Pasta with Sausage, Sage Butter and Parmesan

A couple weeks ago I featured a pasta dish with some of the fresh herbs I’m growing. One I didn’t use then was sage. Having not done a lot with sage other than almost burn the house down during my first attempt at making a sage brown butter sauce, lessons were learned and I was now ready to ease back into that sage/butter combination, but with a lot less butter.

Initially a bit concerned with the amount of sage in this recipe, there was no need to be. In fact, the quantity I include below could even be increased if you’d like. Using a modest amount of butter adds to the creaminess of the finished dish, but doesn’t make it overly rich. The addition of the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano adds a comfort food factor, with no heaviness.

Fresh greens, either from your garden or the farmers’ market, dressed with homemade vinaigrette, would be a wonderful first course. Enjoy!

Pasta with Sausage, Sage Butter, and Parmesan

Adapted from this Mark Bittman recipe

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces pasta, such as ziti or penne, preferably whole wheat

3 to 4 ounces Italian sausage, chopped (I used Trader Joe’s Sausage-less Italian, one link)

2 tablespoons butter

About 20-30 small to medium fresh sage leaves

½ cup or more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Zest of half a lemon

Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; generously salt it. Cook pasta until it is tender, but not quite done.

While pasta water heats, brown sausage in a small pan until done. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet large enough to hold the cooked pasta over medium heat. Add butter and sage leaves. Cook until butter turns nut-brown and sage shrivels, then turn heat down to low.

When the pasta is just about done, scoop out about ½ cup of the cooking water.

Drain the pasta. Immediately add it to the butter-sage mixture, stir in the sausage, and raise heat to medium. Add about 1/3 cup of the pasta water and the lemon juice; stir. Cook for about 30 seconds, or until some of the water is absorbed and the pasta is al dente.

Stir in cheese and lemon zest; the sauce will become creamy. Thin it with a little more reserved pasta water if necessary. Season liberally with salt & pepper to taste, and serve immediately. Sprinkle with more cheese if you’d like.


Creamy Sriracha Potato Salad

Scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches have been the extent of my culinary adventures lately as I recuperate from total hip replacement surgery. Until my appetite and agility return and I dive back into cooking escapades worth sharing, here’s a potato salad recipe I came up with last month. A little creamy, a little tangy, and subtly spicy. I hope you like it. Enjoy!

Creamy Sriracha Potato Salad

½ pounds Yukon gold potatoes

1 cup sliced radishes

¾ cup sliced scallions

¼ cup sour cream or plain Green yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon dill pickle juice

1-2 tablespoons sriracha sauce (depending on how much heat you’d like)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ cup chopped parsley or dill

Cut potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Place in a pan and cover with water and throw in some salt. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and cook potatoes until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, and dump into a large serving bowl. Add radishes and scallions and toss.

While potatoes are cooking, combine sour cream, mayo, lemon juice & zest, pickle juice, sriracha, olive oil, and garlic powder in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth and creamy.

Pour dressing over potato mixture and toss to coat. Sprinkle in parsley or dill and toss again. Cover and chill for a couple hours before serving. Makes 4-6 servings.


Lemon Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

Whenever I see a photo or recipe for stuffed pasta shells, I think of my late Great Aunt Betty. Betty was my grandma’s youngest sister and lived in the far-off land of Los Angeles with her husband and kids. We took a family road-trip to visit them the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, along the way camping in the mountains of Wyoming, a hotel night in Las Vegas, and on the return trip home, driving through California’s wine country and a stop in San Francisco, a city that stole my young heart.

In LA, we stayed with Aunt Betty and Uncle Tom and they and my cousins took us unsophisticated Midwesterners sightseeing to the worldly locales of Knott’s Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, Tijuana, Universal Studios, and beautiful sandy California beaches. But the best memories from that trip aren’t the roller coasters, bargaining at Mexican market stands, movie sets, or the Pacific Ocean. Me being me, aside from getting to spend time with extended family, the best memories are of the food Aunt Betty made. Specifically her stuffed pasta shells and Napoleons. This 14-year-old was uber impressed with both and we got the recipes so Mom could make them back home. The wonderful flavors are forever imbedded in my mind.

Recently  I saw a recipe for stuffed pasta shells on Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks, and thought back to Aunt Betty and her recipe. It wasn’t vegetarian, so maybe Heidi’s version could take its place? Yes, indeed!

