Sweet potato pasta

I don’t know why every restaurant in the city serving pasta doesn’t have a veggie pasta option on its menu. It’s incredibly delicious, gluten-free, healthy, and – as you can see – very colourful. I got this pasta from the farmers’ market. Bob and Juli Proracki have a sweet potato farm in Norfolk county. From the Ukraine, via Manitoba, to Ontario, converting a tobacco farm into a hub of sweet potato production, Bob and Juli sell a number of varieties of sweet potato in their raw form and as prepared food. They sell “spiralized” raw sweet potato but if you don’t have access to Bob and Juli’s sweet potato pasta and/or you can’t find it already cut and ready to go somewhere else, you can buy a spiralizer in most good kitchen shops or online. I’ve topped these beautiful ribbons with my husband’s famous pasta sauce for which I’m going to give you the recipe. You saw it here first. Enjoy.

sweet potato pasta

3 tbsps olive oil

4 onions, coarsely chopped

2 cans whole plum tomatoes

1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes, crushed or ground

2 tbsps sugar

sea salt and pepper to taste

6 – 8 garlic cloves, minced finely

Spiralized sweet potato pasta

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté onions until soft and translucent. Add tomatoes and boil down. Add chili pepper flakes (Andrew puts his in a pepper grinder and grinds them in), sugar (this is important if you don’t live in Sicily; if you have awesome Italian tomatoes baked in the Mediterranean sun you might not need the sugar), and sea salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer. Add minced garlic at the end and you’re done. No need to really cook the garlic. Just add, stir, and set the sauce aside until you’re ready to use.

Meanwhile, steam spiralized sweet potato pasta in a steamer for 5 minutes or until al dente.

Serve in a warm bowl generously topped with pasta sauce and a dollop of kale oregano pesto.

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Don’t get bent out of shape if you don’t have occhi di lupo – literally wolf’s eyes – it’s just what I had in store in the pasta drawer. You could use orrechiette (little ears), capelli di pagliaccio (clown’s hats), or anything else that suits your fancy. Just choose a shape that helps hold the veggies and kale. Ribbons or rods don’t work as well for this recipe but, in my mind, it’s all good. This is a great winter recipe. It’s hearty and nutritious and relies heavily on all those good winter veggies like the robust greens, root vegetables, and onions. Of course you can top it off with parmigiano but for those not big on the dairy, picada is the best substitute I know.

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Pasta

3 tbsps olive oil

2 onions, chopped in thin wedges

6 – 8 parsnips, cut thinly on the diagonal

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 sprigs thyme

1 lb tuscan kale, stems trimmed and chopped

1/2 tsp dried red chili flakes, crushed

1 lb of occhi di lupo or other pasta shape

sea salt and pepper

Picada

1/2 cup almonds, toasted

2 slices white country-style bread

4 cloves garlic

sea salt and pepper

Toss chopped parsnips and onion with 2 tbsps of the olive oil, minced garlic, thyme sprigs and some sea salt. Roast in a oven pre-heated to 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until parsnips are golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat remaining tablespoon olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Add kale and toss until just wilted. Sprinkle with crushed chili flakes. Set aside.

In the meantime, add your pasta to boiling salted water and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

For the picada, toast the almonds in an oven at 350F until they’re pale gold, 8 – 10 minutes. Remove and set aside. Meanwhile, slowly fry slices of white country-style bread in 2 tbsps olive oil until golden on both sides, or toast well in a toaster. Place the grilled bread or toast, almonds, 4 large garlic cloves and pinch of salt in a food processor to make a crumbly paste. Set aside.

Add pasta and 1/4 cup pasta water to kale and roasted parsnips and onion in a large bowl. Add more pasta water if needed. Divide pasta into bowls, drizzle with oil, and top generously with the picada.

Tacconi is a square pasta, kind of like a short lasagnette noodle. It’s flat in the center and rippled on two sides and it was designed to hold rich, earthy sauces made from mushrooms and other goodies. It’s common in Tuscany and works beautifully with salsa rossa al funghetto. If you can’t find tacconi, use penne or fusilli. If you can find tacconi, buy a bunch and keep them in the cupboard. Unusual shapes are hard to find so when you do come across them, stock up my good people. Make a tuscan proud.

