Wine on Wednesdays – Rigatoni Red

When I worked at my Uncle Tony’s liquor store in high school, I was often approached by customers asking me to recommend a wine to go with a particular dish.

Rigatoni Red

Rigatoni Red

Aside from the fact that they were asking a 16-year-old for wine advice, I did my best to accomodate them. Yet since my wine knowledge was rather limited at the time, some of the pairings were questionable.

Pork chops with apricot sauce? You might try this Mogen David made from Concord grapes. Cashew chicken? How about Richard’s Wild Irish Rose? Traditional Thanksgiving dinner? I suggest Riuniti on ice. It’s nice!

Well, a couple of wine importers from New York are offering a solution to the problem of which wine to serve with a particular entree. Cousins Darren and Ben Restivo, owners of Biagio Cru & Estate Wines, have launched the Food & Wine Collection, which pairs particular foods wines the company develops with selected vintners.

The wine I tried is called “Rigatoni Red” and it is made with a blend of varietals grown in Puglia, Italy, which is traditionally thought to be the place pasta was invented.

The wine was affordable, priced at $9.99/bottle. I paid $8.49 with the 15% discount I get at my wine store for buying 6 bottles or more at once.

I actually tried it twice, once without pasta and once with rigatoni and red sauce.The first time I enjoyed its smooth flavor on its own. It sort of had a Merlot-like mellowness going for it, with a little bit of a cherry tang. Definitely not a fruit bomb.

I wondered how it would stand up to a rich tomato-and-garlic pasta sauce. The answer is surprisingly well. The flavors of the wine and the pasta complemented each other so  that both ended up tasting even better than they would by themselves, which is the way successful food and wine pairings are supposed to work.

The company also offers Bar-B-Que Red, made with grapes from France’s Rhone Valley; Fresh Catch White, a blend of Sicilian varietals; and Ribeye Red, which is composed of a blend of grapes from Argentina’s Fanatina Valley.

I haven’t seen those wines yet, but I’m looking forward to trying them. Especially if they pair as well with those dishes as Rigatoni Red did with the pasta.

 

Crockpot Corner — Turkey Quinoa Meatballs

I’ve decided to start a new feature now that the cooler weather has arrived here in Chicago. It’s called Crockpot Corner and the first recipe to be featured are these wonderful Turkey Quinoa Meatballs.

The name Crockpot Corner sounds like it should be in a 1980s women’s magazine, I know, and if anybody has any better suggestions, I would appreciate it.

Anyway, who doesn’t love meatballs? They are so veratile. You can serve them over pasta, offer them as an appetizer, or — my favorite — put them on a hinged roll and melt some cheese over them for a meatball grinder.

When I was growing up, my older brother, Michael, introduced me to many of the more counter-cultural happenings that were going on in the mid-1970s, one of which was the “underground comics” of R. Crumb.

The one I remember most clearly was called “Meatball” and as far as I can recall it comprised mostly of ordinary people getting hit in the head with meatballs that were thrown at them from somewhere off-panel.

Ever since then, meatballs have always struck me as funny and I can’t eat them without remembering that R. Crumb comic.

Like all crockpot recipes, this delicious meatball recipe is simple to make and cooks all day at low temperature, filling the house with a rich, lush aroma.

It’s based on one I found it at the amazing blog How Sweet It Is, which is written by a wonderfully fearless madwoman named Jessica who consistently provides great recipes and generously shares details of her life with her readers.

Most weeks, I find at least one or two recipes on Jessica’s blog that I end up making  (I’m planning to make one tonight, in fact). And her incredible food photography always inspires me to improve my own.

Turkey Quinoa Meatballs

2 lb Ground Turkey

2/3 cup Cooked Quinoa

3 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1 Egg, lightly beaten

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 TBS Grated Parmesan

2 tsp Dried Basil

1 tsp Dried Oregano

1/2 tsp Onion Powder

1/2 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

1 White Onion, cut into thin rings

28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes

10 oz can  Whole Peeled Tomatoes

6 oz can Tomato Paste

1. In a mixing bowl, combine turkey, quinoa, egg, olive oil, parmesan, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix together just until all the ingredients are combined, but be careful not to overmix because this can make the meatballs tough. With your hands, roll into meatballs about the size of golf ball. This should make about 24 meatballs.

