creamy cajun pasta

cajun pasta

Some people don’t like pasta. My sister doesn’t like pasta. And I’m all like, “Okay…uh…I mean, that’s cool, I guess..”, but in my head I’m really thinking, “Weirrrdooo….”. Not really. But I do love pasta. Pretty much any time I get a craving it’s for either pasta or a biscuit and let’s be honest: those are basically the carbiest carbs ever. So, sometimes when I make pasta I like to toss in some chopped up vegetables and a protein and I think, “Okay…so…this is pretty balanced.” And then I throw in a bunch of parmesan and heavy cream and ruin the whole thing.

cajun pasta

This dish is a favorite in our house. It’s spicy and flavorful. And it’s simple and quick and really hits the spot when I’m wanting something rich and feel-goody. And it’s super personalizable. Use whatever veggies you have on hand and switch up the amounts if you want to. Get crazy if you feel like it. Mmhmm.

cajun pasta

creamy cajun pasta
serves 4-6
12 oz andouille sausage, sliced
1 cup trimmed and cut fresh green beans
1 cup chopped fresh broccoli
1 small yellow squash, quartered and chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 lb mini farfalle (or the pasta of your choice), cooked according to package directions

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the sausage slices and cook until both sides are browned, about 10 minutes total. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the green beans, broccoli, squash, and peas to the pan and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the vegetables and set aside.
Add the butter to the pan and allow to melt. Stir in the minced garlic and cook until soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the heavy cream. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and allow to simmer until the cream is thickened and reduced slightly, about 7 minutes. Stir in the cayenne pepper, paprika, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add the parmesan cheese and stir until completely melted and smooth.
Return the sausage and vegetables to the pan, add the cooked pasta, and stir until everything is well coated with the sauce. Serve immediately.

cajun pasta

whole wheat fettuccine with pumpkin cream sauce

Our little Honda is currently rolling down I-85 as we head back to Columbia from one of the most beautiful places on Earth (the Apps in the Western Carolinas, y’all). Hats off to Andy’s cousin and family for hosting a really great wedding filled with lots of abundant food. That being said, I find it really difficult to write while riding in a car (and it’s really difficult when I’m actually driving…totally kidding). I get distracted rather easily, so it’s kind of like, “Focus…focus…Oh, this is a really good song…Focus…focus…Oh, this is a really bad song…Focus…focus….Dude, that car totally just tried to hit us…less focused…What kind of food do we have in here?…not at all focused …” And that’s about how it happens every time.

So, let me just say that this second recipe in the pumpkin series was an experiment I wanted to try because, as you all know, I really just love pasta. I think I’ve hit you guys with way too many pasta/cream-based sauce recipes, but here’s one more. Picture me timidly sliding it across the table at you as I shrug my shoulders and give you a fabricated little side grin. Oh, well. Bon appétit, anyway.

whole wheat fettuccine with pumpkin cream sauce
prep time: 5 minutes cook time: 15 minutes yield: 4 servings
1/2 pound whole wheat fettuccine noodles
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups roasted pumpkin purée
1/2 cup parmesan, shredded

Cook pasta according to package directions in salted, boiling water. Drain.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute or until aromatic. Stir in the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer until reduced and thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin purée and heat through. Add the parmesan and stir until melted and everything is heated and incorporated. Turn the pasta into the sauce and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

And we all remember the benefits of whole wheat, yes? It helps you feel fuller longer, yes? Your body can more easily digest it, yes? It gives you more consistent energy levels, yes? Good. Dismissed.

