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Pasta Passion

Pasta’s simplicity doesn’t deter the many devoted fans of this versatile food.

Mexican Lasagna

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY Food/Photography BY BROOKE ECHOLS

On its own, pasta is a very uncomplicated food: It consists of just a few ingredients and requires nothing but a pot of boiling water and a few minutes to be cooked and ready to eat. But plenty of people are passionate about pasta, their affection proving how something quite basic — humble even — can stand out not in spite of, but because of, its simplicity. It’s a blank canvas that lets its partner elements shine and despite often being in the background, it’s the cornerstone of countless tasty dishes.

For many, spaghetti is the best-known pasta, but it’s only one type of this versatile foodstuff. It comes dried or fresh and in a puzzle box of shapes: tubes, ribbons, strands, curly-cues, half-moons and charming bow ties. It can be enjoyed warm: smothered in sauce, baked in a casserole or swimming in a soup. It’s equally appealing drenched in a dressing and served cold as a salad.

It also transcends geographic and cultural boundaries. While it’s Italian in origin, we’ve Americanized pasta and the dishes it stars in, thoroughly mixing another country’s cuisine into our great big melting pot. We’ve made it perfectly at home in multiple “non-Italian” dishes too. The Southern comfort-food favorite macaroni and cheese is a delicious example, one that becomes even more soothing this time of year. A hearty helping of rich, gooey mac and cheese straight from the oven is a good way to keep cozy in February, when it’s often cold (as well as damp) in much of Alabama.

But February is also the month of Valentine’s Day, and for this holiday, another pasta dish is more apropos. If you’ve got a romantic rendezvous planned for the 14th, consider classic spaghetti and meatballs, a la “Lady and the Tramp.” That’s, as the song says, amore! And, to keep the pasta love going all year long, try out each of these reader-submitted recipes.


Cook of the Month

Marsha S. Gardner, Baldwin EMC

There are multiple reasons Marsha Gardner loves her Angel Hair Pasta with Tomatoes & Parmesan. “It’s easy and quick to make. It’s nice and light but also so flavorful. And it  can be used as a side or a main dish,” she said. She’s been making it for years and uses it different ways, often depending on the season. “In summer, we often make a meal out of it, but in the winter, I like to pair with fish or chicken,” she said. And while fresh, fragrant basil makes the dish shine in warmer months, Gardner will substitute rosemary or thyme on occasion too. “I have an herb garden, so whatever looks good out there, I’ll use.”

 

Angel Hair Pasta with Tomatoes & Parmesan

8 ounces angel hair pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large fresh tomato, chopped or 1/2

(14.5 ounce) can chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons basil

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 minutes or until al dente; drain. Add olive oil in a large deep skillet over high heat. Sauté onions and garlic until lightly browned. Reduce heat to medium-high and add tomatoes and chicken broth; simmer for about 8 minutes. Top with crushed red pepper, basil and parmesan cheese.


Ultimate Pasta Salad

4 cups water

1 pound rotini pasta

2 tomatoes, diced

2 cucumbers, diced

1/2 purple onion, diced

1 cup pitted black olives, sliced

1/2 cup bell peppers diced

1 cup chopped ham

1/2 bacon bits

1 package mini pepperoni

1/2 cup shredded cheese

1 1/2 cup Italian dressing

1 stick butter

*If you like more meat, chicken or shrimp may be added.

In a pot, bring water to boil; add 1/2 stick of butter and reserve remaining half to the side for later. Sprinkle salt in water. Once water has come to boil, add pasta and cook for 12-15 minutes. While pasta is cooking, dice the onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers and pour into a mixing bowl. Once pasta is done, strain water off and pour into another bowl. Add other half-stick of butter to the cooked pasta and season according to taste. Stir in all ingredients and top with shredded cheese. Let chill in refrigerator and serve.

Sharlene Parker, Baldwin EMC


Simple Freezer Manicotti

1 package manicotti shells, uncooked

1 pint part-skim ricotta cheese

12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

¾ cup parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 16-ounce can of spaghetti sauce (your flavor choice)

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

(optional)

4 ounces ground beef or Italian

sausage (optional)

Cook’s note: Do not pre-cook manicotti shells. Mix ricotta, 8 ounces of mozzarella, parmesan and parsley in a bowl. Fill/stuff manicotti shells completely with  mixture. Set filled tubes into freezer-safe food container and freeze for later use. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown ground beef/Italian sausage, if used. Pour enough sauce in 11×17-inch baking dish to cover bottom (approx. ½ cup.) Pull shells out of freezer. Place in baking dish. If possible, keep from touching side of dish. Sprinkle beef/sausage over shells. Pour remaining sauce over shells, completely covering all the shells with the sauce. Cover dish with aluminum foil and glass baking dish cover. Foil must be tight around edges of dish before covering with baking dish lid. Bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle 4 ounces of mozzarella cheese over shells. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese is slightly golden brown/bubbly. Remove from oven, let stand 5 minutes.

