Italian Sausage with Meatballs and Pasta on the Side

Spaghetti and meatballs might need a trial separation. Traditionally, pasta is served as a first course and meat as a second course.

Our Sunday dinners with Grandma always observed this practice: cook the meat in the tomato “gravy” (sauce) and ladle the meat-flavored tomato sauce over the pasta. Then, serve the meat on a platter accompanied by a salad, as I’ve recalled before.Meatballs, sausage and salad on a plate.

My father and I recreated this last night. In a saucepan, he started the tomato sauce with garlic in oil and diced tomatoes (imported from Italy). While he browned the sausages in a large saute pan, I prepared the meatballs, according to Grandma’s instructions:

  • 1 egg per pound of meat, in this case lean ground beef
  • handful of parsley (clench hand on a bunch, grabbing leaves within fist, then twist to rip off bottom part of stems. Then remove leaves from stems and finely dice with French chef nice)
  • Italian breadcrumbs (around 1/3 of a cup per pound of meat, this is really to preference)

Meatballs browning in oil in a saute pan.Rinse your hands in cold water before kneading the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl. Re-rinse hands occasionally in cold water to keep the meat from getting warm from friction as you evenly combine and then shape the meatballs. To shape, pinch together a golf-ball sized amount and roll in one palm with pressed fingers of opposite hands. The meatballs should be smoothed by the wet hands.

While I shaped the meatballs, Dad moved the browned sausages to tomato sauce. I then used the same saute pan to brown the meatballs in canola oil. No need to cook them through – just brown them mostly all the way around and pick them up one by one with tongs to place in the tomato gravy. Add a little water to the gravy to smooth it out. Simmer on very low for at least 45 minutes.

Select the pasta of your choice, either short tubular or long, such as spaghetti or even bucatini, which is rather thick.Short pasta in bowl with tomato sauce.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, move the meat out of the gravy and onto a platter. Drain the pasta in a colander in the sink. Place pasta in a large bowl and ladle on the gravy. Serve in pasta bowls. Enjoy.

Now, for the second course, toss a salad of greens with sliced tomatoes and sweet onion. Dress with olive oil and a little vinegar. Serve the meat and salad together. Again, enjoy!

Spring Fettuccini with Ham, Asparagus and Peas

Asparagus always heralds spring and a wonderful way to eat your veggies is to pile them into a big bowl of pasta. This dish is similar to the Italian recipe for “straw and hay,” which combines spinach and semolina pasta in a creamy sauce with pancetta and peas.

Straw and Hay is a favorite of mine and one of the best renditions I had of it was in Murano, the island in Venice where all the beautiful glass is made. This dish I made lacks spinach pasta and instead of heavy cream, it gains creaminess from feta cheese stirred into the sauce.Bowl of fettucini with ham and vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • Asparagus (1 bundle, trim by gently snapping off the weak part by gently pushing down in the middle with an index finger , then chop)
  • Peas (I bag frozen)
  • ¾ lb. ham (sliced at the deli at 1 and diced at home)
  • yellow bell pepper (3)
  • feta (1 package low-fat feta)
  • carrot (1 large)
  • artichoke (1 can quarters)
  • sweet onion (half cup diced)
  • garlic cloves (3 peeled, smashed and sliced)
  • dried fettuccini (1 lb.)

Directions: Prep veggies and ham ahead of time and set aside. To get it started, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven on low heat.

Dice carrot and toss in. Add chopped garlic and onion. Once the onion turns golden, fold in the chopped ham. Saute at medium heat until ham edges start to curl and brown, stirring from time to time.

Meanwhile, start a big pasta pot of water on the stove’s biggest burner on high heat. Then to the saucepan, add chopped asparagus and yellow pepper. Cover the pot. Take bag of frozen peas out and cook in microwave, according to bag directions.

Bell pepper and asparagus in a saute pan with ham and onion.

Once these two veggies soften, add can of artichoke, including the juice. Heat through at medium-high heat. Pour in peas. Then stir in feta crumbles. Cover and heat through on low heat while you wait on the pasta water to boil. Once it reaches a roaring boil, throw in a dash of salt. Add a couple of drops of oil to the water. Then, place fettuccini in the water. Cook according to box directions. Drain cooked pasta and place in a huge pasta bowl and pour veggies and ham sauce over the top. Gently toss until mixed. Place servings in bowls and add to taste the following: salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

The most important part: enjoy. And enjoy the leftovers too!

