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you know what starts with the letter P? pasta. and pancetta. and you know what else? pretty little liars, which is my favorite guilty pleasure show on TV (and it’s not even really a guilty pleasure because it’s just that good). last week, my PLL partner in crime and i threw together this amazing pasta dish, which i found via jamie oliver before we turned on the TV, and let me tell you, this ish is GOOD. melt in your mouth creamy, accented with the slightly tangy taste of fresh mint leaves, and oh so salty thanks to the pancetta. of course, there’s a big dose of carbs in there, and let’s be real – everyone loves carbs (except those people on the atkins diet, and i’m not really worried about them). 

my friend alissa whipped up this recipe like a champ (and girl thinks she’s not good in the kitchen! proof that anyone can follow a recipe and make something DELISH), and then we plopped down on her overstuffed couch and stuffed our faces while watching pretty teenage girls say things like, “BITCH CAN SEE!” it came together in under 20 minutes, and did i mention it’s creamy and delicious and i ate two huge helpings? (what? i was carbo-loading for my walk back down the stairs). Image

make it. i made it again the next night, and we’re making it again tomorrow. it’s not that we lack creativity – but that it’s yummy and easy and makes you look like a legitimate chef. 


The Recipe (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe for carbonara)

Makes enough for four servings, or two super hungry folks.

1 pound pasta of your choice (i like penne)

1 egg

3.5 fl oz (about 1/2 cup heavy cream)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

about 12 slices of pancetta, thinly sliced (generally, one grocery store sized package will do)

3 handfuls fresh or frozen peas 

4 sprigs of fresh mint, chopped, a few more for decorative purposes

1 cup freshly grated parmesan, for topping

to make, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then add pasta and cook according to instructions (i find around 7-8 minutes to be the sweet spot for most boxed pastas, and barilla is my go-to brand). 

whisk the egg in a bowl and mix in the heavy cream and salt and pepper. in a large skillet, cook your pancetta until crispy and golden. your kitchen will smell orgasmic by now. 

when your pasta has nearly cooked (let’s say around the 6 minute mark), add the peas for the last minute or so. this will cook them ever so slightly, but won’t overdo it. when the timer dings, drain your pasta and peas and reserve a bit of the pasta water.

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dump your pasta and peas mixture into your pancetta skillet and stir. now, stir in most of your sliced mint (save a little bit for topping purposes). if you like things minty, add even more. i did, because i do. there’s really nothing like fresh mint, especially when peas are involved. note: if your pan is too small, you can do all your mixing in a large bowl – but the pan is better, because the pasta will cook a tiny bit more in a warmed environment. Image

now, add the egg and cream mixture to the pasta. you need to make sure and add it while the pasta is still hot, but while the heat isn’t actually on the pan anymore. if you’re careful, the residual heat of the pasta will cook the eggs (since no one likes raw eggs); if things are too hot up in here, you’ll get a curdled, scrambled egg like sauce. GUH-ROSS. do it right (leave the pasta be for a minute or two to cool slightly, remove from heat) and you’ll get a silky smooth sauce. toss everything together and add your reserved pasta water to loosen things up a bit if need be (i needed to). 

divy up into four bowls, season again with a bit of salt and pepper and sprinkle with your remaining mint and however much parm you like (i love cheese). serve asap; this one doesn’t reheat all that well. 

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beets are one of those things i used to wrinkle my nose at. kind of the way kids feel about things like cabbage and brussel sprouts. you know, like this, “ewwwww. you expect me to eat that? GUH-ROSS, MOM!” i think i’ve mentioned before that as a youngin’, i wasn’t much for adventurous eating. things with odd textures, odd colors, and odd tastes just weren’t for me. this list included, at one time or another, mushrooms, onions, and red meat – as well as the aforementioned brussel sprouts, cabbage and beets.

let me tell you a funny story. the summer before i entered my freshman year of high school, my family, along with one of my oldest and bestest friends, kim, spent two weeks in france. we did a week in an apartment in paris that was full of crinkly wallpaper and aged herringbone wood floors and the kind of crown moulding that makes me cry with joy. of course, as a teenager, i didn’t appreciate the architectural details of the space; i had yet to develop a taste for interior design.

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this isn’t where we stayed. this is designer erin fetherston’s paris apartment – but it reminds me of the one we rented.

i also had yet to develop an adventurous taste for food, or really, a taste for food at all. my parents, who have always been amateur foodies themselves, love a good french delicacy – but me, at fourteen? not so much. escargot? you think just ’cause you’re dressing those babies up in a nice name i’m going to want to eat snails? AS IF. duck? no thanks. i don’t really like eating things that i’ve seen waddling around the pond in my hometown’s college campus. i wrinkled my nose so much in paris, it’s a wonder it didn’t get stuck like that.

since i didn’t want to eat any of the fancy food served in parisian restaurants, i subsisted on a lot of bread and cheese during that trip – you know, stuff i could pronounce, without funky textures or weird names. but one day, strolling through a french farmer’s market, we came across the most delectably beautiful stand of fresh strawberries. you can’t imagine the glee i felt – something i could (and would) eat! i picked up a pint right then and there, and continued to peruse the market, biting off the heads of one juicy strawberry after another, sticking the tops in the lid of my plastic container.

