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Pasta

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When was the last time you made a great meat sauce? Some simple meals are the most memorable.  A while back, the test kitchen experienced a rigorous day. It fairly throbbed with the batches of cookies and squares that had passed through its portals since early morning. Coincidentally, two of my three boys had gone to bed very early, leaving the tired baker (me) and my (then 8 year old) middle son still up, and hungry, and in a quandry of what to fix quickly. Pasta again I guess….but how to make it special. We set water to the boil, dimmed all the lights, laid out our best China and wine glass, and tall, elegant candles, all on a Damask white table cloth. I took special pains with the meat sauce - usually we toss pasta with olive oil and garlic alone - and the result was spaghetti a la Bolognaise, classically made on a tabletop Martha Stewart would endorse. Or so I thought.  “Mom, said my guest diner, ‘this is just like the meal Lady and Tramp had in the movie!” Music cue: O Solo Mio, Disney credits and garlic bread. To this day, my middle son still recalls our impromtu romantic pasta meal. My other two sons are still smarting over being (two) odd men out.

There are various ways of preparing this new classic (new meaning the last 40 years or so; it debuted in the 70’s). Essentially it is spaghetti or linguine tossed with fresh, springy vegetables such a peas, broccoli, asparagus in a light cream sauce that includes Parmesan, pine nuts and is all topped with basil. Chefs are tirelessly revamping it their way. This is my version – it is fresh, flavorful and not weighed down with the original mushrooms (which I love but to me are heartier versus springy fare). The only ‘difficult’ part of this dish is the vegetable preparation. And just make sure you choose a great imported Italian pasta as the foundation.Some chefs blanch the vegetables for this in a water broth that also contains a rind of Parmesan cheese for extra flavor. Another added touch with be a shaving of truffles, finely minced garlic croutons and some dots of chevre, or goat’s cheese.

Recently, I wound up at Pizza Hut with my sons for the famed Pizza Hut Buffet lunch. All it is, as many know, is pizza and a hot dish of pasta, salad and such. We got there at 12:30 and they were already out of pasta. The waiter gave me a withering look and said, Madame, you all eat too much. The pasta is gone. Over. No more. Considering I hadn’t even arrived when there was even rumor of pasta, I thought that was a bit biting - not to mention that waiter was not likely to win Hospitality Award of the Year with that remark. I mentioned the pasta famine to the restaurant manager and harried but accomodating, he assured us that, ‘more pasta would indeed make its way to the buffet table’. My eldest son sat and sat. We all nibbled on crust of pan pizza while waiting with him. I gently suggested that the pasta might not make a reappearance and we were waiting on air. Besides which, all it was just rotini and commercial sauce, baked with mozzarella. Hardly complex stuff. Chances are, as a cookbook author and chef, I could replicate it at home. No, said he. We come here for at least that and that we shall have. If not, more complaints were due. “And furthermore, when the pasta does come out, saunter over to the buffet, said my son, act as if it is nothing – as if we are not even hungry or waiting desperately for the pasta to make an appearance. Feign nonchalance, like, ‘Pasta? Who cares…?”. We all cracked up. The remark and the gesture that went with it (a fling of the hand over one shoulder and an indifferent toss of the head) were so out of left field. We also laughed because it was much ado over nothing and it shows you how het up you can be over really unexceptional (but good) pasta you think somehow you are entitled to and gotta have. The pasta did arrive (minutes before the buffet closed) and ever since then, it is a family joke. We named this dish Pasta-Who-Cares? in honor of Pizza Hut but mostly to rib my son Jonathan. You can make this pasta dish at home again and again and be assured, you will never run out.

I worked for hours to make this recipe extra special and it is as fine as any bistro offering. Make as many ravioli as you want and then freeze them and pop them in simmering water when you want a special meal or a unique Thanksgiving offering. You can use fresh pasta sheets to make the ravioli (and cut with a paring knife into small squares or a round or square ravioli cutter) or handier still, won ton wrappers. Won ton wrappers are easier to work with unless you you’re your own fresh pasta or really supple, soft, fresh pasta from a gourmet shop. Store-bought fresh pasta (in our testing) was too tough to work with. Canned pumpkin is a noble shortcut but make sure you purchase plain pumpkin (not spiced pumpkin puree). For your own pumpkin filling, roast (not boil) the pumpkin.

This is easy if you make the filling ahead (it keeps for two days in the fridge) and assemble what you need for a meal and freeze the rest. Bakers tip: parchment paper to lay the ravioli out on, a pastry brush for the egg wash and make sure your pasta is very thin (whether it is store-bought or homemade) for a very tender ravioli.

This is unbeatable, gourmet pasta. It uses fettucine or linguini and some amazing pasta toss ingredients including chunks of Italian sausage, calabrese, fresh cheese and oodles of spices for a dynamite bistro dish. You can have it freshly made or zap a portion as you need, for mid summer hunger pangs.Saute the calabrese and sausage while pasta cooks.

This is a coating for soft white cheeses such as chevre. It spruces up a bland white cheese and invites crackers and slices of baguettes. Use extra to add to sour cream as a dip seasoning. If you doubled or tripled this recipe, jarred it up and gifted it, you would have a fine gourmet gift to tote to the next dinner party.

 Serve these tender, zesty morsels with Arabica sauce, Alfredo, Marinara, or simply lemon juice, olive oil and a dusting of fresh curls of parmesan and fresh basil. Use wonton wrappers of very thin, fresh pasta. This is oh-so-Olive Garden but so easy. Freeze the uncooked tortellini or even cooked and then douse in simmering water and sauce up, as required

Béchamel, Parmesan, Gruyere and Black Forest Ham or Turkey, all stacked high between tender crepes. Bake it in the oven, cut in wedges to serve. A signature brunch dish. There are many renditions of this dish but this is an amalgamation of the one I had growing up at a ski restaurant in the Quebec Laurentiens. The restaurant is gone but the taste of this dish lingers on.

Use flat egg noodles for this kugel. This is the serve-with-brisket or sweet and sour meatballs sort of kugel. It is never refused! In Yiddish, lukshin means, noodles or pasta. This is gently kissed with onion powder. Yes, I know - nothing beats real onions but I find this lighter onion approach ensures kids devour this dish. You can vary it by adding sauted mushrooms and onions for a more adult approach.

Nothing out of a box can touch this.I like the combination of Havarti and orange cheddar for this or use Monterey Jack and cheddar. A toasty, buttery crumb topping makes this cafeteria style classic. This reheats like a charm, freezes well but is sublime, fresh and bubbling from the oven with a green salad and grilled hot spiced sausages and Dijon mustard. Did I tell you it even helps you build strong bones? If you are out of breadcrumbs, use soda cracker crumbs.
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