Pantry Staple Pasta Sauce

We returned from a short vacation Friday night and Saturday was filled with all the errands except for grocery shopping. As a dinner time approached I turned to the cupboard to see what kind of thing I could cobble together.

Lentils and chickpeas provide a bit of protein in a vegetarian dish. We served it with some grated Parmesan cheese, cracked black pepper and a splash of extra virgin olive oil.

Pantry Staple Pasta Sauce
Servings: 4+
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
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Shrimp Scampi

[shrimp, head-on, skillet]
My husband tells me that early in our relationship I made shrimp scampi for him for dinner and he thought it was very sexy. 🙂 I, of course, have no memory of this because my memory is a bit like a sieve. Still his recollection gave me reason enough to make this simple dish once again.

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Orecchiette with Spinach, Hazelnuts and Brown Butter

This weeknight dinner recipe is simple enough that I managed to pull it together even on a night when I was just plain exhausted.

Orecchiette with Spinach, Hazelnuts and Brown Butter
Servings: 3-4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes


  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 1 Tbsp. pieces
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 8 oz. orcchiette
  • 3 oz. fresh spinach, rinsed and spun dry
  • 1/2 tsp. dried chile flakes
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Put a large pot with 8-12 cups of water over high heat and bring to a boil.
  2. Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking pan and place in the oven until browned and fragrant, 10-15 minutes. Give the pan a shake every 3-4 minutes. Transfer pan to a cool rack and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Transfer hazelnuts to a clean dish towel, gather up the ends and rub the nuts against the towel vigorously to remove the skins. When most of the skins have been removed chop on a cutting board or in a food processor.
  4. Cook pasta according to package instructions (mine said 11 minutes and that’s what I went with).
  5. While the pasta cooks heat butter in a large skillet over high heat until it begins to brown. Swirl pan periodically to move the butter about.
  6. Add spinach, hazelnuts and chile flakes to the pan; toss with butter and cook for 5 minutes.
  7. With luck your pasta will be ready when the spinach is well wilted. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet along with about a 1/4 cup of pasta water.
  8. Stir pasta into spinach and nuts. Heat until the pasta water has mostly evaporated, creating a light sauce.
  9. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Spoon into bowls and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.

I’ve never managed to remove all of the skins from the hazelnuts by rubbing with a towel. Some of the extra skin will flake off as you chop the nuts. Accept the chaos (or pick out the tiny skin pieces).

You can substitute another leafy green, such as Swiss chard or beet greens, for the spinach. You may want to trim off the longer, thicker parts of the stem on Swiss chard and chop it up fine before cooking. I’d avoid heartier greens such as kale or collards in this dish. They take longer to breakdown to an enjoyable texture in my opinion.

Cauliflower and Shells

Have you ever been certain that you had some pantry staple and discover when you are pulling all the ingredients together before cooking that one is missing? Oops. The recipe I was following called for saffron, something we usually have on, hand. I did not take into account the fact that my husband had been using it in focaccia however, so the cupboard was bare. I looked for turmeric and that was missing as well. As I contemplated my spice options I noticed a spice blend, guessed at an amount and gave it a go. The results were well received. Guests noted a pleasant but not overpowering bit of heat. Lovely.

Cauliflower and Shells
Servings: 12+
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes


  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 head cauliflower, florets and core cut into small, even-sized, pieces
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend (or see note)
  • 16 oz. pasta shells
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese for serving


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
  2. In another pot, fitted with a steamer basket, steam the cauliflower for about 3 minutes. Taste – it should be toothsome with a bit of crunch left. Transfer cauliflower to a bowl and set aside. Drain pot, wipe clean and return it to the stove.
  3. Heat the oil in the pot over medium heat. Add the onion with a large pinch of salt. Stir in the oil and cook until the onion softens, 5-6 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, spice blend and about 1 tablespoon of parsley. Stir to incorporate and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Add the cauliflower, another large pinch of salt and combine. Add 1 cup water and cover. Cook for 5 minutes. Taste the cauliflower; if it is done to your liking then remove from the heat and keep warm.
  5. While the cauliflower is cooking you can cook your pasta in well salted water. Drain, return it to the large pot and mix in the remaining parsley.
  6. When both pasta and cauliflower are cooked combine, mix and taste for seasoning. Adjust to your taste and serve.

