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Archive for the ‘Pasta’ Category

Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

I have fully admitted to my love-affair with pasta on this blog, many times. It is something I cannot live without and is almost always included in my weekly menu planning. Not only are pasta dishes simple and fun to create but they can easily be made with ingredients you have in the pantry and your refrigerator and many times can easily be made healthy. Even with the healthiest of pasta recipes, to me it is a major comfort food, it always will be. Probably the number 1 comfort food on my list.

Although I am on a cleanse, I wanted to make sure to experiment with at least one cleanse-friendly pasta dish. Of course, as I mentioned in my post about my cleanse, there are many different types of cleanses out there and many different items you can remove from your diet when cleansing. Obviously this recipe may not work on every cleanse. For me already being on a totally gluten-free diet, removing gluten when cleansing is never a major hassle or issue, but it is very important to a cleanse and to detoxify your body. For me one of the biggest things I like to remove from my diet while cleansing is dairy. I am not a milk drinker and I rarely cook with it, but cheese is what gets me. I love cheese. So with that in mind, I wanted to come up with a cleanse-friendly pasta dish that would bring the comfort of any other gluten-free pasta dish I would make, but with cleanse friendly ingredients.

I love gluten-free pastas and find them to be much lighter compared to traditional wheat-based pastas. I personally prefer brown rice pastas and I love Tinkyada brand organic pastas. They have three or less ingredients, organic brown rice, rice bran and water. That’s it. When I cleanse the majority of what I eat is fresh vegetables, legumes and whole grains – I certainly cannot go without pasta. Brown rice pasta falls within the constraints of my cleanse and though I don’t eat a ton of it, a dish like this is a perfect way to forget you are even cleansing at all. If you don’t care much for brown rice pasta, there are also corn and quinoa based gluten-free pastas that are also quite delicious, as well.

I decided when making this alfredo sauce rather than trying to experiment with different nut milks, which I knew wouldn’t give me the thick and creamy affect of an alfredo sauce, I would go the route of a raw nut based sauce. Cashews tend to be great for this. Even without excessive soaking, you can just add boiling hot water to cashews just before pureeing and get a delicious creamy sauce. I took the above photo the next day with the leftovers, since it was too dark to take photos the night we ate it. I honestly don’t think the image fully captures just how creamy the sauce really is, it is incredible. There isn’t an overwhelming nutty flavor to the sauce and by adding garlic, basil and some nutritional yeast, it’s very hard to tell that it is even dairy free. Beyond nutritional yeast’s nutty and cheesy flavor, is a great source of protein and fiber, it is rich in B-complex vitamins including B12 and it contains the glucose tolerance factor that helps in the regulation of blood sugar. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it is definitely worth exploring adding it into your diet.

The beauty of this sauce is that it doesn’t actually need to be heated up, so if you like to eat raw, you could skip heating it up, use your favorite alternative raw noodle, like thinly sliced raw zucchini (or other raw vegetables), kelp noodles, etc and just pour the raw cashew cream sauce right over for a delicious and healthy raw meal.

I had some beautiful zucchini and yellow squash that we picked up at a farmers stand on our drive home from NYC so I added that and a carrot to the dish for some additional health-benefits as well as the very lovely colors. You could play around with many different vegetables here including fresh spinach, peas, etc.

I had a small amount of sauce leftover that I put in the fridge, I figured it would be delicious on some steamed broccoli or over a baked potato, etc. I have a feeling you will fall in love with this healthy alfredo sauce.

Soaking raw cashews for Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

Veggies for Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

Vegan, Gluten-Free Fettucine Alfredo
serves 6

1 1/2 cups raw, unsalted organic cashews
3 cloves garlic
1 cup warm water (you may need more)
3 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 ounces of your favorite gluten-free fettucine or linguini, I use Tinkyada’s organic brown rice pasta
handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 zucchini, julienned
1 yellow squash, julienned
1 carrot, peeled, julienned (or you can wash and peel the outside, then peel the entire carrot instead of julienning it, which is what I did)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the raw cashews in a glass bowl, cover in water. Let soak as little as a few hours or overnight.

In a large saucepan bring your water to a boil and cook your pasta according to package directions.

Drain the soaked cashews and rinse well, place into your food processor with garlic, salt, pepper and 1 cup of water. You may find you need to add more water if the sauce is too thick, but you can always add more. Process until smooth and creamy. Once it is at your desired consistency, add in the nutritional yeast, pulse a few times to combine. Set aside until you are ready to heat it up.