2 tbsps olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced finely

1/2 cup salsa al funghetto

2 cups stewed tomatoes

2 tbsps tomato paste or tomato conserva

fresh basil, minced

sea salt and pepper

1 lb tacconi, penne or fusilli

parmigiano (optional)

Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté garlic over medium heat until golden. Stir in the salsa al funghetto, tomatoes, tomato paste, and basil. Turn the heat to high and cook until the sauce is reduced somewhat. Add sea salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook the tacconi in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, transfer to a large bowl, and add sauce until well-coated. Reserve any sauce that’s not used for the next time. Add a little grated parmigiano if you want the non-vegan version. Or, for the vegan version, simply serve with a few basil leaves for garnish and a side salad. Maybe even some crusty tuscan bread with a bowl of fabulous sun-kissed olive oil. Adapted from Pino Luongo’s A Tuscan in the Kitchen.

pici all’aglione

September 3, 2012

So we were just in Tuscany celebrating 20 years of marriage. We ate and drank our way through the countryside very happily finding tasty gems on each and every menu to bring back to you, my v:gourmet followers. First and foremost – not to be underestimated for its authenticity, simplicity, and pervasiveness throughout Tuscany – is Pici all’Aglione. Pici is a thick, hand rolled pasta, like a fat, uneven spaghetti, originating in the province of Siena. You can find it in almost any osteria, trattoria, or ristorante and it’s usually adorned with basic ingredients like breadcrumbs (briciole), spicy garlic sauce (aglione) or mushrooms (boscaiola). Look for pici in specialty shops, or if you can’t find it, make your own. It’s hand-rolled which has got to be fun!

pici

1/4  cup olive oil

8 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup coarse breadcrumbs

hot red pepper flakes or peperoncino, finely crushed

2 ripe heirloom tomatoes, chopped

sea salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Once it’s hit a rolling boil, reduce heat and add the pici. Cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant but don’t let it brown. Add breadcrumbs and saute for 2 or 3 minutes. Add peperoncino or red pepper flakes to your desired heat (I put red pepper flakes in a pepper grinder and just add 2 or 3 good turns). Add chopped tomatoes, sea salt and pepper to taste, and let simmer until the sauce melds and reduces slightly.

Toss cooked pici with the spicy garlic sauce and watch it disappear. I made a motherload the other day for the kids, with the hope I would have leftovers, but alas the bowl was licked clean.

pasta e fagioli

April 29, 2012

pasta e fagioli, vgourmet, ruth richardson

Pasta e fagioli is a quintessential Italian dish. Made from a base of olive oil, garlic, herbs, and tomatoes with the addition of pasta and beans, it shares common ingredients but shows up on tables in thousands of variations. For every household in Italy I’m sure there was a unique take on how to make “pasta fazool.” Even though its origins are as a peasant dish, you now find it on the menus of even the most sophisticated restaurants. Perhaps its because you just can’t argue with a simple, authentic dish that tastes great and fills you up. And remember, the better the ingredients you use, the better the final product will be.

pasta e fagioli, vgourmet, ruth richardson, trofie

16 oz cannelli beans

1/2 pound small pasta like trofie, ditalini, or campanelle

2 tbsps olive oil

1 onion, chopped finely

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups stewed tomatoes

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup veggie stock

small bunch of thyme leaves, chopped

small bunch of basil, chopped

sea salt and black pepper

If using dried cannelli beans, soak for 8 hours, then rinse. Put beans in a pot of un-salted water, bring to a boil, and cook until tender. Once cooked, drain and rinse and set aside. If using canned beans, drain  and rinse and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring another pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, turn down slightly, add pasta, and cook until al dente. Once cooked, drain, toss with a small amount of olive oil, and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven. Add onions and sauté until soft and translucent but not browned. Add garlic and sauté for another minute or two until the garlic is fragrant. Add tomatoes, wine, stock, and herbs. Bring to a boil and then turn down and simmer until the mixture is reduced and thickened to a desired consistency, about 30 minutes. Add cooked beans and pasta, as well as sea salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for another 15 minutes until flavours start to meld. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil and some nice warm bread.

vegan lasagne, spinach lasagne, vgourmet, Ruth Richardson, vegan Italian food

My mom used to make lasagne with a veggie tomato sauce when I was little – this recipe is inspired by my memories of coming home to the smell of this quintessential comfort food baking in the oven. Of course her’s was doused in cheese. Mine is packed full of spinach with a garlicy picada crumble on top. It was my daughter, Rebekah, who both reminded me of that childhood favourite, and helped me come up with this new version. Those powerful food memories must run thick in the blood!