If I didn’t have the Mural of Flavors spice blend I’d cry. Then I’d mix together 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp. ground coriander and the zest from a lemon or orange. Use 2 teaspoons of that and save the rest. Finally I’d make a trip to Penzey’s to get more of the spice blend; it is that good.

This recipe is based upon Cauliflower with Saffron and Pasta from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison as shared by The Splendid Table.

Pasta with Pesto and Roasted Cauliflower

This recipe breaks down into 4 basic steps once the prep work is done – make pesto, roast cauliflower, boil pasta and combine. If you cut the cauliflower small enough it disappears a midst the pasta and pesto. That’s not a bad thing if you are feeding children or the cauliflower-phobic.
[Pasta with Pesto and Roasted Cauliflower]
While I made this dish to be served hot/warm it could also work as a cold salad.

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Vegetable Soup

Cooler weather lends itself to warm soup. Below is a basic vegetable soup recipe that I’ve turned to over the years. It is easy to extend with additional vegetables and while it is vegetarian there’s no reason it can’t become the base for some meated creation.

Vegetable Soup
Servings: 8-10
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes


  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled, 1/4″ dice
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (divided)
  • kosher salt & cracked black pepper
  • 1 lb. carrots, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 bunch celery hearts, 1/4″ dice
  • 1.5 lbs. red onions, 1/4″ dice
  • 5 qt. vegetable broth
  • 1 qt. water
  • 1 16 oz. box bow tie pasta


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss sweet potato cubes, 1 Tbsp. oil, a healthy pinch of salt & 1/2 tsp. black pepper together until sweet potatoes are evenly covered with oil and seasonings. Spread on a rimmed baking pan and bake until just tender (~30 minutes). Set aside.
  2. In a large soup pot saute the carrots, celery and onion in the remaining oil until the onions become translucent. Add the broth and water; bring to a boil. Drop to a simmer and cook for ~30 minutes.
  3. About 20 minutes before eating turn the heat back up to high. Once at a boil add the pasta and cook per the instructions on the box. When the pasta is done to your likeness add the added the roasted sweet potatoes to the soup. Reheat potatoes if necessary and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

We had some vegetable broth in the freezer so I used that for this recipe. That said I often use Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base. Just add a tablespoon of the concentrate to a quart of hot water and you’re ready to roll.

Tomato Braised Chicken Thighs

I like the idea of buying in bulk. In practice it doesn’t always work out. The 300-count of Excedrin looked like a good deal until the bottle expired with more than half left. The 30 pack of boxed tissues is great until you have to store it. And the frozen chicken thighs, 4 to a pack, 8 to an order, seem like a great thing to keep in the freezer until you get tired of seared chicken thighs with a pan sauce.

Tonight I had a package of thawed chicken thighs, the last of a jar of store-bought sofrito and some homemade tomato sauce. So I present for your consideration…

Tomato Braised Chicken Thighs
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 75 minutes


  • 1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless, chicken thighs
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1/3 cup Goya sofrito
  • 3 cups tomato sauce (homemade or otherwise)
  • 1 lb. large elbow pasta
  • Parmesan cheese (optional but tasty)