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the barrel into which my strawberries went tumbling looked like this, except bigger.

as would be the fate of a picky fourteen year old, a few paces later, i managed to accidentally spill my entire pint of strawberries, bitten off heads and all, into a giant vat of fresh paprika. i should tell you right now that i don’t speak a word of french, and at fourteen, i was beyond awkward, totally shy, and had trouble stringing sentences together in english, let alone in another language. my parents did the dirty work of apologizing profusely, while i attempted to pick my strawberries out of the bin (my hand was immediately swatted away – clearly in hoping to remedy the situation, i just made it worse). there are few times in my adult life that have rivaled this experience in terms of embarrassment factor. suffice it to say, we didn’t return to that part of the market ever again.

the moral of the story? it would do me well to be a bit more adventurous in my eating. which is why i’m proud of this recipe, in which i took one of my formerly despised foods and transplanted into a food i love: pasta.

i’m pretty happy with the result, which was creamy and delicious and also, HOT PINK. i mean, what’s not to love about hot pink pasta? NOTHING, if you ask me. basically, i got these ENORMOUS beets at the farmer’s market on saturday, and in lieu of taking the traditional route and putting them into a salad, i decided i’d turn that salad into a pasta.

beets’ sweetness is extremely well complimented by the creaminess of goat cheese, and whatdya know, i’d picked up some fresh garlic and black pepper infused chevre at the market as well! so i roasted my beets, then tossed them with goat cheese, a little pasta water, some fresh italian parsley, and lemon juice. and you know what? hot pink pasta is YUMMY. Image

so, let’s go forth and make it, shall we?

The Recipe

1 oversized beet (seriously, mine was enormous) or a few small beets

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 box of fusili or penne

3/4 cup goat cheese (if you can find herbed or flavored, go for it)

2 tbsp fresh italian parsley, diced and sliced

to make, roast your beet(s) in a 425 degree oven. you’ll want to drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then wrap them in aluminum foil. then, place them on a baking sheet or in a pan (i stuck mine in a glass bread pan) and stick ’em in there. cook for anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour. mine took a while because they were so huge, but smaller ones will take closer to the 25 minute mark. they’re done when you can easily piece the skin with a fork.

once your beets have cooked, remove them from the oven, and let them cool a bit. you need to peel the skins off, and you don’t want to burn yourself doing so. while you’re waiting for them to cool, put your pasta water on to boil, and zest and juice your lemon. set both the juice and zest aside. now, chop up your parsley. regular parsley would be fine here, but italian parsley is best. mint would also be delish!

once your water boils, dump your pasta in and add a bit of olive oil into the pot. stir and set your timer according to the directions on the box. now, peel your beets and chop them up into chunks. a bit bigger than bite size is perfect.

when your pasta finishes cooking, drain and reserve a bit of pasta water. put the pasta back into the pot, and add your goat cheese, beets and lemon juice. stir until the cheese has melted into a creamy sauce. if you need, add some water or white wine to thin the sauce out a bit more. dole pasta out into bowls and top with parsley and lemon zest.

there you go, folks. hot pink beetalicious pasta!

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when all else fails, i make pasta. it’s the quickest, generally the easiest, and of course, the carb-iest, which gets high points in my book. the other night while at trader joe’s, i was in the cheese section, stocking up – as cheese lovers do – and came across a log of herbed goat cheese. a lightbulb went on. i hadn’t the faintest idea what i would be making for dinner, and then i remembered this martha stewart recipe. in an age where cookbooks appear to be somewhat of a relic, what with everyone pinteresting up a storm and most, if not all, recipes living online, i’m proud to say i make great use of my great food fast book by the great MS. the title speaks the truth: it’s full of easy to make, quick and delicious recipes that generally call for ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. none of that complicated food network stuff. martha may be the queen of homemaking, but she understands the beauty of a simple recipe.

anywho, as the genius she is, martha came up with the thought of mixing a little bit of pasta water with goat cheese to make a simple sauce, and let me tell you – i am so on board. the beauty of cooking is that sometimes the best dishes are the simplest. case in point: this pasta.

i riffed on martha’s recipe, added lemon juice and zest, because i love a little citrus. i also used herbed goat cheese, because why not? and sautued my asparagus instead of roasting them, because it was hot out and i didn’t feel like turning on my oven. but you could roast yours, if you’d like.

so, let’s get to it.