2. In a crockpot, pour the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and stir around until blended. Then lay the sliced onion on top.

3. Put a cast iron pan over a medium heat. When hot, drizzle in a little EVOO and wait until it starts to smoke. Then place about half the meatballs in the pan, being careful not to splash yourself with hot oil. Turn until all sides are browned, then place in the crock pot on top of the onions. Cook the remaining meatballs the same way and add them to the crockpot.

4. Pour the juice from the whole peeled tomatoes on top of the meatballs, then hand crush the tomatoes. I enjoy the tactile experience of hand-crushing my tomatoes, but it also allows the tomatoes to maintain some of their shape the sauce cooks down, adding texture. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or on high for 3 hours.

I served these on hinged rolls smothered in tomato sauce and then covered with a slice of provalone cheese. Then I put it under the broiler for just a minute to melt the cheese a little.

This makes a lot of meatballs, so I ended up having these for lunch for a few days afterwards. I eventually sliced up the remaining meatballs and put them on a homemade pizza.

I hope you like the new feature and watch out for flying meatballs!

Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce

The weather is officially cooler here in Chicago, so it’s time for one of the most exciting times of the year in our house: The beginning of crock pot season! I decided to start this season with something basic — Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce.

Last crock pot season ended on a sad note. My crock pot broke! It was only about a year old, but I suppose I must have worn it out. During the colder months, we use our crock pot A LOT.

One day, it just died in the middle of making a batch of chili. Rescucitation efforts were unsuccessful. I was able to save the chili, however.

The good news is that I bought a brand new crock pot to kick off this season. While the last one had all the bells and whistles — including a digital readout, the ability to shift temperatures automatically, a temperature probe I never used — this time I decided to go back to basics.

I bought it at our local Kohl’s. I love that store because of all the discounts and special offers you get there. In this case, I was able to get my brand new, back-to-basics crock pot for a whopping … $13!!! That made my day, especially when you consider the last one that broke after only about a year cost more than $60.

It seems like I find new recipes I want to make from only a handful of blogs. That was the case with this Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce recipe which I found on the wonderful Mom Makes … blog. Probably about 90 percent of the internet recipes I try come from either there or How Sweet It Is.

My new bare bones crock pot

I haven’t gotten on to Pinterest yet because I tend to be a bit obsessive. I’m afraid if I start looking around on that site, it would be days before I got off of it. That’s the same reason I don’t allow myself to play video games, incidentally. There are entire months of my life in the late ’80s that were wasted playing Super Mario Brothers.

Anyway, I modified this recipe slightly. I used ground turkey instead of ground beef. And I didn’t add the can of tomato sauce until close to the end of the cooking time because I discovered I didn’t have any and had to go out and buy some.

Still, it turned out very delicious. Both Sandi and I agreed that it was far superior to store bought pasta sauces, which tend not to taste much like anything. The tomato paste gave this sauce a distinctive bite to it, which I enjoyed.

Also, I substituted 1-1/2 TBS of Italian seasoning for the dried basil, thyme oregano because it is basically the same thing anyway.

Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce

1 lb Ground Beef (or Ground Turkey)

Sea Salt

Fresh Ground Black Pepper

1 White Onion, diced

28 oz can of Crushed Tomatoes

8 oz can of Tomato Paste

6 oz can of Tomato Sauce

1 TBS Brown Sugar

1 Bay Leaf

3 Garlic Cloves, crushed

2 tsp Dried Oregano

2 tsp Dried Basil

3/4 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Dried Thyme

1/4 tsp Red Chili Pepper Flakes (optional)

2 TBS Butter (I actually forgot to add this)

1. Put a cast iron pan over a medium heat. When hot, add 1 TBS olive oil. When smoking, add the onions and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes, then add ground turkey. Season with salt and pepper and cook until liquid evaporates and meat begins to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Meanwhile, in the crock pot, add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, garlic and all the herbs and spices. When meat is ready, add to the crock pot and stir together. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours, stirring once or twice. Add the butter just before serving.

Crock pot season is off to a great start with this delicious recipe. What sort of meals do you like to make in your crock pot? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

French Bread Pizza

Have you ever had this experience? You see something and you instantly say, out loud, “That’s what I want.”

