Zingy Ginger Stir-Fry

Zingy Ginger Stir-Fry

Zingy Ginger Stir-Fry

This is another of my stir-fry improvisations, a spicy gingery variation on Stir Fry Improvisation which I posted last year. There are some notable differences. I served this over Red Chile Fettuccine instead of rice, and I used a spicy oil instead of regular oil…and then there’s the ginger! 🙂

I also used a different brand of protein strips, though this will probably be good most brands.

  • Simple Truth Meatless Griller Strips
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-3 cloves garlic (depending on how much you like garlic or how strong the garlic is)
  • fresh broccoli florets (I used 3 small heads of broccoli, but one large might be enough.)
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced, or cut into fine slivers
  • soy sauce
  • Boyajian Jalapeno oil, or other spicy oil
  • Al Dente Red Chili Pepper Fettuccine

The amount of the griller strips and fettuccine depends on how many servings you’re making and whether this is meant to be a one-bowl meal. A half package of the fettuccine is two very generous servings. A whole package would easily feed four hungry people and might be stretched to five. I admit I guestimate the amount of the griller strips I use depending on how many servings. I just sort of break the frozen pieces out of the package and think, that’s about enough for one, two, three…etc. It really depends on how much protein you want per person. If this is a side dish, you could omit the protein strips. They soak up flavor well, but don’t contribute as much to the overall flavor of the dish as all the other ingredients — including the spicy fettuccine!

If serving over fettuccine, keep in mind that though it will take a bit of time to get the big pot of water to a boil, it takes just a few minutes for the pasta to cook! The whole meal comes together fairly quickly, even with the prepping vegetables and boiling water. It’s not instant, but if you’re hungry, you can throw this together and cook it before you reach the point of gnawing on the kitchen utensils. (I speak from experience. About the fast easy meal, that is. Not about gnawing kitchen utensils. Haven’t done that. Don’t recommend it.)

Cook the frozen griller strips in a small amount of the oil. Prep the vegetables, including ginger. Toss onions, garlic, and ginger into the wok with the griller strips. (You may need to add a bit more oil.) Toss and cook over a medium heat. I added the broccoli a bit later after the onions had started getting soft. After adding the broccoli, drizzle soy sauce over the mixture, toss and stir well, then cover and let simmer until broccoli is done, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice for a less spicy version. Serve over Red Chili Pepper Fettuccine for a somewhat spicier version.

The “zing” in this dish comes from three ingredients. All together, it’s not super-hot, but if even mildly spicy food doesn’t agree with you, you can make some substitutions and still have a flavorful dish. Rice or a milder noodle will take some of the zing away, and using a plain cooking oil (or garlic oil instead of garlic) will take most of the rest of the zing from the dish, but…the dish will still sing with a bit of zing if you use a big one inch chunk of fresh ginger in it!

When The Cupboard Is Bare: Fast and Spicy Pasta Sauce


Hot, hearty, spicy, fast, easy, and delicious! What more could you want?

This is another of my “cupboard is bare” improvisations. There are a few things I’d recommend having on hand to keep from having absolutely no options when you need a fast flavorful hearty meal. Find a spice blend that’s not part of your usual flavor palette. In this case I’m using saté, a flavor combination which is Indonesian in origin. Having some blend that’s not your usual Italian, Mexican, Whatever, is a nice change of pace and can make those hasty “cupboard is bare” meals into something special. For this reason I keep not only saté, but also a Turkish seasoning blend from Penzys on hand.

I don’t generally recommend spice blends because over-reliance on them will result in everything tasting the same. Also, some spice blends include salt, which is not good if you need to restrict salt intake, but also in general it’s not good to have pre-added salt because it can potentially throw things off depending on what you’re making. But…it’s good to have one or two blends that you don’t use excessively — and which you can tweak by adding other seasonings. (If you need to restrict salt intake, look for blends with no salt; these days lots of companies — including Penzys — formulate no-salt options for at least some blends.)

Another thing I recommend keeping on hand is a lot of different flavors of pasta. Pasta cooks quickly and it’s filling. Flavored pastas are often colorful, too. What to put on it? Please, please, stock tomato paste in your pantry in addition to tomato sauce. Tomato paste is basically concentrated tomato sauce. Stocking it means that you can control the thickness of the sauce, so for fast meals when you want a thick sauce it doesn’t take as long to cook down to desired consistency. But stocking it in addition to tomato sauce means that you can still make sauce, even when you’re out of sauce! It’s also handy for thickening up a pasta sauce that’s too thin. When I use canned diced tomatoes for sauce I add tomato paste to give me a better thickness and texture to the sauce. So stock some small cans of tomato paste! They’re unbelievably handy!

