Culinary Quest #15 – Savory Pasta Meat Sauce

I typically post recipes on Saturday’s, but there’s not much typical about life right now in our house.  Ha!  So here ya go on a Monday…

With temperatures cooling down, we’re heating things up in the kitchen!  There is little food I enjoy more than a simple dinner of pasta and sauce.  It’s like the ultimate comfort food.  We tackled marinara sauce in Culinary Quest #6 Pasta Marinara with Parmesan Panko Chicken, but sometimes a hearty, meaty sauce is just the thing for a cool evening’s dinner.

My entire life I only knew hamburger meat, or perhaps a mixture of hamburger and sausage, for a meat sauce.  However, hamburger (in my opinion) is bland and spongy and just blah.  This time, I broke out of my box and used mild Italian sausage – taking the risk that only using sausage may prove too dominant against the backdrop of the other flavors.

The risk was totally worth it!  Goodbye hamburger – hello sausage!  It has the perfect amount of fennel and other spices to make this sauce nicely robust.  But, there is a trick.  I ground the sausage so finely, it is perfectly blended in the sauce.  Rather than this being a pasta sauce with sausage chunks, the sauce is a smooth blend that can be used over noodles and in any recipe calling for sauce (lasagna, manicotti, stuffed shells, ravioli, etc.).

This is hands-down our family’s new favorite!  Bonus…when making this from scratch, you get to pick exactly which meat goes in your sauce – unlike jarred meat sauce.  I like knowing exactly what is in my food. 🙂  And, the whole house smells so good while simmering that everyone is chomping at the bit by dinnertime.  Double bonus!

I would have included a picture, but we ate it all! :O  The next time I make it, I will come back and post a photo.  Whoops!

Buona appetito!

Savory Pasta Meat Sauce (yields a full-sized slow cooker)

2 pounds mild Italian sausage

1c diced, fresh basil (measured after dicing) – Fresh is important!  I do not recommend dried basil for this sauce.

1/3c olive oil

2 tablespoons dried oregano

3/4c pureed onion (I use sweet onions)

28oz  crushed tomatoes

28oz tomato puree

28oz tomato sauce

2 cans tomato paste

14.5oz diced tomatoes; drained

6 cloves garlic

* Using a large skillet on the stove top, thoroughly cook the Italian sausage.  Remove from heat and let cool.

* Once cooled, place sausage in a food processor and blend until uniform.

* Puree onions in food processor until almost liquid – keeping a little texture to them.

* Add all remaining ingredients, plus sausage and onions, in a slow cooker and cook on low for 9 hours or high for 6 hours – stirring occasionally.

***TIP*** To make things easier when putting this together in the morning for dinner, cook the sausage and process it and the onions the night before.  Store them in a container in the fridge and in the morning just add all ingredients in the slow cooker and you’re done!

Culinary Quest #11 – Corn & Basil Salad

We cook what is in season.  This keeps the freshest ingredients on hand and at their peak flavor.  The other day, I bought corn on the cob.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but it’s something we enjoy regardless, so I took advantage of the sale price.

Tired of steaming and grilling, I wanted a fresh taste for summer to help beat the heat.  With the addition of a few other natural ingredients, a brand new salad emerged as one of our favorites!

The tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar blend well with the sweet corn and cucumbers.  Add a little kick with red onion and a peppery vinaigrette and this yields a sweet and savory flavor that is delicious.

My daughter asked me why I didn’t just use canned corn.  There is a huge difference in fresh corn and canned corn, especially when serving the dish cold.  Go the extra step and use fresh corn.  You’l be glad you did!  My son kept asking what the incredibly sweet taste was.  I replied, Simply the corn!  This dish lets the corn brag on itself with its crisp, sugary goodness.

This recipe combines the corn and pepper with salad ingredients and everything pulls together as a salad or side dish that tastes a lot more complicated than it is to make.  And, its variety of color shows off a great presentation on the table that you will be proud to offer.  I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does.  Easy, fast and flavorful!  Just they way we like it. 🙂

Corn & Basil Salad

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

5 ears                    fresh corn on the cob

½                            small red onion; diced

5                              vine-ripened tomatoes; diced

1 bunch                   basil; chopped

1                              cucumber; peeled & diced

Dressing:

3t                            white balsamic vinegar

2T                           olive oil

1/4t                        salt

1/4t                        black pepper

1/4t                        sugar

1 clove                  fresh garlic; crushed

Directions:

Steam, roast or grill shucked corn.  Cool to touch.

Using a knife, cut the corn off of the cob and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add remaining ingredients each as prepared above.

Combine dressing ingredients in a container with a lid and shake well.

Pour over salad and thoroughly mix everything together.

Chill until cold.

Culinary Quest #8 – Mexican Breakfast Flatbread

We love Mexican food!  Just give me chips and salsa and I’m set.  But, for days when a proper meal is in order be it breakfast, brunch or dinner, I set out to create a dish that incorporates savory Mexican taste with traditional breakfast ingredients.

This hearty dish stands alone, and a fork & knife are required for this mucho grande meal.  Adapt veggies to taste.  Use egg whites, reduced-fat cheese, reduced-fat sour cream and turkey bacon to help with dietary needs.

Loaded with veggies, and a kick of lime, it’s a great break from store-bought, frozen breakfast burritos or the predictable taco night!  This flat bread is filling in an “I’m ready for the day” feel, not “I need to go back to bed” feel.  🙂 Enjoy!

Mexican Breakfast Flatbread

Serves 8

One bag                 Fresh pizza dough

2T                           Corn meal

1T                           Garlic powder

1/4t                        Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

1 bunch                  Fresh cilantro; chopped

1 pt                        Mushrooms; thinly sliced

1                             Red pepper; chopped

½ medium              Red onion; thinly sliced

½t                           Lime juice

2                              Beefsteak tomatoes; thinly sliced (use the centers for most even distribution)

8                              Eggs

1#                            Center cut bacon; cooked & diced

2c                            Mexican blend shredded cheese

2                              Avocadoes; sliced

1c                            Sour Cream

1c                            Your favorite salsa

************************************************************************************

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

On a floured surface, roll out dough till flat using rolling pin.

Place dough on pizza pan or stone that has corn meal sprinkled on it. (To keep the dough from sticking to the pan)

Sprinkle garlic (and optional cayenne pepper) onto dough.

Layer in order: cilantro, mushrooms, red pepper & onion.

Sprinkle lime juice over top.  Add tomato slices.

Bake in oven for 25minutes.

While flatbread is baking, fry 8 eggs in a large skillet on the stove.  I use a little cooking spray to avoid excess fat and break the yokes so they more evenly distributed.

Remove flatbread after 25 minutes, and add eggs evenly on top. Using a spatula, simply cut out the eggs like pieces of a puzzle.

Sprinkle with cooked, diced bacon.  Cover with shredded cheese.

Bake an additional 5 minutes until cheese melts.

Remove from oven and top with salsa, sour cream, and avocado slices on top.

Just veggies at this point…pre-baked.

Frying up the eggs (with a little pepper).

Hot out of the oven…

Bless the meat let’s eat!