This is what happened to me a few days ago when I saw this posting for French Bread Pizza by one of my favorite bloggers Mom Makes …

I’ve gone on record many times about my love for pizza, and I’ve written about so many, most recently just a few days ago. Maybe I should change this blog title to “Budget Pizza Blog”!

What can I say? I love pizza.

When I was growing up, I used to love Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza. They were a special treat in our house, and with five kids you had to stake out the kitchen as soon as my Mom arrived home from the grocery store or else you would be stuck making English Muffin pizzas. Yecch!

These didn’t last long in the McCullough household

The Stouffer’s products were cooked in the toaster oven, which used up so much electricity that you could run outside and watch the little wheels on the electric meter spin furiously every time you turned it on. 

Although I haven’t had a Stouffer’s FB pizza in probably 25 years, I remember them being pretty good. But this homemade version is incredible.

The difference is the homemade French bread. It’s an extremely simple recipe, but it transforms this pizza into something sublime. Plus this recipe yields two loaves of French bread, so there’s enough for garlic bread, French toast or just a warm loaf of fresh baked bread to share.

Since my wife isn’t into pepperoni, I made two different versions —  one pepperoni and one veggie. But you can top these with anything you want.

Finally, I contributed to this recipe by making my own pizza sauce. We just have so many tomatoes this year that I was just grateful for another way to use some of them.

French Bread Pizza

For the French Bread

3 cups Bread Flour (or All Purpose flour, but bread flour makes it so much better)

1 TBS Dry Active Yeast

1 TBS Granulated Sugar

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 1/4 cups Water (Baby bath temperature)

1 1/2 tsp Sea Salt

1. Add water to Kitchen Aid mixer bowl and whisk in yeast. Let stand for a minute or two for the yeast to activate. The liquid will start to get bubbly. Meanwhile, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Attach the dough hook to the mixer and turn the machine on medium. Add the flour mixture and knead until a soft dough forms. It’s ready when the dough pulls away from the walls of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead a few minutes more by hand.

2. Add about 1 TBS EVOO to a clean mixing bowl and spread up all the sides and bottom with a napkin. Add the dough to the bowl and turn so that the outside is covered in oil. This is to prevent a skin from forming. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and carefully press out all the gases. Let rest 5 minutes, then divide into two peices. Using your hands, form each peice into an 18″x2″ loaf. Place onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper and cover loosely with the clean kitchen towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about another 90 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 375F. Carefully remove the kitchen towel and place sheet pan in the oven. Cook about 30 minutes or until loaves are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely on cooling racks.

For the Pizza Sauce

6-8 Homegrown Tomatoes (I used Romas)

2 cloves Garlic

Handful of Fresh Oregano, leaves only (Also from our garden)

1 TBS Balsamic Vinegar

1 TBS Granulated Sugar

1/2 cup Water

2 TBS Corn Flour (or AP Flour)

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1. Remove the tomato skins by blanching the tomatoes. This means submerging them in boiling water for about a minute then plunging them into ice water. The skins will slip right off.

2. Add tomatoes, garlic, oregano, vinegar and sugar to food processor or blender. Pulse until mixture is liquified, then transfer it to a small sauce pan. Place over a medium heat until bubbling, then reduce to a simmer. Cook 5 to 30 minutes over a very low heat. To thicken, turn heat on high and whisk in flour, then reduce heat and simmer about five more minutes to get the flour taste out. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the French Bread Pizzas

1 loaf French Bread, cut all the way through horizontally to make 2 peices

8 oz Fresh Mozzarella, shredded

1 cup Pizza Sauce

Toppings of Your Choice

2 TBS Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

1 tsp Italian Seasoning

1 tsp Granulated Garlic

1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flake

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Place bread crust side down on a baking sheet and spoon sauce over the exposed surface. Top with toppings, then cover with mozzarella.

2. Sprinkle the parmesan, Italian seasoning, gran garlic and red pepper flake over the pizza. This bonus seasoning makes any pizza taste great, even frozen. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until top is brown and bubbly.

I served this with a small Greek salad, also inspired by Mom Makes’ blog.

 

Meat Free Mondays – Fried Zucchini

Our dog, Bud, is a very bad dog. I’ve already taken him through dog school twice and now my wife is taking him through a third course.