For this recipe I used Penzys saté (which does have salt), paired with some complementary seasonings. For pasta I used a half bag of Al Dente Spicy Sesame Linguini. (I had more pasta than sauce.) It is not, to my palate, very spicy…though their red chili fettuccine is. So, you might want to omit the pinch of red pepper if using a spicier pasta than the Sesame. Or omit the red pepper if you’re leery of spicy-hot food. The saté seasoning has spiciness built in to it, so additional red pepper is optional and really a matter of whether you want this spicy or hot. The seasonings I used will still give you a very flavorful somewhat spicy sauce, with no additional red pepper added.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) you can make a better version of this if using fresh mushrooms sautéd in a small amount of oil prior to throwing the sauce together. And adding more water and simmering this longer will allow the flavors to meld even more. But this is the fast version for those nights before the grocery shopping trip, or when for whatever reason (getting home late) you realize that you just don’t have the time or energy to do some more elaborate thing you’d planned. There’s no reason you can’t have a great tasty meal even if you have little time and few ingredients. Don’t settle for a can of something! Keep a special seasoning blend, tomato paste, and an assortment of pastas in your pantry. Don’t ever let those basics run out!

This makes enough for two generous servings. Increase sauce ingredients to make more.

1/2 tsp saté
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp tumeric
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 4oz can mushrooms, sliced or pieces
12 pieces Simple Truth Meatless Griller strips
Al Dente Spicy Sesame Linguini or other quickly cooking pasta.

Mix all the sauce ingredients, including the griller strips, in a saucepan. Add at least one can of water to the paste. You may need to add more. (I did.) Cook until the sauce is to the desired consistency and the griller strips are done. The griller strips package has a recommended temperature for cooking. Since the strips are frozen, make sure you simmer them long enough to cook them!

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. What will take the most time is getting the water to a boil, especially if you use a large pot, which I recommend to help avoid boil overs.

Serve sauce over pasta. Leftover vegetables can be served as a side dish. Or you can steam some in the microwave while waiting for the pasta water to boil.

Red Chile Fettucine with Tomatoes and Kale


Red chili pasta with tomatoes and kale

This is a fast, easy, meal. Simple, but with complex flavors due to the combination of flavored pasta and seasonings. It’s also very colorful, lowfat, and nutritious. And did I mention it tastes good? I know some people aren’t crazy about kale, but if you season things right, the greens don’t overwhelm the other flavors. Greens. I added kale to this simply because I saw some nice looking bunches of lacinato kale at the store. You could do something like this with any type of greens that are in season, though, of course it would taste different depending on what you added and you would almost certainly have to adjust the seasonings to complement the alternative additions. Why throw in greens at all? It’s fast, easy, and nutritious. Greens of various types can be added to a lot of things pretty easily simply because they cook quickly. They’re leaves. It doesn’t take much to cook them. Most of these ingredients are staples that you may have on hand in the pantry anyway, so grab a handful of fresh kale and you’ve got bright delicious meal. The secret of this dish is in the pasta and the seasonings.


Al Dente Red Chile Fettucine

I served this light sauce over Al Dente’s Red Chile Fettucine. It is spicy. If you use some other non-spicy pasta, you should probably add a little bit of hot pepper such as cayenne or Hungarian hot paprika to give it the missing spiciness.

Smoked Spanish Style Paprika (from Penzeys).

Smoked Spanish Style Paprika (from Penzeys).

Speaking of paprika…I recently discovered smoked paprika at Penzys and that’s the other secret ingredient in this dish. The first time I used it I went waaaaay overboard, so this time I used a more modest amount. If you want to really ramp up the smoky flavor use a bit more than I did. The smoky paprika when combined with the other seasonings and spicy fettuccine noodles is subtle in the amount I used.

I also kept the dish light using garlic powder instead of sauteing garlic in oil. The “sauce” is very thin and there’s not much of it. Mostly it’s pasta, tomatoes, kale, and griller strips. If you want more of a traditional red pasta sauce — or to increase the amount of servings — try adding a 15 oz can of tomato sauce in addition to the can of diced tomatoes. (You will need to increase the seasoning, if you increase the amount of sauce.) Alternately, when the weather warms up and there are tomatoes galore, you could make this with chopped fresh tomatoes.