While your pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet over a medium-high heat, add your julienned vegetables and sauté a few minutes until tender. Remove from heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup of your cooking liquid, drain and place in a large serving dish. Pour the alfredo sauce into the saucepan you used to cook your pasta and heat over a medium heat, stirring often to keep from sticking. Once warm, pour over the pasta.

Add the vegetables and fresh basil to the pasta and sauce. Toss to combine, adding some of the pasta cooking liquid if the sauce is too thick. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topped with freshly chopped basil and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, if you wish.

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Mint Pesto

Last summer I made, what I later learned, to be a big mistake – I planted mint in our yard, not in any pot or planter, just in the dirt on the side of the yard near my vegetable and herb gardens. I originally planted it because I absolutely LOVE fresh homemade mojitos in the summer time. There is nothing more refreshing. The reason my planting of said mint turned out to be a mistake, was the fact that it has grown out of control and it is taking over that section of the yard. Because I have never grown it in my own yard, I didn’t realize how quickly it grows and how far it can spread. We travel so much, that getting into the yard and weeding my gardens gets increasingly difficult as the summer goes on. I know I should get out there more, but I don’t, so I always try to plant things that need very little upkeep. Well, mint definitely falls into that category. Early in the summer I took a look out in the yard to see the progress of things and I was floored at how the mint was spreading. It was crazy. So I made a lot of mojitos this summer. I also decided I needed to find other things to do with the mint. I mentioned something on Twitter and Kelly from Design Crush made the wonderful suggestion of mint pesto. I had never thought of that. So, earlier this summer I played around and made mint pesto to serve with gluten-free penne. It was sooo good that we ate it all up and I forgot to write-up my recipe or photograph it. Ooops. That just meant I needed to make it again. Darn.

This time around, I again served this over delicious organic gluten-free penne with some gluten-free crispy zucchini rounds on the side. We both were in heaven with this meal. This pesto, much like the original that we all know, is bright and light but chock full of flavors. I like my pestos garlicky, which gives a bit of a spicy kick, you can certainly take it down to one clove if you don’t like a lot of garlic (shame on you). I also love playing around with different nuts in my pestos. Most original basil pesto recipes call for pine nuts, which I really love, but they can be hard to find sometimes and many times are insanely expensive. I have played with both toasted almonds and walnuts in pesto recipes, both of which are absolutely equally delicious, if not more. I think any one of those nuts would be great in this mint pesto. I went ahead and still included some basil in this mint pesto, since I also grow that in my yard and I thought it would round out the flavor of the mint nicely, so it wouldn’t be too overpowering. Also, it should be noted, it is crucial to use a good quality olive oil in your pestos, since the sauce is left raw and is never cooked, the olive oil flavor remains in the forefront of the flavors, so you want it to be a good one.

In addition to all the usual dishes that pesto is great in; pasta, sandwiches, pizza, in soup, over a baked potato etc, – you could definitely use this mint pesto for other non-traditional uses as well, such as a marinade or served over-top grilled lamb or steak, etc, you could just skip the basil and cheese, maybe add some lemon juice and red pepper flakes and make it more of a Chimichurri style condiment. Have fun with it and make sure if you plant mint of any kind in your yard plant it in a pot, unless you are looking to be able to make enough mojitos and pesto to serve a small country.

Gluten-free Penne with Mint Pesto

Mint Pesto
makes approximately 1 cup

2 cups fresh mint
1 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds (walnuts or pine nuts would also be great)
2 medium-large cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 – 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, shredded (plus more for serving)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Place mint, basil, almonds, garlic and salt in a food processor; pulse a few times, and process until everything is finely chopped and combined. With the processor running, gradually pour the olive oil in and process until smooth. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides to get all the little bits. Add the parmigiano reggiano and pulse again until blended and smooth. Season with additional salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

If you are serving this immediately, keep the sauce at room temperature and pour it over your cooked pasta (I used my usual gluten-free organic brown rice penne) and quickly stir to combine, top it with fresh parmigiano reggiano and serve immediately. I always recommend reserving approximately 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid from your pasta so you can add it in to the final dish, if need be, to thin the sauce if it is too thick.

If you aren’t serving this immediately, it can be stored in a tightly closed container in your refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Notes:

To toast sliced almonds, cook them over a medium-low heat in a small dry skillet, stirring and tossing constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, this will take less than 5 minutes.

