Kale tomato pasta

Yes, it’s yet another veggie-heavy pasta/one-pot meal. You know you love them. Well, I know I do, anyway. They are a working girl’s best friend.

This one is a bit different because it used the last bit of the tomato paste I made last summer. It came from an almost-empty half-pint jar in the back of the fridge. That last bit was well covered with oil and had avoided any mold or mildew.

Now that the fridge is clean and I know for a fact that there is not more tomato paste in there, I’m white-knuckling it to tomato season. I can live without caprese for awhile longer, but I find myself oddly psychologically dependent on having that tomato conserva at hand.

Kale tomato pasta

The tomato paste in this sweetens and softens the kale.

1 pound pasta (fusilli is my favorite for this)

2 bunches Dino/lacinato/black kale

3 cloves garlic

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)

2 Tablespoons tomato paste


Parmesan for garnish

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add salt to make it taste as salty as sea water. Cook the pasta until tender to the bite or according to package directions.

Meanwhile, clean the greens and chop them. Slice garlic cloves as thinly as you can – don’t stress it too much, it will be tasty no matter how you cut it.

Heat a frying pan large enough to hold the pasta or a medium pot over medium high heat. Add olive oil. Add garlic and chile flakes, if using. Cook, stirring, until garlic is just barely starting to turn golden.

Add tomato paste and stir to combine with the garlic and oil. Add 1/3 cup of water and stir to combine.

Add chopped kale, stir to combine, cover, reduce heat to medium low, and cook until kale it tender, about 5 minutes.

Add another 1/3 cup water if mixture seems dry or kale is sticking to the pan.

Pasta should be ready to drain or already drained at this point. Add drained pasta to kale mixture. Stir to combine. Taste and add more salt, if you like. Top with Parmesan.


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Brussels sprouts pasta

I know I promised quick meals beyond pasta. I am presenting this pasta dish for your consideration despite my earlier and very recent promise for two reasons: first and foremost, it is flippin’ delicious. Who would think of adding brussels sprouts to spaghetti carbonara? Me! That’s who! And I’m pretty pleased with myself. (Brief side note: Many Americans seem to think that spaghetti carbonara should have a big mess of cream in it. For those people, I guess it does. But the Italian version of the dish has not a drop of cream – just egg that cooks and turns into a vaguely creamy sauce as the heat from the pasta cooks it on contact. If not-fully-cooked egg freaks you out, move right along – this recipe would not be for you).

The second reason I present it to you is quite simple: I am slammed. Work and life and civic duty have colluded to render me a shell of my usual self. And it’s going to last a while and I’m only at the beginning. About all I can do is cook pasta.

Brussels sprouts pasta

You can use less brussels sprouts, if you like. I tend to overdo it because I love them so much. This recipe is all about the method, so be sure to read the whole thing before you start. I can prep all this stuff while the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, but I’m speedy – you might want to do some brussels sprouts trimming ahead of time. You can always start the water and let it boil until you’re ready to the add the pasta – a watched pot may never boil but a pot of boiling water is not the boss of you! Oh my, I’m really losing my mind.

12 oz. orecchiette or penne pasta (or other bite-sized shape)

1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 slice pancetta, about 1/3-inch thick or 3 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes or more to taste, if you like

1/2 cup white wine

2 eggs

1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese (or other hard grating cheese, such as parmesan), plus more to taste

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Salt it until it tastes as salty as ocean water. Cook the pasta until tender to the bite. BUT FIRST…

While the water comes to a boil, heat the olive oil or butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Cook the pancetta until brown and crispy. Add the garlic and red chile flakes. Cook about a minute before adding the white wine. Boil and let it reduce to about half of what it was. Add the brussels sprouts, cover, and cook, stirring now and again, until the sprout slices are yummily tender, about 5 minutes.

As the brussels cook, beat the eggs in a large bowl until no glops or gobs remain – they should be as thin as water. Add the cheese and pepper. Stir or whisk to combine.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and IMMEDIATELY dump it into the egg mixture and start tossing. Keep tossing. Seriously, just keep tossing it. Then add the hot brussels sprout mixture and toss that like there is no tomorrow. The egg and cheese should have cooked and melted, respectively, to form a luscious sauce with the bit of oil and pancetta fat and reduced wine left in the brussels sprouts somewhere.

