Bowtie Ballsagna

2-3 C bowtie noodles
2-3 C fresh spinach
3 C homemade pasta sauce + 12oz of tomato puree
24-36 mini meatballs
6-8 fresh Thai basil leaves
2 C ricotta cheese with S&P to taste
2 C grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses
2 C toasted breadcrumbs (optional)

Bowtime Ballsagna layering, from the bottom up:
Thin coating of pasta sauce (no meatballs)
Cooked bowtie pasta noodles
Pasta sauce with meatballs
Wilted spinach (in a thin covering)
Ricotta cheese
Cooked bowtie pasta noodles
Pasta sauce with meatballs
Wilted spinach (in a thin covering)
Ricotta cheese
Pasta sauce (no meatballs)
Mix of grated parmesan and mozzarella cheeses
Breadcrumbs (toasted, and optional)

Start by cooking your bowtie noodles in water that’s been generously salted. In a large non-stick pan, start wilting down the spinach with a small pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil (your choice); set aside to cool when it’s all cooked down.

As you cook the pasta and wilt the spinach, reheat your prepared or jarred pasta sauce in a deep sauce pot. To this, add your freshly cooked (if you had time to make any, of course) or frozen meatballs, the tomato puree, some freshly picked and cleaned Thai hot basil (if using dry leaves, half the called for amount; whole or chiffonade) and freshly cracked black pepper. Let that cook long enough to heat the meatballs all the way through.

Note: If you don’t have fresh or dried out Thai hot basil leaves, fresh sweet basil will be fine in the sauce. We like a bit of zing in our lasagna sauce, so that’s why I grow Thai hot basil in my garden.

Scoop out a bit of the pasta sauce to spread all over the bottom of your lasagna pan thinly. Scoop out a few more spoonfuls of just the pasta sauce and set aside (this is for the topping). When your pasta is done cooking, drain it well. Layer more or less than half of the cooked pasta over the sauce in the lasagna dish. (Only use enough to cover the sauce, otherwise this lasagna will become very bulky.) Over the pasta, place a generous amount of sauce with half of the meatballs to cover the pasta noodles, but not much more.

Over the sauce and meatballs layer, lay half of your wilted spinach all over and top that with a few blobs of ricotta cheese; (I use a medium size offset spatula to) spread the ricotta over the spinach in an almost opaque layer. Top the ricotta with the second half of your pasta noodles and top them with the last of the sauce and meatballs. Top those with the last of the wilted spinach, and then top the spinach with the last few blobs of ricotta spread out and the reserved pasta sauce before finishing the lasagna with your two grated cheeses (and toasted breadcrumbs if you like).

Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo

Fra diavolo is loosely translated as “brother devil,” or devilish brother pasta, and it’s not a traditional Italy manner of serving pasta dishes. It’s something American-Italians made up from what I gather.

Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo

Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo

It’s very easy to assemble and plate. It will take you less time to make if you already have pre-grilled chicken you can slice up and saute in the skillet at the half way point. The pasta cooks in a large pot as you sautee your vegetables in a bit of oil along with the red pepper flakes (this tends to deepen the heat of the flakes and spice up the veg as they soften) in a large saute pan. In a small saucepan you will heat up your sauce, and in your oven or on your BBQ or in a contact griller (think George Forman here), you will grill up your meat. All at the same time.

The stove or griller to heat up should take 6-20 minutes (my oven heats up to 350 degrees in 6 minutes since it’s on the newer side), and the chicken should take 20 minutes to cook (less if you pillard or butterfly the breasts), plus another 10 minutes to rest. The pasta water will take five minutes to boil, and another 8 minutes to cook the penne to almost al dente (stop cooking it just beforehand so you can finish it in the saute pan with the sauce and veg). The vegetables should take 5 minutes to chop up (you will use this time to heat the pan and then add the oil to heat on alone), and another 10 minutes to soften in the pan, so the last item you’ll get started will be the jarred pasta sauce since you’re simply heating it up in a sauce pot.

2C dry Penne noodles
6C heavily Salted boiling water
2 large seasoned Chicken Breasts, covered in bbq sauce (optional)
1 1/2C Pasta Sauce of your choice (I used a jar sauce since I was pressed for time)
4C large cuts of Red & Orange Peppers and Broccoli florets
Oil (for the pan, so of your choosing – I used light olive oil)
A pinch of Red Pepper Flakes (this is completely to taste, so start off small if you’re unsure)
1 -2 Green Onions (finely chop the green stems only, reserve the whites for future pasta sauce making if you like)

This will make enough to serve 4 hungry people comfortably.

In a pre-heated non-stick pan, heat 2 tbsp of oil before adding the red & orange peppers and broccoli along with the pepper flakes. Sautee till the vegetables soften, making sure nothing burns. The vegetables tend to soak up much of the oil, so a great trick I use is to add a few small spoonfuls of the starchy pasta water to the saute pan as I go along. The water will act as a barrier between the food and the pan so nothing gets scorched, and will help thicken the pasta sauce you’ll be adding to the pan later on.

In a small saucepan, pour your pasta sauce in and add a few spoonfuls of pasta water to help loosen it up so you can stir it easily. Cover and let that heat up. Don’t let it burn or boil too long. Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat and let it sit covered till you’re ready to add it to the saute pan.

When the chicken is done cooking, remove it from the heat and wrap or cover it in tin foil for ten minutes to rest before taking a temperature reading. If its internal temperature has reached 77 C (165 F) , the chicken is ready to be sliced up. Tent the slices with the same foil till you’re ready for plating while tending to the other food.

About 1-2 minutes before the penne hits the al dente stage, scoop it out of the pot and put it into the saute pan and add the pasta sauce over that. Turn up your heat a smidge as you stir to coat everything in the sauce. Keep the food moving by stirring and shaking the pan occasionally as you chop up the green onions. When the mixture is heated through completely, heap a few scoopfuls into each pasta bowl and top with the chicken and green onions. Serve immediately with cold water or beer or soda.

Toppings: Can be fresh cracked black pepper (a smidge – you will already have spicy veg and flakes in the dish) and fresh shavings of parmesan or any other cheese of you choosing, and a small sprinkling of breadcrumbs to compliment the sting of the red pepper flakes.


Tomato sauce from your kitchen

I’m often asked about what kind or kinds of tomato sauce I use with my fresh pasta. The answer is as simple as it is complex: depends on the final dish taste I’m after. I’m a huge fan of any sauce that starts with the holy trinity of diced onion, carrot and celery. From there, it’s a free-for-all of whatever I have on hand and/or feel like making up as I go along.

Here is a great resource guide for those of you looking to find the right taste for your dish. I love the Marcella Hazan butter tomato sauce, but sometimes I will make basic sauce sans butter {gasp} so I can add a cream product instead. Don’t forget to read the very helpful comments on that post. Many great tips and thoughts by home cooks in that post.

I’m not big on garlic or marinara sauce because of what it does to my breath for the following week, but a small bit isn’t a bad thing as long as you find a way to add a lot of mint or parsley to the plated meal somehow. Parsley and mint have long been known as natural breath freshener. Or, as I like to call it, garlic breath canceller. It’s not just garnish you leave on the side of your finish plate, kids. Not at all. Use it! It really does work. Trust me.