Archive for the ‘Pasta and Noodles’ Category

Two questions:  How could it possibly be October already?  And why in the world is there a picture of raw ground beef on TMCCFHVW?

Mea maxima culpa for the extended absence, my loyal and intrepid readers.  Major events in the life of The Militant Carnivore have caused me to neglect my blog for a while, but I’m back on the horse, and will be attempting to post something new once a week from this point on.  Thanks for bearing with me.

As for the “ground beef” above, look closely.  What you’re looking at is actually this:

A roasted beet and a roasted potato, about to be run through a food mill.  Nary an animal product in sight.  What we have here are the makings for beet gnocchi.

I’ve long made gnocchi with sweet potatoes, and the latest Bon Appetit had a recipe for butternut squash gnocchi, which I found perplexing:  How could that possibly have a high enough starch-to-moisture ratio to stick together?  The answer was that the recipe called for two parts potato for every part butternut squash.  I couldn’t decide if the addition of potato to “butternut squash” gnocchi was dishonest and deceptive or brilliantly elegant, but I figured I’d steal the idea anyway.

I’ve just recently gotten into beets, and I’ve realized that they’re a lot of fun to play with.  They provide a welcome sweetness to many savory dishes, and their inimitable color is unlike anything else in the vegetable world.  I figured that mixing some potatoes into the dough would work just as well for beet gnocchi as for butternut squash gnocchi, and a simple brown butter with rosemary would be the perfect sauce for these bright fuchsia orbs (which look somewhat like uncooked meatballs and which are therefore likely to shock and horrify your vegetarian guests before they realize just how delicious these gnocchi are).

By the way, some people make perfect-looking gnocchi; I don’t.  I add only as much flour as needed to make a dough that has barely enough cohesion to form spheres and to stay together in the cooking water.  While these gnocchi will never be pretty enough to feature on the cover of Saveur, they are deliciously tender.  If you want more traditionally shaped gnocchi (with the characteristic ridges created by rolling the gnocchi off the tines of a fork), add more flour:  Your gnocchi will be chewier, but if you’re careful not to knead the dough too much, they shouldn’t be tough (I think).  The choice is yours.

  • 1 large beet, roasted and peeled
  • 1 large russet potato, roasted and peeled
  • flour, as needed (at least 1/2 c)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • olive oil, a slug or two, as needed
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 sprig of rosemary, plus more for mincing and garnishing
  • 1/2 c Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated

Pass the beet and potato (which should be good and thoroughly cooked) through the coarse holes of a food mill into a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then cover with a good coating of flour.

Stir together with a spoon.  The mixture will be extremely sticky.  Stir in more flour until the mixture is just dry enough to be handled.  You should be able to roll it into logs.

Stick the gnocchi dough in the fridge while you bring a large pot of water to a boil.  When it’s at a rolling boil, salt it generously.

Smash and peel the garlic clove.  Add it along with the butter, olive oil and the spring of rosemary to a large skillet over medium heat.  Take out the gnocchi dough and cut it into 1-inch pieces.  Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water.  Cook until the gnocchi rise to the surface and are pleasantly firm, about 3-5 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the butter-olive oil mixture.  Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, to coat the gnocchi with the brown butter mixture.

It still looks like raw meat, I know.  But trust me:  It’s good.  Mince up a little bit of rosemary and strew it with the grated Parmesan over the gnocchi.  Serve immediately.


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If you ever have the great fortune to receive a piece of your friend’s homemade guanciale (cured hog jowls), this is what to do with it.

  • 4 oz. guanciale, pancetta or slab bacon, in one piece
  • 8 oz. penne rigate or other dried pasta (A confession:  I love mixing different types of pasta, a fondness born out of the reality that I always have a couple of ounces of one kind of pasta, a few ounces of another, but not enough of any one kind to make a meal.)
  • 1 c Tomato Sauce
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating (optional)
  • handful of basil or parsley for garnish (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.  Meanwhile, heat up a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add a glug of olive oil.  Cut the guanciale into 1/4-inch-thick pieces, then cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips.  (If the spirit moves you, rotate the strips and cut crosswise into perfect 1/4-inch dice.)  Add the guanciale to the olive oil and heat slowly over medium heat (turn down to medium-low if the guanciale browns too quickly).  The goal is to render the fat and then to brown the guanciale.