Top with more cheese and pepper and see how easy it is to eat a giant bowl or two of this after a long hard day.

brussels sprouts

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Fennel pasta (with browned garlic)


Add this to the roster. You know, that roster of quick, yummy dishes you can pull together with little notice and minimal effort. The bit of chile warmed me right up and the browned garlic helped bring out the sweetness at the heart of fennel.

Double fennel pasta (with browned garlic)

1/2 pound spaghetti or other long noodles (that’s angel hair above because that’s what was in the cupboard)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes or 1 small red or green chile, minced

1 bulb fennel, halved and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (use a mortar and pestle or bash with the bottom of a frying pan)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup white wine or broth

1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Cheese for the top

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until tender to the bite, reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid before you drain the noodles.

* Save time by cooking the “sauce” while the pasta cooks; save dishes by cooking the sauce in the pasta pot after you’ve drained the noodles. *

Heat the oil in a large frying or saute pan or the pasta pot over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until it just starts to turn golden and brown at the edges. Add chile flakes or fresh chile, stir to combine. Add fennel, fennel seeds, and salt and cook, stirring, until fennel softens a bit, about 2 minutes. Add wine or broth, cover, reduce heat to medium low, and cook until fennel is quite tender, about 5 minutes.

Add parsley, stir to combine. Add drained pasta and reserved pasta liquid, stir to combine, increase heat back to medium high, and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed/evaporated and all the flavors combine, 2 to 3 minutes.

Serve with plenty of parmesan, pecorino, or whatever hard cheese you like on top of your pasta. Some people may also want freshly ground black pepper. Indulge them.


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Macaroni and cheese


Macaroni and cheese, the kind made with actual cheese and not orange powder from a box, makes me think of one thing: the time right after my son was born. A dear friend made me a double batch (one for eating, one for freezing) of some kick-ass, creamy, luscious, rich macaroni and cheese. I was just home from the hospital, trying to nurse this tiny bundle of screams and coos, and – despite what books and doctors had promised – he was awake all day except for 20-minute dozes he would take after a feeding if I was lucky. Instead of sleeping 20 out of 24 hours, he used that time to eat. Everyone said I needed to nurse him on-demand, so I did. His demand, however, was insatiable. I was tired and hungry and so so so so very thirsty all of the time. It seemed like there would never be enough sleep or food in the world to fix my state.

That mac and cheese sure helped, though. I ate it for every meal one day – the breakfast included three scrambled eggs on the side which I maintain is the best nursing mother breakfast possible. Fortifying to exhausted body and weary soul.

In one sense I can still feel everything from that time – the magic of the new born, the feeling of a cascade of spit-up running down my chest, the pit of hunger that gnawed on me day and night as the life was literally sucked out of me, the ability to fall fully asleep while sitting up if given just 10 seconds of quiet and stillness – and in another sense it’s all a blur. But this I know: for better or for worse that time ended, or at least it morphed into other times. And those times quickly blur into one another in my memory and mainly what I see is the six year old beside me now. The six year old who leaves this on my desk:


Here is how the note came about:

“Mama, the chicken at Good Frickin’ Chicken is good, but the macaroni and cheese is also really good.”

“Mmmm hmmm,” I nodded as I drove to school.

“Mama, don’t you think their macaroni and cheese is really good?”

“Uh, it’s okay, I guess. It’s not my favorite.”

“What IS your favorite then?”

“Well, I suppose the kind I make.”

Silence. Stunned silence as Terry Gross murmurs over the airwaves.

“Mama, you can MAKE mac and cheese?!?!?!”

I like this about six a lot. Ernest knows I cook as part of my job. He knows I’m a good cook (mostly from people constantly telling him and trying to make him talk about how lucky he is, but to him it is just food and he wishes there was more fried chicken gracing the table, thank you very much). Yet he hasn’t quite figured out that if it is food, I can make it. So each new item is like a gift offered down from the heavens. As with crêpes, as with baguettes.

