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The Star was Pasta

    Chef Poppy writes:  “After my eventful expedition to Italy, it was no secret that pasta would be our spotlight for July’s class. Pasta is everywhere in Italy, mostly as a first course, with meat or fish as the main course. Pasta is cooked al dente in Italy, actually, extra al dente. It was rather chewy and I loved it.

    TIP: Next time you cook pasta, don’t time it, but taste it. When you think it is almost done, pour it into the colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking. this will keep it from over cooking and keep it’s slight “crunch.” Cooking it is an art and takes practice.
    TIP: Always save some of the pasta water. It is rich in starch and can help with almost any sauce.
    TIP: After the pasta is drained, put it into a bowl and pour some olive oil over it, along with salt, the olive oil will keep the past from sticking.

    My main teaching on Saturday was simplicity. One of the more memorable pasta dishes I succumbed to in Italy was simply garlic, olive oil, parsley, and Parmesan. Last year we made pasta with olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, and parsley. How effortless and uncomplicated!

    Although I taught four pasta recipes on Saturday, please be creative as you make these recipes your own. I even forgot to put in some of the ingredients, which didn’t seem to make a difference. Translation: keep it simple! One of the students emailed me about pasta substitutions, as some people don’t want the carbs. The idea was to use cauliflower shells instead of pasta. Great idea and maybe we’ll explore that next. But remember, carbs aren’t all that bad. In Italy, the obesity rate is 10% while here in the US it is approaching 40%. Everything in moderation. Enjoy your pasta!”

    Basil Pesto made with Pistachios

    The word pesto literally means to pound (usually in a mortar and pestle) although we used my Cuisinart, which probably bruises the leaves more, but gets the job done faster. Pesto can be cilantro, parsley or any green leaf. To see how real basil pesto is made, treat yourself to watching the Netflix series, Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat ( which stars Samin Nosrat, the entertaining chef.

    I had pesto in Italy numerous times made with pistachios and it was deliciously unusual. Although I have used walnuts in the past, substituting them for the expensive pine nuts, I purchased the pistachios at Trader Joe’s. Although not inexpensive ($12.00) you don’t have to use the whole bag. I used about 1/3 of the bag, Also, walnuts are not inexpensive either, ($10.00 for a bag at Trader Joe’s). Pine nuts are $25.00. Choose your nuts!

    After running a catering business for 25 years, I became aware of people’s diets, which is why I didn’t add Parmesan to the pesto. Parmesan can be added afterwards, but please incorporate it into your pesto if you are fine with eating dairy.

    olive oil
    2 cloves garlic
    2 cups basil leaves (packed)
    1/3 of a cup of pistachio nuts
    pasta water
    salt and pepper

    Combine pistachio nuts or walnuts or pine nuts and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced and looks like paste. Add basil at the end to avoid bruising the leaves.
    With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the oil and process until the mixture is smooth.

    TIP: As you saw, I made my pesto a rather hearty paste, with not a lot of oil, adding some pasta water (liquid gold) to the pesto as I added it to the pasta. It’s not as rich but a smoother “sauce” and just as tasty.

    Zucchini and Mint Pasta

    zucchini or any summer squash
    1 bunch of fresh mint
    olive oil
    salt and pepper

    I cut the zucchini into small pieces, put them on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt and pepper, and cooked them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. They stayed crisp. Please don’t overcook. You can also use any summer squash. Check after 15 minutes. I made the fusilli pasta ahead of time.

    Add the cooked squash to the pasta and add the mint. Add salt and pepper. Refreshing! This pasta can be served cold as well.

    Pasta with Corn, Zucchini and Roasted Tomatoes

    fresh corn on the cob (cut off the cob)
    roasted cherry tomatoes (you can use fresh tomatoes)
    penne pasta

    I cooked the penne ahead of time and, again, saved some pasta water. The zucchini was cooked the same as the last recipe. I actually cooked it all together.

    TIP: I demonstrated the best way to cut corn off the cob: cut it into a bowl. Easy. That way it doesn’t fly all over your counter.

    When the pasta and zucchini is done and the corn is cut, you have your dinner. Add chopped basil, some olive oil, salt and pepper and this is done!

    Pasta e Fagioli

    Pasta e Fagioli is traditionally a classic bean and pasta soup in Italy, but I decided to make it one of our pasta choices for the day. Combining beans with pasta adds more protein. I also roasted the cherry tomatoes instead of using a can of chopped tomatoes.

    about 1 cup cannellini beans ( we used canned beans)
    olive oil
    1 medium onion
    1 t. chopped rosemary
    1 can chopped tomatoes (we used roasted cherry tomatoes)
    1 package small pasta shells
    Parmesan cheese

    Heat oil over medium heat in a fry pan and add chopped onion.
    Add garlic and rosemary, stirring constantly
    Stir in tomatoes, salt and pepper
    Add beans

    You now have the “sauce” for the pasta. Add to cooked pasta and add the Parmesan, salt and pepper.

    Our morning was fast and furious … I wanted to get everything in and celebrate the many simply ways to cook pasta. Our next class is August 24th. Please mark your calendars! Also, please know that we ask for a donation of $5.00 but no one is obligated to pay. All are welcome.

    Until next time…

    Chef Poppy