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.


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.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parm
The first time I had eggplant parmesan was about 10 years ago, the night before a 30k race when several fellow runners and I carb-loaded at an Italian restaurant. There weren’t a lot of vegetarian options, so I went for the eggplant dish. It was divine—one that left me craving it long afterwards. And I had a fantastic race the next morning, even finishing so far ahead of the time I suggested my family and friends be there that they hadn’t even arrived yet when I crossed the finish line. The only thing I had done differently than other races and longer training runs was the eggplant parm. That had to be it!

It wasn’t until later that I found out this dish is so good, in part, because of the breading, frying (eggplant absorbs oil like crazy), mozzarella, and of course, the namesake parmesan. It was definitely not something that could be enjoyed often and I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve had it since. And no, I didn’t experience the same fantastic results when I indulged in it the night before a race the next time–unfortunately.

I tend to over-shop at the farmers’ market and sometimes oftentimes need to improvise in order to incorporate everything that looks so good on display, but turns out to be way too much for two people. That’s how this lighter, but still crave-able, version of an Italian restaurant classic came about.

A big pail of roma/plum tomatoes was made into several batches of the fantastic arrabbiata sauce blogged about recently.

Arrabbiata Sauce
My plan was to freeze it all, but I knew it would pair so well with the abundance of eggplant on hand, so I set one jar aside. Baking rather than frying the eggplant would certainly help the calorie count, plus I decided to use 2% cottage cheese in place of mozzarella. You could also use 1%, but I don’t know if fat-free would work. The pasta is optional—leaving it out results in fewer servings, but by no means decreases the feeling of gastronomic satisfaction. Enjoy and cue the Mambo Italiano!
Baked EggplantCooked & Bubbly

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Arrabbiata sauce (about 3-4 cups), or other red sauce (marinara, etc.—add 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper if you want to spice the marinara up)

2 medium eggplants (a total of about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced into ½ inch thick rounds

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

¾ cup white whole wheat flour

Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste (it will be used several different times)

2 eggs, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water

2 cups panko bread crumbs (whole wheat, if you can find it)

1 ½ cups 1% or 2% cottage cheese (I used 2%)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried parsley, or a tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

½ teaspoon dried oregano, or half a tablespoon fresh

12 oz. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente (optional)

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh basil leaves, for garnish, chopped if large

Place peeled & sliced eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with a teaspoon of kosher salt. Let sit for 30 minutes (this extracts any bitter flavor—some argue it isn’t is really necessary, but if you have the extra half hour, what can it hurt?). Rinse eggplant slices and pat dry with clean kitchen towels.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly spray two jelly roll pans with olive oil cooking spray.

Set up an assembly line of three shallow bowls. Into the first one, place the white whole wheat flour.

Into the second bowl, lightly beat the two eggs with two tablespoons water.

Into the third, mix the panko bread crumbs with ¼ cup parmesan and a little salt and pepper.

Dredge eggplant slices in flour mixture, then dip in egg, and finally in panko to coat. Place on prepared jelly roll pans. Spray tops of eggplant with olive oil cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes, flip eggplant slices and spray again with olive oil cooking spray, rotate pan, and cook 15 more minutes, until golden brown. Keep oven on at 375 degrees F—you’ve got more baking to do.

Meanwhile, mix cottage cheese, ¼ cup parmesan, garlic, parsley, oregano, and salt & pepper. Set aside.

Pour about 1 cup arrabbiata sauce or other red sauce into bottom of a 13 x 9 baking dish. Layer half the baked eggplant slices over sauce (you may need to crowd them in). Put a dollop of the cottage cheese mixture on each eggplant slice. Drizzle about ¾ cup sauce over this. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices and cottage cheese mixture. Drizzle another ¾ cup sauce over the top. Finish with a sprinkle of the last ½ cup parmesan. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes, rotating pan half way through cooking time. Uncover and cook another 10 minutes until cheese is melted and things are bubbling. Turn oven to broil, and cook an additional 3 to 5 minutes (watch it carefully and remove earlier, if necessary), until the cheese is lightly browned.

If serving with pasta, while the eggplant combo is baking, bring a big pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Cook whole wheat spaghetti to al dente. Drain, return to pan, and drizzle a little (about a teaspoon) olive oil over it and toss using tongs (this will keep it from sticking together). Cover so that it keeps warm until ready to serve.

Toward the end of the eggplant mixture cooking time, heat remaining arrabbiata sauce in a small saucepan and keep warm.

To serve, place a pile of spaghetti (if using) on each plate, and top with a generous portion of the eggplant/sauce/cheese concoction. Drizzle with the warmed sauce and garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serves 6-8 if you include the pasta, 4-6 servings without, depending on the size appetites you’re accommodating.