Monday, 27 October 2014

Build Your Own Pasta Dinner

This is a great interactive meal, that gives everyone the chance to eat what they want, and gives the cook the opportunity to use up those bits and pieces that always get overlooked. Which is exactly what I was trying to do...use things up before buying new today!

The concept is simple...cook  up some pasta; heat up some sauces; cut up vegetables and meats. Everyone gets to decide which sauce, meat and/or vegetables they would like with their pasta. The result? A table full of happy people, no waste and often some new flavour combinations to try again.

Start off with the sauces...

#1: Basic Cream Sauce

I made a cream sauce, using up some Parmesan rinds and some of the last garlic cloves.

Peel and cut the garlic in half; this allows more flavour to infuse into the cream.

I had about 2 cups of whipping cream.

Add the garlic and Parmesan rinds to the cream, cook over a low heat until it has reduced enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon.

Watch it carefully! It loves to bubble up and boil over if you don't!!

When it has reduced, season with salt and pepper, and add in a handful of grated Parmesan.

#2:  Tomato Sauce

In a bit of olive oil, cook:

Half an onion, diced
1/2 cup zucchini, diced

When the onion and zucchini are softened, add in 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Stir in and cook for a couple of minutes.

Now add in 2 cups of Basic Tomato Sauce .

Simmer for about 15 minutes.

#3: Basil Pesto

This was in the freezer, I defrosted it and it was ready to go.

These sauces are all basic, and can be used as is, or combined...pesto-tomato sauce; pesto-cream sauce; tomato-cream sauce.

Next, the meats and vegetables...

I diced up some cooked chicken; cooked up a chicken and asiago sausage that was in the freezer; cooked up some beef and sundried tomato sausage filling from our second sausage making adventure earlier in the day.

We were low on vegetables...all I had to offer was blanched broccoli, roasted red peppers and sundried tomatoes.

And last, but not least, cheese to finish off the dish...

Grated Parmesan, crumbled blue cheese and chopped bocconcini

I cooked up a bag of penne, and everyone made their are 2 of them...

Tomato cream sauce, with chicken, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes and blue cheese

Cream sauce with sausage, chicken roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes and blue and Parmesan cheeses

  • We were low on vegetables, this was my use it all up before I buy more meal...usually there is more choice. I offer things such as cooked mushrooms, fresh peppers, caramelized onion, roasted garlic, olives, diced fresh tomatoes, shredded spinach, grilled zucchini. Don't overlook vegetables such as canned artichoke hearts and frozen corn or peas.
  • Any leftover meat is perfect for a meal like this. Not everyone wants or needs the same thing, so little bits and pieces go far. Try cooked bacon, chopped ham, diced cooked pork/beef/chicken/turkey, cooked seafood of any kind.
  • Think about toasting nuts such as pinenuts, pecans or almonds to add some crunch to the meal.
  • If you have extra meat sauce next time, freeze it and use it for one of the sauces.
  • Meatballs in the freezer? Perfect addition to the tomato sauce.
  • Go crazy with cheeses...goat cheese, feta cheese, asiago, cheddar.
  • Instead of a cream sauce, make a light cheese sauce. Someone will have mac 'n cheese...what they choose to put with it is the fun part.
  • Occasionally I find open packages of pasta, with hardly any pasta in them. These can be cooked up, and people then have a choice of pasta shapes too...don't overlook stuffed pasta such as ravioli or tortellini.
  • Chop up some fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, rosemary to add another dimension to the sauces.
  • And any leftovers from this dinner can be turned into pasta salad for lunch. Toss the cooked pasta with vegetables, meats and cheese and dress with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.