So I said I’d make mac and cheese for dinner and then forgot to go buy cheese, and the next morning the above was waiting for me when I returned from dropping him at school – a process that involved several verbal reminders to buy cheese. Cheese was bought, grated, and baked, all were happy:

Just Plain Delicious Macaroni and Cheese


This makes a decidedly Spartan version of macaroni and cheese – that is, the pasta-to-sauce ratio is a tad sparse. For a richer, saucier version, simply reduce the amount of macaroni to half a pound.

1 pound elbow macaroni or other small tube-shaped pasta

5 cups milk (sometimes I use a cup of white wine for a grown-up flair, adding that first to the butter-flour mixture, then adding four cups of milk)

1/2 cup cream (or increase milk to 5 1/2 cups)

7 Tablespoons butter

About 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (about 6 slices of white sandwich bread or similar)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon dijon mustard (optional)

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

6 cups shredded cheese (about 20 ounces total) – I like to use about half aged gouda, and half regular gouda but there are infinite possibilities

Preheat oven to 375. Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until just tender to the bite – drain it and set it aside.

If you’re feeling precise, gently warm milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat or, I imagine, for about a minute in the microwave. If you add it cold to the roux the whole thing will seize up and you’ll have to really whisk a lot of lumps out of it – work now or work later, it’s your choice.

In a large pot over medium high heat, melt the butter. While butter melts put bread crumbs in a medium bowl. Pour out 2 tablespoons of the butter and toss with the bread crumbs. Set aside. Return remaining butter to the heat. When it stops foaming, whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until you get a slight cooked pie crust smell, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking, until sauce thickens slightly. Stir in salt, mustard if you like, nutmeg, pepper, and cayenne.

Add cheese, one handful at a time, whisking or stirring between additions so you have a smooth sauce before adding more cheese. When all the cheese is melted into the sauce, remove from the heat. Add more salt, nutmeg, pepper, or cayenne to taste. Add pasta and toss to thoroughly coat the noodles with the sauce. Pour macaroni into a 9-by-13 baking pan. Cover with bread crumbs and bake until bubbling and golden on top, about 20 minutes.

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Green garlic pesto

We are all a bit stuffed up and achy around my house. The boys have been sick for awhile, but it just hit me yesterday. I may have come down last, but it looks like I’m coming down hardest. So when dinner time rolled around I headed down to the basement and my beloved deep freezer. After rooting around for a few minutes I pulled out a container of green garlic pesto I made the last time it was in season. We tossed it with some angel hair pasta, made a green salad (with classic vinaigrette, which can be made in about the time it takes to sort through bottled dressings in a fridge, pull one out, pour it, put the cap back on, and return the bottle to the fridge), and called it dinner. Not too shabby.

I was in a bit of a hurry because I was headed out — cold and all — to help a friend who has a prolific meyer lemon tree of her own turn some of her backyard fruit into marmalade.

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green garlic

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Bar Bambino

We ate at Bar Bambino last night. Used to be a person could not get a table there during any decent hour for love or money. Now a party of four can eat prime time on a Thursday with no warning. An upside of the economic decline? I guess, but only if the good restaurants manage to stay afloat…. And Bar Bambino is a good restaurant. That food is delicious. But, it must be said, those pastas portions are small. Really small. “Mama, I want more raviolis” small. It seemed like I had barely tucked into my pappardelle with braised rabbit before it was gone. Of course that might have had something to do with giving the lion’s share to poor Ernest who is used to more than five raviolis (yes, 5, they served 5 raviolis for something like $14) for his supper. Note to self: order more food at Bar Bambino than you think you need to.

Like soup? Check out Friday Food Files at sfgirlbybay today.

ordered it

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When the cat’s away….