The Recipe

2 bunches asparagus, tough ends cut off

1 cup frozen peas

1 box rigatoni or pasta shape of your choice

1 log herbed goat cheese (5 oz)

2 lemons, zested and juiced

to make, put a pot of water on to boil. zest your lemons and halve them. once your water is at a rolling boil, dump in your pasta with a little bit of olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon. stir every few minutes to keep pasta from clumping together.

meanwhile, cut asparagus into 2 inch pieces and saute over medium heat with a little bit of olive oil and about half a lemon’s worth of juice. season with salt and pepper as you saute. while the asparagus cooks, crumble your log of goat cheese. when asparagus is bright green and slightly browned at the tips, turn off burner and remove from heat.

about a minute before pasta is done, dump the peas into the pot. they’ll cook in the water.

drain your pasta/pea mixture and reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water. put pasta and peas back into pan with water and add asparagus, and add your crumbled goat cheese. squeeze your remaining lemon into the pot. stir – the goat cheese will melt and mix with the water and lemon juice as you go, creating a delicious, creamy sauce.

to serve, top pasta with grated romano cheese and lemon zest. now, go catch up on your DVR-ed episodes of revenge (if you’re not watching that show, you should be. emily thorne is one badass bitch) and dig in.

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the worst: those nights when you have no food in your fridge (or at least, no food that you feel like eating). those nights where you stand in front of your fridge, eying the avocado that’s probably gone bad by now, the parmesan cheese that’s begging to be grated, the mint that was supposed to end up in a wheatberry salad a few days ago. everyone has those nights – where you just can’t figure out what to do with what you’ve got in your fridge.

the other night, i had one of those nights. and i made this. and thankfully, it was delicious. hearty, interesting – a party in my mouth, really – and loaded with carbs. i mean, who doesn’t love carbs? i should start running marathons so i can carbo-load with reckless abandon. i bought a bunch of italian sausages on a whim a few months ago at my local organic grocery store, thinking i’d find something to do with them. i was bored of chicken and red meat and even my beloved tofu, so sausages it was. let it be known, sausages gross me out. that whole, jam a bunch of squished up meat and lord knows what else into a gross wrapper that kind of reminds me of a condom thing…not really my cup of tea. BUT, sausages, when out of their condom, are delicious. especially when you break them up and saute them with garlic and onions and other yummy things that make your kitchen smell like good ol’ rachael ray came to dinner.

so i bought the sausages a few months ago, and used three out of six to make a weird lentil dish that i probably won’t attempt again. it sounded good in my head, but it was just so-so in my mouth. i decided to freeze the other three sausages until inspiration struck.

fast forward to tuesday night, when i needed a dinner and didn’t really want to eat anything i had. LIGHTBULB MOMENT! i had sausages! and since there’s no legitimate sausage in my life right now to speak of (did i go too far?), i figured i’d whip those babies out and make them into something yummy. and that i did! i sauted them with a lil bit of garlic, threw in some sliced red onions and some tomato paste, deglazed the pan with a little bit of my dear friend white wine, then threw in fresh tomatoes and a bit more wine. then i threw the whole thing over a batch of penne, called it a sauce, and topped it with some fresh mint (a stroke of genius, might i add – could have been oh so wrong but somehow, it tasted oh so right!). et voila, a meal! in under 30 minutes, might i add.

so, want to make it for yourself? you do, it’s good. you can use any sausages, really (italian sausage, flavored sausage, chicken sausage) – though i wouldn’t recommend fake vegetarian ones. veggie peeps, this recipe ain’t for you. go eat some tofu.

The Recipe

Makes enough for two with a little bit left over for lunch.

1/2 box of penne or the pasta of your choice

3 sausages, cut out of their little holding cells and ready to be broken up

3 gloves of garlic, diced

1/2 red onion, sliced

olive oil, for the pan

1 beefsteak tomato, cut up into large chunks

3 tbsp tomato paste (use your judgement – you can add more if you want a more saucy sauce)

1/4 cup white wine

3 tsp fresh mint, chopped

grated parmesan cheese (though romano would be good too)

to make, put a pot of water up to boil for your pasta. meanwhile, throw a bit of oil into a skillet and toss the sausages in there. if you can handle touching the raw meat with your fingers, break the sausages up into bits – much like you would with chop meat if you were making tacos. if you can’t handle touching the sausages, use a wooden spoon to break up the meat. let cook until browned, about 5 minutes. while the meat is cooking, slice your onion and garlic and tomatoes. once meat is browned, add garlic and onion and tomato paste. turn your burner down to low. cook for a few minutes, until the onions wilt and the tomato paste is mixed in. add wine and scrape the bottom of the skillet to get up all the good stuff at the bottom. i love a good wine sizzle, don’t you?

your water should be boiling by now. add your pasta and throw a dash of olive oil in the pot. i learned this trick from rachael ray, and it’s a lifesaver. your pasta will never stick together again! GENIUS. i love that woman. and her husband is in a band that i once saw open up for hanson, so there’s that.

while pasta is cooking, turn your burner on the meat up to medium and add your tomatoes. feel free to salt and pepper your dish here, or add some red pepper flakes. my sausages were spicy, so i didn’t need the extra kick. but if your sausages are just so-so, a pinch of red pepper flakes will work wonders in taste department. once the tomatoes have wilted down, remove the skillet from heat. set aside.

drain pasta and reserve a tiny bit of pasta water. mmm, starchy goodness. divy up pasta into two bowls and top with sausage mixture. sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese and top with the chopped mint. now, dig in and try and tell me this stuff ain’t GOOD.