It happens to be at a facility that’s about 4 miles from home. In between our house and the dog school there just happens to be one of the best pizza places on the South Side of Chicago, called Papa Joe’s.

Papa Joe’s is one of those restaurants that has been around forever. The house I grew up in is only a few blocks away and when I was a boy, whenever I smelled roasting garlic, I knew that they were making the marinara sauce at Papa Joe’s that day.

Through the years, we’ve gone there for countless birthdays, graduations, first communions, funeral luncheons and so on.

Every Wednesday night, since Sandi and Bud just happen to be going past Papa Joe’s anyway, I’ve been ordering a pizza for them to pick up on the way home. The first time I did this a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the restaurant runs a promotion on Wednesdays: Order any large pizza and get your choice of any appetizer for free!

Whoa. Way better than a free liter of Diet Rite Cola!

Among the choices — garlic bread, tomato bread, fried mushrooms — the one I like most is the fried zucchini. The vegetable is cut into think strips, breaded and deep fried, then served with a roasted garlic dipping sauce on the side. Mmmmm.

It was delicious and almost momentarily made me forget about the amazing pizza that came with it. After I finished off the last peice, I knew I had to reproduce Papa Joe’s fried zucchini in my own home kitchen.

Sadly, I don’t have a deep fryer at home, so it was going to be a little more of a challenge. But with a little ingenuity, I was able to overcome it.

For the roasted garlic dipping sauce, I had only my taste buds to rely on because I didn’t have a recipe. Although I guess I could have asked my younger brother, who worked at Papa Joe’s in the early ’90s.

The sauce has rich butter and roasted garlic flavors, yet it’s thick and creamy. My guess was melted butter whipped into some mayonnaise with pureed roasted garlic cloves, a touch of cayenne, some cumin and a little water to adjust the consistency. I was close enough.

This appetizer can also be served with marinara sauce, if you prefer. Also, it can be made with yellow squash instead of zucchini, which is actually the way I went. The zucchini plant in our garden for some reason didn’t yield any fruit this year, but our crookneck yellow squash plant is doing fine, so I substituted. There’s really no flavor difference.

Fried Zucchini

1 large Zucchini or Yellow Squash, but into discs or sticks

1 cup All-Purpose Flour, seasoned with a little salt and pepper

2 Eggs, beaten

1 cup Bread Crumbs

2 TBS Parmesan Cheese

1. In one bowl, add the flour and season with a little salt and pepper. In a second bowl, add the eggs. In a third bowl, combine the bread crumbs and parmesan. One peice at a time, dredge the zucchini in the flour mixture, then cover with the egg mixture, and finally coat with the bread crumbs/parmesan mixture. Set aside on a plate. This is the three-stage breading method. It helps if you use only one hand for the dry ingredients and one hand for the wet ingredients, otherwise you have to stop and wash your Hulk hands every few minutes.

2. Put a cast iron pan over a medium heat. Add oil and let it get hot, but not smoking hot. Place each breaded zucchini into the pan, being careful not to splash yourself with the hot oil. Don’t crowed the zucchini peices, leave enough room in between so they can slide around. Cook them until nicely browned one one side, then flip them over and brown the other side, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate lined with  paper towel to absorb the excess grease.

Because of the pan size, this recipe has to be made in batches. The zucchini will stay hot enough while all the peices are being cooked, but if you want to make sure, you can heat your oven to 200F and

Bad dog! But thanks for the pizza!

store the paper-towel lined plate in there until everything is done.

In a way, I’m kind of glad Bud is a bad student at dog school because it means I have an excuse to get Papa Joe’s pizza PLUS a free appetizer every week! It almost makes all the chewed-up shoes worth it!

 

 

Seafood Fridays – Shrimp Diablo

Shrimp Diablo is one of those dishes that takes a lot of different forms, depending where you get it.

Some versions are Italian-inluenced, served with a tomato sauce over heavy pastas. Some are Mexican style, served with Spanish rice. There are even French variations, with a tomato cream sauce spiked with white wine. Others are more mainstream American, with the spiced garlic shrimp served by themselves in a small broiler plate.

The common denominator are that they are all spicy, usually via either red pepper flake or cayenne pepper. That’s where the “diablo”, Spanish for “devil”, comes into play.