I’ve been cooking with whole wheat pasta almost exclusively for years, but have yet to find a source for whole wheat or whole grain jumbo pasta shells, even after searching ginormous supermarkets, my co-op, and online. Ultimately I opted for a package of unique (non-whole wheat) lumache giganti found in the Italian section at said ginormous supermarket. In retrospect, regular jumbo shells would have been better vehicles for stuffing, but I love the way these “snail” shells cook to a perfect al dente that held its toothsome bite even after baking.

To Heidi’s quick and simple tomato sauce I added some dried herbs for a little more depth and also sautéed some onion and spinach to include in the filling. Both Pete and I had to really hold ourselves back from eating till our bellies burst. A stuffed shells recipe that even outdoes Great Aunt Betty’s. Next time I might tackle Napoleons! Enjoy!

Lemon Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks Stuffed Shells


Zest of one lemon, divided

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more if you like lots of heat

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 28-ounce and 1 14-ounce can crushed red tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can find them)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried marjoram

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ large yellow onion, chopped

3-4 big handfuls fresh spinach, chopped

1 15 or 16 ounce container good quality ricotta cheese

1 egg, beaten

1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 cup grated mozzarella

About 25-30 jumbo dried pasta shells or lumache giganti (if you can find them)

½ cup freshly grated parmesan

A couple tablespoons sliced scallions, green part only

Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking pan and sprinkle half the lemon zest over the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the sauce, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook only about 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant – you don’t want the garlic to brown. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano and marjoram and heat to a gentle simmer, just a minute or two. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Set aside to cool.

For the filling, in a medium sauté pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped spinach and cook several more minutes until spinach is wilted and soft. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg, then add the ricotta and salt and mix to combine. Stir in the mozzarella and remaining lemon zest, followed by the onion-spinach mixture. Set aside.

Cook the shells according to package instructions the boiling, salted water until barely al dente. If you overcook, the shells will tear as you attempt to fill them. Drain and let cool long enough to handle.

Spread 1/3 of sauce across the bottom of the prepared pan. Fill each shell with ricotta mixture, and arrange in a single layer in the pan. Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the parmesan, and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the shells are cooked through. Sprinkle with sliced scallions. Serve hot.

Vegan “Crab” Cakes with Lemon Dill Aioli

Crab Cakes
The last few years, Pete and I have opted for a quiet home-cooked dinner on New Year’s Eve. This year, after just returning from an especially cold (sub-zero temps, but sadly, no snow) trip to the cabin, staying in by the fire was a welcome way to celebrate.
Icy rocks on Lake Superior

Having received two new cookbooks for Christmas (my favorite gifts!), it was fitting to pull our dinner menu from them. Our entrée was the Eggplant and Three Cheese Calzone out of Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Apparently traditional calzones, which originated in Naples, didn’t have a red sauce inside like most of the restaurant versions we’ve all had. This recipe, however, included a simple, but delicious garlicky tomato sauce to serve on the side. It all came together for one amazingly delicious entrée!

Our delightful appetizer, though, is what I’m sharing today. It’s a combination of a vegan “crab” cake recipe I came across years ago and a non-vegetarian Maryland-style version in my other new cookbook, Party on the Prairie, by Sarah Nasello (available in her and her husband’s restaurant, Sarello’s or online by emailing

Firm tofu stands in as the crab and finely chopped veggies and herbs combine with bold seasonings to make an appetizer that can be enjoyed by everyone from vegan to carnivore. The accompanying aioli (recipe below) brings the first course to completion with creaminess and bright lemony-dill notes. Enjoy!
Crab cake mixtureCakes cooking

Vegan 'Crab' Cakes with Lemon Dill Aioli

Adapted from a “crab” cake recipe by Sluggo’s Restaurant in Pensacola, FL and Sarello’s Crab Cakes in Party on the Prairie, a cookbook by the lovely and talented Sarah Nasello

1 14-16 oz. block firm tofu

½ half a medium organic green pepper, finely chopped

½ a medium red onion, finely chopped

1 large carrot, grated

2 stalks celery, diced

½ cup fine dry whole wheat bread crumbs

½ cup vegan mayonnaise (i.e., Earth Balance Mindful Mayo)

1/8 cup Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, plus extra for garnish

1 teaspoon vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (I like Annie’s Naturals brand)

Juice of half a lemon

2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

1 teaspoon white pepper

Salt, to taste

1 cup Japanese panko bread crumbs

Peanut oil

Lemon Dill Aioli (recipe follows)

Remove tofu from package and wrap in several layers of a clean tea towel (or paper towels) and place on a plate. Place another place on top and weigh it down with something heavy like a large can of tomatoes for about a half hour to release excess moisture. Pat tofu dry and crumble into large mixing bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients except for the panko bread crumbs and the peanut oil. Mix thoroughly (I use a spatula and then my hands for the final mixing). If it seems too wet, add some more bread crumbs, and if it seems to dry to hold together, add a little more mayo.