This makes three generous (big bowl) servings or four more modest servings.

  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 garlic powder
  • pinch of salt
  • Lacinato kale, washed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 bag of Simple Truth griller strips
  • Al Dente’s Red Chile Fettucine

While water for pasta is coming to a boil (use a big pot), simmer the diced tomatoes and seasonings on low-ish heat, in a medium (or large) saucepan, covered. The saucepan needs to be significantly bigger than the amount of sauce because you’ll be adding kale and griller strips — and you need to be able to stir without slinging bits of kale all over the kitchen. (Been there, done that.)

You don’t need to simmer very long before you add the kale, stirring it in and then covering the pot again. When the kale has wilted a bit, add a half bag of griller strips, stirring in. Since these are frozen, it will bring the temp down, so stir it quite a bit and make sure the strips have sufficient time to thaw and cook. It doesn’t need much cooking time, but it does need to heat up first!

By now the pasta water should be boiling. Or not. The pasta only takes 3 minutes to cook, so don’t fidget over how long it takes the water to come to a boil. Just keep the pot of sauce covered and the heat under it low, stirring occasionally, so it doesn’t stick or cook completely away. Remember: there won’t be much actual sauce. It’s mostly going to be veg and griller strips.

When the pasta is done, drain, but do not rinse. Serve the tomato, kale, and griller strips over the hot spicy Red Chile Fettuccine pasta. Enjoy.


Spicy, smokey, and delicious!


Sesame Linguini with Turkish seasoning

This is another of my “throw it together fast” improvisations. You can, of course, mix some veggies in with the soy chicken strips and noodles, but steamed, very lightly seasoned veggies on the side provide a light bright contrast to a very hearty-tasting protein and noodle combo. I’ve made this recipe with two different kinds of chicken-free griller strips: Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips and Simple Truth’s Meatless Griller Strips . Both work well, though it should be noted that the package of Beyond Meat is 9 ozs and Simple Truth is 16 oz. Beyond Meat has fewer bigger pieces, more uniform in size. Simple Truth’s Meatless Griller Strips are more irregular in size — and there’s a lot more of it. (Also it’s a lot more readily available in my grocery store.) Pictures in this post show both brands for comparison.

Al Dente Spicy Sesame Linguini, excellent with Turkish seasoning and sesame oil.

Al Dente Spicy Sesame Linguini, excellent with Turkish seasoning and sesame oil.

  • 1 pkg Al Dente Spicy Sesame Linguini
  • 1 pkg chicken strip substitute
  • Sesame oil
  • Turkish Seasoning (from Penzeys)

Put on a pot of water to boil (and also start any veggie side dishes you wish). The Spicy Sesame Linguini takes just a few minutes to cook; what takes the most time is bringing the water to a boil.

Saute the chicken-free strips in a small amount of sesame oil. This complements the sesame linguini very nicely!

Stir in the Turkish seasoning. I used 1-2 Tbls of this depending on how much I was cooking up; you may be happy with less. This seasoning mix is delicious, but it does have salt in it. If you restrict the amount of salt in your diet, you will probably want to use less of this seasoning, or find a Turkish seasoning mix without salt. I usually don’t use premade seasoning mixes, but this is one of my exceptions. (If I ever work out a salt free version of this season, I’ll update this post.)

This is the 1pkg of Beyond Meat’s Chicken Free Strips.

This is one pkg of Simple Truth Griller Strips.

This is one pkg of Simple Truth Griller Strips.

Really you don’t need high heat for this: it’s just to heat up the strips and give the seasoning a chance to meld with the oil. There’s no need to sear the pieces.

Cook the noodles according to package direction, drain. Do not rinse. Toss the highly seasoned Chicken-Free Strips with the noodles.

A fast, hearty dish!

A fast, hearty dish! (This is Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips.)

Serve with lightly steamed veggies on the side. (My preference. Serve with whatever you want!) If you cook side-dish veggies in the microwave (or reheat leftover veggies), this is one of the fastest (and very filling) full meals you can make!

