paper towels.

4.  When pastry is done, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Spread cream cheese/pesto mixture into the center portion of the pastry (just not on the “frame” portion of the pastry).  Sprinkle salami strips, and then pine nuts all over cream cheese/pesto mixture.  Brush “frame” portion of pastry with some cream or beaten egg.  Bake tart 15-20 minutes until golden.

5.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Scatter parmesan shavings and basil all over.  Cut into squares and serve.

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Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese

It’s only been recently that I have been able to crack open a box of mac and cheese and cook it for my kids.  I’ve always had to make it from scratch with soy cheese/soy milk because my daughter was severely allergic to dairy (which she has thankfully outgrown).  And somehow when you get used to making it from scratch, it just doesn’t seem that much harder than making it from the box.  Sure, it takes a little more time because you have to make the cheese sauce — but just think a minute about that powdered cheese sauce mixture.  Think about how one makes a cheese sauce (or cheese) and then reduces it to a fine powder which requires no refrigeration.  Really think.  I’ll wait.

Confused?  Yeah, me too.  I’m no food scientist, but even if it is Annie’s Mac and Cheese with Whole Wheat Pasta, you still can’t explain to me how that powdered cheese can provide one with the same nutrients as cheese.  And sure, we still make it once in a while and I keep a few boxes in the pantry in case the terror threat level gets jacked up (I have plastic sheeting too) or if we encounter Armageddon (and are lucky enough to still have running water).  But, on most days I take the 30 minutes of prep time and use a very novel product … some call it cheese.

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My version is made with whole wheat pasta, is thickened with sprouted spelt flour (or whole wheat flour), and uses 2% milk.  The only thing I don’t cut back on or substitute is cheese.  Because you can do a lot of things to macaroni and cheese, but the one thing you CAN’T do is not use cheese.  And I even count soy cheese as real cheese here, because the final product is so darn good and such a great treat for those who can never have mac and cheese (I’d take the homemade soy cheese version over Kraft any day of the week).

This makes a great side dish (as you well know), but it is also a great main course if you add in some cooked vegetables/greens or serve it with a big salad.  Certainly you can add some meat if you like — ham, bacon, proscuitto, etc. are a natural fit.  It is also very flexible in what type of cheese you use — anything works.  And you can do it one of two ways — just toss the pasta with the cheese sauce (a la Kraft) or baked with some breadcrumbs on top.  Your choice.

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And the coolest part?  You will now know how to make both a roux and Bechamel Sauce.

(Allergy note:  if you want to make this dairy free, simply use dairy-free margarine or olive oil, soy milk or rice milk, and soy cheese.  It works out quite well.)

Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 6-8

Pasta and Cheese Sauce:

1 lb. whole wheat pasta
6 T. butter
6 T. sprouted spelt flour (or whole wheat flour)
4 cups of milk (I used 2%)
Cayenne Pepper
Nutmeg (freshly grated is the best)
1 t. salt
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated (a little over 2 cups)
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Breadcrumb Topping:

1 T. butter, melted
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 cup of freshly grated cheese (your choice of cheddar or parm, or both)
3/4 cup of panko breadcrumbs

Fresh herbs for garnish, optional

1.  Cook pasta until very al dente (it should be slightly undercooked) in salted boiling water.  Mine was supposed to cook 10 minutes total, and I cooked it about 7 minutes.   When finished, drain and set aside in a bowl or in the pan it was cooked in. (*If you are not going to bake the finished mac and cheese, you should cook your pasta fully in this step.)

2.  Meanwhile in a medium saucepan, melt 6 T. of butter and whisk together with 6 T. flour over medium heat.  This is a roux.  Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes.  Add in 1 t. salt and stir.

3.  Slowly add the 4 cups of milk, whisking constantly.  When all the milk is added, use a spatula to make sure you have all of the bits of roux out of the corners of the pan.  This is now called a Bechamel Sauce.  Bring the sauce to a boil, whisking frequently.  It should have thickened considerably.  Reduce heat to low and cook the sauce for about 20 minutes, whisking every once in a while.

4.  Stir grated cheeses into Bechamel Sauce and mix until they are completely melted and incorporated.  Season with a bit of Cayenne Pepper, Nutmeg (somewhere between a pinch and 1/8 of a teaspoon of both — to your taste), and additional salt and pepper if necessary.  Remember that you are seasoning the sauce for an entire pound of pasta, so make sure it’s not bland.