Dump the panko bread crumbs into a shallow bowl. Heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of peanut oil, and swirl the pan so that it’s evenly coated. Once oil is hot, form tofu mixture by the ¼ cup into patties, coating each patty in panko and place in skillet (you’ll need to do this in batches), making sure not to crowd the patties. Flatten each slightly with a metal spatula once in the pan. Cook until bottoms are golden, about 3-4 minutes, flip and cook several minutes more. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil. Repeat with remaining tofu mixture, adding more peanut oil to pan, as needed, for each batch. Makes about 12 cakes. Serve with Lemon Dill Aioli and top with chopped fresh dill.

Lemon Dill Aioli

½ cup vegan mayonnaise

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Salt, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Place a dollop on each “crab” cake and garnish with chopped dill.

Tips: Use any leftover “crab” cakes for a nice breakfast/brunch benedict. You can freeze the cakes before cooking or after for up to a couple months. If freezing before cooking, thaw completely before cooking per recipe instructions. If freezing after cooking, thaw completely and bake on a baking sheet or stone at 400 degrees F. for about 15 minutes, until hot.

Italian Almond Cookies

Cookies on rack
Most years I don’t do a ton of Christmas baking (mainly due to my lack of restraint when it comes to sweets). Of course, there’s the annual Lukken-making Extravaganza, and I sometimes make a batch of these incredibly yummy Peanut Sitting Pretties, but that’s usually about it. This year, however, I’ve added a delicious and unique cookie to the line-up.

Reading the Star Tribune’s Taste section a couple weeks ago, I came across this recipe, which was the winner of their annual holiday cookie contest. After returning to the states from a year of school abroad, the winner/author worked by trial and error to recreate a cookie his Italian girlfriend’s family made from a recipe they declined to share. The perfected version makes light lemony almondy morsels that are unlike any cookie I’ve ever had. Without the characteristic butter, flour and whole eggs that typify quality cookies, these are made with almond meal/flour, sugar, lots of fragrant lemon zest, almond and vanilla extracts, a kiss of honey, and a beaten-to-soft-peaks egg white. That’s it, that’s all.

A super simple recipe, the cookies come together quickly and the only real difficulty is to not over-bake them. I’ve made several batches, in several different shapes, and found the 15-20 minute baking time in the original recipe to be too long, with 8-9 minutes being just right in my oven on the convection bake setting. Also, the recipe says to roll the dough into a 1” in diameter log and cut into ½” slices, then form into egg-shaped cookies. My egg shapes ended up looking pretty sad, so then I tried rounds, which were better, and finally, in the last batch, I decided to make balls, using a cookie scoop, which resulted in by far the prettiest cookie. All delicious, regardless of shape.

I should also mention I used Trader Joe’s Almond Meal in the first batch and Bob’s Red Mill Finely Ground Almond Meal/Flour in subsequent batches. The finely ground stuff results in a much better texture and color. If you have the Trader Joe’s brand, try whirring it in your food processor for a bit to get a finer grind and you should be good.

After bringing a plate of these gems to work, I can guarantee they will impress, and for a change, your friends who eat gluten-free will be able to partake. Enjoy!
Italian Almond Cookies

Italian Almond Cookies

Slightly tweaked from William Teresa’s Star-Tribune prize-winning recipe

2 ¼ cup finely ground almond meal/flour

¾ cup organic granulated sugar

Zest of one large lemon (preferably organic)

1 egg white

½ teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Powdered sugar for coating cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, granulated sugar, and lemon zest.

In a medium bowl, beat egg white until soft peaks form.

With a wooden spoon, stir beaten egg white, honey, almond and vanilla extracts into the almond flour mixture. Then use your hands to fully mix all ingredients until dough holds together.

Fill a shallow bowl with about a half cup of powdered sugar. Using a half ounce (#60) cookie scoop, form dough into balls. Roll balls in powdered sugar until evenly coated and place balls 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake until cookies start to develop a cracked exterior, about 8-10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through cooking time. Do not over-bake (they will become very hard and chewy if you do). Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 2 dozen cookies. Keep several days in an airtight container or freeze for longer storage.

