Category: pasta

From Our Beef Share: Stuffed & Baked Pasta Shells

Last month, we received a share of a beef share.

Our Fargo friends invited us into a greater beef share in which their friend had coordinated the distribution of an entire, grassfed cow from Thousand Hills Cattle Company, located in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. The meat cost much less than it would have been to purchase the same cuts from a store. Especially considering that single-pound packages of Thousand Hills beef typically sell for eight dollars a pound in Fargo-Moorhead stores.

The half share included ground beef and a few other cuts including stew meat, blade roast, and roundsteak. Just the right amount to fit into our small freezer a leave enough room for ice cream and a frozen pizza or two.

I got home early from school one afternoon and whipped up an easy version of pasta shells stuffed with our Thousand Hills beef, and topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. I served the pasta with a side of mushrooms and cabbage sauteed in a little butter and olive oil until caramelized and de-glazed with sherry.

Stuffed Pasta Shells
One pound of ground beef created enough stuffing to fill a 9 X 13 baking dish of pasta shells. This equalled about half a box of pasta shells. Add whatever vegetables are in your pantry to the meat stuffing. If I had ricotta or marscapone cheese, I would have mixed a couple spoonfuls into the meat stuffing. I often purchase cheap jars of tomato-basil sauce and boost them with fresh ingredients like sauteed onion, garlic, and red wine. The Bertolli brand is particularly decent. Semi-homemade and so what 😉


Ingredients:
Large pasta shells (I used about half a box)
1 lb of ground beef
A few large button mushrooms
1 small onion, finely diced
Salt
Black pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 handfuls of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed until dry (can substitute fresh spinach)
Soy sauce
Drizzle of honey
Grated Parmesan cheese
Mozzarella cheese
Herbs, fresh or dried

Sauce:
1 jar of tomato sauce (I use whatever is on sale)
1/2 onion diced
1 clove of garlic minced
Splash of red wine

Instructions:
To prepare the pasta, cook in salted, boiling water until pliable. They should be a slightly firmer than al dente. Rinse in cool water and set aside.

Brown the ground beef. Remove excess fat. When the beef is partially cooked, add the diced vegetables and cook until tender. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. You could also cook the meat and vegetables separately. Place in a bowl.

Add spinach, and cheeses. Season the meat stuffing with soy sauce, more black pepper, and your choice of herbs. I sprinkled in dried basil, marjoram and thyme. Add a little honey to round out the flavor.

Add enough sauce to the baking dish to cover the bottom.

Using a spoon, stuff the pasta shells with meat filling. Place in the baking dish.

Top shells with the remaining tomato sauce.

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Place a little mozzarella on each pasta shell.

Cover and bake until heated through and the cheese is melted. Covering will help steam the pasta shells. Uncover and bake or broil until the cheese is as bubbly as you wish.

Spaghetti & Meatballs For The New Year

Happy New Year!

Last New Year’s Eve, I pushed myself to go out only to wish I had stayed in.

This year, we stayed in. Jake and I loaded up on Redbox flicks and cheap champagne that we enjoyed with spaghetti with meatballs when he got home from work. I doctored up a jar of the cheapest tomato sauce in which I simmered homemade meatballs. It tasted fantastic, semi-homemade and all (gasp).

I have come to love making meatballs and keep them moist by adding sauteed vegetables to the raw mixture. Leaner meats like ground turkey also benefit from the addition of fresh breadcrumbs soaked in milk. For these meatballs, I used meatloaf mix made from ground beef and pork and they were plenty moist from just adding dried breadcrumbs and a splash of milk. As far as baking vs. frying meatballs goes, I still like to take the time and effort to pan-fry my Swedish meatballs. But for these meatballs, baking is easier since they will simmer in the sauce.

I served this meal with fresh carrots cut into coins. I briefly sauteed them in a little butter and olive oil. Then, I added some orange juice, powdered ginger, salt, pepper, sugar, and enough water to almost cover. I simmered the carrots until they slightly caramelized and the liquid had been absorbed or evaporated. These added a nice sweet contrast to the savory meatballs.

My homemade meatballs and spaghetti didn’t especially go well with our cloyingly-sweet $6 bottle of champagne, nor did I particularly enjoy them along with The Walking Dead zombie gore and adrenaline (Jake did). But they really were the best darn spaghetti and meatballs I have ever made. A comforting dish that helped us ring in the new year.