Meanwhile, when the pasta water comes to a boil, salt it liberally and then add the pasta.  Cook according to package directions.

Once the guanciale looks brown, slightly crispy and delicious, drain off most of the fat.  (I suppose one should reserve the rendered fat and use it for various other applications, but I never do:  Cooking potatoes in pork fat is not really conducive to the whole “cooking for one’s vegetarian wife” thing.  Plus, it’s hard for me to rationalize the gratuitous saturated fat.)  Add the tomato sauce and stir in with the guanciale. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is hot.  Stir in the red pepper flakes, if desired, and a liberal amount of black pepper.

When the pasta is done (or even a shade underdone), drain thoroughly and add to the saucepan.  Turn off the heat and stir the pasta to coat with the sauce.

Serve immediately (if you’ve planned ahead to pre-warm the pasta bowls, all the better) with grated cheese and/or chopped herbs, if desired.

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Although macaroni and cheese, that epitome of comfort food, may be perfect all by itself, the addition of a few other ingredients can transform it into a meal.  Even better, these “mix-ins” allow your family members to customize their own servings, adding meat and/or vegetables as they see fit.  Using these ramekins creates automatically portioned servings, which are also convenient for saving in the fridge and packing into lunches throughout the week.

  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • 2 T butter and/or olive oil
  • 2 T flour
  • 2 c milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • grating of nutmeg
  • 3/4 c grated cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 box of short tubular pasta, such as mezzi rigatoni, penne or elbow macaroni
  • Mix-Ins (see below)
  • 1/4 c bread crumbs

“Mix-ins” are a great way to stretch out a piece of meat, or to use leftover vegetables.  A (by no means exhaustive) list of possibilities:

  • diced kielbasa or smoked sausage
  • shredded ham (I bought a ham shank recently and used it for soup; the leftover meat was perfect here)
  • sauteed spinach or kale
  • arugula
  • steamed asparagus
  • diced tomatoes
  • sauteed mushrooms
  • caramelized onions or leeks
  • minced chives or green onions
  • blue cheese (which some people, inexplicably, don’t like, but which tastes great in mac-n’-cheese)
  • cooked quinoa or wheatberries
  • cooked white beans
  • roasted red peppers

As with all baked pastas, begin by making bechamel sauce:  Grate the onion on the coarse holes of a box grater.  (Try not to make your cat cry.)  Add the butter and/or olive oil to a large saucepan and place over medium heat.  When the butter melts, stir in the grated onion and a generous pinch of salt.  Turn the heat to medium-low and cook the onion slowly for about 10 minutes, until it is soft and translucent.  Stir in the flour to form a roux.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the flour is thoroughly incorporated and the roux is shiny, about 10 minutes.  Add the milk, bay leaf and garlic.   Using a whisk, stir the roux into the milk, scraping the bottom and edges of the pan.  Heat the milk slowly for 30 minutes, reducing the heat (if necessary) and stirring occasionally.  Add salt and pepper to taste and a generous grating of nutmeg.  Stir in 1/2 c of the cheese.  Keep the sauce warm.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a couple generous pinches of salt and the pasta.  Cook the pasta for about two minutes less than the package instructions.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the ramekins on a tray.  Add any combination of mix-ins that you want to each ramekin.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and shake off as much water as possible.  Put the pasta in a mixing bowl, add the bechamel sauce, and stir to mix thoroughly.  Put a couple spoonfuls of the pasta in each ramekin, stirring to mix in the mix-ins.  (Start with the vegetarian servings first, then move to the meat ones.  Use different spoons if you don’t want to cross-contaminate any divergent flavors, or if you just happen to be picky.)  Sprinkle the remaining cheese and the bread crumbs over each ramekin.

