Pasta Carbonara with Shrimp

First of all, allow me to apologize for my brief absence from the blog.  These summer days just seem to get away from me and although I’ve been cooking lots, I haven’t had the time to sit down and publish anything!  So, expect to see some of what I’ve been up to over the next couple of weeks!

Now, on to the good stuff.  Pasta Carbonara.  My, my, my.  The first time my husband and I went to Italy was in March of 2009.  Neither of us had ever been before and we planned to begin our adventures in Rome.  For those you geography nerds out there, Rome is considered northern Italy and its cuisine reflects its own signature tastes.  The thing to eat in Rome is pasta carbonara.  By the truckload if possible.  However, my husband and I were raised in families both with roots in southern Italy…think Calabria, Napoli, Sicilia, etc.  This means red sauce all day.  Meatballs, parmigiana, pasta and pizza.  There are no cream sauces to be found in southern Italy, most likely due to the fact that the volcanic ash in the soil provides the perfect opportunity to grow the world’s most delicious tomatoes.  Northern Italy’s climate and terrain is mountainous and cooler, providing the opportunity for more dairy farming and thus creamier sauces.  However, contrary to popular belief carbonara IS NOT a cream sauce.  This is what makes it distinctly Roman.  Although the texture of the dish is incredibly creamy, the sauce gets its velvety texture from raw egg and not milk or cream.

Needless to say, my husband had never had pasta carbonara.  I’d had it before, but never made it as part of my own repertoire.  Anyway, we both knew that when we got to Rome this was going to be the meal of choice, and boy it did not disappoint!  We flew overnight to Rome and planned a tour of the Vatican in the early afternoon.  We were very jet lagged and decided to go to our hotel and take a nap before hitting the sights.  Unfortunately, we overslept and narrowly missed the tour we scheduled!  Our first views of the beautiful city of Rome were from us dashing through the streets trying to figure out a city that we’d never experienced before.  All while speaking very little Italian!

We made the tour narrowly and our guide did not disappoint.  We explored every nook and cranny of the Vatican…and what an amazing experience.  More on that some other time.  Afterward, we were starving and our guide pointed us down a narrow street with many trattorias.  He said, “You will-a have-a fantastico meal at any of these places.” Or some thing like that.  So, off we went.  We stopped outside the door of a trattoria where the owner was outside smoking a cigarette.  He seemed friendly, so we walked in and were surprised to see no one in the restaurant.  It was probably 6 pm at this point and we had not eaten all day.  We were starving and fully expected that there would be people eating dinner at this hour.  Well, we were wrong.  It happened to us multiple times on our trip where we booked reservations for 7 or 7:30 pm only to find out that restaurants in Italy typically don’t open until 8 pm or later for dinner!

However, this nice Roman man and his family took pity on us and allowed us to come into his restaurant and order food.  We actually at the table alongside his family that we preparing for the dinner service in a few hours time.  We looked like total amateurs, but we didn’t care because, well, carbonara!  OMG.  The carbonara was unlike anything we’d ever eaten before!  And, my husband was instantly in love.  Asking me, “Do you think you can make this at home?!”  No.  No, I cannot make this famous Roman carbonara at home.  But, I can come close.  So, I found some recipes and began adapting them.  This one from Dishes and Dustbunnies comes closest to my own recipe.

So, for my carbonara I typically add shrimp which is very un-Italian of me!  The true carbonara purists would NEVER add protein to this dish, particularly not shrimp!  Many people believe that seafood and cream and/or cheese should not be served together.  But, I’m a rule breaker when things are delicious.  So, get at me.  I love shrimp, particularly in the summer.  To make things even better, my good friend Megan (shout out girl!) recommended that I try the thick cut bacon from Sussex Meat Packing.  Local peeps — it really is outrageous.  Get yourself some!  So, I had all the ingredients and my husband asked if I could “make that pasta that he liked from Rome,” so I  had to oblige.  The result, fabulous Pasta Carbonara with Shrimp!

Pasta Carbonara with Shrimp

(Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry you are!)

Ingredients:

12-15 Jumbo Shrimp (cleaned, peeled and deveined with the tail on)

4 T butter

2 cloves of minced garlic (or I like the squeeze tube of garlic that you buy in the produce section)

3 slices thick cut bacon, chopped into small cubes

1 T chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/2 lb pasta (I used gluten free brown rice pasta)1/3 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese (about a handful or so)


1 large egg, beaten

2/3 c reserved water from cooking pasta

Instructions:

