Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pasta attack!!!! AAAHHHH!!

Ok, so I'm going to say it. It's what you've been dreaming of hearing. Even on a diet, pasta doesn't have to be off limits. There. I said it. Now with that said, you have a world of tasty and healthy opportunities to make your diet more like a way of life and less like a torture experiment. Tonight we had fresh squash, spinach, a few tiny bell peppers and tomatoes from the garden, about a cup left from a bag of frozen peas, and a box of Dreamfield's Penne pasta. Before doing a little research, I had decided that this pasta was a miracle. It was only supposed to have 5 digestible carbs. They wouldn't tell you how they did it, but that was their claim anyway. Legitimate trials done on the affects of this pasta on your blood sugar have proved otherwise, so I won't be paying an extra buck for it again. I'm going back to whole wheat. I KNOW that's good for you, and I know it's tasty too; with the right sauce anyway. So those were my standard ingredients for this pasta, the base ingredients I'll call them. You can change pretty much anything else. I also happened to have a two lb bag of shrimp in the freezer. Apparently it's my style lately to cook enough to feed an army.. or two people for 3 days.. but I still only went with 1 lb of the shrimp. Uncooked! God help you if you buy them precooked. It will be a disaster.

Another household staple that we will put into this concoction is fat free half and half. Don't knock it until you've tried it. Steve and I were dyed in the wool heavy cream people. Who decided to be healthier and switch to half and half. Then down to fat free half and half. It's healthier but still rich and creamy; an excellent ingredient to have in the kitchen for random cooking tasks. Something else that you'll need for this recipe is fresh herbs. Whichever herbs you have (we happened to have oregano, parsley, and basil) will do fine. If you're in doubt, go ahead and use what I did. I can tell you it was delicious. I also threw in a small handful of chopped walnuts. I like the silkiness and buttery goodness it adds to any dish. But you don't have to add it at all and it'd still be tasty. This is all about cooking with intuition, and it's really easier than you think.

Another staple in your kitchen should be a fresh nutmeg.. nut.. or whatever you want to call it. Use your small grater or if you're fancy a microplane and you're set. It keeps longer than the already ground stuff, and it's just so much more aromatic and delicious. You will use it a lot in italian cooking. Nutmeg's not just for desserts!

So those are your household staples. Of course you'll have olive oil, salt, cracked pepper, onion powder, and garlic/garlic powder, whichever. That's all you'll need. Now, step by step, this is what I did. And you can do it too.

Turn on the grill. It's a good season for grilling anyway, since we don't always like heating up the kitchen with the oven. Take your peppers, I suggest two good sized ones or three to four garden sized peppers. Don't use green unless you're super brave. I am not. Ours were a strange variety of colors; reddish-orange-yellow-purpleish.. they were pretty mild tasting. If you're buying them in the grocery store, get two good sized red ones. your sauce will be much prettier than mine. Roast them over the high flame until they are burned. I mean, straight up burned to a crisp. Black skin. You don't need me to spell it out anymore than that. When they're burned up, put them in a bowl, covered, and into the fridge. Turn the grill down and spread your tinfoil over it. A little olive oil, salt, pepper on the bottom, then put your diced (you can large dice it since it's mostly going to be pureed) tomatoes and squash (or zucchini. I suggest zucchini personally, if you have the choice) keep them somewhat separate on the sheet, close the lid of the grill, and walk away. You should check on them occasionally, and when they look nice and broken down, a little browned, or just generally cooked, pull them off. I actually did mine in the oven, but now that I think of it, the grill is a better idea. But if you're doing oven, do it at 450 for about 20 or so minutes. Just keep a check on it, because I'm totally guessing on the time here.

So now you've got the base done. At this point, I took the peppers out of the oven, deskinned them, taking off all the blackness you can get off the outside, and all the seeds/stem from the inside. It will be slimy and that's okay. Pop it in the blender with a little more salt and pepper, maybe some red pepper flakes (don't go crazy here, just a dash) and probably 1/4 of a cup of fat free half and half. It will be a lovely pinky color, and that's good. Now's a good time to go ahead and add your grilled tomatoes to the blender and get those going too. Maybe a little more salt, pepper, etc. Keep tasting. You'll want to anyway because it's going to be delicious. This is when I went out and got a nice little chunk of basil (probably 1/4 cup, if it were chopped) and a tablespoon of parsley and oregano, each, and added them to the blender. Blend it a bit, then add the walnuts and blend until it's a nice smooth mixture. You might need more liquid, or you might not. If you do, go ahead and add a little of that half and half or some sort of stock, if you have it handy. Mine didn't need any. It should be a little thick, so it will stick to the pasta well! It's still got a lot of spinach to go in there, so don't worry if it's a little thick. Here's where things get nebulous because here's where you'll be salting and seasoning. I put about 1/2 tbsp red chili flakes, 1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tbsp minced garlic, and then salt and pepper to taste. It was good, so I let it be. I find that veggies have such a lovely taste that I just try to not mess them up when I'm working with simple italian dishes.

Now onto the rest of this meal. If I were you, I'd get a big pot of heavily salted water to boiling right about now, while you work with your veggies. I used frozen chopped spinach, so I just microwaved it to get it thawed, squeezed out the excess water, and put it along with the squash and the blender sauce into a big pot on the stove, probably medium heat. Add the frozen peas without defrosting them. While your pasta is boiling, you can go ahead and add your shrimp (you'll probably have to take the peels and tails off of them in advance) and get that cooking up. You'll know when they're done because they'll be nice and curled up and bright orangy pink. Don't overcook them! It only takes about 10 or so minutes on medium heat in the sauce/veggie mixture before they're perfect.

It just so happened that once my beautiful shrimp were done, so was my pasta, so after draining it really good, I scooped all the pasta and sauce/veggies into a large bowl and mixed it all up. It ended up very pretty and very tasty! Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan reggiano and a small sprig of basil and if you have them, a few sliced grape tomatoes! Voila! Dinner! It's healthy, beautiful, and full of veggies. It didn't take forever to make, and it didn't heat up your house. Can you ask for more? =) Maybe the recipe...

Summer Veggie and Shrimp Pasta:
1 lb uncooked shrimp
1 lb penne pasta
2 medium squash or zucchini
2 large red bell peppers
3 large tomatoes
1 cup frozen peas
1 box frozen chopped spinach
1/4 cup fat free half and half
1 bunch fresh basil, a little fresh oregano (ok, you could use dried!) and flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp dried pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh nutmeg (I'll admit it again, you can use ground already stuff)
6 tbsp fresh grated parmesan reggiano. Go ahead and splurge on a large block of this stuff, you'll use it a lot.
1 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp minced garlic or 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Grape tomatoes and more basil for garnish

Serves 6 adults pretty good portions of pasta.

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