This is the same dish with Simple Truth Griller Strips

This is the same dish with Simple Truth Griller Strips

Sesame Linguini with a hint of spice and orange

Sesame Linguini with a hint of spice and orange

Sesame Linguini with a hint of spice and orange

I love experimenting with flavored pastas. For this recipe I used Al Dente’s Sesame Linguini. I’ve been tweaking this recipe a bit and think I’ve now got it just right.The flavor of the sesame linguini is reinforced by the use of sesame oil, which is complemented by the small amount of jalapeno oil which adds just a tiny hint of spiciness and the splash of orange juice gives it just a hint of citrusy sweetness, but not enough to actually be sweet. All in all, it’s an interesting and satisfying flavor combination.

This is purely a pasta-n-protein dish. Adding veggies changes the balance of the flavor, so veggies should be on the side, in another dish, or in a salad. The oils are used for seasoning, but double as a medium for lightly browning the mock chicken strips.

  • Al Dente Sesame Linguini
  • Simple Truth Meatless Griller Strips (or other similar chicken substitute)
  • Sesame oil
  • Boyajian Jalapeno oil
  • A splash of orange juice

The pasta takes 3 minutes to cook, so the thing that takes the longest is getting a big pot of water to a boil.So start the water for the pasta first. The rest of this takes very little time and will be done by the time the water has boiled (if not before).

Mix approximately equal amounts of the the sesame and jalapeno oil in a pan or skillet, swish around to blend. The total amount depends on how many of the strips you are cooking up and the size of the pan. I use probably more oil than necessary just to cook the strips, but my reasoning is this: the oil is seasoning and when the strips are tossed with the linguini, the oil acts as a light dressing for the pasta.

Heat oil to med-low or medium at the highest. These oils aren’t meant for frying, so they are better at lower temps. You can still lightly brown the protein strips on a medium heat. Add more than enough of the mock chicken strips to cover the bottom of the pan; you will be stir-frying and moving it around quite a bit so all pieces get a chance to heat and color up a bit. The pieces have a tendency to stick to the pan. When the pieces are starting to turn color a bit here and there and sticking to the pan, splash a small amount of orange juice into the pan and deglaze the pan with it. The juice will sizzle away quickly. When it has mostly cooked away, it’s done. It takes very little time to prepare the mock-chicken strips.

Serve over the sesame linguini, sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired. (The picture with parmesan came out better than the picture without, but this tastes great without the addition of cheese.)

Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera with garlic pasta.

Pasta Primavera with garlic pasta.

This is a fast, easy, cold summer pasta salad. You can use any kind of pasta — and I know some people prefer to use all kinds of small shaped pasta for cold pasta salads — but for some reason I’ve always used fettuccine, perhaps because it’s most likely to come in assorted flavors and colors. I used to make this all the time many years ago, and I’m not sure why I stopped since it’s not like summers are any cooler. 😉 But it’s been so many years since I made it that when I was making up the grocery list, I had to stop and think hard about what vegetables I used to use. Honestly, all I can remember are tomatoes and peas, but I’m fairly sure it had squash of some sort as well. The original recipe probably had seasonings added, but I used Boyajian basil-flavored olive oil instead.

A language note: “primavera” means spring and often refers to sauteed spring vegetables. The only spring vegetable in it, however, are peas. If you want this to be a spring dish, you could substitute steamed or sauteed broccoli for the zucchini, but really I don’t know what spring vegetable would be a likely substitute for fresh tomatoes. They brighten the dish both in color and also flavor! When you start swapping out ingredients in dishes you’re going to change the character of the dish. Feel free to experiment with cool season veggies, but despite the name (which I got from the original half-remembered recipe), this is cold summer pasta dish.

1 pkg pasta of your choice (preferably flavored)
Cherry or grape tomatoes
1 12oz pkg frozen peas
4 zucchini or yellow squash
Olive oil, or flavored olive oil (such as Boyajian)

Cook pasta according to package instructions. While you’re waiting for the water to boil and cooking the pasta, slice and saute the squash in olive oil in a large skillet until just tender, but not falling apart. Zap peas in the microwave according to package instructions. (I use peas that are microwaved in the bag.)

Drain the pasta. Do not rinse! Cool in colander a little while.  Drizzle with olive oil. I prefer flavored oils with an olive oil base for this. Toss with squash, peas and tomatoes when it’s cooled enough not to partially cook them. I use a pair of tongs for this.

Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator until cool, 3-4 hours. (You can wait and top with the tomatoes at serving, but I prefer to toss them in earlier so they can pick up the flavored oil more.) If you’re going with Mediterranean flavors, as I prefer, and have some fresh basil on hand, you can toss some ripped up fresh basil leaves into the mix as well. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving, if you wish. By the way…the peas do tend to sink a bit, so dig deep when tossing before serving, scooping down to the bottom of the bowl.

As a main dish, this would probably serve at least 5 people, as a side dish I can’t even guess…something just short of infinite. 😉

Homemade Tomato Sauce

quinoa, amaranth, and brown rice pasta with homemade tomato sauceOnce again, a lovely meal was thrown together by the Boyfriend – quinoa, amaranth, and brown rice pasta topped with homemade tomato sauce.  While I am more of a follow-the-recipe type of girl when it comes to sauces, he is willing to take whatever is in the fridge and throw it in the food processor.  So far, he’s done everything right and hasn’t made a bad meal yet.  🙂

You will need:

  • 5 tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot

Toss these ingredients in a food processor and process until you have a nice, smooth mixture.

You will also need:

  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • nutritional yeast (to taste)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • smoked paprika (to taste)
  • small tin of tomato paste

In a saucepan, heat up the coconut oil (not too hot).  Now add the ingredients from the food processor PLUS the remaining ingredients listed above.  Start with small amounts of each ingredient until the tomato sauce is to your liking.  Easy peasy!

This made more than enough sauce for two people, so the next day Boyfriend varied it slightly.  He added almond milk and some additional nutritional yeast.  This made for a lovely creamy pasta sauce and cut down on some of acidity of the tomatoes and the garlic.

Spaghetti With A Hearty Sauce

Spaghetti was one of the first things I learned to cook after I left home for college. Despite having a bunch of Italian relatives, I didn’t know how to cook any pasta dishes, not even spaghetti; I simply ate it at my aunt and uncle’s house. “Pasta and suga” it was called. I had no idea how to make even a simple pasta sauce. I didn’t really learn to cook until after I left home. Then it was a friend of a friend who introduced me to spaghetti from a box. 😯 I can hear everyone going “Oh, NO!” 😆 But it actually wasn’t a bad place to start for someone who didn’t know how to cook. Suddenly making a hearty spaghetti dinner from scratch didn’t seem so intimidating. I mean, it was all in a box…how hard could it be? So I began with a box which had noodles and a flavoring packet and cooking instructions (which included the addition of tomato sauce and meat). Then I started tweaking it. Adding more of this or that seasoning. Adding a chopped onion, fresh garlic, canned mushrooms. Sometimes sauteing fresh mushrooms in olive oil instead of using canned. Within no time spaghetti was my “go to” meal when I cooked for friends (or, even better, with friends). It was the “thanks for help moving” meal, the communal meal. Spaghetti, more than anything, was my confidence builder as a cook. I stopped measuring seasonings and it always came out good. (I did measure for the recipe below, though.)

Over the years my own spaghetti sauce recipe branched into myriad variations. Here’s the most important thing you need to know about making spaghetti sauce: the time and effort it takes to make a good spaghetti sauce from scratch is not substantially greater than if you heat up a jar of sauce. It takes a little bit longer, but quite honestly if you feel you have to use sauce from a jar because sauce takes too long to make, then…umm…maybe you should sit back and rethink your life…because this is not something that takes a lot of effort or time. 🙂

Below is the basic no-frills sauce. After that I’ll tell you various ways to change it up (which makes it even better).

1 pkg Smart Ground or Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles
2 15 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 4 oz can of sliced mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
a few cloves of garlic, depending on how much garlic you like, run through a garlic press or minced
1 Tbls basil
2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
2 rounded spoonfuls of brown sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper
olive oil

Saute chopped onions and garlic (minced or preferably run through a garlic press) in olive oil. If using fresh mushrooms (see variations below), saute mushrooms too. Add tomato sauce, canned mushrooms (if not using fresh), meatless crumbles, seasonings and brown sugar. Stir well. Simmer covered over medium to low heat at least 30 minutes. (High enough to simmer, but low enough not to bubble like lava and splatter you.) Stir occasionally. If the consistency of the sauce looks too thin, cook uncovered until about right. If the consistency of the sauce looks too thick, add a small amount of water. Set the table. Throw together a salad. Pour your friends a glass of wine.