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Veggie Rotini with Veggie Sauce

Want the comfort of pasta with a lot of vitamins? This is a recipe for veggie pasta with veggie sauce. This is extraordinary easy, especially with a slow cooker. Veggie rotini with veggie sauce in a bowl.

  • 2 (28 oz.) cans Cento San Marzano peeled tomatoes
  • 3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 5-6 stalks celery, diced
  • ½ large sweet onion diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional) diced
  • half-and-half cream (optional)
  • 1 12 oz. box of Ronzoni SuperGreens rotini
  • Grated cheese of your choice

Start this sauce with several hours to spare so you can use the slowcooker to get a nicely developed full flavor from the tomatoes. At lunchtime, I was dicing onion, carrot and celery to a tuna salad and realized I should just go ahead and dice all the veggies to use them to start a veggie pasta sauce. My family calls this “V8” sauce and it’s wonderful on tortellini. It also is great with spaghetti or, as this evening turned out, with a SuperGreens rotini.

Saute the diced carrot-celery-onion in a tablespoon of olive oil or grapeseed oil in a large pan. Cover and let soften over a low flame. (About 10-15 minutes, stir a little in the interim.) Using a spatula, pull the softened veggies into the slow cooker. Add tomatoes with a sprinkle of dried parsley and the bay leaf. Set the low and cover. Walk away. Do your thing. Come back about four hours later, stir, add salt and pepper, turn up to high and walk away. An hour or two later, turn back to low. Spoon through to find the bay leaf and remove. Then mix the sauce with an immersion blender. Add a quarter-cup of half and half (optional, but really good). Cook pasta according to directions, drain and place in a pasta bowl. Add a pat of butter (optional, but nice!). If you are going to add grated cheese, do so now to melt it into the pasta. Finally, ladle over with sauce. Be sure not to over-sauce pasta. This is not soup. Ladle and gently stir to ensure a good pasta to sauce balance. Place in bowls.

In Search of the Unexpected: Javelina Hunting in South Texas

I’ve seen javelina on hunts in Texas and Arizona, but had not yet been on a dedicated javelina hunt. I had no idea what to expect.

I knew what the hunt would likely be like: gear up and sit quietly. Maybe stalk, quietly. What I didn’t know was what the meat would taste like if we were to harvest any. You can tell just by looking at javelina that the meat will be very, very lean.

Contrary to popular opinion, the javelina is not a wild hog. It’s in the peccary family. They are pretty wild looking. It’s the kind of animal that looks prehistoric and kinda bizarre in the way an alligator is amazing to gaze upon.

In Texas, there is no hunting limit on wild hogs because that is an invasive species. By contrast, the javelina is supposed to be here and hunting them is regulated. We were on a Texas Parks and Wildlife management hunt and each hunter was allowed to only take one javelina.

We were encouraged to take as many hogs and coyotes though. The coyotes eat the deer on this wildlife management area and the hogs are destructive to the environment. We did not see any hogs but heard a lot of coyotes.

The hunt was fielded by a drawing and Byron and I were among those picked. They also had a lot of standby hunters hoping to be drawn the first morning of a three-day hunt. I actually had the honor of drawing a select few from those names in a bucket.

Ultimately, there were about 40 hunters on a wildlife management area covering 15,000 acres. Byron estimates our compartment was more than 600 acres. To get around, we drove the truck over dirt roads and senderos (dirt paths). Some of the roads were pretty treacherous and as Byron maneuvered his big pickup over and through giant holes, he joked he sure wished he had a BMW. Seriously, we are not car people. I need a vehicle my dogs can jump into and I don’t worry about floods or mud.

The first afternoon we made our way around our compartment, finding old deer blinds to use and corning some of the roads and senderos. We used deer corn, which javelina like to eat.

The next morning, we set out before dawn. Legal shooting time is a half hour before sunrise. I climbed up into a blind I checked out the day before, above the road we corned. After dawn, I heard hoof steps, but it was a young buck. No javelinas showed.