For this recipe, I took the best elements of each. While keeping the spicy shrimp, I threw out all the heavier ingredients — the cream and tomato sauce — and replaced them with lighter ingredients, namely chunky tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

The result was a refreshing pasta dish that is appropriate even during the warmest summer months. As I stated a few days ago, with all the hot weather this summer, it has been a challenge to come up with fresh dishes that are light and delicious without repeating the same themes over and over again, like big salads and grilled foods.

This dish definitely fits into that category. By using angel hair pasta — rather than a denser pasta like spaghetti, vermicelli or linguini — and reducing portion size, it’s an entree with bold flavors that won’t weight you down. And the spiciness and acidity of the marinade balance the sweetness of shrimp.

Marina City as seen from the Chicago River

It could have been even lighter had I made my own pasta using my favorite new toy, but my daughter, Maggie, and I spent the afternoon on Chicago’s wonderful architectural boat tour and I simply ran out of time, opting for store-bought angel hair instead.

Shrimp Diablo

1 lb 21/25 Shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper, or more if you like it spicier

Juice of one Lime

1 box Angel Hair Pasta

1 medium White Onion, small dice

1/2 Green Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1/2 cup Dry White Wine

28 oz can Diced Tomatoes

6 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1/2 cup Black Olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

Sea salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated plus more for garnish

Parsley sprigs for garnish

1. In a small bowl, combine shrimp, 1 TBS EVOO, 1 TBS of the crushed garlic, cayenne and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper, toss, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to marinate

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, about 4 minutes. Strain and return to pot. Toss with 2 TBS EVOO and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Put a sauce pot over a medium heat. When hot, add 2 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add onion, green pepper and jalapeno and cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in remaining garlic, cook another minute, then stir in the white wine. Reduce heat and cook uncovered until wine is reduced by about half. Add tomatoes and olives, season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and cook over a low heat until tomatoes begin to break down, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Put a saute pan over a high heat. When very hot, add 1 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add shrimp and all the marinade. Use a wooden spoon to arrange the shrimp into an even layer and cook until shrimp begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Toss and cook until the other side is browned.

5. To plate, use a tongs to arrange the pasta in a tall pile in the center of a pasta bowl. Use a kitchen spoon to ladle the sauce over the pasta. Arrange the shrimp artfully around the pasta. Sprinkle generously with parmesan cheese and garnish with parsley sprigs.

This is one of those dishes that creates a lot of dirty pots and dishes, but it’s light and refreshing summertime flavor makes it all worthwhile.

Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza

Visitors to Chicago make a point of stopping by some of the city’s most famous downtown pizzerieas — Uno’s, Due’s, Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s among them — to try some Chicago style deep dish pizza.

This dense style of pizza has a buttery crust and is so rich that it’s a challenge to eat more than a single slice or two. Still, it’s got great flavor and is a unique dining experience.

People from Chicago, however, hardly ever go to any of those places (unless they are entertaining visitors from out of town, of course) because deep dish pizza is so heavy and filling that it can only be enjoyed once in a great while if you want to avoid a heart attack.

For all the thousands of pizzas I’ve made at home, I have never attempted a deep dish pizza. Until now.

The interesting thing about deep dish pizza, other than its thickness, is that it is made upside down. Unlike an ordinary pizza, which has sauce on the bottom, toppings in the middle, and mozzarella cheese on top, deep dish pizza has the tomato sauce on the top and the mozzarella cheese on the bottom.

Another difference is that a deep dish’s crust has a much higher fat content than ordinary pizza crust. And it gets its buttery flavor from, you guessed it, lots and lots of whole butter.

And in contrast to the smooth tomato sauce used for ordinary pizza, deep dish has a chunky sauce made from roughly chopped tomatoes. And don’t forget the cheese. Lots and lots of fresh mozzarella and a thick coating of grated parmesan on top make this one of the cheesiest dishes you can make.

No wonder you can only eat one or two slices. This deep dish pizza ended up weighing about five pounds! Still, it was delicious and we were able to feed off it for several days.