I’m not absolutely sure who told me to put a small amount of brown sugar in the spaghetti sauce, but I think it was the friend’s brother’s girlfriend who first introduced me to the spaghetti-in-a-box. Or maybe it was someone else later. It does not make the sauce sweet. What it seems to do is to moderate the sharpness of the herbs. If you stumped your toe when you were adding the oregano, the brown sugar will make it less obvious. At least this is what it seems to me that the brown sugar is doing. I know that if I overdo the seasonings (remember, though I tested and measured for these recipes I usually don’t measure when I make it myself), and if I don’t put a small amount of brown sugar in, I can taste my mistakes more. I think of the brown sugar as my safety net. 😉

misc 007Cook pasta for the amount of time recommended on the package. I add a splash of oil to help avoid boil-overs. It helps but is not fool-proof. Using a big pot is recommended. You can cook spaghetti in a pot that’s too small, but that makes boil-overs unavoidable. Of course, the bigger the pot the greater the volume of water, and the longer it takes to get to a boil. Depending on your stove and the size of pot you use the amount of time to get water boiling will vary. I don’t even want to guess. You should try to time it so that the pasta is not done before the minimum cooking time for the sauce. It won’t hurt the sauce to cook a longer, but the pasta will be a cold gummy mess if it has to wait on the sauce. Drain the pasta in a colander. Do not rinse! Serve immediately heaped with the sauce. 😀

This recipe makes four big hearty servings. With salad, bread, and wine (and the promise of dessert!), it can go 5 servings. Some of the variations below extend the amount of sauce by adding additional ingredients, but if you need to feed 8-10, double the recipe.


Below are some variations and at the very bottom is my ultimate spaghetti sauce combining variations.

This sauce and the variations below can be used with a variety of pastas. A number of companies make flavored pastas. As flavorful as this sauce is (especially if you do some of the variations below) it may overwhelm the flavor of a mildly flavored pasta or on the other hand the flavor of the pasta may throw the balance of seasonings in the dish off. Flavored pastas are worth experimenting with. I recommend trying them with just a light dressing of olive oil and parmesan cheese to assess the flavor before using them with sauces which have a more complex blend of flavors.

I have sometimes found that I don’t have quite enough tomato sauce on hand which is how I came to substituting a can of diced tomatoes for one of the cans of sauce. The sauce with diced tomatoes seems thin to me so I also add a 6 oz can of tomato paste to thicken it up. Having the tomato chunks in the sauce gives it a nice texture and flavor. If you want to stretch the sauce a bit further you can add a can of diced tomatoes in addition to the 2 cans of tomato sauce. You will need to tweak the seasonings if you add an extra can. If you double the cans of tomato products in the recipe above, add another package of Smart Ground and also adjust the seasonings accordingly.

Fresh mushrooms are a nice addition to the sauce if you have time to clean and chop them. (I don’t buy pre-sliced mushrooms because they’re still dirty and take longer to clean than whole caps.) White button mushrooms, cremini mushrooms or portobellas are all good in spaghetti sauce. Clean, remove stems, coarsely chop, then saute. If you’ve got a big enough skillet or pot, they can be added with the onion and garlic. Mushrooms will cook down quite a bit, but nevertheless, .2 (or less) oz fresh is about the right amount for one batch of sauce unless you’re making a larger amount of sauce. (If you get more than that you can always saute them up and use them another night on pizza or in quesadillas.)

If you’ve got a bottle of wine open to go with the meal, a splash (no more than 1/4 cup) of a “good spaghetti wine” such as Chianti or a Sangiovese (the primary variety of grape used in Chianti) would be good in the sauce—or whatever wine you like with spaghetti. If it goes great with the meal, it will go well in the sauce —or the cook! 😉

Some people like bell pepper in spaghetti sauce. I have added a bit of bell pepper on occasion, but it always seems to me like it doesn’t “fit” the flavor of the sauce somehow. If you like it, then go for it! 🙂

If you want a spicier sauce, something with a zing of heat to it, try adding a bit (1/4 tsp) of Hungarian Hot Paprika. Not all Hungarian paprika is hot, so double check the tin when you buy it. This seasoning is one of my favs for increasing the spiciness of dishes. It’s not as hot as cayenne but far spicier than regular paprika. Definitely worth seeking out and experimenting with.

