Tag Archives: pasta

Simple Pasta Salad with Roasted Peppers, Ham and Peas

When I teach web and print design, I always talk about KISS – keep it simple, stupid. I think that some of the finest recipes are those that follow the same ideal.  You don’t need a lot of garbage amassed in a pot to make deliciousness – just a few choice ingredients well played off of each other and you are done.  Even better, with these few components in action, chances are you won’t have to do a whole lot of cooking.

Simple Pasta Salad with Roasted Peppers, Ham and Peas © Spice or Die

My sister Lexi refuses to eat mayo based cold salads, or as she likes to say, questionable sauces.  This recipe is anything but questionable – the familiar flavors of rosemary, mustard and ham elevate this pasta salad to another level, giving savory zing to where else there might be bland mayo.  You’ve got roasted peppers and peas for both sweetness and color, and a few choice spices to round things out.  Done and done.   This is my ultimate make on a Sunday and leisurely eat throughout the week kind of recipe – it keeps well, is portable, and works as lunch, dinner, side dish, late night bite, or a way to extend a meal with impromptu guests.

I use ham because I love the taste with the rosemary, but vegetarians can leave it out for an equally delicious salad.  Also worth trying is cooled, poached chicken in place of the ham.  You can follow the recipe for preparing the chicken on my recipe for Chicken Salad.

Simple Pasta Salad with Roasted Peppers, Ham and Peas

1/2 c. of low-fat or fat-free mayo
2 tbs. of dijon mustard
1 tbs. of chopped rosemary
1/4 c. of roasted red peppers, diced
1 c. of frozen peas
1 1/2 c. of diced ham
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
1 tsp. of salt
pinch of paprika
1 lbs. of pasta (penne, farfalle, orechiete, whatever you have around)

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil.  When the water comes to a boil, add pasta and cook.  In the last 4 minutes of cooking time, add peas to the pasta water.  Drain pasta and peas and cool under running water.

Add rosemary, roasted red peppers, ham, black pepper, salt and paprika to a large bowl.  Dump in pasta and peas and stir.  Add the mayo and dijon and stir.  Refrigerate and then eat at your leisure.


Pastitsio is often referred to as the Greek answer to lasagna, but I think that it’s selling it quite short.  The rich lamb sauce is more than a simple bolognese, and gains character from cinnamon and cloves.  Mozzarella and ricotta aren’t to be found here, as the entire mixture is cradled by a luxe bechamel enriched with egg yolks and feta cheese.  I think that the lasagna reference must have come from folks who didn’t have a culinary context for the dish, but I say why categorize?  Can’t pastitsio just be pastitsio?

Back when I was little, summertime meant a trip to the Greek festivals held by the Orthodox churches in the DC Metro area.  I believe that our favorite was in Maryland, where a church hall was taken over by dozens of old ladies doling out massive portions of what must have been secret family recipes.  I can be sure that there must have been arguments over who had the best recipes and which versions would be made for the festivals.  No matter – I never had a bad meal.  The rundown was that you hopped in line and pointed to whatever you wanted to eat copious amounts of – moussaka, tender roasted lamb, lemony potatoes and oven braised green beans.  I’m sure there was salad.  I’m sure there were even other cooked treats.  I barely made it past the pastitsio – a heaping of blubbery noodles in a delicately spiced sauce, almost too heavy to carry.  We would tote the styrofoam containers outside to the picnic tables and attempt to conquer the Joey Chestnut-sized portions.  You almost wanted to scream “Release the kraken!”  (Haha, Mom, that was for you…) Continue reading Pastitsio

Braised Short Rib and Crimini Ragu with Pappardelle

Good things come to those who wait, and baby, these marbled short ribs in a meltingly rich ragu are worth it.  This recipe came about as an alternative to my dream lunch (yep, you read correctly when I said lunch) back when I was studying photography in Italy.  Our class lived in a sleepy town called Orvieto, nestled about 2 hours between Rome and Florence.  In the heart of Tuscany, Orvieto’s culinary acclaim was rooted in black truffles, a crisp white wine called Orvieto Classico, and wild boar.  The latter was an absolute mind-blower for me – in this country, pork has been raised to be so very lean, it’s been genetically altered into flavorlessness.  People then swoon over Berkshire pork anything because they are harkening this atavistic longing for a time when pork tasted flavorful and rich.  Not the dry, chewy garbage that we see all the time.