Spaghetti and Meatballs


Ingredients:

Meatballs:
4 large mushrooms, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 lb ground meatloaf mix (pork and beef)
Salt
Black pepper
1 egg yolk
Breadcrumbs
Parmesan cheese
Small splash of milk
Soy sauce or salt

Sauce:
1 jar of cheap tomato sauce (I used Bertolli’s tomato-basil variety)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1-2 small stalks of celery, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
Splash of red wine

Instructions:

To prepare the sauce:

  1. Preheat a larger saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Saute onion carrot and celery until tender. 
  3. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant but not burned. 
  4. Pour in tomato sauce and add a splash or two of red wine. 
  5. Taste for seasoning, cover, and simmer. 
To prepare the meatballs:
  1. Preheat oven to about 375 degrees F. 
  2. Over medium heat, sweat the mushrooms and onion in a little butter and/or olive oil and until translucent and tender. Season the vegetables with a little salt and pepper when you begin to cook them. 
  3. Add garlic and briefly stir until fragrant, but not burned. 
  4. Remove cooked vegetables and garlic from heat and set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the meatball mix.
  5. Place the ground meat in a large bowl. 
  6. Add egg yolk, a couple handfuls of breadcrumbs (I used both toasted and panko), a handful or so of Parmesan cheese, and a splash of milk.
  7. Season with some soy sauce and black pepper. 
  8. Mix completely, but as lightly as possible so as not to over-mix the meat. Let set for a few minutes before deciding if it’s too wet or dry. It will take a moment for the breadcrumbs to absorb the liquid. Add more breadcrumbs if the mix is too wet to hold a meatball shape and add more milk or another egg yolk if its too dry.
  9. Take a small pinch of the meat and cook. Taste and season the raw meatball mix accordingly.
  10. Shape meatball mixture into balls. Place on sheet pans covered in parchment paper.
  11. Bake until browned on each side, flipping occasionally.
  12. Gently place meatballs in the tomato sauce along with meat juices on the pan.
  13. Simmer until the the meatballs finish cooking and absorb the flavors from the sauce.

Culinary School Chronicles: That Day We Made Pasta

Culinary class days are divided into morning and afternoon sessions.

The mornings are considered labs, where we prepare food for the school’s breakfast and lunch services. Afternoons are more like lectures. Last semester, we learned culinary basics in our Introduction course and soups, stocks and sauces in our. . . well. . . soups stocks and sauces class. 
Classes are only 50-minutes long so more involved projects are divided over a course of days. One may sometimes hear a collective groan when we have to actually cook during our afternoon classes. I wouldn’t be completely truthful if I denied sharing this sentiment, which strikes me as humorous since it’s not like we’re in culinary school or anything. These short class slots can transform most any kitchen assignment into its own kind of Hunger Games.

In our rice unit, we chose a partner and picked a variety of rice to cook and share with the class. We were given free reign of the kitchen and pantries to create a recipe of our choice. I made a deliberate effort not to be the Asian girl cooking Asian rice and chose basmati. We flavored it with caramelized onion, saffron, clove, and cinnamon.

The pasta unit was even more intense. Again, we broke into partners and incorporated homemade pasta into a dish. We were encouraged to spike the pasta dough with anything from pureed wild rice to herbs. My partner and I flavored our dough with sumac and lemon zest. Sumac, the culinary herb, is different than poison sumac. I’ve tasted it sprinkled on Fattoush, Lebanese pita salad, and as part of Zatar, a Middle Eastern spice mixture that often incorporates sesame seeds and thyme. It lends a tangy and lemony flavor.

We rolled the dough through a pasta attachment on a mixer, taking the time to roll it through each of the settings. This created silky, delicate pasta. Rolling the pasta through less settings produces thicker noodles. If this is your thing, just cook them longer.

To allow the gentle flavor of the pasta to shine, we served our noodles with browned butter flavored with fresh lemon juice, thyme, and basil.

Near the end of class, everyone convened for a great pasta buffet. One of my favorite pastas was flavored with bacon and cooked spinach and coated it in olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and hot pepper flakes. One group baked their pasta with chicken in tomato sauce while another made a pumpkin pasta in a sweet, creamy sauce.

Cooks Notes
I own a small, pasta machine with a hand crank. A mixer attachment makes the process much faster. While it was fun and surprisingly easy to make pasta, it’s not something I’d make on a regular basis at home.

You can start the dough by zipping the ingredients together in a food processor, but I think it’s easier to make by hand. Many students clamoured for a food processor. By the time they got one, those who made their dough by hand were already happily kneading. 


Pasta

Ingredients:
1 pound bread flour (our teacher said you can incorporate semolina)
Optional: Drizzle of olive oil
5-6 eggs, scrambled
Pinch of salt

Instructions:

  1. Combine the flour with a pinch of salt.
  2. On a flat surface, pour the dry ingredients into a mound and then made a hole in the center. 
  3. Pour most of the wet ingredients into the hole. Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet center with a fork, or use a couple bench scrapers to incorporate.
  4. When the dough begins to form, knead. If the dough seems dry, add the rest of the wet ingredients and if it’s too wet, add more flour.
  5. Scrape away the excess flour and dried bits that form. These should not be incorporated into the pasta dough. 
  6. Knead until the pasta dough is elastic and smooth. This should take about 10-15 minutes. The texture is similar to pie dough.
  7. Wrap in a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap and allow to rest.
  8. Roll out the dough and cut into desired shapes.

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