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza

For the Crust

4 cups All-Purpose Flour

3 TBS Yellow Cornmeal

1 tsp Sea Salt

1 TBS Instant Yeast

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 TBS Butter, melted

2 TBS Vegetable Oil

1 cup + 2 TBS Lukewarm Water

For the Filling

3/4 lb Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, grated or sliced thin

1 lb. Bulk Italian Sausage, mild or hot, cooked

28-oz can Diced Tomatoes

4 Garlic Cloves

1 TBS Granulated Sugar

1 TBS Italian Seasoning

1/2 tsp Sea Salt

1 cup Grated Parmesan

2 TBS EVOO

1. To make the crust, place the lukewarm water in the bowl of your Kitchen Aid then whisk in the yeast. Meanwhile, in a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and cornmeal. When the liquid begins to bubble, attach the dough hook to the mixer, turn it on medium speed, then slowly add the flour, butter, olive oil and vegetable oil and mix until a dough is formed, about 5 minutes. I usually knead my doughs by hands for few minutes afterwards.

2. Oil the sides of a mixing bowl then transfer the dough to the bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel and place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place so the dough can rise. After about an hour, the dough will have doubled in size. Punch it down, knead it a few more times then leave it on the counter covered with the kitchen towel to rest for a few minutes.

3. Spray a 14-inch deep dish pizza pan (I used my cast iron skillet) with pan spray, then add 2 TBS of EVOO to the pan and tilt it around to cover the bottom and partway up the sides with the oil.

4. Use your hands or a rolling pin to stretch the dough out into a circle that is slightly larger than your pan. Transfer it to the pan and press it down so that it fits snugly. Cover it with the kitchen towel and let it rise for about 30 minutes.

5. While dough is rising in the pan, preheat your oven to 425F. To make the sauce, drain the tomatoes well, then combine them in a mixing bowl with the garlic, sugar, Italian seasoning and salt. Mix well.

6. When dough is ready, use your fingers to press the bottom and sides back down, then fill the bottom with the mozzarella. If you are using freshly grated, you will need to press it down firmly into the bottom of the pan so there’s room for the other ingredients.

7. Next add the sausage.

8. Then add the tomato sauce.

9.  Finally add the grated parmesan and drizzle with the 2 TBS of EVOO.

10. Bake at 425F for 25 minutes or until the filling is bubbly and the topping is golden brown. Remove the pie from the oven and carefully transfer it from the pan to a cooling rack. Let it rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing it.

This pizza is extremely rich. It’s got three different kinds of oil in it, not to mention the fats from the cheeses. In Chicago, we are proud of our deep dish pizza. We just can’t eat it very often.

Meat Free Mondays – Pasta Primavera

It’s been an extremely hot summer here in Chicago.

When it gets this warm, about the last thing anybody wants is a heavy pasta dish. Pasta salads are okay, but they won’t cut it for dinner.

Here’s a light and delicious entree pasta dish that can be enjoyed even in the warmest of weather. The secret is to use homemade pasta, which is lighter and far less dense than commercial pastas. I used this amazing sweet potato pasta, which I made last week.

Also, since heavy sauces simply won’t do once the temperature gets higher than 75F, it’s time to use something lighter, such as a simple roasted garlic-infused olive oil.

You can flavor olive oil with just about anything. For some powerful flavors, such as rosemary or black peppercorn, you simply soak the ingredients in the oil for a few hours and the flavors will be absorbed.

Making roasted garlic-infused olive oil is great because it’s a two-fer. Not only do you get a smooth, slightly nutty tasting roasted garlic flavored olive oil, but as a side benefit you get roasted garlic, which is wonderful when spread on freshly baked bread, or used in sauces or stuffings.

All you do is to take about six cloves of garlic, put them in a small pan with half-cup of extra virgin olive oil, and heat them over a low heat until they begin to turn brown, about 12 minutes. Then you turn off the heat and let the whole thing cool as the garlic flavor leaches into the oil.

When it’s completely cool, remove the garlic cloves and save them in the refrigerator for another time. I used mine a few nights later for a roasted garlic butter sauce I served over scallops. The oil will stay fresh unrefrigerated in an airtight container for a week or longer.

Finally, for a summer pasta entree, there can be no heavy meats, such as meatballs or Italian sausage, to weigh down the meal. Instead, a simple light and delicious medley of freshly steamed carrots, broccoli, zucchini and yellow squash will do.

Top it all off with a little freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese and you have a mouth-watering delightful summertime pasta entree that won’t fill you up.

