Category Archives: Pasta and Grains

Pasta with Arugula and Bleu Cheese

Take two of the strongest flavors out there–the spiciest of greens, the strongest of cheeses, toss with some hot spaghetti and the world is forever rocked.

I picked up a tightly packed sack of arugula at the downtown farmers market Saturday and proceeded to rinse and dry the entire haul.

Feeling an abundance of options for this little leaf that makes everything better, I opened my daily “What to Cook” email from the New York Times and there it was: Pasta with Gorgonzola and Arugula. Perfect.

All I needed was the Gorgonzola and a quick trip to Wheatsville to pick up this missing link was a big of a disappointment. No Gorgonzola. I did some on-the-fly of Google research to see whether Bleu would do and learned what the rest of the world has probably known for a long time: Bleu cheese is an umbrella category that includes Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Stilton.*

Before the week is out, I am going to make this recipe again using Gorgonzola, but in my lack of patience yesterday, I went for the 4 oz. container of bleu crumbles, and all was well.



  • About 4 cups of chopped arugula
  • 12 oz. dried spaghetti
  • 3  T butter
  • 3 T half and half
  • 4 oz. bleu cheese
  • Black pepper


Wash and dry arugula. Chop and transfer to a platter or serving bowl.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add pasta and cook to desired firmness.

Melt butter. Reduce heat to low. Add cheese and half and half.  Stir frequently until cheese is melted. Remove from heat.

Drain cooked pasta and immediately smother arugula with hot pasta to partially wilt the leaves. Top with bleu cheese sauce and toss thoroughly.

Serve immediately with cracked pepper.

*Now that I am a bleu cheese expert, I’ll share a shred of what I’ve just learned: Gorgonzola originated in Italy and is made from cow’s milk; Roquefort originated in the South of France and is made from sheep’s milk; Stilton–England, cows.

Mushroom Barley Soup

So it was a  drizzly Saturday at the Barton Creek Farmers’ Market.

Shivering on the back of a truck was a pit bull/German short-haired pointer mix who was working it as his owner made sure he stayed covered and comfy.

Farmers markets and the dogs who frequent them — a combo that I could not love more.

One booth down from this woeful fellow was an assortment of freshly picked and phenomenal mushrooms.

Seeing as it was a classic soup day, I set my sights on a vegan mushroom barley soup, selected an assortment of Baby Bellas, Shitake and Oyster mushrooms — and headed home.

After brushing and admiring these lovely gems, I got to chopping. First: lots of garlic, onions and carrots.

Next, the mushrooms and parsley.

Vegetable stock, barley, bay leaves, 45 minutes, and there you  go.

One final word on barley: not an it grain, not a recently rediscovered mainstay  of the Incas or the Egyptians, but definitely a power player. It’s hearty, high in protein and fiber, and more than holds its own compared to any grain, ancient or otherwise.


  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 1   cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots peeled and chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 12 oz. mix of fresh mushrooms (shitake, baby bella, oyster)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 t pepper


Bring water to a boil and add barley. Simmer covered until liquid is nearly absorbed. Remove from heat. (Barley hogs a lot of liquid, so in order to keep soup from turning into a solid, it’s helpful to cook barley for a bit on the front end.)

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large soup pot. Combine garlic, onions and carrots. Stir frequently on medium-high heat until the onions are translucent and the carrots are soft–about 8-10 minutes.

Chop mushrooms and parsley. Add to the pot and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add stock, semi-cooked barley, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

Remove bay leaved and ladle into bowls.

Serves 6.

Butternut Squash Sauce Over Pasta

Truly — creamier, tastier and more satisfying than Fettuccine Alfredo. And what a wonderful thing to enjoy everything that there is to love about Alfredo sauce without a speck of the guilt that accompanies the stratospheric fat content. The inspiration for this dish sprung from one of my new favorite sites — Two Peas and Their Pod. I subscribed a little over a week ago and have been inundated with fabulous, ideas almost every day. I highly recommend this site. Ingredients

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2/3 cup sliced green onions
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 12 oz. whole  grain spaghetti or fettuccini


Cut squash in half lengthwise. Peel, scrape out seeds and chop into 1 inch cubes. Add to a large saucepan along with 1 quart of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes until squash is very soft. Retain the squash cooking water for cooking the pasta.

