When our children were little, we read them lots of books. One of our favorites was “Strega Nona” by Tomie dePaola. It’s an interesting story of Strega Nona (a good witch), who happens to own a magic pasta pot. In the story, she needs to go away for a few days and trusts the care of her home to a fellow named Big Anthony and instructs him to stay away from the pasta pot. He doesn’t listen, the pot floods the town with pasta, and it isn’t until she returns and stops the pot that the town is saved. Big Anthony has to eat all of the pasta and learns his lesson. At the end of the story, he is suffering from overeating. Our children thought it was great that he got to eat the pasta. Can you tell they were all pasta lovers? I’m not sure if it was the pasta or the homemade tomato sauce that they loved (maybe it was both) but pasta has always been a favorite in our house.
The nice thing about pasta is that you can eat it in so many different ways. Pasta is great with sauce, meatballs, tossed with oil and garlic, with a little bit of butter and salt or served with a white sauce and parmesan cheese. And who doesn’t love fresh macaroni and cheese? In the summer months, pasta salad made with lots of vegetables is a great picnic food; combined with tuna, it is a great hot weather meal. While we are singing its praises, let’s not forget ravioli and lasagna.
Try the recipes below for easy pasta dishes that are tasty, simple to prepare and filling.
Spinach and Ricotta Fusilli
1½ C. whole milk ricotta
16 oz. fusilli (or pasta of your choice)
5 cloves minced fresh garlic
A pinch of crushed cayenne pepper, salt and pepper
4-5 tbsps. olive oil
¼ C. heavy cream
2 tsp. lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
1 tsp. lemon zest
½ C. finely grated fresh parmesan cheese (grate a little extra for the table)
1-1 ½ lb. fresh baby spinach, chopped
In a small bowl, whisk together 1 C. ricotta, 1 tbsp. olive oil, a pinch of pepper and a pinch of salt until very smooth. Set aside.
In a large pot, boil a quart of water, add the pasta, and stir often until pasta is al dente. Remove and set aside 1 C. of the pasta cooking water.
Add the washed, chopped baby spinach to the pasta and water, stir and continue to cook for about half a minute, until the spinach appears wilted. Drain the pasta and spinach and return them to the pot. Heat remaining olive oil, cayenne pepper and garlic in a small sauce pan for about 1 minute; until fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining ricotta, cream, lemon juice and zest and a pinch of salt and whisk until smooth. Add this mixture to the pasta and spinach with the grated parmesan and toss to mix. Let the pasta rest on low heat (tossing frequently) until it coats the pasta and thickens slightly. This should take 2-4 minutes. Use the leftover cooking water to adjust the consistency to your liking.
Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving platter and dot with the reserved ricotta mixture. Serve with grated parmesan and steamed broccoli.
Pasta with Artichokes
3 C. jarred baby artichoke hearts, packed in water
2 slices hearty bread, torn into pieces (a good sourdough works well or focaccia)
1/3 C. olive oil
3 tbsps. olive oil
4 minced cloves of fresh garlic
½ tsp. oregano, dried
1/3 C. fresh parsley, minced
1/8 tsp. flaked red pepper
1 oz. grated parmesan cheese, about ½ C. (plus a little extra for the table)
Pinch of salt and pepper
1/3 C. dry white wine
2 tbsps. heavy cream
12 oz. tagliatelle pasta
½ tsp. grated lemon zest
Cut leaves from artichoke hearts, half and place on paper towels to drain.
Place the leaves in a bowl and cover with water. Let them stand for 20 minutes and then drain.
In a food processor, process the bread on pulse until finely ground. This should take about 12 pulses. In a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tbsps. olive oil until shimmering. Then add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring constantly until light golden brown (1-2 minutes). Next add ¼ C. parmesan cheese and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until golden brown. Transfer crumbs to a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Wipe out the skillet.
Now heat 2 tbsps. olive oil in the same skillet and heat on medium until shimmery. Add the artichoke hearts, a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently for about 8 minutes, until they are spotty brown. Then add the garlic, oregano and pepper flakes. Stir and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Sir in the cream and the wine and bring to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the artichoke leaves. Set aside.
Boil 4 quarts of water in a large pot and add pasta. Cook, stirring constantly, until al dente. Set aside 1 C. of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in the artichoke sauce, remaining ¼ C. parmesan, 2/3 c. of reserved cooking water, remaining olive oil, parsley and lemon zest. Toss well and adjust consistency with the remaining cooking water. Serve, passing the parmesan and the remaining bread crumb mixture to be added at the table. A side of cauliflower or brussels sprouts goes well with this dish. Enjoy!
Emily Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 971-888-2339. Readers’ questions, comments and recipe suggestions are welcome.