Bake the macaroni and cheese for about 20 minutes.  If the topping is not brown enough, run the pasta under the broiler for a minute or two.  Serve and enjoy your custom-tailored mac-n’-cheese.

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Orecchiette are fun to make, even if they do give me flashbacks to kindergarten arts and crafts classes.  I never could cut with scissors in a straight line, I always got glue everywhere, and I made the most ridiculously lopsided Play-Doh snakes.  I still can’t make good Play-Doh snakes—or, in this case, orecchiette dough snakes, which is what you need to do to form the pasta—which is why this might be a good dish to enlist the help of a small child for.  You make the dough, they make the snakes.

Cutting the snakes into 1/4-inch pieces and then pressing the pieces with your thumb to form the “little ears”—that I can do.

So here it is:  A traditional, easy-to-make, eggless dough that might be the simplest way to get homemade pasta on the table.  It is often paired with broccoli rabe in Italy, and one could hardly do any better.  (Although, in the pictures below, I used some of everybody’s favorite new “it” vegetable, kale rabe.  Delicious.)  Please note that, while the pasta is very easy to make, there are two thirty-minute resting periods for the dough.  Plan ahead, and you can make the pasta at a nice, leisurely pace.

  • 1 1/4 c semolina

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 1/2 c of water and a generous pinch of salt.  With the mixer on low, pour the semolina in a steady stream into the water.  After a few minutes of mixing, the flour-water mixture will come together as a dough.  Either switch to the dough hook and use it to knead the dough for a few minutes, or knead it by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Cut the dough into 5 equal pieces and cover with a clean dishtowel.  Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.

With your hands, roll each piece of dough into a “Play-Doh snake”, about 3/4-inch thick.  Cut the snake into 1/4-inch lengths.  Press each piece of dough flat with your thumb, leaving a nice thumbprint and forming a “little ear”.

Repeat with the remaining “snakes” to form the rest of the orecchiette.  Allow the pasta to rest for 30 more minutes before cooking.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Salt the water, add the orecchiette and cook for about 5 minutes, until all of the orecchiette rise to the surface and are al dente.  Toss with sauteed kale rabe, tomato sauce or any pasta sauce of your choice.

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On the list of phrases that I never thought I’d write, “stinging nettle and red quinoa cannelloni” must be near the top.  But hey, when life gives you stinging nettles, you make… cannelloni?

Yes, you do.  But first, take care not to touch the nettles:  They do, in fact, sting.  A little Internet research reveals a variety of opinions on how long the nettles must be cooked to render their stinging hairs harmless, but all seem to agree that when the leaves are soggy and thoroughly wilted, they’re ready.  A few minutes in boiling salted water got the nettles to this state for me, but I continued to cook them for a full ten minutes, just to be on the safe side.

A whole bunch of nettles only yielded about 3/4 c of cooked greens, so I decided to combine them with some red quinoa for a cannelloni filling.  While I don’t think I could blind taste the difference between red quinoa and regular, the red quinoa looks fantastic, especially against the deep green of the nettles.

As for making the cannelloni, it’s very similar to making lasagna or any other baked pasta dish:  You need noodles (or, in this case, crêpes), bechamel sauce, filling and topping.  A lot of this work (preparing the nettles, cooking the quinoa, making the bechamel sauce) can be done in advance, so the preparation time really depends upon making the crepes and assembling the cannelloni.  More good news:  You can assemble the cannelloni and then refrigerate them until you’re ready to cook them.  This makes cannelloni a great make-ahead dish for, say, a holiday meal when you want to have a meatless entree for your Lovely Vegetarian Wife.  (Cannelloni with a mushroom-sage filling are one of my standards for Thanksgiving; this version with nettles is a very springtime dish, perfect for an Easter dinner.)

Savory Crêpe Batter (yields about six 9-inch crêpes):

  • 1/2 c flour
  • 3/4 c milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T olive oil


  • 1 recipe of Savory Crêpe Batter (to make about 6 crêpes)
  • 1 recipe (about 2 c) of bechamel sauce
  • 1 bag of stinging nettles
  • 1 c cooked quinoa
  • 1 T (or more, as needed) butter
  • 1 T (or more, as needed) olive oil
  • 1/4 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 c bread crumbs

Combine all of the Savory Crêpe Batter ingredients in a blender with a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper.  Blend until well combined; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the béchamel and quinoa.  You can make these well in advance and refrigerate until needed.