  1. Set a pot of water to boil your pasta.  Remember to reserve 2/3 cup of pasta water prior to draining.
  2. Melt all the butter in a large skillet and add the garlic.
  3. Add the shrimp.  Cook approximately 3 minutes per side until the shrimp are pink and opaque.  Remove the shrimp and butter from the skillet and into a bowl.  Add salt, pepper and parsley.
  4. Replace the skillet on medium heat and add the bacon.  Cook until crispy and then drain on a paper towel.
  5. Check your pasta!  If it’s done, drain and wait for the rest of the ingredients.
  6. Wipe out the skillet and and return to medium low heat.  Add the shrimp & butter, bacon and reserved pasta water.  Combine all together.
  7. Add the pasta to the shrimp and bacon and be sure to toss the pasta and coat it well in the sauce.
  8. Turn off the heat under the skillet and add the raw, beaten egg into the pasta mixture.  Make sure to keep tossing to avoid scrambled eggs!  The dish should achieve a creamy consistency.  If too thick and gloppy, add more pasta water to thin.
  9. Add the grated cheese and toss it all together.
  10. Plate, sprinkle with parsley and serve!

This is one of our favorite recipes and please enjoy and post some comments!  Mangia ūüôā

 

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Veggie Parmigiana

This recipe is so basic, yet so delicious. Perfect to make ahead, leave in the fridge and reheat for lunches, dinners and even snacks. Plus, who doesn’t love parmigiana? This recipe was birthed out of the plethora of vegetables that come every year from my dad’s garden. This isn’t just any garden. It is mammoth and includes 100+ different varieties of tomatoes, squash, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, beans and more! Every year, my father works very hard to plant and care for his garden that provides fresh and organic vegetables for my whole family throughout the summer. It’s a labor of love, to say the least.

A few years back, my dad made his usual delivery of peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant. I was busy with work and the veggies began to ripen and soften. Fearing they would end up in the trash, I thought about grilling them all up to have in the fridge as a side dish for dinners during the week. As I fired up the grill, I thought about making all these veggies plus some mushrooms and fresh spinach I had in the fridge into a casserole. Thus, vegetable parmigiana was born.

I love this because it really works with any vegetables that you have in your fridge. It also provides a way to actually use the veggies that might go bad. The key to this recipe is slicing up the veggies thinly and uniformly so that you are able to layer them in a casserole dish and so that they cook at the same rate. For this recipe, I used the first batch of yellow squash from Dad’s garden, red onion, organic yellow bell peppers, and fresh basil from my herb box. I also used shredded mozzarella and Rao’s Tomato Basil Sauce. I typically make my own marinara, but I was short on time. Also, Rao’s sauce is on the expensive side, but a really delicious high quality marinara that I keep on hand in a pinch. This recipe is also fabulous with portobello mushrooms (really any mushrooms) spinach, and eggplant. Switch up the combinations based on what you have and what you like to find the perfect blend for you!


Vegetable Parmigiana Recipe

  • 3 yellow squash (remove seeds and slice thinly)
  • 2 yellow bell peppers (seeded and sliced in thick strips)
  • 1 small red onion ( sliced in rings)
  • Fresh Basil Leaves (julienned)
  • 1 jar Rao’s Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce (or any good quality jarred or homemade sauce)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • Pecorino Romano
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  1. Start by cleaning and chopping all the veggies to their desired sizes and thickness. Tip – I remove all the seeds from the squash and peppers for easier digestion.
  2. Place your veggies on a baking sheet and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
  3. Preheat your grill or grill plan so that its nice and hot. Begin grilling your veggies and make sure to get those beautiful grill marks!
  4. Once all of your veggies are grilled you can begin the assembly of the dish.
  5. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  6. Coat the bottom of a large casserole dish with tomato sauce.
  7. Begin by layering the heartier vegetables on the bottom (squash, mushrooms, eggplant). Cover this layer with tomato sauce, mozzarella and a few sprinkles of pecorino.
  8. The next layer should contain your peppers and onions. If you are using fresh spinach, add it here. Cover this layer with tomato sauce, mozzarella, pecorino and basil.
  9. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the top is golden and bubbling.
  10. If you do not want to eat this immediately, it is even better the next day! Cover with foil and reheat in the oven or cut individual slices and heat in the microwave. Mangia ūüôā

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Pasta Vodka

I know what you’re thinking. ¬†Believe me, I thought it too. ¬†It’s wrong on so many levels. ¬†You can’t have that creamy, cheesy vodka sauce reminiscent of your favorite Italian restaurant without some good old dairy. ¬†And, any pasta vodka that isn’t creamy and cheesy is clearly NOT worth your time. ¬†Right? ¬†Actually, wrong. ¬†Very wrong.