My first taste of wild boar was a forkful off my friend Michelle’s plate – she had a hankering for pappardelle, whilst I had never even heard of it until then.  The wide, eggy noodles, like halved lasagna sheets without the crinkles, weren’t as widely available in the states yet.  To me, at the time, they were a revelation, and when I eat them now (either made from scratch or picked up at Trader Joe’s), I look back to that first taste with fondness.  Topping the tangle of noodles was a luscious ragu of wild boar (called “cinghiale” in Italian) – savory, sweet and robust, this was like no pork that we had back home.  I was in love.

Braised Short Rib and Crimini Ragu with Pappardelle © Spice or Die

Although, as I mentioned before, pappardelle is an easy score, the wild boar is none to be found.  Though the ragu can easily me made with thick cut loin chops or even pork shoulder, I change the protein to beef and lovingly braise short ribs in stock, veggies and spices.  It takes time, but is really no work at all – one of those “set it and forget it moments”…sorry Ron Popeil.  This is better than anything made in your rotisserie grill.

Braised Short Rib and Crimini Ragu with Pappardelle

3 tbs. of olive oil
2 lbs of short ribs
1 tsp. of black pepper
2 tsp. of kosher salt
1 lb. of cremini mushrooms
2 bay leaves
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 c. of red wine
2 tbs. of thyme, chopped
28 oz. of tomatoes
4 c. of beef stock
6 c. of water
1 can of tomato paste
2 tbs. of butter
2 tbs. of flour

1 lbs. of dried pappardelle (or your favorite long pasta)
3 tbs. of butter
3 cl. of garlic, chopped
2 tbs. of fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 tsp. of crushed red pepper

In a large dutch oven, heat the oil.  Cut your short ribs into meaty, one-inch cubes and liberally salt and pepper.  Fry in batches in the dutch oven until very well browned on all sides.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the 1 tbs. of oil to the pan and add the mushrooms, making sure not to crowd the pan too much.  Stir infrequently, allowing mushrooms to brown and show lovely color.  Remove with the slotted spoon and add to the beef cubes.

Add your carrots, celery and onion to the dutch oven.  Cook until translucent and then add the garlic.  Continue cooking until fragrant – about a minute.  Pour in the cup of wine to deglaze the pan,  scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the dutch oven.  Add your tomatoes and stock to the pot and stir.

Simmer for 2 1/2 hours, adding water in 2 cup increments every 45 minutes.  When the short ribs are fall-apart tender and the sauce has reduced for the last time, use a slotted spoon to remove the meat from the pot.  In a separate sauce pot, melt your butter and then whisk in your flour.  Cook for a minute and then whisk in the tomato paste.  Pour all of the stew liquid into the pot with the tomato-butter-flour roux, whisking the entire time to prevent lumps.  Your sauce should be shimmering and creamy at this point.  Return the meat to the sauce, mashing it a bit to allow it to fall apart in the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and drop in your pappardelle.  Cook until al dente and then drain, making sure to reserve a cup of the cooking liquid.

While the pasta is cooking, in another small saucepan, melt the three tablespoons of butter.  Add the garlic, thyme and red pepper at the very last minute, allowing it to barely cook in the hot butter.

When the pasta is done, take out a skillet (lots of pans, I know) and turn it on high.  Plunk in 1 tablespoon of the butter-garlic mixture, the pappardelle and two ladlefuls of the sauce from the ragu.  Add the cooking water as necessary to loosen up the sauce until the pasta is glossy and the sauce adheres to the noodles.

