Category Archives: Pasta

Quick Tip: Tomato-Ricotta Sauce

This is a quick tip for an alternative to a tomato-rich tomato sauce.

I’m sure I didn’t invent this recipe—or probably any other—although it is possible to have an idea and not know that others have had that idea before. So, go on and keep inventing without Googling to see if someone got there before you.

I think one day I was just looking for a way to make tomato sauce appeal to my husband without dumping sugar into it. Generally, he thinks it’s sour, because he’s not a true lover of the tomato, but he does love a cream sauce, so I figured I could make one with the ricotta that was on hand by just pulsing it in the blender or food processor and adding it to the sauce. It makes an interestingly pink-ish sauce and does cut down on the sharpness of the tomato. My sauce started out with my own crushed tomatoes and roasted tomatoes that I have in the freezer, bacon and ground beef, lots of garlic and seasonings, but you could do this trick with any sauce from a jar.

I pulsed 15 oz. of ricotta in the food processor, with a little of the cooked sauce to thin it, until it was creamy. Then I just stirred it into the sauce that had been cooking for about an hour. It could have been served that way on pasta, but I decided to make the additional step of baking the pasta mixture for 20 minutes, with lots of Parmesan on top.

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Meatballs

We don’t eat Italian red sauce very often, and by that I mean maybe once a year. We used to eat it more, but just found things we liked better—lighter sauces, more vegetables, even pizza with white sauce instead of red. Even during the last few years when we were eating a red sauce more often, we had moved away from the thick sauces to ones made with canned crushed tomatoes that didn’t seem to mask over other flavors in the dishes.

That’s what I’m aiming for in this dish that uses up the last of the garden tomatoes. I’m just going to peel, seed, and crush the tomatoes, and then decide when I see the results if it needs any tomato paste for body, and as I always do, I’m going to cook the meatballs in the sauce. I’ve never liked the results of meatballs browned first; I like to just form and drop them into the pot of sauce and let it simmer until it’s all done. That method has produced both flavorful, tender meatballs, and flavorful sauce., as well as a lot fewer pans to wash.

Perhaps you can see in this video of today’s sauce with the meatballs removed the consistency after it has cooked down a bit and had a small can of tomato paste added:

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Meatballs

  • Servings: 4-6, about 20 meatballs
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

My red sauce ingredients are always simple and this will be the first time I’ve written them down, so don’t dwell on the proportions of any of the ingredients. Just use amounts that seem right to you. We like a lot of garlic; you might like more herbs. Likewise with the meatballs—I like grated Parmesan in them, and more garlic.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

This big pile of tomatoes, peeled and seeded, crushed with your hands or a potato masher is what I am working with. I don’t have a scale, so can’t tell you how much weight I’m using, but the quantity, crushed, comes half way up in this 6 quart pot. If using canned crushed tomatoes, I would use at least two large 28 oz cans for a single meal for 4-6 people.

The following are the ingredients I used for my quantity of tomatoes:

3 quarts tomatoes, peeled, seeded, crushed by hand or vegetable masher

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

6-8 large cloves garlic, chopped or grated (you can see the small chunks of garlic in the video)

1/4 cup dried or 1 cup fresh chopped parsley

1 tablespoon dried oregano (or basil if you prefer)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Optional: 1 small can tomato paste, added after meatballs are cooked (see below)

Place all ingredients in a large pot over medium heat while making the meatball mix.

Ingredients with garlic
Ingredients with garlic


1 1/4 lbs ground beef, 80% lean

2 cloves garlic, grated

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 egg

1/4-1/3 cup milk, half and half, or condensed milk—I used half and half, but you could use stock if you don’t like to cook meat with milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Optional: herbs to match what you use in the sauce

Mix all ingredients by hand as you would for meatloaf. If you use dry breadcrumbs instead of fresh, you might want to let them sit in the milk for a few minutes to soften. Form into meatballs, dropping them into the sauce as you make them. Don’t worry if they come to the top of your sauce and are not covered; they will cook fine that way. Do not stir at this point, so you don’t break up the meatballs. Cover pot and simmer for about a half hour before stirring to allow the meatballs to hold their shape. simmer for another hour, for a total of 1 1/2 hours, covered.

Meatballs dropped in sauce

Remove the meatballs and raise the heat from simmer to low. Cook the sauce, uncovered, to desired thickness. Add up to one small can of tomato paste to further thicken or enrich the sauce. I did add one can because the majority of my tomatoes were not plum tomatoes, and thus were a little more watery. Return the meatballs to reheat when you are happy with the sauce consistency. Serve with pasta and more Parmesan for garnish. I used Barilla Plus® angel hair pasta, a pasta with extra protein and fiber. The meatballs are very tender cooked this way. The sauce is not one of those intense, heavy red sauces, but one with a lot of fresh tomato flavor and pieces of tomato. It seems lighter, but that’s probably just me fooling myself.