My history with pasta vodka is a long love affair. ¬†I order it every chance that I get where I can creatively justify the calories because, let’s be honest, it’s clearly not the healthiest option on the menu. ¬†But, I do love me some pasta vodka. ¬†My husband and I went to a restaurant called Mimmo’s for many years in Wharton, NJ. ¬†It was a tiny place with tables shoved into it, poor lighting and silk plants that looked more like they belonged in your grandmother’s living room than in a restaurant. ¬†Every time we went, we knew it would be an hours long ordeal. ¬†The waitress was the wife of the chef and would talk to us about calamari and prosciutto. ¬†She warned us that everything was made from scratch and would be cooked to order. ¬†We knew and we accepted our fate…all for the pasta vodka. ¬†Holy lord. ¬†That pasta vodka was a force unto itself. ¬†The perfect consistency, the way it coated the pasta perfectly inside each little groove, the creamy, cheesy, dreaminess of it all. ¬†Well, if you couldn’t tell already, my love affair with pasta vodka is strong. ¬†When Mimmo’s closed, I died a little inside. ¬†I knew I would never be able to recreate that pasta vodka. ¬†To add insult to injury, my husband suffered through several bouts of colitis over the years and has had to cut dairy and gluten out of his diet.

I am salty about it all. ¬†However, I think I have found the answer to all of my prayers. ¬†This pasta vodka recipe is on point and does not use gluten or dairy to get that creaminess. ¬†Spoiler alert — the creaminess comes from cashews and cashew milk! ¬†Who would’ve thought?

Making this recipe involves some time, some love and some good equipment. ¬†When you begin, you roast 2 lbs. of cherry tomatoes. ¬†I used Whole Foods organic cherry tomatoes for this recipe, but I am waiting for the onslaught of tomatoes coming from my father’s garden in August to make this recipe again. ¬†It will be killer with homegrown tomatoes. ¬†I would recommend investing in a good blender or food processor. ¬†I use a Vitamix blender that I’ve had for several years and its a beast. ¬†It processes all of the seeds and skins by grinding them to a pulp for your sauce. ¬†Not only does this create a thicker, richer sauce, it also limits digestion issues for my husband who is not supposed to eat vegetable seeds and skin as part of his diet. ¬†I also used organic¬†sweet potato¬†pasta (purchased at Whole Foods) and gluten free breadcrumbs on the chicken cutlets that I prepared previously. ¬†All of the herbs used for this recipe came from my herb box. ¬†Keeping it local! ¬†Without further adieu, here it is…Gluten-Free, Dairy Free Pasta Vodka as adapted from GoDairyFree.com’s Creamy Roasted Tomato Vodka Sauce with Penne.

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Pasta Vodka Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs cherry tomatoes (preferably homegrown or organic)
  • 3 T olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves or 1-2 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (I left this out for my husband’s dietary needs)
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/2 raw cashew pieces
  • 1 cup cashew milk
  • 4-5 basil leaves
  • 1 cup porcini or shitake mushrooms (if desired)
  • Sweet potato pasta (or any gluten free variety)
  • Leftover Chicken Cutlets or Grilled Chicken, sliced into strips (breading made with gluten free bread crumbs)
  • Pecorino Cheese (if you don’t care about being dairy free)

Directions

  1.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and toss the clean tomatoes with 1-2 T of olive oil and 1 tsp salt. ¬†If you’re using whole garlic cloves, peel and place them on the sheet as well. ¬†Roast these ingredients for 30-40 minutes until the tomatoes begin to pop and have brown spots on their skins.
  3. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and allow them to cool a bit. ¬†Add all of the tomato mixture to the blender or food processor. ¬†Squeeze in garlic paste if you’re using it at this point and add 1/2 tsp of salt. ¬†Puree until smooth and leave in the processor or blender.
  4. Heat 2 T olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. ¬†Add shallots and saute without burning. ¬†Add red pepper flakes (if you’re using them) and saute another 30 seconds.
  5. 5. Remove the skillet from heat.  Whisk in the tomato puree and vodka.  Return the skillet to heat and bring to a simmer.  Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes.
  6. If you’re making gluten free pasta, set your pasta water to boil. ¬†If you’re using the sweet potato spaghetti, follow the instructions on the package. ¬†I steamed the sweet potato spaghetti for a minute on the stove and then roasted it on a sheet pan in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.
  7. In another skillet, heat 2 T of olive oil until hot.  Add 1 cup of shitake or sliced porcini mushrooms to the skillet along with salt and pepper.  Saute the mushrooms until fully browned.
  8. While the sauce is simmering, clean out your food processor or blender. ¬†Add the raw cashew and grind them until they become a powder. ¬†Add the cashew milk and 1/2 tsp of salt to the powder and blend until smooth and creamy. ¬†You may need to help the mixture along by stopping your food processor or blender to make sure that everything is well-combined. ¬†If desired, run your mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any larger nuts (you will not have to do this if you’re using a Vitamix).
  9.  Whisk the cream sauce into the tomato sauce and continue to simmer for a few minutes.  The sauce will begin to thicken.  Add more cashew milk if needed to thin the sauce.  Also, taste test to see if additional seasoning is neededIMG_2228
  10. Drain your pasta or remove the sweet potato spaghetti from the oven.  Add the pasta directly to the sauce in the skillet on low heat.  Using a pair of tongs, slowly toss the pasta and sauce together until the pasta is well-coated.
  11. Warm your chicken cutlets and slice them into strips to be used as a topping.
  12. Plate your pasta in individual bowls and top with the mushrooms and chicken. ¬†Finish it off with fresh basil and some pecorino cheese (if you don’t care about being dairy free). ¬†IMG_2231