If you’d like to freeze your pesto, leave out the parmigiano reggiano. When you’re ready use the pesto, defrost it first, then stir in the cheese.

Seri frolicking in our mass amounts of mint

Seri hiding out in the mass amount of mint in our yard, earlier this summer

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Creamy Avocado Pasta

I have a love for avocados that I cannot be put into words. The mere site of one of those beautiful, creamy, tasty friends is enough to make me happy. It isn’t always easy to buy avocados here, they aren’t always in stock, sometimes when they are they look awful and other times to do so, you may need to take out a small loan. They can be a bit on the pricey side since they have to travel so far to get to us, so I don’t buy them every time I am at the grocery store, I try to spread it out and really enjoy them when I spend the money.

While on our nearly 2-week long trip to California earlier this month, I tried to enjoy the fresh and local avocados as often as possible. On the side with my breakfast eggs instead of home-fries, with salads, etc. Of course when I came home from our trip, I still had California and all of it’s lovely produce on my mind, especially those creamy delights! I came across this recipe on Oh She Glows, while googling different avocado recipes and I couldn’t wait to try it out. But, I knew I had to be a bit strategic when making and serving it, since hubby doesn’t always love avocados. He’ll always eat guacamole, but other than that he isn’t usually a fan. I had a feeling if I asked him if he would like this, he would definitely say ‘no’ so I just went for it. I decided to make the sauce while he took Seri for a walk and I put it all together and served dinner right when he walked in, being careful to rid the kitchen counter of any evidence like the peel or pit from the avocado.

I served the pasta warm, with the fresh lemon zest and spicy red pepper flakes on top and left out some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, in the event it needed it. I let Mark take a few big bites and I waited for his reaction, he liked it. He kept eating it. His first words were “wow, this is so good, but so different from any other pasta you’ve made”. After a few bites on my own, those were my exact thoughts as well, it was creamy with a nice spicy bite from both the fresh basil and the red pepper flakes and a refreshing brightness from the lemon and lemon zest. The sauce definitely doesn’t mock cheese or cream in taste, but certainly in texture, I wouldn’t say I missed any of the dairy, but I did crave the sharp bite from a good quality cheese on top. I tried a few bites with the parmigiano reggiano and it was good, though I would hardly say it needs it.

I eventually told Mark what the sauce was made of and he was genuinely shocked and surprised, he said he couldn’t taste the avocado, just that it had a much different flavor profile than any pasta than I had ever made. If you don’t care for the bit of spice from the red pepper flakes, you could certainly skip it and just top your pasta with freshly ground black pepper. I have to say this sauce was incredibly easy to make and I was very excited about how healthy it was and I was happy to find another naturally vegan dish. I definitely plan to make this again maybe trying it with some fresh spinach, only this time I won’t have to hide the evidence.

*keep in mind, it is probably best to make only as much of this pasta, as you will eat in the first meal. Due to the avocados most likely browning after time, this dish wouldn’t reheat very well.

Creamy Avocado Pasta
Serves 2
Adapted via Oh She Glows

1 medium sized ripe Avocado, peeled and pitted
1/2 lemon, juiced + lemon zest to garnish
2-3 garlic cloves, to taste
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil (or try a cup or two of fresh spinach)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 servings (6 oz) organic brown rice pasta (or your choice of pasta)
Crushed red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh basil for serving

Cook your pasta according to package directions. When cooked to al dente, remove from the heat, reserve a 1/4 cup of the pasta water, drain and rinse in a colander, place the cooked pasta in a large serving bowl once drained.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by placing the garlic cloves, lemon juice, and olive oil in a food processor. Process until smooth. Now add in the pitted and peeled avocado, basil and salt. Process until smooth and creamy. If your avocado is more on the firm side, you may want to add a bit more olive oil or even a tablespoon or two of pasta water.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss until fully combined, again you may want a bit of the pasta water to thin the sauce a bit so it will coat all of the pasta evenly. Garnish with lemon zest, red pepper flakes and a leave or two of fresh basil. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

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Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

It  is no secret that I love pasta. More than your regular ‘ol pasta dish made on the stove top, what I love most is a good and hearty, baked pasta dish. There is something so comforting about baked pasta, I am sure it has a bit to do with the extra cheesiness (aka fat and calories), but either way it’s always good. This particular recipe really caught my eye because though it’s traditional in concept, the ingredients are a bit unique. Although I know eggplant isn’t in season, ironically throughout the winter when I looked for it, it either wasn’t in stock or didn’t look very good. This past grocery trip was the first time I saw it there and looking good, in a while.