Tomato Vegetable Sauce

4 tbsps olive oil

2 onions, chopped finely

6 medium carrots, grated

6 celery stalks, grated

3 medium zucchini, grated

large handful enoki mushrooms

6 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup red wine

6 cups stewed tomatoes

1/4 cup tomato paste

basil, thyme, parsley, chopped

1 tbsp organic cane sugar

sea salt and pepper

Béchamel sauce

8 tsps olive oil

4 tbsps flour

2 cups rice or soy cream

pinch nutmeg

sea salt and pepper

Picada

1/2 cup almonds, toasted

2 slices white country-style bread

4 cloves garlic

sea salt

Plus

1 bunch of spinach, cleaned

1 package lasagne sheets

vegan lasagne, spinach lasagne, vegetable tomato sauce, picada, vgourmet, Ruth Richardson

To make the sauce, heat olive oil in a heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven. Add the onions and sauté until they start to turn translucent. Add grated carrots, celery, zucchini, and mushrooms. Sauté until beginning to get soft, 3 – 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until aromatic, about another 2 minutes.

Add the red wine and let simmer until reduced by about half. Add stewed tomatoes and the tomato paste. Bring to a boil. Add chopped herbs, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Turn down the heat and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Set aside for the flavours to meld.

Meanwhile, to make the béchamel sauce, heat the olive oil in a small pot on medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir until well blended. Let the mixture bubble away for a few minutes, stirring often so that it doesn’t burn. After 2 or 3 minutes, slowly add the rice or soy cream. It will immediately thicken as you add the first drops of cream. Add slowly and stir constantly until the sauce is smooth and well-blended. Turn down the heat and let simmer until thickened. Add a few pinches of nutmeg, sea salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the picada, toast the almonds in an oven at 350F until they’re pale gold, 8 – 10 minutes. Remove and set aside. Meanwhile, slowly fry slices of white country-style bread in 2 tbsps olive oil until golden on both sides, or toast well in a toaster. Place the grilled bread or toast, almonds, 4 large garlic cloves and pinch of salt in a food processor to make a crumbly paste. Set aside.

Wash the spinach. Cook the lasagne sheets in boiling water, about 3 or 4 sheets at a time making sure they don’t stick to one another. Do not cook al dente, you want them to be a little underdone (4 – 5 minutes should do the trick). As they cook, set them on a clean tea towel until you’re ready to use them.

Once all the components are ready, start to build your lasagne. In a large baking dish, start with a layer of tomato sauce, add a layer of spinach, then a layer of pasta. Next add a layer of béchamel sauce, a layer of spinach, then a layer of pasta. Repeat until all the ingredients are done ending with a layer of béchamel sauce at the top.

Bake in an oven at 400F for 30 minutes. Broil under high heat for another 3 minutes or so until top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a generous amount of picada. Serve piping hot next to a crispy green salad.

vegetable tomato sauce

March 3, 2012

vegetable tomato sauce, vegan lasagne, vgourmet, Ruth Richardson

I came up with this sauce for my lasagne recipe based on an old favourite from my childhood. But don’t stop at lasagne. This sauce would grace the likes of any pasta large or small, sophisticated or plain, day or night. Make a big vat of it, let it sit for a couple of hours to cool and to let the flavours meld, and then store in containers in the fridge or freezer until inspiration hits or dinner duty calls. And since it’s packed full of veggies, it’s a great way to get those much needed nutrients into young picky mouths that otherwise might balk at the likes of green things like zucchini. 

4 tbsps olive oil

2 onions, chopped finely

6 medium carrots, grated

6 celery stalks, grated

3 medium zucchini, grated

large handful enoki mushrooms

6 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup red wine

6 cups stewed tomatoes

1/4 cup tomato paste

basil, thyme, parsley, chopped

1 tbsp organic cane sugar

sea salt and pepper

To make the sauce, heat olive oil in a heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven. Add the onions and sauté until they start to turn translucent. Add grated carrots, celery, zucchini, and mushrooms. Sauté until beginning to get soft, 3 – 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until aromatic, about another 2 minutes.

Add the red wine and let simmer until reduced by about half. Add stewed tomatoes and the tomato paste. Bring to a boil. Add chopped herbs, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Turn down the heat and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Set aside for the flavours to meld.