I moved to another location for the afternoon and sat quietly. This may be my favorite part of hunting. Just sitting. Listening. Bird watching. I bring a journal and take notes about the nature around me. I may jot down notes for a novel I am working on. I breathe deep and let go of things that don’t really matter.

I just sit. It’s wonderful. It’s something I reflect on over and over when I am busy in regular life. It’s these small moments I can go back to in my mind and regain perspective. It is so quiet you notice everything.

It’s also hard to not notice the sound of a four-legged creature coming through brush. The stride sounded shorter than a deer. It was a javelina, I was sure. He emerged onto the sendero. I was shocked.

He moved along and I took deep breaths. I slowly raised my rifle. Slowly. Watching him through the scope, I waited to see if he would move into a broadside position. The moment came to pass. I saw I had a clean shot and took it. He dropped. I lowered the rifle and breathed.

This is a stunning moment to collect. You have taken a life to harvest the meat. Again, this was an unknown to me. I wanted to be fully thankful and appreciative of the harvest. My phone vibrated. My boyfriend texted to check if the report he heard was from my rifle. I affirmed. He said he would head my way.

I waited 20 minutes. We met and moved to the javelina. It was time to field dress it. I asked Byron for a moment and rested my hand on the javelina’s torso and cheek. My man said a prayer of thanksgiving. Hunters do not take hunting lightly. For starters, there are plenty of hunts where you do not get anything. That’s why it’s called hunting. Moreover, we eat the meat. I love cooking with venison. I was very nervous about javelina. When we dressed it, I could tell this was a very healthy, lean animal.

We placed it in the truckbed and brought him to the check station. I reported where exactly I took it and a wildlife manager weighed it and checked its teeth to gauge the age. Three years old. We placed it in a meat locker and went back out for a few hours.

Byron too harvested a javelina from the same area. We sat together in silence after I had spotted them and radioed Byron to rejoin me. I had been wondering if a coyote was going to show up to take what we had left of the javelina. I was somewhat surprised to see more javelina. Byron and I sat there a good while when they came along again.

When we returned to the check station, we joined other hunters who were also cleaning their meat. I asked them how they liked to cook it. Chorizo. Sausage. Another guy likes to wrap in foil with veggies and roast it over a fire. Byron took great care in icing down and re-icing the meat. He then was diligent in trimming any fat. He packed the back strap and tenderloin in kitchen shrink wrap (Food Saver). We also used a meat grinder and sealed up that meat as well.

The first thing I made was spaghetti with tomato and ground javelina sauce.

Javelina browning with parsley and spices.

To start the tomatoes, I sautéed diced garlic and onion in olive oil and added dried oregano and parsley. Once the garlic turned gold, I added a big can of plum tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then turn to low to simmer for at least a half hour. In a separate pan, I browned the javelina in olive oil with fresh parsley. Again, salt and pepper to taste. Once it was cooked, it was time to confront the unknown. I took a fork and picked up a piece. The taste? Good. Very nice. Nothing overpowering. Lean. Perfect for sauces. I think it will be great in chili too. That’s next!

The Sage Leopard

When Life Gives You Meyer Lemon, Make Pesto

Lemon pesto on pasta is downright divine. You can eat a big bowl of pasta while enjoying the refreshing aura of citrus flavor.

What makes it pesto? It contains pine nuts, just like basil pesto, as well as garlic an Parmesan cheese.

Meyer lemon pesto with pasta and basil.
Pasta happiness: Meyer lemon pesto, spaghetti, chèvre and basil.

Before I tell you how I came to make lemon pesto, courtesy of a Pinterest search and a Tasty Kitchen recipe, I want to tell you why I find lemons so romantic.

Shortly after my boyfriend of several years started dating, we walked around his yard and he showed me where he thought about planting trees, shrubs or flowers. In the side yard where he considered planting vegetables, I asked about a little plant, maybe 18 inches high. He did not know what it was. Well, it was a Meyer lemon tree that grew and grew and grew.

It grew so big, that at one point it toppled over under its own weight during a massive rainstorm. But that moment when we first examined it and wondered, Byron found a ladybug on one of the tree’s leaves. I told him it was good luck to find a ladybug. Now, I associate the Meyer lemons with good luck.

We have found many uses for all the lemon juice. It is wonderful for deglazing a pan or marinating chicken. What surprised me was our lemon juice wasn’t great for baking.