Almond Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

Plated scone
Sometime last year I came across a recipe using almond paste. I can’t for the life of me remember what that recipe was, but I ended up not making it for some reason even though I had to go to several stores before finally finding the paste. At two different stores, the clerk insisted I must mean marzipan. Having already done some almond paste googling, I knew the two were very different and that marzipan had much more sugar and much less almond than almond paste and the two definitely weren’t interchangeable.
Almond paste

The unused almond paste has been sitting mostly forgotten in the cupboard next to the stove ever since. Recently I took a look at it and saw the expiration date was fast approaching. Time to find a recipe! Turns out the Danish maker of the almond paste, Odense, has a great website with tons of recipes. Cookie, bar, cake, pie, bread, muffin, and scone recipes that all made my mouth water. With a trip to the cabin coming up soon, I decided on scones. Because scones freeze so well, they’d be the perfect make-ahead sweet treat to have with our hearty cabin breakfasts.

This recipe makes a lot! I ended up with 25. It could easily be halved, but you could also freeze them unbaked, and just thaw a few at a time to have fresh-baked scones on a whim. To glaze or not is your choice. With only a half a cup of sugar, this is not a super sweet scone without the glaze. But the glaze adds a fresh burst of lemony sweetness, complimenting the blueberry and almond flavors so incredibly well, it was a no-brainer for me to go with the glaze! I pretty much followed the recipe as written, but did swap out 1 1/3 cups of the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour (and I think whole wheat pastry flour would have worked well, too) to make them a bit healthier. Enjoy!

Almond Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

One 7 ounce box almond paste, grated on the large holes of a box grater

2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/3 cups white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)

1/2 cup sugar

1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, stemmed, rinsed and drained.

Lemon Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Add grated almond paste, flours, sugar, butter, lemon rind, baking powder, baking soda and salt to a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the texture of small crumbs. Note: This step can be done with a pastry blender.

Whisk buttermilk and egg in a large bowl. Add flour mixture and blueberries. Mix with spoon until dough comes together.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Knead one or two turns until dough is firm enough to roll out, but still delicate. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out to about 1/2-3/4 inch thickness.

Cut scones with 2 ½ inch round cookie cutter and place on cookie sheets. Gather together remaining dough and roll out again. Repeat until all dough is used. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until firm to the touch and light golden. Cool on wire rack. Makes about two dozen scones.

While scones are cooling, prepare glaze by mixing until smooth, powdered sugar, lemon juice, melted butter and lemon rind. Pour over slightly warm scones and serve.


Portabella Piccata

Piccata Plated2
Last week my online newspaper skimming led me to a recipe I couldn’t get out of my mind, even though it wasn’t vegetarian. This happens frequently–a dish makes my mouth water while my brain goes into conversion mode, mulling over ways to make it meatless. Such was the case with this recipe from the fabulous Sarah and Tony Nasello of Sarello’s Restaurant in Moorhead, MN.

At first I was thinking of using mock duck in place of the pork. Then I thought maybe tofu, but ultimately settled on the meaty portabella. I made the right choice. Both Pete and I declared this absolutely delicious and definitely blog-worthy. Because we were starving, I served it over whole-wheat spaghetti, but for a lighter dish, you could top cooked greens such as kale with this tasty concoction. And I bet it would be great over baked or mashed potatoes too. Enjoy!

Portabella Piccata

4 portabella mushrooms, stems removed and gills scraped off with a spoon
Half to ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (or your favorite gluten-free flour), seasoned with salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 tablespoons butter or non-hydrogenated margarine (like Earth Balance), divided
1/4 cup minced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons capers, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Chopped flat-leaf parsley

If your mushrooms are thick, slice them horizontally to create thinner mushroom slices. Place seasoned flour in a large zip-lock bag. Sprinkle half of the mushrooms with a little bit of water and put them in the zip-lock bag, seal, and shake until mushrooms are coated with flour.

Heat one tablespoon oil and one tablespoon butter or margarine in a cast iron or sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add dredged mushrooms. Cook three minutes, then turn with tongs and cook three more minutes. Remove to a plate and repeat process with remaining mushrooms.

After the second batch of mushrooms is out of the pan, reduce heat to medium and add another tablespoon of olive oil and of butter. When hot, add garlic and shallots and cook about 30 seconds, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen those yummy brown bits left by the mushrooms. Carefully pour in stock, wine, lemon juice, and sugar. Whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook until it’s reduced by about half. If the sauce doesn’t thicken up enough, sprinkle a little of the leftover flour mixture over sauce and whisk to combine. When sauce is thick, return cooked mushrooms to the pan and reduce heat to low. Add the capers and last tablespoon of butter, stirring until the butter melts and is mixed in. Taste and season with salt & pepper.

Serve over whole wheat pasta, cooked greens (like kale or spinach), or potatoes, either baked or mashed, or whatever strikes your fancy. Sprinkle with parsley. Serves 2-4.
Piccata Plated