Loaded with veggies (yes, this does offset the cheese and heavy cream) and full of flavor, this baked pasta really is a meal all in itself. The fresh basil brings a wonderful bright taste to the dish and the fresh mozzarella is creamy and melty but not too over the top. The original recipe called for a whole pound of cheese, but as I was adding the cubes of cheese, I realized that by the time I got to 3/4 of a pound it was more than enough. The pine nut crunch on top is quite the finishing move, it basically tastes like pesto without the oil. It was so good and crunchy, that I think next time I make this I will actually make a bit more of that.

As stated in the recipe below, if you are concerned about fat and calories from the heavy cream (though I don’t think you should be, each serving will have barely 2 tablespoons), you could either go with half and half or whole milk or just hit a few extra yoga classes and enjoy your life. I made this over a weekend for nice dinner and we enjoyed for meals throughout the week, I love dishes like that.

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch (Gluten-free)
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine, March 2011
Serves 8

1 unpeeled large (or 2 small) eggplant (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch squares (I used one yellow and one orange)
2 cups organic grape tomatoes
3 large garlic cloves, divided
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups (firmly packed) fresh basil leaves, divided
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 28-ounce can organic whole tomatoes in juice
1 cup organic heavy whipping cream (you can use less, use half and half or milk if you are concerned about fat and calories)
1 pound organic gluten-free brown rice pasta
3/4 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place eggplant and peppers on a large rimmed baking sheet. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise; add to sheet. Using garlic press, squeeze 1 garlic clove onto vegetables. Drizzle vegetables with olive oil; toss. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender, stirring often, 35 to 45 minutes.

Combine 2/3 cup basil, 1/2 cup Parmesan, pine nuts, and 1 garlic clove in the food processor. Blend until crumbly. Season topping with salt and set aside.
Blend tomatoes with juice, cream, 1 1/3 cups basil, and 1 garlic clove in processor until smooth. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water according to package directions. Only cook until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally; drain. Return to pot or a large bowl. Toss with vegetables, sauce, and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Transfer to 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with fresh mozzarella and pine nut topping.
Bake pasta until heated through, 25 to 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes and serve.

Penne with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

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Spicy Spring Pasta with Roasted Asparagus and Baby Arugula (Gluten-Free)

Pasta is definitely my go-to comfort meal, it rarely disappoints. I almost always have a couple of pounds of dried gluten-free pasta in the pantry and enough ingredients to throw together a tasty and seasonal dish with it. Plus, I really love how little effort it takes. In the time it takes to preheat the oven and make a horrible processed frozen pizza, you can have a delicious main-course pasta made with fresh ingredients. With all the traveling we’ve had going on and how busy we’ve been I have been craving one of my homemade pasta creations, so last week after we got home from NYC and before we left again for Pittsburgh, I thought up this dish and threw it together for us.

Besides the beautiful spring produce that is finally showing itself at the grocery store, what inspired this dish was a jar of hot pepper spread from Wegmans in my refrigerator. We always have it on-hand for things like sandwiches, soups, eggs, pizza etc. It has a mere 5 ingredients, all natural, and it’s the perfect condiment. It caught my eye the other day and I realized that I had never made a pasta dish with it. I decided to take a trip to the grocery store and let the fresh produce decide the rest. I was definitely craving a spring inspired dish! Though the choices are still limited and it isn’t all necessarily local, I was happy to see more green in the produce section. It feels like we are finally through the winter and onto brighter things, literally.

The asparagus and baby arugula both jumped out at me in the produce section and I thought paired with the spicy peppers, a nice parmigiano-reggiano and some lemon, they would be perfect. Certainly skip the hot pepper spread if you don’t care for spicy or if you can’t find anything like it, or you can substitute it with a teaspoon or two of red pepper flakes. Have fun with it and always start out slow with the spicy ingredients if you don’t like the heat, you can always add more. This pasta just explodes with fresh flavors, the heat from the hot pepper spread brings a nice zing, but it’s not too overpowering, the subtle peppery crunch from baby arugula is fresh and welcomed after a long winter, along with the brightness from the lemon. It is a very light and healthy, but certainly satisfying, spring dinner. If you are looking for a nice vegan spring pasta dish, just leave off the cheese or substitute with your favorite cheese substitute, it will still be delicious.