At least that was the case with the juice from our first couple of Meyer lemon harvests. I’m going to try again. I started keeping an eye out on Pinterest for savory lemon recipes in addition to lemon desserts.

I have always loved lemon cake and always asked for one for my childhood birthday parties. It became a running joke during family slide shows if one of my birthday parties popped up for my sisters to bemoan yet another lemon cake. My mom even ordered a lemon cake from a local bakery in my college town for my 21st birthday.

I was totally intrigued by the lemon pesto idea. Why not? Lemon piccata chicken tastes great with a side of pasta. Now, I will insist you try this with a real Meyer lemon, not anything else.

Ingredients (based on the Tasty Kitchen recipe linked above)

  • 1 Meyer lemon
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup shredded Parmesan
  • ¼ cup pine nuts (or a little bit more)
  • ½ teaspoon honey (I used my honey dipper to place a bit more)

(I also had fresh basil and goat cheese on hand to add to the dish.)

To prepare the pesto, I simply placed the ingredients in my old Cuisinart food processor. But before placing in the lemon, I also had slice the tips off, quartered it and removed the seeds. I hit pulse, saw that it was nicely mixing and let her rip. Voila, lemon pesto.

I cooked a pound of spaghetti and tossed it with half of the pesto. That was just the right amount. The pasta was served with chevre goat cheese and basil. The leftovers were delicious too. The pesto was originally made Saturday night. Tuesday night, I pulled it out of the fridge and tossed it with bucatini. Again, I added chevre and some drizzles of olive oil.Meyer lemon pesto with pasta and basil.

To finish it, I sprinkled in more Parmesan, basil leaves, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Once again, I’ll have lemon pesto pasta leftovers and look forward to eating it on my birthday!

Biking Bucatini, What to Eat Before a Long Ride

Friday nights call for simplicity when it comes to pulling together dinner. I’m active in long-distance cycling and needed to carb up for a big, hilly, challenging ride tomorrow morning. Pasta was the only answer. Specifically, the bucatini shape of pasta. Bucatini is long and round, like spaghetti, but much thicker in width. It’s density provides a satisfying chew. I could just eat bucatini with butter. Then again, I did need veggies and protein to prepare for the big bike ride.

bucatini with vegetables and grilled chicken
bucatini with vegetables and grilled chicken

For the rest of the ingredients, I also wanted to use leftovers from last night: grilled chicken and sautéed cauliflower. A tried and true combination that works great with pasta is cannellini beans and artichokes. The water in the canned artichokes serves as a broth to unify the rest of the ingredients. Here’s how I started with the cooking: I set out on the counter four cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1/2 cup diced grape tomatoes, 1 can drained and rinsed cannellini beans, 2 cans quartered artichokes (do not drain), and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan. While the pasta water was heating to a boil in a large pot, I started sautéing the garlic and onion in a large saucepan with olive oil. Once the onion softened and turned gold, I added chopped red pepper and the tomatoes. At this point, I seasoned the contents of the saucepan with salt and pepper. Next, the rinsed beans rolled into the pan and the contents of the two artichoke canned went in.

red pepper, grape tomatoes, sweet onion and garlic
red pepper, grape tomatoes, sweet onion and garlic

Those flavors combine fairly quickly at medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. The grilled chicken was cut into bite-sized pieces and was heated in the microwave. Same with the leftover cauliflower. The chicken and cauliflower was then placed in a large pasta serving bowl. Those ingredients were sprinkled with the cheese. Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I tossed it in the serving bowl to mix with the cheese, chicken and cauliflower, along with a dollop of SmartBalance butter alternative. Finally, the contents of the saucepan were poured over the top of the pasta bowl. The artichoke-infused water softly binds all the ingredients together, in terms of consistency and flavor. I feel satisfied that this meal will provide me with the right energy to take the hills on my bicycle. Maybe it’s psychological, but if and when I feel fatigued while climbing the hills, I can tell myself I  have it in me because I ate the right dinner with carbs and protein.

chopped grilled chicken
chopped grilled chicken

Of course, it will also help to hydrate more before bed, upon waking and while driving my bicycle out to the country town where the cycling group is meeting and riding. The really key thing for me first thing in the morning will be coffee, strong coffee. For the riding, I will have special sports mix for my water and protein bars. Afterward, the cyclists will hang out on the town square for a cookout with burgers. I’m hoping to ride around 60 miles tomorrow and the socializing will be the best part of the day. Well, the views are going to be amazing as well. All of the above are the motivation to keep pedaling those hills: bucolic views, friendship and burgers. I don’t normally eat them, but one doesn’t feel guilty about it after many miles of biking. I’m a little nervous about those hills, but still looking forward to it.