PS – Kenny: I would give you some advice for your trip/move, but you’re a lot cooler than I am, so I know you already know how to throw it down out West. Have fun.

gouda macaroni and cheese

We have this place in Columbia called The Whig. The Whig is, well…hmm. It’s a bar, but not a bar. It’s a restaurant, but…not really a restaurant. Unless you were walking past the State House and just happened to slip on the sidewalk down its stairs into the basement-like alley lined with one door adorned with no signs that looks like the backside of a New York City fish market, you’d probably never know it was there. You would, of course, know it was there if you were at least a bit cooler than the rest of the city or, strangely enough, if you were a bit less cool than the rest of the city. What I mean to say is, if you wear one shoe untied and drink craft beer and listen to vinyls while riding your bike, you’d love the Whig. On the other hand, if you’re just a tad quieter and love to listen to conversation and need to feel a bit disconnected from the normal Columbia, the Whig is a nice haven to quench the crave for a bit of quirk. Plus, they have excellent food at really frugal prices.

One of my favorite dishes of theirs is the Gouda Mac N Cheese. It’s actually listed in the starter section of the menu, but it arrives at the table in a huge rimmed bowl filled with a simple combination of pasta and sauce. It’s so generously goopy that each piece of pasta is smothered with the rich blend of gouda and cream. It’s not baked like some mac and cheeses. One could never ever describe this as being dry. The dish almost reminds me of a plate of pasta with alfredo, just amped up a bit. Lawd, it’s delicious.

gouda macaroni and cheese
inspired by The Whig’s gouda mac n cheese in Columbia, SC
prep time: 5 minutes cook time: 15 minutes yield: 6 servings

12 oz whole wheat elbows
8 oz gouda
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz heavy cream
salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, bring about 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Stir in the elbows and cook for about 10 minutes or to desired tenderness.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. Shred the gouda and set aside. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Stir in the heavy cream and add salt and pepper. When it starts simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce thickens and reduces by about half, about 10 minutes. Add the gouda and stir until completely melted.
Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Pour the gouda sauce over the pasta and stir until thoroughly combined. Serve immediately.

We had my sister’s bachelorette party at the Whig. The party consisted of a whopping three people with quite a few others there in spirit, but it was perfect. I’m guessing the tiny venue used to be a bank because they have a little cave in the corner that I believe was probably a safe at some point. Its three walls are lined with very worn, slouchy couches and dusty vintage lighting dimly brightens the space and stuffed animals (no, not Teddy Ruxpin, like foxes that were once alive and are now stuffed) chill next to the ceiling. It provides a very private atmosphere (appropriate for girly bachelorette gifts), but you can still hear the music and order pizzas and sandwiches and drinks. The whole place is just smokin’ with vibe and jives and the eel’s hips, my man. Legit chillin’.

rice pasta with lemon cream sauce

Rice pasta? Whut in tarnation…”

I honestly don’t think my readers are a bunch of dopes who have no idea what’s going on in the foodie food world, but I have this little, old, grumpy, country man in my head that pops up every time I do something slightly different from the norm. Rice pasta, for example. Most pasta is made from wheat, be it white flour or whole wheat flour. So, sometimes when I cook with rice pasta I can picture the old country man mumble things under his breath, usually starting with either, “Whut the…” or “In my day…” or “…aggervatin’ youngin’…”

I know, I’m crazy. Let’s forget about the grumpy Southerner. Let’s talk about that rice pasta. Pasta can be made with lottttttts of different ingredients: semolina, spelt, corn, rice, quinoa, etc., etc. What you buy and cook all depends on your tastes and/or allergies. I love whole wheat pasta because of its rich nutrition, but, even after eating it for years and years, I still sometimes find it too heavy. Rice pasta, if cooked properly, seems a little lighter and less robust than the in-your-face, almost standoffishness of whole wheat. And it’s wonderful with any sauce you’d like. I could drink quarts and quarts of cream sauce by itself. Nine times out of ten, I will choose a cream-based sauce. I’m a calorie-lover like that.

rice pasta with lemon cream sauce
yield: 2 servings prep time: 10 minutes cook time: 15 minutes
4 oz rice pasta (spaghetti or your choice)
1 tbsp olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 oz frozen peas
3 tbsp unsalted butter
zest of 1 lemon, about 2 teaspoons
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
8 oz heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan

To cook the pasta, fill a stock pot halfway with water and bring to a gentle boil. Add the olive oil and a generous amount of salt. Stir the pasta in and continue to stir until the water returns to a boil. Stir occasionally while cooking. Cook for just several minutes until the pasta is very al dente. You can read the package directions for specific cooking times. Just make sure to take it off earlier than you’re supposed to since it will cook slightly longer in the sauce (rice pasta can easily overcook, causing it to become mushy and gummy). Add the peas to a colander and drain the pasta over the top of them.
To make the sauce, melt the butter over medium-low heat in a large sauté pan. Stir in the lemon zest and garlic and let the butter get slightly bubbly. Slowly add the heavy cream and stir. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for several minutes until the cream has reduced and thickened slightly. Add the Parmesan and stir until melted.
Turn the drained pasta and peas into the sauce pan and use tongs to evenly coat the noodles with the sauce. Serve hot.

Rice pasta is probably mostly consumed by those with a gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) intolerance. I tried to go gluten-free for a while. Fatigue is a symptom of a gluten allergy and my body was (and is? ahem) butt-tired all the time. I figured I’d give it a whirl. Nothing happened. Zip. One day, in the midst of my experiment, I saw a tender, buttery biscuit somewhere and was like, “…oh, heck no. Forget this.” I snapped my hips in its direction and that beautiful, gluten-filled, wheat flour flakiness was snatched and consumed right then and there. And nothing changed. Y’all. Let’s get real. We all know the reason I’m butt-tired all the time is because I go to sleep at 2:30 every night. Er, every morning. Er, I’m trying to get better.

rocco’s pesto genovese

The first time I remember having pesto was at this fabulous place in Little Italy in NYC. I don’t think I knew what I was ordering, but basil and pine nuts didn’t sound repulsing, so I trusted the menu (c’mon. I was 19 and just realizing that I enjoyed food and didn’t have to simply ingest it). When the penne arrived lightly tossed in, not really a sauce, but more of a crushed combination of simple ingredients, I remember being hit with the smell of fresh basil and garlic. It was so delicate, yet so chock-full of flavor at the same time. Rather than being mushed together to paste-like consistency, it was prepared in a way where you could almost taste each ingredient separately. There’s the parmesan. There’s the olive oil. There’s the garlic. It was addicting.

The husband and I were watching the Cooking Channel several weeks ago when David Rocco’s Dolce Vita was on. First of all, can I just say how I love that he walks around outside and makes things on random benches and tree stumps? A little unrealistic for me right now, but it’s still beautiful. Also a little unrealistic for me right now: that I can pronounce Genovese. Big whoop. I pretend I’m saying it right by giving it a little Italian accent. But that doesn’t matter. The word Genovese comes from a city in Italy called Genoa, which is where pesto originated. And David Rocco creates this pesto with its tradition in mind. I will never use a food processor to make pesto again. He hand chops each ingredient, leaving a rustic, chunky, flavorful accompaniment to pasta, etc. This pesto reminds me of my NYC pasta (and, oh my, how that’s a good thing).

rocco’s pesto genovese
bunch fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup pine nuts, crushed
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
generous pinch of salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Using a sharp knife, finely chop basil, garlic, and nuts (pine nuts are traditional, but you really can use any type of nut and make a great pesto) on a cutting board. Put chopped ingredients in a jar. Add the parmigiano cheese, salt, and 1/2 cup olive oil and mix well. Top it off with the remaining extra-virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust it to your liking.
Pesto is traditionally served with pasta, bruschetta, or fish.

So, people, put down the food processors and get to choppin’. It really is easier (the husband will have less dishes to wash, heh…) and makes for a much simpler, more traditional Italian pesto. Thank you, Little Italy chef in NYC, thank you, David Rocco, and thank you, Italians for sticking to what you know and doing it beautifully and timelessly.