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Wearing gloves, wash the nettles.  Use kitchen shears to trim off any damaged or woody parts.  Salt the boiling water and add the nettles.  Cook at a rolling boil for about 10 minutes.  Drain thoroughly, and squeeze all of the liquid out of the nettles.  Set aside.

Heat a flat cast-iron skillet over medium-heat.  Add a pat of butter and a little olive oil to coat.  Ladle on 1/4 c of crêpe batter; swirl the skillet to distribute the batter in one thin layer.  Cook for about a minute until golden-brown on the bottom.  Flip the crepe and cook for 15 seconds on the second side.

Remove to a plate.  Repeat process with remaining crêpes; you should get about six crêpes, but a few more or less is fine.  (And don’t worry if they don’t look perfect:  Mine never do, and you’re going to cover them with béchamel and cheese anyway.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a broiler-safe gratin dish.  Roughly chop the nettles and stir to combine thoroughly with the quinoa; add salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon about 1/4 c of nettle-quinoa filling on one of the crêpes.

Roll it up, then place the crêpe crosswise in the gratin dish, seam side down.

Repeat with the remaining crêpes until the gratin dish is filled with crêpes in one layer.

Spoon the béchamel over the crêpes.  Combine the Parmigiano and the bread crumbs in a bowl, then sprinkle liberally over the gratin.

Drizzle with a little olive oil, then place in the oven.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until the béchamel is bubbling.  If the top needs to be browned, run it under the broiler for a minute or two, taking care not to burn the bread crumbs.  Let the gratin rest for about five minutes, then serve.

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OK, you’ve had your RavioliFest.  You didn’t use all of the butternut squash filling that you made for the ravioli.  What do you make for dinner the next night?

Butternut squash lasagna, of course.  Lasagna is a great way to use up leftover pasta filling, roasted vegetables, cheese…  If all you’ve ever had is lasagna with tomato sauce, ground meat and mozzarella, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how versatile lasagna can be.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with lasagna with tomato sauce, ground meat and mozzarella.  That may, in fact, be one of my Top Ten Things I’d Most Like To See If I Were Stranded On A Desert Island, somewhere between a two-way radio and a big box of matches.)

The key to lasagna is sauce béchamel (or, to use its Italian name, besciamella).  Any lasagna can be constructed out of four constituent parts:

1)  lasagna noodles

2)  bechamel sauce

3)  sauce/filling/leftover vegetables/ragout

4)  topping

The beautiful thing is that items #2, 3 and 4 can be made in advance, which means that lasagna can be assembled in the time it takes to boil pasta plus about 20-30 minutes of unsupervised baking.  In other words, a little advance planning makes homemade lasagna a weeknight possibility.

Assuming that you haven’t recently made ravioli with a bunch of your friends and therefore have leftover butternut squash filling, we’ll start from scratch:

Butternut Squash Filling:

  • 1 butternut squash, halved, seeds removed and discarded
  • 1/2 c pecans, almonds or hazelnuts, chopped
  • 1 c Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
  • generous grating of nutmeg
  • dash of cayenne pepper

Bechamel Sauce:

  • 2 T butter, olive oil or a combination
  • 2 T flour
  • 2 c milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • generous grating of nutmeg


  • 1/2 c pecans, almonds or hazelnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
  • olive oil, as needed
  • 1 box (1 lb.) lasagna noodles (I’ve never used those “no-boil” lasagna noodles.  I’m sure that, mutatis mutandis, they would work fine in this recipe, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.)
  • butter, as needed for buttering the baking dish

Step #1:  Roast the butternut squash.

Step #2:  Make the bechamel.

Step #3:  Make the topping.

Step #4:  Boil the lasagna noodles.

Step #5:  Make the butternut squash filling.

Step #6:  Assemble and bake the lasagna.