Pasta Primavera

1 lb Fresh Pasta

3 Carrots, peeled and sliced

1 cup Broccoli florets

1 medium Zucchini, cut into half moons

1 medium Yellow Squash, cut into half moons

3 TBS Roasted Garlic-Infused Olive Oil

2 TBS Grated Parmesan Cheese

1 TBS Freshly Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add the pasta. Cook until done, about 6 minutes. Strain and return to the pot. Add 1 TBS of the olive oil and mix together so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, bring another large pot of water to a boil. Add the carrots, return to a boil and cook until soft, about five minutes. Then add the broccoli and cook until soft, about another 3 minutes. Then add zucchini and yellow squash and cook until soft, about another 2 minutes. Strain vegetables and add to pasta. Add remaining olive oil to the pot, along with the parmesan cheese. Toss together, being careful to keep the vegetables intact.

To plate, use a tongs to create a large pile of pasta in the center of a pasta bowl, then arrange the vegetables around the pasta. Garnish with the Pecorino Romano Cheese.

Summer can be a tricky season for cooking. Even though we fire up our grill an averge of four or five times per week, it is sometimes hard to come up with other ideas for light meals that can be enjoyed in hot weather. We make salads a lot, topping them with grilled chicken and fish or shrimp.

What type of summer meals do you make to give your family a break from salads and grilled foods? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Sweet Potato Pasta

Ever since I got my new pasta maker, I’ve been thinking about different kinds of pastas I could make. One that I’ve always wanted to try is sweet potato pasta.

Having never made it before, I needed to find a basic recipe. Unfortunately, my library of cookbooks offered no help.

My next step was the internet. My search for “sweet potato pasta recipe” yielded hundreds of recipes for pasta with sweet potatoes, but I was able to find only one for pasta made from sweet potatoes, and it looked wildly inaccurate.

Still, I copied it down and headed for the kitchen.

After roasting off three sweet potatoes for about an hour at 375F and letting them cool, I mashed them with my potato masher.

Then I separated two eggs and used the whisk attachment to my Kitchen Aid to whip the egg whites to soft peaks, about two minutes on high.

Next I folded in about one cup of the mashed sweet potato into the egg whites, a little at a time.

Normally, I just use all-purpose flour when I make pasta. And the sweet potato pasta recipe I found called for whole wheat flour. But I found this semolina flour, which is what commercial pastas normally are made from, so I used that instead. Semolina flour has a much coarser grind than AP flour. The grains are sort of halfway between AP flour and the grind used for corn meal.

I switched my Kitchen Aid to the dough hook attachment and added about 2-1/2 cups of flour until the dough started to form. It took about five minutes.

Then I kneaded it by hand for a few minutes, adding more flour as necessary. It took probably about another 1/2 cup of flour, as the sweet potatoes made the dough quite wet.

After letting it rest for a few minutes, I used a chef’s knife to cut it into four peices.

Then I set up my new pasta maker, which is my new favorite toy.

Starting with the rollers set at the widest setting, I rolled each peice of dough through the pasta makers several times, narrowing the rollers a little as I went along. All the while, I was throwing more flour on the dough to keep it from sticking to itself and to the pasta machine.

Finally, I attached the pasta cutter attachment to the pasta maker and cut the dough into fettucini.

After the pasta is cut, it needs to dry out for about 30 minutes because it’s still too damp. If I threw it into boiling water right  away, it would clump up.

After the pasta has dried, it can be placed in an airtight bag and refrigerated or even frozen until you are ready to use it. But I brought a big pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cooked the pasta for about six minutes.

There’s such a huge flavor and texture difference between freshly made and commercial pasta. This sweet potato pasta turned out exactly as I had hoped.

Sweet Potato Pasta

1 cup Sweet Potato, cooked, cooled and mashed

2 egg whites

3 cups Semolina Flour, plus additional flour to prevent dough from sticking

Pinch of Sea Salt

1. Whip egg whites to soft peaks, then fold in sweet potato a little at a time. Add salt.

2. Using dough hook attachment, add flour a little at a time and mix on medium until dough begins to form. Remove from bowl, knead by hand, adding additional flour as needed. Let rest under a clean kitchen towel for at least 10 minutes.

3. Cut dough into four peices. Starting with the rollers at the widest setting, feed the pasta through the machine several times, progressively narrowing the rollers. Sprinkle rolled sheets with flour and store under a towel while rolling the remaining pasta.

