Sunday, July 10, 2011

Two Pretty Family-Style Pasta Dinners

For me, pretty dinner is usually reserved for a dinner out when I will ooh and ahh at a restaurant plating. My Italian Husband (MIH) is very patient with grains & beans, with one-pot meals, and with stir fries but Heidi and Michelle Obama have me thinking about how to balance the ingredients and how to present it appetizingly. Rather than cooking all the ingredients in one pot together as per my mom's and my usual method, I've found lately that if I decoratively layer a number of ingredients in a huge family-style serving bowl and serve it over pasta, then he is more enthusiastic about dinner. Everyone just wants to be happy.

Basic idea of the dish (you'll note the Heidi-ness right away):
Favorite pasta shape (sub grain here if you want)
toasted nut pieces
light sauce

Here are two variations.

Early summer variation - asparagus/tomato/canellini:
- Rotini (because you can hide veggies inside for the youngest food skeptic!)
- One small bunch of very thin and tender asparagus sliced on the diagonal (about 1 cup), roasted for 15 min at 400.
- 1/4 C walnut pieces, toasted in the toaster oven until golden and fragrant

- 1 Can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes add minced garlic, onion (I also threw in a 1/2 C leftover pasta sauce)
- 1 can of white canellini beans
- Add fresh basil (torn/julienne) to sauce at the very end and also a few pretty leaves/sprigs to garnish.
- Grated Parmagiano Reggiano to taste

Layer in bowl from bottom to top:
Pasta tossed with tomato & bean sauce
sliced asparagus
toasted walnuts
grated Parm

Anytime variation (inspired by Elise's Spinach & Orzo Salad recipe that we already like to change up and enjoy around these parts) - Spinach/black olive/chicken
- Rotini
- 1/4 cup walnut pieces toasted in the toaster oven
- 1/4 cup Kalamata Greek olives pitted, roughly chopped
- 5-8 handfuls of baby spinach (wilt in colander when you drain the pasta - my fave way)
- 1 can chickpeas/garbanzos (in bottom of colander too)
- 2 chicken breasts but into small slices, add S&P and brown in olive oil
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced red/Vidalia onion (about half an onion) add to the pan with the chicken when it's done just to soften, not too long)
- 1 T chopped basil (2 frozen Trader Joe's cubes), add to warm skillet to defrost and flavor the chicken & onions

whisk together for sauce:
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar (can substitute white vinegar or lemon juice)
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Layer in bowl from bottom to top:
Pasta, spinach, garbanzos all combined
sauce drizzled over pasta layer
chicken & onions in basil and olive oil
chopped black olives
toasted walnuts

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