Sean Cassidy, Dixie EC


Lemon Pasta Salad with Baby Peas

1 pound bow-tie, orecchiette or other small shell pasta

Kosher salt

1 package frozen baby peas

2 lemons, peeled and juiced

2/3 cup milk

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ teaspoon coarsely ground

black pepper

1 cup fresh basil leaves

4 green onions, thinly sliced

In large saucepot, cook pasta in boiling salted water as label directs, adding frozen peas during last 2 minutes of cooking time. Drain pasta and peas; rinse with cold water and drain well. Meanwhile, from lemons, grate 1 tablespoon peel and squeeze 3 tablespoons juice. In a large bowl, with wire whisk, mix lemon peel and juice with milk, mayonnaise, pepper, basil, green onions and 1 teaspoon salt until blended. Add pasta and peas to mayonnaise dressing; toss to coat well. Cover and refrigerate up to two days if not serving right away.

Marsha S Gardner, Baldwin EMC


Veggie Mac & Cheese Cups

1/2 cup bread crumbs

6 ounces small pasta shells

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8t easpoon black pepper

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1/2 cup broccoli, cooked and chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 6 cups of a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray. Coat inside of each muffin cup with bread crumbs, reserving a few spoonfuls.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and stir while cooking for 10 minutes. Drain pasta, add back to pot. Stir in cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta mixture into muffin cups, filling almost to the top. Top each cup with tomato and broccoli. Sprinkle remaining bread crumbs on each. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Unmold from muffin pan gently, with a rounded knife.

Robin O’Sullivan, Wiregrass EC


Quick and Easy Manicotti

1 package manicotti

1 pound ricotta cheese

3 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon parsley flakes

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated

Cook manicotti as directed on the package. Drain and cool on wax paper. Blend together ricotta and mozzarella cheese, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper. Stuff manicotti with cheese filling and place in a buttered dish.

 

Tomatoes and artichokes:

3 6-ounce jars marinated artichokes

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon oregano

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon basil

pinch of red pepper flakes

3 8-ounce cans diced tomatoes

¼ cup parmesan cheese

Drain artichoke marinade into a pan. Chop artichoke hearts; set aside. Add garlic, oregano, basil and pepper flakes to marinade and cook until soft. Add tomatoes with juice and cover. Simmer for 35 minutes. Add parmesan cheese and chopped artichokes. Stir and pour over manicotti. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbly.

Lexie Turnipseed, Dixie EC


Cheesy White Chicken Lasagna with Spinach

Sauce:

1/4 cup butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Lasagna:

9 whole lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound ground chicken

16 ounces mushrooms, minced

4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 cups ricotta cheese

16 ounces baby spinach

1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese

Parsley, chopped for garnish

Sauce:

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the softened onions, then stir to combine, cooking for another 1-2 minutes. Whisk the chicken broth and milk into the onion and flour mixture, stir constantly until the sauce simmers and thickens, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the basil, oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and remove from heat.

Lasagna:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions. Drain and lay out in a single layer on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray so they don’t stick. In the same pot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and cook for 3-4 minutes until wilted. Drain in a colander, squeezing out as much excess water as possible. In a large pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat, then combine the ground chicken and mushrooms and brown together until the chicken is cooked through. Drain off any liquid. To assemble, spread 1/4 of the sauce on the bottom of a large 9×13-inch baking dish. Lay 3 of the cooked lasagna noodles on top. Layer on 1/2 of the chicken and mushroom mixture, then spread 1/2 of the wilted spinach on top. Dollop with half of the ricotta cheese mixture, then spread with another 1/4 of the sauce. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Arrange 3 more of the lasagna noodles over the first layer, then repeat the rest of the layers. Finish the lasagna by arranging the last three noodles on top, then spread with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with the last of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until hot and bubbly, finishing under the broiler just to add a little color to the top, but being careful not to burn the cheese. Let the lasagna stand for at least 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley, if desired.

Michael Rich, Sand Mountain EC


Mexican Lasagna

1 pound hamburger, browned and drained

1 package taco seasoning with 2/3 cup water

1 can refried beans

1 package lasagna noodles, uncooked

2 1/2 cups water

24 ounces picante salsa

16 ounces sour cream

2 cups cheese, grated (Mexican blend, finely grated)

1 can black olives, sliced

Green onions sliced, tops only

Brown and drain hamburger. Add taco seasoning mix with required water on package and refried beans. In greased 9×13-inch pan, layer 1/3 uncooked lasagna noodles, 1/2 of meat mixture, another 1/3 of uncooked lasagna noodles, remaining meat mixture and final layer of uncooked lasagna noodles. Mix 21/2 cups water with salsa. Pour over top of noodles. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 1.5 hours. Remove from oven and remove foil. Add sour cream, grated cheese, green onions and black olives. Bake about 5 minutes until cheese is melted and toppings are heated through. Serve with nacho chips or salad.

Marjorie Sullivan, Sand Mountain EC


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