To serve, place a tangle of pappardelle in a bowl and top with a few large spoonfuls of ragu, making sure to get good amounts of short ribs and crimini on the plate.  Drizzle a little of the garlic butter on the top and mangia bene!

Greek Pasta Salad

You Feta Believe It!

I’ve always been iffy about potlucks – while you get a lot of really excellent homemade treats from fellow cheffies, you always run the risk of tasting something god awful (or more likely, something that’s passable that you know that you could make better).  As such, I’m always juiced for recipes that are killers at parties – I won’t be subjecting others to questionable dishes, and if all is bad, I can just make a meal out of a little more of what I’ve brought.  It’s also a good trick for those with dietary restrictions – if you can’t trust others to feed you properly, bring food that will fit the bill.

Greek Pasta Salad © Spice or Die

I like this pasta salad because it’s made from simple ingredients that most people love, and the flavors are bright and tasty.  Nothing strange here – just crisp veggies and curly pasta sopping up lemony vinaigrette.  The whole mess gets an added treat from crumbles of feta and salty olives.  It’s so friggin’ simple, you’ll want to have some on hand in the fridge for an easy side dish on days when it’s too hot to turn on the oven. Continue reading Greek Pasta Salad

Classic Mac and Cheese

Melt My Heart

Classic mac and cheese has to be in the pantheon of ultimate comfort foods.  Of the folks that deign to make their own from scratch, they each seem to have their own secret recipe that is tailored to their unique tastes.  Mine is a perfect reflection of my love of spice and texture – I give the sauce heat with a slew of different piquant ingredients, and add crunch with a lovely dose of panko (japanese bread crumbs).  It’s some majesty.

Classic Mac and Cheese © Spice or Die

There are two schools of homemade mac and cheese recipes – one where the sauce is made from a cooked bechamel, and the other which is made from an uncooked custard of eggs and cream that form a sauce upon baking.  I’m in the bechamel school – it’s how I learned to make it from my mom, and we all know that mama is always right.  If you’ve never made a bechamel before, it’s an incredibly simple and versatile sauce that you’ll be happy to have in your culinary repertoire.  I make my bechamel extra savory with a secret ingredient – grated onion.  The bits of onion, cut with a box grater on the fine setting, manage to melt into the sauce, imparting flavor without you tasting distinct bits of onion.  Secret ingredients should be just that – a secret.

This mac and cheese is interesting as leftovers – the sauce turns into a solid custard, which is deliciously guilty when eaten cold.  It’s incredibly easy to cut into squares, which is why I can image Paula Deen (who just so happens to be in the egg custard school of mac and cheese) has fun breading and deep frying chunks of leftover mac and cheese.  I personally don’t do this, but I won’t look at you funny if you decide to give it a try.  Comfort food should do what you will it to, and if you want to deep fry, there’s no time better than the present.

For my darling vegan friends, I have perfected the most luscious version of this recipe with absolutely no dairy.  I’ll post it as soon as I make a batch and snap some pics.

Classic Mac and Cheese

1 lb. of elbow macaroni
4 tbs. of butter
4 tbs. of flour
1/4 c. of grated onion, juices and all
4 c. of milk
2 tsp. of salt
1/8 tsp. of paprika
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
1/8 tsp. of white pepper
2 tsp. of worchestershire sauce
2 tsp. of deli mustard
pinch of cayenne pepper
4 c. of extra sharp cheddar, shredded
2 c. of colby jack, shredded
1/2 c. of panko bread crumbs (or plain bread crumbs)
1/4 tsp. of paprika
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
2 tbs. of grated parmasean

Preheat oven to 400°.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta until al dente and drain.