#1:  Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the butternut squash halves face up on a baking sheet and place on the middle rack of the oven.  Roast until tender and golden brown, about 1 hour.

#2:  In a medium saucepan, prepare the bechamel:  Melt the butter (or heat the olive oil) over medium heat.  Stir in the flour to form a roux.  The key to a roux is to cook it enough to get rid of the raw, floury taste, but not so long that it begins to turn brown (unless you’re going to make Cajun food).  So, heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.  When it looks like the flour and fat have formed a uniform, shiny paste, whisk in the milk.  Add the bay leaf, garlic, a pinch of salt and a generous grind of pepper.  Heat over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally, for about 20 minutes.  This bechamel should be on the thin side, about the consistency of heavy cream.

#3:  Make the topping:  Stir the nuts and grated cheese together in a bowl; add some black pepper.  Set aside.

#4:  When the squash has been in the oven for about 30 minutes, put a large pot of water on the stove and set the heat to high.  If your stove is like mine, it will take about 20-30 minutes to bring the water to a boil.  When you have a rolling boil, generously salt the water and add the lasagna noodles.  Stir the water so that the noodles don’t stick together; cook for about 2 minutes shy of the package directions.  They should still be the slightest bit raw and crunchy in the center when you take them out.  (They will finish cooking in the oven.)  Drain, toss with olive oil (so they don’t stick together) and reserve.

#5:  When the squash is fully cooked, scoop out the flesh into a large mixing bowl; discard the skin.  Stir in the remaining filling ingredients.

#6:  Time to assemble the lasagna!  Keep the oven at 400 degrees (or preheat the oven to 400 if you haven’t just roasted the squash).  Butter the bottom and sides of a rectangular baking dish.  Coat the bottom of the dish with a layer of bechamel.  Set as many lasagna noodles as necessary to form a single layer over the bechamel.  Scoop on a few generous spoonfuls of squash filling.

Spread the filling as thin as you can, then drizzle on some more bechamel.  Add another layer of noodles, then some more filling.  Repeat, alternating layers of bechamel, noodles and filling, until the baking dish is filled to the top.  Pour any remaining bechamel over the top and down the sides of the lasagna.  Sprinkle the topping over the lasagna and drizzle some olive oil on top.

Bake the lasagna for 20-30 minutes, until it looks like this:

Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes, then slice into squares and serve.

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Some days you have three hours and half a dozen willing volunteers to roll out pasta dough from scratch and then stuff and shape ravioli.  Some days you don’t.  This is a recipe for the latter kind of days.

This is a “use up the leftovers” kind of dish that makes absolutely no claims whatsoever to authenticity, but which can be on the table in under half an hour.  It’s pretty darn tasty, to boot.

  • 1 roasted beet, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 c cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 c (plus more for serving) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • olive oil, as needed
  • 1/2 package pre-made wonton wrappers (about 24)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 pat butter
  • 2 green onions, chopped, or 1 small bunch chives, minced

Put the beet, quinoa and Parmigiano in a food processor.  Blend until well combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste; if the mixture needs to be a little looser, stir in a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  (It should be like pesto in consistency, fairly spreadable.)

Put a spoonful of filling in the center of each wonton.  Using your fingertip, rub some water along the edge of the wonton.  Fold the wonton diagonally to make a triangle.  Press down on the edge of the ravioli to seal, squeezing the air (but not the filling!) out as you do so.  (I tend to cup my hand around the filling and rotate it around the ravioli to seal it on all sides.  You’ll figure out your own method.)  Repeat for all of the ravioli.

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Add a big pinch of salt and the ravioli.  In a large skillet, heat up a few glugs of olive oil with the garlic and the butter.  The ravioli should be ready in about 3-4 minutes; they’ll float to the surface.  When you test one, the pasta will be al dente and the filling will be hot.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ravioli to the skillet.  Toss to coat with the garlic-oil-butter mixture.

Add the green onions or chives, toss to distribute them evenly, and then serve immediately.  Grate more Parmigiano on the ravioli at the table, if you like.

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