4. Add pasta cutter attachment to machine and cut into desired pasta type. Lay out on racks to dry for at least 30 minutes. Cook immediately or store in an airtight bag in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.

What types of unusual pastas do you like to make. I can’t wait to try squid ink, but I have to source it first. Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Crock Pot Cooking – Italian Sausage in Tomato Sauce

First, an apology: It’s been far too long since I’ve written a new blog. No excuses, but my only explanation is that my freelance writing career has demanded all of my time and I’ve been swimming in work since approximately mid-April. Hurray!

One project I was working on was a book on crock pot cooking. The project eventually collapsed due to, ahem, creative differences with the client but I suddenly find myself with more than 100 crock pot recipes, some of which I’ve already photographyed.

Hence, a new feature at Budget Cooking Blog: Crock Pot Cooking.

I’ve written many times about the convenience of using a crock pot, such as this blog, this blog and, oh yes, this blog. The best thing about the crock pot is that you just set it and forget it, and at the end of the day you not only have a delicious meal that will feed your family for days, but your entire home is filled with a lush, mouth-watering aroma.

This particular recipe is one of my favorites: Italian Sauasage in Tomato Sauce. The combination of slow-cooking the sauce and the addition of roasted garlic-flavored tomato paste really brings out the acidity in this sauce, but it is nicely balanced with the sweetness of the sugar and is given complexity by the oregano and fennel.

While enjoying this classic appetier, it’s easy to imagine yourself dining al fresco along Mulberry Street in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood, watching as the parade of people pass by.

While this would be wonderful as an entree served over pasta, I like to serve it as an appetizer over hard polenta. The primary difference between hard polenta and soft polenta is that the former is made with water and the latter with dairy, such as milk, cream or whatever you happen to have on hand.

Hard polenta — which is not actually hard but is poured out onto a sheet pan and allowed to set up — can be cut into any shape you like, which gives you a lot of versatility for plating. It also can be pan fried or even grilled if you would like some additional color and flavor.

Italian Sausage in Tomato Sauce

1 lb Spicy Italian Sausage, either bulk or casings removed

1 small Red Onion, small dice

1 Carrot, peeled, small dice

1 Red Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes with Italian Seasonings

6 oz can Tomato Paste with Roasted Garlic

1 tsp Dried Oregano, or 1/2 tsp fresh

1 tsp Fennel Seeds

1 tsp Granulated Sugar

1/4 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

6 oz Hard Polenta (recipe follows), cut into any shape you like

1. Put cast iron skillet over a medium heat. When hot, add sausage, onion, carrot and bell pepper. Cook until sausage is browned, about 7 to 8 minutes, breaking up the sausage as it cooks.

2. Transfer sausage mixture into crock pot. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, fennel seeds, sugar and black pepper. Cook and cover until mixture simmers and thickens, about 4 to 6 hours on low or 2 to 3 hours on high.

To plate, arrange polenta on an appetizer plate then use a kitchen spoon to ladle a generous portion of the sausage mixture over half the polenta, leaving the other half exposed. Garnish with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and a sprig of parsley.

Hard Polenta

4 cups Water

1 cup Polenta (coarsely ground corn meal)

1 TBS Whole Unsalted Butter

3 TBS Grated Parmesan Cheese

1/2 tsp Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

1. Bring water to a boil then slowly whisk in polenta, stirring constantly so that it doesnt clump. Reduce heat and cook until polenta thickens to the point where it pulls away from the walls of the pot, about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn.

2. When thick, turn off heat and fold in butter and parmesan. Season with pepper. You don’t need to add any salt because the parmesan already is quite salty.

Let the polenta cool for a few minutes, then pour it out onto a greased baking sheet smoothing it with a spatula to create an even level. Let it cool completetly at least an hour. You can then use a knife to cut the polenta into triangles, stars, circles or whatever shape you want. These polenta peices can be grilled or sauteed, or stored in your refrigerator or freezer for another time.

For creamy polenta, substitute dairy such as milk, half and half or heavy cream for the water and kick up the butter to 1-1/2 TBS or more, depending on how rich you like it.

My apologies once again for my absence. I have missed writing this blog and am looking forward to sharing more easy, delicious and inexpensive recipes in the coming weeks and months.