Converting a Recipe: “Decadent Pork Ragu” in a Slow Cooker

I couldn’t get that recipe that I re-blogged earlier this week out of my head, but I wanted to do something a little different with it, so I converted it to a slow-cooker recipe. The original recipe is from The Travelling Pantry (see my re-blog from September 30).

I’ve become so stuck on cooking pork shoulder for pulled pork sandwiches, that they are on the verge of becoming boring. Well, that’s a stretch, because pulled pork is one of those delights that are hard to beat. Maybe they have just become too easy to cook without making a mistake. Whatever the case, this recipe has led me to think of other things to do with the shredded meat, so I’m starting with it, and we’ll see what else I can come up with on my own later.

I’m using the slow cooker method that I posted on September 24, but with the ingredients from The Travelling Pantry. I noticed that the original recipe calls for crushed tomatoes, and I had been planning to make some for the freezer, so it was really serendipity that this recipe crossed my path at the same time my garden was pushing more tomatoes on me—really, October and the tomatoes are still ripening?

So, what prompts you to convert a recipe? Is it mostly based on what you have or don’t have in your pantry? Is it some ingredient that you fancy using, maybe for the first time? Or do you have a few recipes in your repertoire that you just know together would make an even better dish?

Then how do you go about converting recipes? Usually, I just boldly say yes or no to some of the ingredients, and just as boldly add what I think will work. In this conversion, I mostly followed the ingredients from the original recipe, but used the slow cooker method of cooking. My biggest concern was that I would have more liquid in the sauce, both from using the slow-cooker and from any difference between my homemade crushed tomatoes and canned ones. I’ll give ingredient comparisons and substitutions in the recipe.

Make sure you see the professionally-styled photos on the original recipe site.


'Decadent Pork Ragu' in a Slow Cooker

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy-moderate
  • Print

Adapted for the slow cooker from The Travelling

1 2.5-3 lb boneless pork butt, netting removed (Original: 1 kg boneless pork shoulder, cut in half)

3.5-4 cups homemade or canned crushed tomatoes (Original: 800g crushed or tinned cherry tomatoes)

1 medium onion, 1 leek, 1 rib celery, sliced (Original: 1 each of onion, leek and celery stalk – finely chopped)

1.5 tablespoons olive oil (Original: 1 ½ tbsp. olive oil)

12 oz thick-sliced bacon, diced (Original: 350g pancetta, finely diced)

1/2 cup beef stock (Original: 150ml Madeira)

1 cup deli black olives, not oil-cured (Original: 200g black Ligurian olives, pitted) [I couldn’t find that kind of olive anywhere and still have no idea what they are.]

2 tablespoons marjoram leaves (Original: 11/2 tbsp marjoram leaves, plus extra to serve) [I forgot about the extra and whirred them all up in the blender.]

2 tablespoons butter (Original: 30g butter, coarsely chopped)

1 lb pasta that holds up to a heavy sauce; I used Wegmans Organic Riccioli (Original: 750 dried pasta [“rigatoni works well, I used Mafadelle on this occasion”])

Parmesan cheese, grated for garnish (not in original ingredient list, but added at end of post—I missed it the first time)

  1. Sauté onion, leek, and celery in olive oil over medium heat with light salt and pepper seasoning. Remove to slow cooker.
  2. In same pan, brown diced bacon. Remove to slow cooker. I suspect the substitution of bacon for pancetta might have made the biggest difference in the final taste. My bacon was apple wood smoked. Pancetta is not smoked, but cured in salt and dried.
  3. In same pan, heat crushed tomatoes to warm if they have been refrigerated. Add to slow cooker.
  4. Add beef stock to slow cooker. This addition is why my sauce looks more brown in the photo with the meat added, above.
  5. Set aside olives, marjoram leaves, and butter until pork is cooked.
  6. Set pork butt on top of sauce and vegetables. Lightly salt and pepper.
  7. Cover slow cooker. If your slow cooker has a timer, set it for 6 hours and cook on high.
  8. Carefully remove meat to a platter. The pork will be falling apart and should be lifted with large slotted spoons or spatulas so that all the vegetables remain in the sauce. Shred the meat with two forks.
  9. Making the sauce: The original recipe calls for blending the vegetables and sauce with an immersion blender, and this would be the easiest method. I don’t have one, plus I worried about have too much liquid, so I removed the vegetables with a long-handled skimmer to a blender and processed to purée. Pour the purée and as much remaining liquid as needed to make a sauce that is thick enough to coat the pasta into a medium saucepan. I ended up using all the remaining liquid, to my surprise. I was afraid I would have to thicken the sauce, but it was not necessary.
  10. Add butter and marjoram to sauce and heat through. As I noted above, I added all the marjoram to the vegetables in the blender without reserving any for appearance. It didn’t hurt, except aesthetically.
  11. Return sauce and shredded meat to cooker to keep warm while cooking pasta according to package directions.
  12. Add pasta to meat sauce and toss. Conversely, you could plate pasta and add sauce to each plate.