  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat for about 1 minute. Pat chicken thighs dry and season with salt and pepper. Place seasoned side down in the pot. Avoid crowding if possible. Salt and pepper the unseasoned side (which should be up).
  2. Allow to cook for 4-5 minutes until the chicken releases from the pan without a lot of tugging. Flip the chicken and brown the second side for 3-4 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate when they release easily.
  3. Add the sofrito to the pan and scrap up any chicken bits that stuck to the pan. Add the tomato sauce and about 1 cup of water. Mix to combine. You want a loose sauce at this point.
  4. Return the chicken to the pot, nestling the thighs into the sauce. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
  5. Flip the chicken in the sauce and try to submerge it. Recover, leaving the lid off a bit to allow some steam to escape. Cook for another 20 minutes.
  6. While the chicken cooks bring a pot of water to a boil to cook the pasta. Be sure to add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the pasta water.
  7. When the water is boiling add the pasta and cook according to the package. While the pasta cooks remove the chicken from the sauce and shred with 2 forks. Return shred meat to the sauce and stir.
  8. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Stir so that all the pasta is covered with a bit of sauce.
  9. Serve up with a bit of Parmesan cheese and a little extra cracked black pepper.

I used grape seed oil but any oil will do really. Butter wouldn’t be the best choice as it has a lower smoke point though if you mixed with a bit of vegetable oil you’d be fine.

You could chop the chicken into 1/2″ pieces. I thought the shredded chicken went better with the elbows.

Egg Noodles with Roasted Mushroom and Pink Beans

I was watching French Food at Home and the host made a roasted mushroom salad. I liked the idea of roasting mushrooms and decided to incorporate it into a pasta dish.

[Egg Noodles with Roasted Mushroom and Pink Beans]

Egg Noodles with Roasted Mushroom and Pink Beans

You may ask, why pink beans. Well I wanted pinto beans however they aren’t available in canned, with low sodium. So I used the pink. Google results tell me they are considered a “meaty” bean. My not.

Recipe under the cut

Ground Turkey “Bolognese”

We were visiting Seattle this past week or so thus no recent updates. We arrived home late last night and grabbed pizza on the way home from the airport. Today was a final day off before the return to work and I wanted to make something simple. Today simple means adding somethings to a supermarket standby to make it more interesting.

Ground Turkey “Bolognese”
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, medium dice (about 1 1/2 cup total)
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 pkg (19 oz in my case) of ground turkey
  • 1 24 oz. jar of tomato sauce (I used Newman’s Own Tomato and Basil)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh herbs, minced


  1. Heat a sauce pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When hot add the onions and stir to coat. Cook until they begin to soften and become translucent, which was about 5 minutes for me. Add the garlic, stir and cook until fragrant, about a minute for me. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and then add the ground turkey. Break it up into smallish piece and fully cook. This took about 10 minutes.
  3. Return the onions to the pan. Add the tomato sauce, the cherry tomatoes and the red wine. Add a few grinds of black pepper (or 1/4 teaspoon) and a big pinch of kosher salt. Stir to combine. Adjust the heat to low and allow to heat to a simmer.
  4. Cook for 20 minutes or so. Keep an eye on the pot as it has a tendency want to splash hot tomato sauce every which way. Lower the heat if necessary, you don’t need a full on boil here.
  5. Add the fresh herbs and stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust salt & pepper as necessary. Enjoy.

We enjoyed this over penne rigatoni last night with grated Parmesan cheese. I’m thinking it would make a tasty sloppy joe as well.

We used a combination of parsley, thyme and Thai basil for the fresh herbs.

Orecchiette with Chickpeas, Spinach and Walnuts

This recipe is a combo of two dishes I’ve made in the past: Orecchiette with Chickpeas and Spinach Walnut Penne. We liked the flavor profile of the orecchiette dish plus the added veg and nut of the penne.

Orecchiette is a pasta that looks like a small saucer. It works well in this dish because you’ll often find a chickpea or a walnut sitting in the saucer with a bit of sauce.

This recipe has you cook the pasta in what will become the sauce instead of cooking the pasta separately and adding it to the sauce later. It eliminates a dirty pot and simplifies the work.

Orecchiette with Chickpeas, Spinach and Walnuts

Two great tastes that taste pretty good together.

Recipe under the cut