misc 006Ultimate Spaghetti Sauce

1 pkg Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles (or Smart Ground)
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1/4 cup Sangiovese wine
.24 oz fresh mushrooms (white button, or your favorite), de-stemmed, coarsely chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, run through garlic press, or minced
1 Tbls basil
2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
2 rounded spoonfuls of brown sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
olive oil

Saute onions, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil until onions are translucent and mushrooms have mostly changed color. Add tomato products, Smart Ground, wine, seasonings, and brown sugar. (The Hungarian hot paprika will add a slight spiciness but not make the sauce hot. If it’s too mild, increase the amount the next time you make the sauce.) Add a small amount of water until consistency of sauce looks about right. Simmer covered for 30 minutes minimum on low heat, stirring occasionally. Serve over hot, drained spaghetti or pasta of your choice.

Fun with Flavored Pastas

If you want a fast, easy, filling supper, pasta is the way to go. I’m not talkin’ mac-n-cheese here (that deserves its own post). You don’t have to slave over elaborate sauces to get elaborate flavors, either. There are many pasta companies which make flavored pastas, some of which are quite good and come in an astonishing array of flavors. Don’t (just) think of Italian food when you think of pasta: think Asia, Spain, Mexico, India, Tunisia, Cuba, The Caribbean. And that’s just a smattering of the offerings from one artisanal pasta company. That company is Pappardelle’s which offers a wide selection online, but is only available at Farmer’s Market’s otherwise. When I can snag some of this locally, I do, making a point of trying something different each time.

That fast easy meal I was referring to is to cook flavored noodles (flat noodles only take a few minutes), then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. It’s fast, easy and filling. If I’m trying out a new flavored pasta for the first time, this is the way I make it because I want to know what the flavor of the pasta is, how strongly flavored it is, so that I can make the right choices when serving it with a sauce or tossed with veggies. If you want to enhance or complement the flavors, Boyajian makes flavored oils (which I also use for popcorn).

In the course of taste-testing with only simple dressings, you may be inspired to create something more elaborate with things like Goan Curry Angel Hair pasta, Lemon Ginger Fettuccine, Lime Cilantro Linguine, Orange Szechuan Linguine, Porcini Mushroom Linguine, Spanish Saffron Trenette, Spicy Thai Linguine, Sweet Potato Pappardelle, Tunisian Harissa Fettuccine, Lavender Fettuccine,  Chipotle Black Bean Tagliatelle, or Orzo in Asian, Cuban, Southwestern and Thai flavors, not to mention fruit and chocolate pastas for even more adventurous eaters. 😉 They also offer three flavors of lasagna noodles: Peppercorn Trio, Roasted Red Pepper, and Spinach Garlic. (I sometimes use the red pepper flavor in my lasagna, and would love to try the Peppercorn lasagna noodles.)

Pappardelle isn’t the only one making flavored pastas: other brands are available in most supermarkets, albeit with fewer and less adventurous flavors. Al Dente is the brand I most often see. I’ve tried more of their flavored pastas than Pappardelle, mostly because they are more readily available. I can’t go down the aisle without looking to see which flavors are there and grabbing a couple of bags. Pasta is one of my fall-back foods when plans change and I don’t have time to cook or just don’t feel like doing much in the kitchen. Noodles, a light drizzle of olive oil (with or without flavoring), a bit of Parmesan cheese and I’m there. 😀

Peppercorn pasta with sauted portobello mushrooms, tomatoes and parmesan cheese.

If I’ve got fresh mushrooms (portobella, crimini, button), I may saute them up and toss with the pasta. One night I had a couple of left-over portobellas and a couple of tomatoes, so I sauteed the mushrooms in a little bit of garlic oil, and then just cut the tomatoes in chunks over the pan and cooked with a bit of basil until the tomatoes dissolved, then served it over two bowls of Al Dente’s Three Peppercorn Fettucine. De-lish! Tomatoes and mushrooms are both good choices if you don’t want to serve the pasta “nekkid”. 😉 They’ll both cook to bits in no time and with water for the pasta needing to boil, it won’t add anything to the total cooking time.