No, we don’t have a cat. My dashing husband is really quite remarkably allergic to cats. I’ve checked. Many moons ago I once neglected to tell him the house to which we had been invited to eat dinner was home to a cat. I had our hosts hide the cat, super-duper clean the house, and kept my fingers crossed. It’s the best he’s ever done – it took over an hour for his eyes to turn red and his nose to run and for him to start wondering aloud if he was coming down with something. Of course I felt horrible and have met the subsequent challenges of being paired with someone so allergic to cats* with the resolve of the British during the Blitz. Or perhaps I exaggerate.

The cat that is away, ironically enough, is my dashing husband. A quick business trip to the southland means I got to put cream in the pasta last night and boy oh boy did Ernest and I enjoy that! My dashing husband, as regular readers know, has certain dietary requirements and ideas and I try to humor him (especially since, it ends up, he really does seem to feel better when he follows them).

Instead of our regular pasta with greens that is such a standard around here I’ve stopped posting about it for fear of 1) boring you and 2) having a record of how often we eat it and being hauled away by the culinary police in case they exist, we had creamy pasta with greens – and I even baked it casserole-style for some crispy brownness on top.

It’s easy, fast, creates limited dirty dishes if you cook the “sauce” in the pot after you drain the pasta, and you can even make it ahead and then bake it if that’s how you roll (I’m talking to you, Mom!). Some people might want quite a bit more cheese in it that I used. Hell, I wanted quite a bit more cheese in it if there were no such thing as calories or saturated fat. Do as the spirit moves you, is all I can say. I can also say that this particular combination — with the cream to soften the rough edges — would be pretty darn tasty with a whole grain pasta for all of you out there with New Year’s Resolutions you’re still trying to follow.

* They are legion, now that you ask. We can’t stay with people who have a cat, which has proved most inconvenient more than once. Cannot dine at the homes of people with cats, which has put a damper on a many otherwise enticing invitations. And, of course, I cannot get a cat. I’m not sure I want one, but I can’t have one so I can flirt with the idea every now and again and feel deprived.

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A prophylactic to impending indulgence: pasta with greens

I’m girding my loins for the holidays. We have a great Christmas planned and it sounds like tons of fun. But even with all the fresh air and exercise my Minnesotan family will seek out, plenty of time will be spent sitting around noshing. My mother-in-law will bring delicious cured and smoked fishes, friends and neighbors will inundate the house with cookies and candy, and then there will be the actual meals.

I’m not complaining – it’s part of what the holidays are – but I have been purposefully keeping dinners simple. Last night, with greens and pasta, was no exception. 

Looking for simplicity at the table too? Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add more salt than you think you should. Drop in the leaves from a bunch of dino kale (the straight, very dark kind) and cook until they bend more than they did when you put them in. Use tongs or a slotted spoon or two forks to fish them all out and drain them. Now boil up 1/2 to 1 lb. of pasta depending on how hungry everyone is. Cook until just tender, scoop out about a cup of the pasta-cooking liquid, and drain. While the water come to a boil and things cook, thinly slice a few cloves of garlic (I use 4 – you may want more or less). Squeeze the excess water out of the kale and chop it.  Put the pot back on the stove and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add garlic and cook until just starting to look like it might turn golden. Add a handful of pine nuts, if you’re so inclined, and a sprinkle of red chile flakes, again, if that sounds appealing. Alternatively you could use a fresh chile, or add a filet or two of minced anchovy, or nothing at all. Really, it’s your dinner.

Add the greens and the cooking liquid and cook until liquid is reduced by about half. (FYI: If you have a cup of chicken broth on hand you can use that in place of the pasta-cooking liquid for extra flavor.) Stir in the noodles and cook until liquid is absorbed. Stir in as much grated parmesan, pecorino, or asiago as you’re inclined to add (I tend to stir in about 1/3 of a cup or so, one could certainly add more or leave it out entirely).  Sprinkle more of said cheese on each serving.

It’s a dinner that’s simple to make, simple to eat, simple to clean up (one pot, baby!). Enjoy.

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New mom food

New moms need calcium, and iron, and protein, and a bit of fat, and some carbs to keep ‘em going. My absolute favorite thing to eat those first few weeks after Ernie was born was an insanely rich mac-n-cheese a friend made for me, with a side of scrambled eggs. That was my breakfast for a full week, if memory serves correctly.