While pasta is boiling, make your sauce.  In a large sized pot, melt your butter on medium-low heat.  Whisk the flour into the butter to form a smooth paste.  Add the grated onion and stir.  Slowly add the milk in a steady stream, whisking the whole time to prevent lumps.  Add the salt, paprika, black pepper, white pepper, worchestershire sauce, mustard and cayenne.  Turn up heat and continue whisking until sauce thickens.  Turn off the heat and add the 4 c. of cheese and whisk until melted.

Dump macaroni into the pot with the sauce and stir.  Pour out macaroni and sauce into a buttered dish.  In a small bowl, mix the 2 cups of colby jack, panko, paprika, black pepper and parmasean.  Top the macaroni with the cheese mixture.  Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until the top is bubbly and golden.  Let sit for 4-5 minutes and then serve.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Let It Rain and Clear It Out

I (like most folks, I truly believe) have a palette full of anomalies.  As much as I am a purist when it comes to food prepped lovingly with exquisite ingredients, I’ve been known to slum it up from time to time.  I’ll succumb to the knee-weakening smell of Popeye’s chicken about once a year. Though I’m no Joey Chestnut, I can happily tuck into a plate of piping hot Coney dogs at Nathan’s.  And I will pledge my unequivocal devotion to Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup in the red can.  Artistic leanings aside (and the copy of Andy Warhol’s “Giant” in my living room), I adore slurping up ladlefuls of salty broth, questionable chicken chunks, and tender egg noodles.  I’m an addict.

Chicken Noodle Soup © Spice or Die

That all being said, I truly believe that there is a time and a place for instant vs. homemade – this recipe is just as much of a soul-pleaser as the red canned goodness.  It’s like comparing your parents – you love them individually for different reasons, and both are uniquely indispensable.  I love this soup because, unlike the canned variety, it’s a hearty, rib sticking soup brightened by the freshness of the ingredients.  And, going back to my TPT palette, I am a sucker for egg noodles served any possible way.  I should probably take out stock in Pennsylvania Dutch Brand – stock? Get it?  I know you love soup puns – that’s why you’re still reading my ramblings 😉

The recipe below uses a whole chicken to make homemade stock, but I’ve done this in a pinch before with College Inn broth, a rotisserie chicken and carrots and celery.  Just start with the second addition of veggies and shredded chicken and bring the broth up to a boil.  If you are doing this fake-me-out version, make sure to include copious amounts of fresh parsley to fool your guests into believing that it’s homemade.  Fresh herbs = homemade = majesty.  Trust me, my math is solid.

Further proving that taste is subjective, if you didn’t laugh at the “Chicken Noodle Soup” video yet (with a soda on the side), here’s your second chance.  And can we comment on the fact that the soda on the side is not the stereotypical orange soda, but the Spanish Harlem favorite, Jarrisco?  In “red” flavor, I believe.  Apparently, red is a flavor.

Chicken Noodle Soup

1 whole chicken (can be cut up or left whole)
3 carrots, peeled
2 stalks of celery
1 onion, quartered
a couple sprigs of sage
1 bay leaf
salt and black pepper

2 stalks of celery, sliced thinly
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 bag of egg noodles
chopped flat-leaf parsley

Place chicken (or chicken pieces) into your pot. Cut your carrots and celery into 2 in. pieces and toss into the pot. Add your onion, bay leaf, 1 tbs of salt and a teaspoon of pepper. Fill pot with 12 cups of water and set to boil. Boil on high until the chicken starts to separate from the bone and the veggies become soft. Strain broth and put back into the pot. Set aside chicken and vegetables until they are cool enough to handle.

Separate the chicken, shred and set aside. Add the leftover vegetables, chicken skin and chicken bones to the pot and add water to the pot to make around 12 cups of soup (ie. if the water came up to 3/4 of the height of the pot in the first step, add enough water so that the soup comes up to the same level in the pot). Boil until the stock reduces by a quarter. Strain stock and taste for salt and pepper. Throw out the veggies, bones and bay leaf. At this point, you can cool the stock and chill overnight, or you can continue to cook the soup.