Some of the flavored pastas I’ve had are so good by themselves that I’m reluctant to do something “saucy” with them. 😉 But on the other hand, some flavors are so good they set me dreaming of what I can do with them. 😀


There are a number of variations to making lasagna. The best lasagna variation I’ve made so far used Pappardelle’s red pepper lasagna noodles and a basil ricotta cheese, both of which I got at a local farmer’s market. One thing that may make my lasagna a bit unusual is that I only use basil, no other herbs. This recipe has been developed from experimentation over the years. I wanted something with a flavor substantially different from my spaghetti sauce and my pizza sauce, so I do tend to go a bit overboard on the basil. Using basil flavored oil and basil ricotta cheese may be overkill for some people — and I don’t always or usually go to that extreme, but if you prefer to use a premixed blend of Italian herbs for your Italian tomato-based sauces, throwing in extra basil in the form of flavored oil or ricotta cheese, could be a way to tweak your seasonings. Ditto, if you’re a garlic fiend (or suspect one of your dinner guests may be a vampire) the bit of extra garlic in garlic oil might do the trick. I would urge caution, though, because you can overdo it with too many extra flavors or too much of one flavor. If you’re using a flavored pasta that you haven’t tasted before, cook it and give it a taste before throwing all the ingredients into the sauce, just to make sure the flavors will play well with others.

There are two different types of lasagna noodles: those that you boil before assembling the lasagna and those that you don’t cook beforehand. Most noodles, including the aforementioned Pappardelle’s flavored lasagna, you need to cook first. However Barilla makes “oven ready” lasagna noodles that don’t need to be cooked. This noodle is a flat strip, no wavy edges. You just lay the dry flat sheets down when you’re assembling the lasagna. (Barilla also make the classic “wavy edged lasagna” which does need to be boiled before assembling the lasagna. Check the package when you buy to make sure you’re getting the type you want.) I use Barilla’s no-cook over-ready lasagna noodles unless I’m using a flavored noodle that must be pre-cooked. As always, follow the instructions on the package regarding boiling the noodles or not. (This was written before the Barilla’s controversial statements in 2013 and should not be construed as an endorsement of their corporate policies and attitudes. I am trying to find an alternative no-preboil lasagna noodle to recommend, but so far have found only one I can’t recommend.)

Flavored olive oils (such as Boyajian’s basil, garlic, rosemary, chili etc.) can be used to saute the onions and garlic; if you’re “doubling up” by using an oil with some of the flavors in the sauce (ie: basil, garlic) you may want to adjust your seasonings.

1 pkg lasagna noodles
a small amount of olive oil (or flavored olive oil such as Boyajian’s )
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 med onion, chopped
1 (12 oz) pkg LightLife’s Smart Ground
black pepper, perhaps a pinch of salt
1-2 tsp dried basil, crushed
12 oz tomato paste
1 1/2 cups hot water
15-16 oz oz ricotta cheese
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese, grated (or sliced thinly)

Lasagna noodles: boil as directed (usually about 10min) or don’t cook if using Barilla’s oven-ready noodles (or some other noodle which doesn’t require pre-cooking). Check the instructions on the box to make sure which kind you have!

Heat oil in skillet, saute the onions and garlic. Add black pepper, basil, and Smart Ground. Stir until well blended and crumbly. Add tomato paste and water. Stir until it’s a homogenous sauce. Simmer on low heat about 5 minutes. (Really, this shouldn’t cook for a long time. Just simmer a bit.)

In a 9×13 baking pan, (spraying pan with PAM optional) spread a thin layer of sauce. This won’t be a layer that completely covers the whole bottom of the pan. You’ll see the bottom of the pan. Use very little sauce for this. The idea here is to smear some sauce on the bottom to keep the noodles from sticking. Then add a layer of noodles, all the ricotta on top of the noodles, then half the mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta. (Ah, cheese!)

For the next layer, you can be more generous with the sauce. Layer half the remaining sauce, then a layer of noodles, then the remainder of sauce and the rest of the mozzerella on top.

Baking instructions for different brands of noodles: If using the Barilla pasta that doesn’t require pre-cooking, cover with foil, preheat oven 375, then bake 55-60 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes. Let stand at least 10 minute before serving.

If using pre-boiled noodles, bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

To make ahead If using oven-ready Barilla …After assembling the lasagna, cover with foil and refrigerate. Bake 60 minutes at 375, then another 5 without foil, let at least stand 10 minutes.

I have only done the make-ahead thing using the over-ready Barilla noodles, so I’m not sure if there is any difference with pre-boiled noodles. Cooking time (and possibly oven temp) will probably be slightly longer as with the variation above.