5. Toss cooked pasta with Cheese Sauce and taste to make sure it is well seasoned.  Adjust if necessary.  You can serve it at this point if you want just a creamy mac and cheese.  If you want baked mac and cheese, read on.

6.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Butter a 9×13 glass baking dish and pour in the pasta with cheese sauce.

7.  Combine breadcrumb topping ingredients in a small bowl.   Sprinkle all over top of pasta/cheese sauce and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown on top.  When it is done, you can sprinkle it with some fresh herbs (chives, parsley, etc.) if you like.

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Spring Pasta with Brown Butter, Asparagus, Peas, and Chanterelle Mushrooms

I often think that my laziness has been great fuel for my cooking creativity.   There are so many days when I stare into my pantry (while my two year old desperately attempts to clutch every box of crackers in it) and think that there is absolutely nothing to cook.  And then I walk away and go back in again.  And then I look at my kids and can’t stand the thought of a late afternoon trip to the grocery store with both children, trying to do three point turns in the race car cart, fulfilling bagel requests, and praying to the grocery store Gods that the check out lines are no more than two deep.

So that’s when I go for pasta.  These type of quick pasta dinners are mid-week staples around here.  They are great for a night off from meat, can easily be made into a “one bowl” kind of meal with veggies included, they usually require no grocery store trips, and are super quick.  And there is something about spring and summer that just seems to call out for light pasta meals with fresh vegetables.  And aside from the asparagus and herbs, this was basically a pantry meal.  But there are plenty of nights where we have basically the same dish with peas and pasta with a nice salad on the side.  

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So, I give you pasta.  The meal that preserves your sanity.

Spring Pasta with Brown Butter, Asparagus, Peas, and Chanterelle Mushrooms (serves 4 with leftovers)

10 oz. dried pasta (this is about 2/3 of a package and any kind will do, we used whole grain thin spaghetti)
1/2 oz. package of dried mushrooms (I had chanterelles, any kind of dried mushrooms are great pantry staples though)
1 cup of white wine or water
1 bunch of aparagus
Fresh Chervil or other herbs (flat leaf parsley would be great too, or skip it)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons)
Frozen Peas
1 cup of grated Parmesan
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar/Olive Oil

1.  Put a large pot of cold water on the stove and salt it generously (it’s imperative to salt your pasta water well — that’s where a lot of flavor comes from).

2.  Take one cup of wine or water and heat it in a small bowl for about a minute in the microwave.  Add dried mushrooms to heated wine/water and let soak for about 30 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, prep your asparagus by washing them and removing tough ends (snap where it breaks easily and you should be good).  Cut asparagus into 1 1/2 inch pieces and set aside.

4.  Chop 2 cloves garlic and fresh chervil/herbs (if using).

5.  Grate parmesan.

6.  Heat a saute pan over medium heat.  Add 1/2 stick of butter and melt.  Stir constantly after it has melted.  Your goal is brown butter — which will smell nutty and fragrant.  If you cook it too much, it will definitely burn (I’ve done it plenty of times, just start over).  It should take about 2-3 minutes.  When it starts to smell nicely, just keep stirring and as it turns brownish, remove from heat immediately.  Stir in chopped garlic and set aside.

7.  Bring pasta water to the boil.  

8.  If you feel like it, remove mushrooms from wine/water, chop them, and then strain the liquid through a coffee filter and set aside (you can use it on the pasta).  If you don’t feel like it, just squeeze the mushrooms to remove any liquid and chop roughly.  You can use some white wine or just a little of the pasta water in place of mushroom liquid.

9.  When water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package directions.  At the same time, put your saute pan with brown butter and garlic back on the heat and reheat it to medium-high.  

10.  Saute asparagus in brown butter/garlic mixture until tender and bright green.  Add some frozen peas, chopped mushrooms, and 1/4 cup of either the mushroom soaking liquid or wine (or scoop out some of the pasta water).  Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper.  Remove from heat.

11.  Drain pasta when done.  Put pasta back in pasta pot on the stove and dump contents of saute pan (brown butter, asparagus, peas, mushrooms, and liquid) onto drained pasta.  Stir in grated parmesan, fresh chervil/herbs, and extra salt and pepper to taste (and some extra mushroom liquid/wine/pasta water if it is too dry).

12.  Stir well when serving b/c the veggies have a tendency to sink to the bottom.  Plate the pasta and veggies, sprinkle with some extra parm, and drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil (if you like, I find the fruitiness of the olive oil goes nicely with the nuttiness of the brown butter).  

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