After a winter of root vegetables, frozen vegetables and just plain ‘blah’ produce, it really is nice to start seeing better fresh produce options again at the grocery store. The farmers market opens in less than 3 weeks (I am counting down the days) and shortly thereafter I will be starting our garden.

Here’s to the spring, more green and a lot sunshine!! (FYI – as I type this, it is snowing)

Spicy Spring Pasta with Roasted Asparagus and Baby Arugula (Gluten-Free)
serves 4-6

1 lb asparagus
3 tablespoon organic olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 lb organic gluten-free brown rice pasta (you can use any shape you’d like and certainly you can use regular pasta here, as well)
2 cups organic baby arugula roughly chopped or torn
2 cloves organic garlic, minced
1 tablespoon hot pepper spread (I buy Wegmans brand, but you can also substitute 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes or leave it out)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Lemon zest
fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400º F.

Clean your asparagus and snap off the tough ends. Cut into 2-inch pieces and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, a sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking pan and place in the preheated oven. Roast for 15-25 minutes until tender, but still a bit crisp.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta according to package directions. Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, reserve approximately 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, drain the pasta and rinse in hot water. Place the rinsed pasta in a large serving bowl, immediately add the baby arugula and toss, so it begins to wilt. Then add the minced garlic, hot pepper spread (or red pepper flakes), 2 tablespoons of olive oil and as much cooking liquid as necessary to make the pasta a bit creamy. Toss carefully to combine all the ingredients, add more cooking liquid as needed. Once the asparagus is done, add this to the pasta along with most of the parmigiano-reggiano cheese, reserving a bit for serving. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the pasta, taste the pasta and salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything carefully one last time. Plate the pasta individually and top each serving with fresh lemon zest and the remaining cheese.

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Spicy Spaghetti with Fennel and Herbs

 

Yes, yet another pasta dish. I am a pasta-aholic, I can admit it. I cannot get enough of the stuff and I am always excited to try out new recipes. The possibilities really are endless and it’s rare that I meet a pasta dish that I don’t love. This recipe is no exception. I came across it a while back and couldn’t wait to try it with a few subtle changes. Even with the bacon and cheese, it is still very light and healthy pasta dish. See you can have your bacon and eat it, too!

The subtle crunch and bold flavor from the fennel is so wonderful and the heat from the chilies is what I live for in a spicy dish. The original recipe calls for red jalapeños, though I could only find green, I think the red would have really been nice for a pop of color. It also called for seeding the chilies, but I left them in, when I tasted the peppers while I was cutting they didn’t have too much heat, and I really wanted a good kick. It is rare that I find something to be too spicy. If you want a more subtle spice, certainly leave the seeds from the chilies out and you can always make it spicier at the end, if it needs it, by adding in some red pepper flakes. The recipe also called for adding in crushed fennel seeds untoasted, I felt like toasting the whole seeds first would give a much better flavor by releasing it during toasting, not only did it taste great, the house smell amazing. Additionally, the original recipe called for pancetta instead of bacon. Since we buy all of our pork from Sojourner Farms, a local pasture-raised farm, I decided to use some of the delicious bacon that we purchased from them, instead. I would advise not to substitute dried herbs for the fresh stuff in this dish, it would surely be missed. It is also important to use a low-sodium broth, as you will reduce the broth down and you will also be getting some salt from the bacon (or pancetta), you can always add more salt to taste, before serving. I am a big fan of using the pasta water to thicken and bring back liquid to a pasta dish, just go slow so you don’t add too much, but don’t leave this step out, it can make or break a dish without sauce, like this one. Obviously, I also changed the original recipe by substituting gluten-free spaghetti, if you aren’t gluten-free you can use whatever your favorite pasta is, a nice whole-wheat spaghetti would be great, I am sure.

If you wanted to make this vegetarian you could easily leave out the bacon and use a vegetable broth instead of chicken, you may just want to add in a bit more fresh herbs to bump up the flavors. It would still be very tasty and hearty.