With a large, slotted spoon remove squash from hot water and allow to cool for about 10 minutes in a large bowl. Add half of the squash to the food processor and cover with 1 cup of stock. Puree squash in two separate batches with 1 cup of stock in each batch. Bring the squash cooking water back to a boil and add additional water if necessary.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in an extra large skillet. Add onions and garlic. Saute until tender (about 5 minutes.) Combine pureed squash, 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to the sauteed onions and garlic. Stir gently and serve over drained pasta.

Top with parmesan cheese and sliced green onion.

Penne and Cheese with Spinach and Tomatoes

There’s nothing like a rainy Friday in the fall to spark a hankering for some genuine comfort food. Mac and Cheese, of course, is at the very top of the comfort food list, and over the years we’ve switched it up a bit with whole wheat penne, spinach and tomatoes — to the point that some real nutrition now trumps the fat and carbs.penne and cheese ingredients

And another beautiful thing about this dish: unlike say, a cake, where getting the proportions right matters, pasta is a completely open-ended proposition. Less of this and more of that tends to work just fine, or even lead to a great discovery. That’s a good thing on a Friday night when no stress and not bothering with a recipe are big goals.

Take tonight for instance: I had my heart set on this delicious combination only to discover a critical milk shortage. I gave serious thought to mixing in some almond milk, and then upon opening the can of diced tomatoes, I had a Eureka moment, realizing that the tomato juice in the can could stand in as a tasty — and fat free — liquid to extend the cheese sauce and maybe even add a tasty new dimension to mac and cheese. And it did. Combined with a simple side salad, life was good.penne and cheese on a plate with a salad


  • 10 oz. whole wheat penne
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups milk (or a mix of another liquid such as the juice canned tomatoes)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 14 1/2 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar, colby or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 oz. parmesan


  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Cook pasta according to package directions — draining while it is still slightly al dente.
  • Melt butter in a heavy skillet and add flour, whisking vigorously. When flour is fully incorporated, add milk in a slow stream, continuing to whisk and ensure that no lumps have a chance to form. Mixture should thicken quickly. Add more milk if it appears too thick.
  • Add shredded cheese along with cream cheese, diced tomatoes, spinach, salt and pepper. Stir until spinach wilts and cream cheese melts. Add pasta.
  • Coat baking dish with cooking spray and pour pasta mixture into prepared dish. Top with 2 oz. of shredded parmesan.
  • Bake for 20 minutes.





Polenta Primavera

Whaddya say we take the most ordinary of pantry essential (cornmeal), add some water and salt. Simmer, stir, add in a little parmesan and butter and end up with a rather snazzy dish. Even though the ingredients could not possibly be more plain, polenta is delightfully off the beaten path and packed with all sorts of possibilities.

There are those who say that polenta and cornmeal are the same thing, and others who point out that polenta has a coarser grain than cornmeal, but is essentially the same thing. I prefer the coarse to the creamy, but either way, one part cornmeal to three parts water, a little salt and 25-30 minutes on the stovetop yields some tasty stuff that stands on its own or serves as a great base.

This Polenta Primavera creation is simply a variation on my version of Pasta Primavera, which tends to be a combination of whatever vegetables are on hand, sautéed in olive oil with a good dose of oregano and topped with lots of parmesan.


  • 1 cup coarse cornmeal
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 fresh tomato
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 cup of kale leaves, stems removed and sliced thin
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. pepper


  •  Slowly pour one cup of coarse cornmeal into 3 cups of boiling salted water, and whisk rapidly until mixture starts to boil. Reduce heat to low and continue stirring.
  • In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil and add onion, red pepper and garlic. Stir polenta every few minutes while vegetables are cooking.
  • Peel and chop carrots. Add to vegetables and cook for another 2 minutes before adding chopped zucchini, tomatoes and kale. Continue stirring polenta.
  • Add oregano and pepper to vegetables.
  • As polenta begins to take on a solid consistency, add butter and 1/2 cup parmesan. Stir vigorously as butter and cheese melts.
  • Spread polenta mixture into an 8 x 8 pan that has been coated with cooking spray.
  • Cut the nearly solid polenta into squares and cover with sauteed vegetables. Top with parmesan cheese.