This dish never fails to satisfy my cravings for the creamy versions of pasta vodka from my past. Even the hubby likes and it does not bother his sensitive stomach. ¬†Mangia ūüôā

Creamy Basil Pesto

In my initial post on FaceBook about starting this blog, I posted this picture and a few words about this dish. ¬†I got some great feedback! ¬†So, thank you to everyone who commented and to those interested in reading about my kitchen triumphs and disasters. ¬†This will be the beginning of Salty & Sweet’s Summer Series! ¬†I am aiming to post all about the cooking I do this summer using local, fresh and (hopefully) organic ingredients.

This dish was about repurposing leftovers and using what I had in the fridge. ¬†I sometimes struggle with this and get caught up on using the exact ingredients in the recipes or making things the same way that I always have. ¬†I’m trying to loosen up in my cooking, and in my life, so this was a good place to begin.

I used basil from my herb box to make a pesto sauce while cooking up some medium pasta shells.  Pesto, a sauce based on basil and garlic, is one of those sauces that you either love or hate.  I LOVE garlic and I grew up eating it in basically everything my mother created.  However, garlic can be a bit overpowering for the pickier palate if used raw in this type of sauce.  A tip to get rid of this rawness and overpowering taste is to roast the garlic first.  It adds and extra step, but definitely mellows the flavor and adds a sweetness to the sauce that is great for this type of dish.  If you need some brushing up on your garlic roasting skills, The Pioneer Woman does it well.

Pesto is also great for just keeping on hand and adding to your sandwiches, salad dressings, grilled meats, veggies and whatever else you can conjure up.  It also freezes well, so you can make some big batches of it and keep it on hand.  You honestly cannot go wrong with the major ingredients of basil, garlic, pecorino and olive oil!  The magic happens with a few dollops of greek yogurt added into the hot, drained pasta and combining with pesto.  I topped with leftover grilled asparagus, a grilled chicken breast and sauteed cherry tomatoes. It was delish!  IMG_2224

Creamy Basil Pesto Recipe:

Ingredients:

2 cups of basil leaves (cleaned and trimmed – no stems)

2 cloves of garlic (raw or roasted)

2 T pignoli nuts

1/2 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese (I used pecorino — it has a little more bite)

1/2 cup high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 cup 2% greek yogurt (I enjoy Fage brand)

1/2 lb medium shells

Leftover veggies and protein (to your taste)

Directions:

Set a pot of water on the stove to boil the pasta.

Combine the basil leaves, garlic, pignoli nuts, and cheese in a food processor.  Pulse the processor until the ingredients are well combined and have a fine, mealy texture.  Next, turn the food processor on low and slow stream in your olive oil.  Run the food processor until the pesto is well-combined.  I like a nice, even consistency in my pesto so I run it a little longer than necessary.  Put your pesto into a reusable container and set aside for later.

Throw your pasta into very salty water and follow the directions on the package (usually 8-10 minutes if using medium shells).

While your pasta cooks, check out the situation in your fridge. ¬†Any leftover veggies you can use? ¬†I’ve also made this dish with porcini and shitake mushrooms and it was awesome! ¬†Broccoli would be good in this dish. ¬†Or cauliflower. ¬†Really, anything goes! ¬†Check out your protein situation too! ¬†I really liked the grilled chicken that I used for this dish. ¬†It was previously grilled with a dry-rub that added a layer of flavor. ¬†Shrimp would also be amazing in this if you have some in your freezer. ¬†Figure out what you are using and if it needs to be heated. ¬†The goal is to have all of the components of your dish ready at the same time!

Reserve approximately 1 cup of the pasta liquid prior to draining the pasta.  This is in case you want to add it back to the sauce to thin it later.  Drain the pasta and put it back into the pot, keeping your stove on low to maintain the temperature.  Add a cup-ish of the greek yogurt and combine with the pasta.  Drizzle in your pesto.  This part is really up to you.  How much do u like and want to use?  What looks appealing?  Add it slowly and see what you think.  Also, if the sauce needs to be thinned, add your reserved pasta water a little at a time to achieve the consistency that you want.

Plate it up! ¬†Top with your protein & veggies and you’re ready to serve! ¬†We added some extra pecorino on top because that’s what we do around here! ¬†Mangia ūüôā