Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cheesy Baked Penne with Roasted Veggies

I think I was Italian in a former life. Pasta calls to me. If I could have it every night without my husband rolling his eyes and saying "Pasta, again?", I would.

I'm always looking for new ways to dress up noodles so I watch a lot of Bobby Flay and Mario Batali and Giada DeLaurentiis on the Food Network. One afternoon Giada was on and she made this incredible baked pasta dish full of roasted veggies. I was licking the TV screen by the time she pulled it out of the oven. I rushed right out and got the ingredients. Then, being me, I added some of my own and changed some quantities and what resulted was A-MAZE-ING. My husband had seconds... and then thirds, both my kids ate it up like I hadn't fed them all day, and I felt like I really gave my family something nutritious and satisfying for dinner.

More cheesy than saucy, this pasta bake is full of veggies and the recipe makes enough for leftovers. It's easy, it's filling, it's vegetarian (I snuck that one by my husband!) and it's delish!

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Cheesy Baked Penne with Roasted Veggies
adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis

1 red pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch wide strips
1 green pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch wide strips
1 yellow pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch wide strips
2 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 summer squash (yellow zucchini), quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup mushrooms, quartered
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch strips
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried Italian herb mix or Club House Roasted Garlic & Peppers Seasoning
1 pound penne pasta
1 jar (3 cups) marinara sauce (store bought or homemade, I use Classico Garden Vegetable)
1 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated smoked mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/3 cup for topping
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces


1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
2. On a baking sheet, toss the peppers, zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and onions with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and dried herbs. Roast until tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes. Cook to just under al dente since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven.
4. In a large bowl, toss the drained pasta with the roasted vegetables, pasta sauce, garlic, cheeses, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Gently mix, until all the pasta is coated with the sauce and the ingredients are combined.
5. Pour the pasta into a greased 9 by 13-inch pan. Top with the remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan and butter pieces. Bake until top is golden and cheese melts, about 25 minutes.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mediterranean Risotto with Roasted Red Pepper & Goat Cheese

This was supposed to be my Valentine's Day Post. A semi-fancy dinner for the loved one in your life. However, if you follow me on twitter you'd know that just before Valentine's Day I found out I was pregnant with our 3rd little one! A fabulous Valentine's present for sure, but it's come with some unpleasant side effects, like extreme exhaustion, a queasy stomach and an aversion to almost everything food related. Not great for a food blogger!

I've wanted to post this recipe weeks but just looking at the pictures made my head spin. Thanks to a life-time supply of Peppermint gum I'm able to sit here and write about one of my family's favourite dinners.

My local grocery store has a little magazine they put out a few times a year and usually the recipes in it involves some sort of frozen, partially prepared, or unhealthy food item so I rarely give them more than a 2nd glance, but last spring they had a recipe for risotto that caught my eye. The pictures look sooo tasty and I'd always wanted to try making risotto.

Risotto can be intimidating. It's a seemingly tricky dish that, if you watch Hell's Kitchen, you'd think is impossible to get right (those chefs screw it up almost every episode!). But there's no need to be scared to try it, as long as you keep an eye on it, this dish will turn out perfectly, every time!

I'm trying something a little different with this post as I suspect some of you would appreciate some step-by-step instructions with this recipe. So taking a page from The Pioneer Woman (not that I do her any justice, I still need to master the art of taking pictures of food through steam!), I've taken a ton of pictures in hopes this will help you to try making this tasty dish. Fear not the risotto, you can do it! (The recipe with quantities will follow the photo tutorial)

Start by melting some butter into some extra-virgin olive oil

Brown some quartered mushrooms in the butter/oil combination

Add some diced red onion and sauté for about 3 minutes

Add the arborio rice and stir to combine. I like the cook it for a minute or two to develop the nutty flavour of the grain.

Add 2 cups of boiling water and 1 tsp. of sea salt and stir and then cover.

In the meantime, brown some chicken breasts in extra-virgin olive oil.
Okay, they're not quite brown here, I like to keep them a little pale, they look fancier that way.

When the water is almost all absorbed add another cup of boiling water and stir and cover. Keep a close eye on the risotto now, stirring every minute or so and adding a little more boiling water until the rice is tender. Tasting is encouraged.

When the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked fully it'll look like this... yum!

Add some spinach that's been julienned

... and some roasted red peppers. This is the product that inspired the recipe, if you want to save time by all means use it or a jar of roasted red peppers chopped up works as well. If you're feeling a little extra ambitious, roast your own red peppers! Not sure how to do that? I'll tell you how after this recipe.

With the red peppers add your balsamic vinegar (not pictured, hey, I'm new at this!) and give it a good stir.

Crumble in your goat cheese and stir lightly to mix. Slice up the chicken breasts and serve over top the risotto for a fancy meal for two or a family meal on a regular ol' Tuesday night!

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Mediterranean Risotto with Roasted Red Pepper & Goat Cheese adapted from

1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 c. white mushrooms, quartered
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1 c. arborio rice
1 tsp sea salt
2 c. boiling water
1 c. fresh spinach, julienned
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade or roasted red pepper, diced
1/2 c. goat cheese, crumbled
4-5 chicken breasts
2 tbsp herbs de provence or a Mediterranean spice blend (thyme & oregano work in a pinch)


1. Melt butter into the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot.
2. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned on all sides.
3. Add the diced onions and stir and cook for about 3 minutes or until the onions start to soften.
4. Add the rice and stir to mix. Cook stirring frequently for a minute or two.
5. Add 2 cups of the boiling water and stir and cover immediately. Quickly stir every 2-3 minutes recovering the pot after each stir.
6. In a frying pan brown chicken breasts sprinkled with herb mixture until cooked through.
7. Add more water as the rice absorbs the liquid until the rice is tender.
8. Add the spinach, red peppers, balsamic vinegar and stir to combine.
9. Crumble goat cheese into the risotto and stir lightly.
10. Slice the chicken breasts and serve over the risotto immediately.

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How to Roast a Red Pepper

Turn on the broiler and place red peppers directly on an oven rack at the highest level in your oven.
Turn the peppers around as they blacken so every side becomes dark.

Once blackened on all sides remove the peppers from the oven and place into a paper bag and close for about 2-3 minutes. The steam helps loosen the skin for easy removal.
Remove the charred skin by peeling or scraping it off with your fingers or a spoon. Using a knife cut around the top of the pepper and remove the center with all the seeds.

And voilĂ ! Perfectly roasted Red Peppers, perfect for sauces, soups, your antipasto platter or a really yummy risotto...