The Sage Leopard

Simple Sautéed Shrimp over Pasta in 10 steps

My mother always says to cook with the freshest ingredients available or, if you can’t make it to the store, what’s on hand. I often look to my man for inspiration and asked him yesterday afternoon what he wanted. His answer was simple: grilled salmon or alternatively shrimp with pasta. At the grocery store, the salmon did not look appealing, but there was Gulf shrimp and given we live in southeast Texas within a stone’s throw of the Gulf of Mexico, I knew they were pretty fresh.  Here is how I went about cooking the shrimp with pasta.

Step 1: Fill pasta pot with water and set on stove over high heat with lid on.

Step 2: Get significant other to peel, devein and clean shrimp.

Step 3: Melt butter with olive oil in a big non-stick pot.

Step 4: Place the following on the counter: lemons, parsley, capers, grape tomatoes, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. The capers add a zingy, salty flavor while the lemons and parsley brighten up the shrimp flavor. Grape tomatoes sliced in half fit perfectly on the bottom of a fork prong while you twirl pasta on your plate or in your bowl.

Step 5: Start cooking shrimp on medium heat. Note that shrimp cooks very fast. As soon as it turns pink and white, it is done, so start adding the rest of the ingredients as described below.

Step 6: Fold in capers, chopped parsley (I use herb scissors right over the pot), and sliced tomatoes (halves).

Step 7: Season the shrimp pot with salt, pepper and a little bit of the red pepper flakes and squeeze lemon juice over it all.

Step 8: Decide if you want to add cheese. I diced up panela cheese, a mild Mexican cheese. I would avoid any particularly strong-flavored cheese for this kind of dish.

Step 9: The shrimp is done by now so turn off the heat and cover the pot while the pasta cooks with a dash of salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil added to the boiling water.

Step 10: Drained cooked pasta in colander and slide drained pasta into a pasta bowl. Pick up shrimp pot and pour contents over pasta. Toss pasta. Eat!

This dish was easy to assemble and cooked quickly. I recommend spaghettini, which is thin spaghetti, for shrimp dishes.

This meal also represents the motto of the Sage Leopard — “Reclaim Your Quality Time, Craft Your Own Happiness”. The motto is my philosophy in general, especially when it seems life has gotten hectic and I want to make sense of things by prioritizing and reordering my activities and time. Here with this kind of cooking I did reclaim quality time because it did not take long and I enjoyed the beauty of making it. I crafted it myself rather than going out or ordering in. We sat together and ate together, and we should take the little things for granted. They say the big thing in life is all the little things.

Friends who saw the shrimp and pasta picture on Facebook were so impressed that I wrote this blog to detail how easy it is to eat well.

Shrimp meeting the parsley, capers and other ingredients in the pot
Shrimp meeting the parsley, capers and other ingredients in the pot

You can either try this version yourself (please do) or invent your own way for this or a similar dish. The point of cooking well is to enjoy it!

The Sage Leopard

 

Appetizers reborn in pasta with veggies & prosciutto

What to do with the leftover crudités and a package of prosciutto from Super Bowl Sunday? Pasta. Pasta is the answer to many of life’s questions.

Sautéing garlic and prosciutto
Sautéing garlic and prosciutto

I sautéed the prosciutto in olive oil and garlic, then splashed in a little Chardonnay. Next, I folded in chopped celery and peppers. Once those softened and melded, I added parboiled broccoli and carrots, after slicing through them a bit.  At this point, I added a pat of butter as well as salt and pepper. While that cooked on low, I brought a pot of water to a boil for a half package of rotini.

Veggie pasta (shhh, it's from leftovers)
Veggie pasta (shhh, it’s from leftovers)

The meal came together with shredded parmesan and chopped parsley. This is my favorite kind of food: brightly colored, cheesy and over pasta.

The Sage Leopard