Chicken Sausage & Squash Rigatoni

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I don’t usually cook with sausage. In fact, I can only think of one other time I wrote about using this ingredient. But tonight, when I was racking my brain trying to come up with something to eat for dinner, I had a flash to a delicious meal I enjoyed recently at Flour + Water in San Francisco with Maris and Jessi, specifically my favorite dish of the evening: homemade penne pasta with rabbit sausage.

Tonight’s dinner wasn’t nearly as fancy (I did work today, after all), but it was good and very filling with the slightly kicky sausage and sweet Delicata squash. The dish consisted of rigatoni, Italian chicken sausage, winter squash, spinach, lots of garlic, and a little bit of saffron.

I know what you must be thinking: Saffron? What?

I actually bought a small bag of this pricey spice a while ago but completely forgot about it until I returned home from BlogHer Food with a tiny container of it in one of the gift bags.

Saffron is the most expensive spice by price and adds a yellowish/orangish hue to whatever dish it’s used. I can’t really describe the flavor other than call it a bit floral, but know that a little goes a long way. The most well-known uses are in Risotto Milanese and Paella Valenciana. In today’s pasta dish, the saffron flavor is subtle but nicely accents the other strong flavors. You can omit the saffron if you’d like, but it’s a nice way to use it if you happen to have it on hand.

Here’s the recipe for Chicken Sausage & Squash Rigatoni:

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Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Not to be overly dramatic or anything, but today my life changed forever and it’s all thanks to a sauce. Or rather this specific oven-roasted tomato sauce, which is unspeakably good – so fresh, so vibrant, I’m convinced I will never be the same as no other tomato sauce could possibly live up to this one.

What makes it so good, you ask? I think it has to be the slow-roasted fresh tomatoes. Or maybe it’s the simplicity of the ingredients – there aren’t many (so unlike me, I know). Or maybe… I don’t know, just take my word that it’s damn good!

I made this version with striped Roma tomatoes I picked up at the farmers’ market, but regular Roma tomatoes would also be great.

I’ll admit I upped the ante a bit by making fresh pasta, but dried is fine, and is in fact what I’ll probably use next time. As much as I love fresh pasta and as simple as it is to make (see video), some nights I just don’t have the energy.

Try this recipe and let me know if it changes your life, too!

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Zucchini White Bean Pasta

Zucchini was one of the first vegetables I learned to like as an adult and also one of the first I learned how to cook. For some reason, I never ate zucchini as a kid but became a little obsessed with it just out of college when the only way I knew how to prepare it was on the George. Since then I’ve experimented with a lot of different ways to cook it: stuffed, cut into ribbons or matchsticks, and mixed in with pasta, which I made last week.

This fresh summer pasta was delicious topped with lots of basil, and the addition of white beans made it especially filling and perfect for a quick and light dinner!

Here’s the recipe for Zucchini White Bean Pasta:

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Fresh Pasta Ribbons with Spring Peas

From the lack of updates it probably looks like I haven’t been cooking much. While I have been cooking, although less frequently than I wish, it’s really just been not having the time to post.

Today, I finally got around to uploading my photos and discovered a bunch of shots from an amazing meal I made a few weeks back: fresh pasta with farmers’ market peas and spring onions. I know I jotted down the recipe on the back of an envelope or something that has since disappeared (shocking!), but the truth is that for something this fresh and delicious you don’t really need a recipe.

In fact, I’m not even sure what the highlight of the dish is: the fresh homemade pasta or the glorious peas and onions straight from local farms. But the best part of this weeknight meal is that it came together in less than hour!

I started with the homemade pasta by whipping up the dough and letting it rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. I then rolled it into thin pieces using a pasta machine, but cut it by hand into wider pieces, which was a lot of fun.

While waiting for the pasta dough to rest, I prepped the other ingredients and began making the sauce: sauteed the chopped spring onions in equal parts butter and olive oil (be generous – this is the base of the pasta sauce!) until soft and caramelized, added minced garlic and cooked until fragrant, then removed the pan from the heat and stirred in about a cup of fresh shelled peas.

Next I cooked the pasta in batches of salted, boiling water and strained the noodles directly into the saute pan with the vegetables. Fresh pasta cooks really quickly – just two minutes. Finally, I stirred in ricotta cheese, fresh mint and basil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Save a bit of the pasta cooking water to thin out the consistency of the sauce if necessary.

And that’s it! Fresh, simple and incredibly delicious – quite possibly the best thing I’ve had all summer that didn’t contain chocolate!

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Rigatoni alla Vodka

Rigatoni alla Vodka

Rigatoni alla Vodka

Cooking has been a little challenging for me lately, mostly due to lack of inspiration. The problem is I’ve been trying so hard to eat healthy and graze throughout the day on (mostly) nutritious snacks, that I haven’t been cooking the foods I really want to cook, which I suppose are not considered overly nutritious.

The thing is, I love fish, vegetables, fruits, and all sort of healthy and nutritious food combinations. But I find that most of my inspiration comes from cooking with seasonal ingredients and really embracing what is just right to eat in right now. This is a great way to eat if you live in, say, southern California. Here in the frigid, windy tundra known as Chicago, well, not so much.

Today I decided to throw in the towel, so to speak, and make myself a big, steaming bowl of rigatoni alla vodka. I love this dish but rarely eat it. In fact, it’s one of the first I tried to make when I was brand new to cooking. This was when I was living in Italy during college and I tried SO hard to make pasta with vodka sauce on more than one occasion, but each time ended with a big fat FAIL. I’ve learned a lot since then and have moved onto recipes written in English (I like to think my poor Italian language skills were partially to blame), and now this dish has become easy for me to pull together on the fly.

Rigatoni alla Vodka

Rigatoni alla Vodka

I don’t make it often as I’m trying to stay away from pasta-centered meals, but tonight was a worthy exception. After all, what’s the point on living a healthy life if you can’t have a cheat once in a while?

Here’s the recipe:

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