Last night we ate a spinach lasagna that was constructed from the leftover elements of the spinach lasagnas I made for two friends who are new moms. When did they have these babies, you ask? Well, a few months ago and I just lamed out and never brought either of them food. Midwestern grandmothers are spinning in their graves, and after I post this I fully expect a disappointed phone call from my mother. I don’t know what happened. But the important thing for you, my dear dear internets, is that I finally did make this lasagna and now you can too.

Spinach lasagna holds a special place in my family. It is, perhaps, my mom’s signature dish. We all love it. My sister-in-law requests it for her birthday dinner. And what have I done? I’ve changed it. Between my fancy-pants ideas about food and my half Italian-American husband, I’ve sucked the Midwest right out of this dish. (How it actually happened is: I was living in Paris, called my mom for the recipe, and it was easier to find the more Italian ingredients like ricotta and mozzarella than the more American ingredients like cottage cheese and monterey jack (!), and a revised dish was born.) For those of you who know and love my mom’s spinach lasagna, you’ll have to call her for that recipe. For the rest of us, this will have to suffice.

Spinach Lasagna

Butter an 8×8 baking pan and preheat the oven to 375 if you plan on just making, cooking, and eating the lasagna. Why you would do that, I’m not sure since this puppy can sit for a day or two in the fridge and freezes beautifully…. On that same note, feel free to double this and make two or bake it up in a 9×13 or 10×15–it is an endlessly flexible dish (the one pictured above is a skimpy version baked in a smaller dish and with only two layers of noodles, yet was still delic).

Boil 8 oz. lasagna noodles is salty water until tender. Drain and lay out on clean towels until you’re ready to build the lasagna.

So, meanwhile melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan. Cook 1 fairly finely chopped onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt until the onion is very soft an sort of pasty looking. Add 20 oz. spinach (frozen actually works just dandy, just squeeze the water out of it first; if using fresh, chop it up a bit first) and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid evaporates. Set aside.

In a large bowl beat 2 eggs then stir in 1 lb. ricotta and 1 lb. grated fresh mozzarella. Add about 1 cup freshly grated parmesan and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. A grating or two of nutmeg is in no way inappropriate at this juncture, but it is fully optional. Stir in spinach. If you’re like me and live on the edge, taste it (salmonella be damned!–actually I know where my eggs come from and feel pretty confident that they’re clean) and add salt if you like.

Layer noodles, a bit more than 1/3 cheese mixture, noodles, again a bit more than 1/3 cheese mixture, noodles, a fair bit less that 1/3 cheese mixture, and top with some grated parm. I like to layer in the noodles so the bottom layer extends up the sides and I can fold them over the top at the end creating a crunchy, chewy noodle-crust around the whole thing. Cover with foil, bake 20 minutes, uncover and bake until hot and bubbling and browning, about another 20 minutes.

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Whole wheat pasta

Again, I can’t go into too much detail. What I can say is that whole wheat pasta is such a great idea. It is so good for you, so much better than regular pasta, and yet… It isn’t regular pasta. Don’t listen to folks who say to just use it in place of regular pasta. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. Sure, sometimes you can. But if you just throw your favorite tomato sauce on some random whole wheat spaghetti… I think you’ll be disappointed.

So I’m working on some toppings for whole wheat pasta that take advantage of its nutty, earthy, chewy nature. And I’m having some luck. Of course, if I’m honest with myself, I think each and every sauce I’m coming up with would be better with regular pasta, but that’s not the point, is it? That’s what I’m telling myself.

Is it like cream? You know how once you stop eating cream, after awhile, it’s just too much? Sure, in college I ate my cereal with half-and-half on it, but not only do I not miss it, it doesn’t even sound good now. It sounds disgusting. If I never ate any white flour would it start to taste wrong instead of delicious?

By the way, my dashing husband is learning a thing or two about recipe development. He noted that whole wheat walnut bread is super-duper delicious, so maybe whole wheat pasta would be good with something that had walnuts in it. Pretty sharp, huh? I might have even felt threatened if I hadn’t already worked up a snazzy little walnut number….

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