 

Spicy Spaghetti with Fennel and Herbs
serves 8
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine

6 slices of farm fresh local, pasture raised bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 large jalapeño chiles, finely chopped – remove seeds if you want less heat
2 large fennel bulbs, stalks trimmed, cut into thin wedges with some core attached
1 1/2 cups low-salt organic free-range chicken broth
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
11/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 pound gluten-free organic brown rice spaghetti (or whatever your favorite pasta is, gluten-free or not)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano or Pecorino Toscano cheese, divided

Toast the fennel seeds in a large dry skillet over high heat, until slightly brown and fragrant. Remove the seeds and set aside. Sauté bacon in the same large skillet over medium heat until golden and a bit crispy. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the bacon drippings in skillet. Add garlic and chiles; sauté over medium heat 1 minute. Add the fresh fennel; cook until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Mix in broth, 2 tablespoons parsley, lemon juice, and the toasted fennel seeds. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until fennel is very tender, 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta until tender; drain. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Transfer pasta back to the pot or a large serving bowl.
Uncover skillet with fennel mixture and return to high heat. Cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes. Add fennel to pasta. Stir in 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 cup cheese, and pancetta. Add cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if it’s too dry. Toss pasta; transfer to serving bowl if it was in a pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons parsley over. Serve with cheese.

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Gluten-free Mac & Cheese

For me this time of year was always about indulgence, eating, drinking and then more eating. Since I have changed the way I eat, I have cut back on all major indulging. It serves no purpose and both the guilt and the gross heavy, toxic feelings you have afterward, aren’t worth it. All that being said, sometimes you need something rich and decadent. This is about as indulgent as it gets for me these days! Homemade mac and cheese!

I have never cared for most mac and cheese until I started making my own gluten-free version, I found most to be way to heavy and dense. Made with a good quality organic brown rice pasta, organic butter and milk, high quality cheeses (organic if you can find them) and smoked pasture-fed bacon from our wonderful farmer, there is little that can compare. Though this is a bit extreme compared to what I normally eat, there is no reason you can’t enjoy things like this from time to time. The key to everything in life is moderation. I learned that after many years of extreme diets and extreme rules. Should I eat mac and cheese every week or even every month for that matter? Absolutely not. But, I make it a point to make this once or twice a year, I enjoy it so much more and I look forward to it. If made totally from scratch with high quality, organic and fresh ingredients, I believe eating things like this, once in a while, is still better than loading yourself up with those disgusting processed diet foods all the time! I am sure of that. I am able to maintain my 30 lb weight loss and still enjoy decadent things like this from time to time. This is what life is all about, don’t deprive yourself.

Originally I hadn’t planned to add the bacon as this was meant to be a side dish to a delicious roast chicken. However, when I went to pull the chicken out of the fridge, it was still very frozen so I decided we would just eat the mac and cheese as our main course with a bit of bacon on top and a side of sautéed spinach with garlic, and save the chicken for the next night. And we could still enjoy the leftovers later in the week as sides to other meals or for lunch. Bacon is another indulgent item that I don’t partake in very often, but since we bought our 1/2 pig from Sojourner Farms, I find myself cooking with it more than I ever have in my life. I think bacon is wonderful as an accent in dishes and in moderation. It has such a wonderful flavor and that crunch is perfect on top of a homemade mac and cheese like this. Obviously if you aren’t a meat eater or don’t care for meat on your mac and cheese, the bacon can be left off on this. That being said, if you are a meat eater, you can experiment with ham or prosciutto instead. Also, you can certainly play around with different cheeses, I have found that cheddar and Manchego are my favorite, but you can really use any combination that you like.

Gluten-free Mac & Cheese with Bacon
Serves 6-8

1 pound organic gluten-free brown rice pasta
1 stick (1/4 cup) organic unsalted butter
1/2 cup white rice flour
4 cups organic 2% milk
1 onion, peeled and chopped
Pinch or two of fresh nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup Manchego cheese, grated (you can use 2 1/2 cups of any cheese or cheeses you like)
1/2 cup gluten-free bread crumbs
3 slices of farm fresh smoked bacon (pasture-raised), cooked until nicely brown, crumbled or roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 425º F.

Boil, rinse & drain pasta according to directions, cooking until al dente.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat, add chopped onion, cook until tender about 7-10 minutes. Add rice flour, stir to form roux. Slowly add milk while stirring, heat until warm and thick. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Add 2 cups of your cheese combination, stir until melted. Set aside the other 1/2 cup. Add your pasta to the cheese and milk mixture, stir until well coated.

Pour the pasta and cheese mixture into a 9″ x 13″ pan, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, bacon and breadcrumbs. Add some fresh ground nutmeg. Bake for 20 minutes until bubbly and golden brown.

Gluten-free Mac & Cheese

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