Bring strained stock to a boil and add the chicken, sliced celery and sliced carrots. Cook until your veggies are tender.

While your veggies are cooking, bring another pot of water to a boil and cook your egg noodles.  If they give you a time frame for cooking (ie. 7-9 minutes), cook them for the lesser amount of time.  Drain and toss with a small amount of butter or olive oil.  Just so you know, I cook and serve the noodles separately so that they don’t become waterlogged and soak up too much broth.

To serve, put about 1/2 c. of noodles in a bowl.  Ladle over the chicken, veggies and hot broth.  Top with a smattering of parsley and a couple extra cracks of black pepper.

Note on Stock

  • This stock can be prepared with a lot of additional ingredients, to include smashed cloves of garlic, parsley stems, and celery tops. Add these ingredients after you strain the broth the first time when you return the chicken skin and bones back to the pot.

Cincinnati Style Chili Mac

aka The Championship Chili

The zesty cousin of red-hot Texas chili, this Cincinnati style chili mac has a whole lot of soul in the form of a long line of herbs and spices.  Originally perfected by Greek immigrants, this slow-cooked, saucy treat is known for its long list of seemingly unusual ingredients.  In addition, the chili is traditionally served without beans and over spaghetti – you’ll see when you make this chili that it actually cooks up like a bolognese.

I first became familiar with it via the DC restaurant, Hard Times Cafe, where the chili is served in “ways”.  Starting with your basic chili, each additional topping is considered a way – so two-way is spaghetti and chili, three-way is spaghetti, chili and cheese, four-way is spaghetti, chili, cheese and onions, and five-way is all of the above plus pink beans. Continue reading Cincinnati Style Chili Mac

Weekday Lasagna

Time is On Your Side. Yes, it is.

My grandmother (Vo, if you’ve not pieced that bit of info together yet) makes a lasagna that takes a good two days to cook.  San Marzano tomatoes are gently simmered with tender cuts of pork, italian sausage and homemade meatballs.  My family has been know to ration portions of the dish for fear that it’ll be months (nay, full years) before they’ll be in the right place at the right time and lucky enough to snag a bite.  Men have been known to stab each other with forks for a helping. Continue reading Weekday Lasagna

Rigatoni Bolognese

Phoning It In Can Be Sexy

I seem to collect bolognese recipes like a bad habit – many are more complicated than this one and involve grinding your own meat and tomatoes, slow simmering for days, and babysitting the whole operation until it comes to a savory finish.  “The Big Sauce” as my Vo calls it.  And yet, this recipe manages to conjure up the same “cooked for days” taste with a whole lot less work.

The recipe calls for a few funny things – like baking the bolognese in the oven, simmering the sauce with parmesan rinds and then finishing the pasta off in the pan.  All of these steps will help turn your sauce into something extraordinary. Continue reading Rigatoni Bolognese

Pasta Carbonara

Love is Bacon and Eggs for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

I come from a long line of women who cook with such confidence, it borders on defiance in following a recipe.  I can’t say that I don’t follow recipes, as I most certainly do.  But I have to admit that my favorite times in the kitchen are those when I am cooking the dishes that I know so intrinsically, using the recipe would only cause me to second guess myself.  This dish, a comforting amalgamation of fatty bacon and oozy eggs and cheese, is one I always love the best when made without a recipe.  I just know it’s going to be good by the feel of working with the ingredients that are in front of me.

Carbonara, for me, isn’t determined by the standard laundry list of ingredients (pasta, eggs, pancetta, parmasean, and a healthy dose of black pepper) so much as the proportions.  I like mine as gloriously lux as possible – comfort food at its finest – which means that I’ll be a bit of an ingredient snob in order to get it just right.  Ironically enough, this dish still manages to be one that I seem to be able to make at any time – I always have the ingredients lying around the fridge.  Maybe that’s the appeal – so easy to make, but insanely full of panache and class.  All cooking should have results such as these. Continue reading Pasta Carbonara