This is a very flavorful dish and a nice alternative use of shredded pork suitable for the fancy dinners described in the original recipe. I have no idea how the taste compares to the original and probably won’t be flying to Australia any time soon to find out, but we liked it very much.

I also missed that the original recipe serves grated Parmesan at the table, but we are eating it again tonight and I will definitely be adding that.


Delicata Squash and Deconstructed Pork Dumplings

The squash started it all. There was a luscious display of the delicate little things that I couldn’t resist, as I love winter squash. I’ve been looking at the one I bought for a few days and wondering what to have with it—not what to have it in. I just want the roasted squash by itself, but what to have with it was the question. I was leaning toward a rice and sausage casserole, first a country sausage came to mind, then I thought maybe a smoked sausage like kielbasa (pronounced kill bossy in these parts). But we had black beans and rice this weekend, so I wanted to steer away from rice. As soon as I started thinking noodle, it wasn’t long before I was thinking long noodle then spaghetti then angel hair, and something Asian seemed right. The original idea of a country sausage turned into more of an Asian pork meatball or dumpling filling, and as soon as I thought dumpling, I knew the sauce had to have that dipping sauce flavor. This is how the dumpling deconstructed itself.

First the side dish.

Side Dish—Roasted Delicata Squash

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Preheat oven to 350°

Delicata squash is one of those winter squashes with a thin enough skin that you don’t need to peel it, and if you don’t think it’s a winter squash, wait until you decide to cut it. It is hard.

1 delicata squash

Olive oil to coat

Salt and pepper

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice crosswise at 1/2 inch intervals and then cut each slice into thirds. Toss with olive oil and roast in shallow dish for about 40 minutes or until tender and slightly browned. The skin comes out a little chewy, but we like that.

Now for that undumpling.

Deconstructed Pork Dumplings

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Dipping Sauce

The first thing to do to get in the mood for dumplings is to make the dipping sauce. This becomes the base for the sauce in the dish. Recipes for dumpling dipping sauce vary—some use rice vinegar, some don’t; some use sesame oil, some don’t. But they all use soy sauce. I made my dipping sauce in the same proportions as I would if using with dumplings, a small bowl of it that was about a cup or less of liquid:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce—I used low sodium sauce here so the final dish would not be too salty
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar, unsweetened and unseasoned
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 sliced green onion
  • Optional: a teaspoon of hot sauce and a little water (I did not add these)

Stir until the sugar is dissolved and set aside. This can be made ahead, but the onions will soften and absorb some of the soy color, although it doesn’t hurt the dish in the end. You could always add the onion later.

Meat Mix

Now add the same dipping sauce flavors to the pork.

  • 1 lb ground lean pork
  • 1 minced green onion
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce—I used regular soy sauce here

Mix all ingredients lightly by hand, as if making a meatloaf mix. You can make this ahead as well and refrigerate until you’re ready to put it all together later in the day. By now the whole kitchen smells like dipping sauce (I think it’s the ginger-sesame oil combination).

Deconstructing the Dumpling (putting it together)

  • 1/2 lb whole wheat angel hair pasta or your favorite noodle
  • 1 lb ground pork mixture
  • 1 cup dipping sauce
  • 1-1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons hoisin (I did use this)
  • 1/4-1/2 head sliced Napa cabbage (you could use regular cabbage, but Napa is mild and the curly leaves are attractive in Asian-inspired dishes)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup of above chicken stock

Bring water to boil for noodles and cook according to directions. Fine pasta cooks quickly, so plan to have the meat sauce done by then.

In a large sauté pan, brown the pork mixture in one tablespoon oil over medium high heat. I cooked it like any ground meat base for a sauce, but I think it would be interesting to make little meatballs of the mixture, as well. When the meat is browned, add the dipping sauce and chicken stock. Simmer covered for about ten minutes. Add the sliced cabbage and stir uncovered for a few minutes, then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until the sauce is glossy and slightly thickened. You don’t want to overcook the cabbage or over-thicken the sauce and have a gloppy mess. Wow, the word gloppy wasn’t flagged by the spellchecker!

Pour the sauce over the drained noodles all at once or in individual bowls/plates. Yummy. Just like eating dumplings.

I really need to go to a flea market and buy some interesting dishware for shooting pics of my food, because my cupboard is full of plain yellow or gray.