Farmers Market Challenge: Asparagus & Sausage Pasta Bowl

Feeling inspired by our favorite cooking challenge shows, Amanda and I decided this week to give ourselves a bit of a challenge. Since I needed to get out and discover more of the area in which I live, and the warmer weather was in full swing, we decided on a farmers market challenge. The rules: try and get as many ingredients to create a dish from your local farmers’ market as you can. Everything in the dish must be made with something from the market with a few exceptions. The protein, salt & pepper, and three other ingredients to be personally determined could be used in addition to the fresh market items. It seemed simple…until I went to the market.

Let’s just say, the turnout was a bit underwhelming. There was one vendor of vegetables, and not much variety at that. However, the real treat of the day was a local farm selling their own meat. We picked up some locally produced pork sausages from this vendor, and then traipsed over to the vegetable cart to acquire some asparagus and garlic. This was my not so impressive haul from the market, although I suspect with the recent flooding in the area that it might not be typical. Needless to say, I looked at my purchases like a stressed-out contestant on Chopped, wondering what to do next. There was also a chocolate covered pretzel purchased, but that was promptly eaten on the ride home.

In the end, I used my three TBD ingredients (lemon, pasta and saffron) to put together this surprisingly quick and easy pasta dish and I will definitely be keeping it in mind for future weeknight dinners. The sausage added so much flavor that no other seasonings we needed, although the saffron did add a nice flavor if desired. I gobbled up this meal more enthusiastically and more quickly than many others I had made for this, and cleanup was a breeze.

Ingredients: 

  • 4 oz small pasta, I used rotini, but orzo or shells would work too.
  • Water for boiling.
  • 15 threads of saffron (optional)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2-3 chicken or pork sausages of your choice, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
  • 10-15 stalks of asparagus, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced.
  • Freshly squeezed juice of half of a lemon
  • Pepper to Taste

Instructions:

  1. In a large pot, add enough cold water to handle the amount of pasta you have, probably no less than 1 quart, but more if needed. Add the saffron threads if using and the salt, and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 6-10 minutes depending on your pasta. Once finished, strain the pasta, but do  not rinse.
  3. While the pasta is boiling, add the sausage slices to a skillet over medium heat and allow to brown for about 3-4 minutes. Add the asparagus and the garlic, which should be able to cook in the rendered fat from the sausages.
  4. Cook over medium heat for another 4-5 minutes until the asparagus is bright green and everything is cooked through.
  5. Add the drained pasta and stir to incorporate and re-warm the pasta.
  6. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, stir and serve! Top with pepper to taste.

Wine Pairing: This dish just seems so spring-like to me, maybe because of the journey to the market and eating on a warm spring evening before the sun sets. Because of this, a chilled glass of pinot gris just feels right. 

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Grown Up “Spaghetti-O’s”

For this week, Amanda and I were looking to make a dish that could be served in a bowl. She went above and beyond and made an amazing Gumbo, so I wanted to go for a more simple, weeknight vibe. When I think back on an easy, comforting dinner in a bowl from my childhood, that can of Spaghetti-O’s which were only minutes from de-tinning to dinner table came to mind.

Of course, posting an article about opening a can would have made for a very easy Distance Dishes skype date with Amanda but probably not the best writing, so I wanted to adult-up this classic a bit. I’ve recently been on a spinach kick so I thought that might be an easy, delicious way to add some nutrition and color to perhaps make that glass of wine with dinner a little less guilt-inducing. Additionally, this recipe can easily be vegan-ified by using non-dairy milk and omitting the sausages if you prefer.

The beauty of this dish is it can be as simple or as complicated as you like. The recipe calls for some tomato sauce which can be bought or homemade. I made a Basic Tomato Sauce to go in this dish which can be built upon your tastes, or you go for that jar in the store if that’s what makes you happy! Either way, this makes for a nice, simple dinner with some healthy elements so you can treat yourself later.

Ingredients: 

  • 3-4 Italian chicken sausages, casings removed
  • 8 oz of small, cooked pasta
  • 1 cup of the starchy pasta water
  • 2 cups of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup milk (non-dairy works)
  • 2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional, could also use a sharp cheese or omit altogether)
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of salt to taste depending on your tomato sauce
  • 2 cups baby spinach

Instructions:

  1. Remove the casings from the chicken sausages if they have them. Slice into 1/2″ thick pieces and sear in a pan until fully cooked/heated.
  2. Meanwhile, cook your pasta in salted water and drain while al dente. Be sure to save 1 cup of the starchy water for the sauce.
  3. In a medium saucepan, heat the tomato sauce over low-medium heat and add the starchy water, milk, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes and a small pinch of salt if needed.
  4. Once fully incorporated and heated through, remove from heat. Stir in the spinach and allow to wilt in the sauce for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Stir in your pasta and sausages and serve. Goes well with some nice, crusty bread as well.

Wine Pairing: Since this can be on the spicy side with the sausages and the pepper flakes, you want a wine that can stand up to those flavors. While this is hardly authentic, you could keep with the Italian theme and go with a Chianti to pair. Usually a Chianti is bold enough to go with a lot of seasoning, and should bring out the flavors nicely. 

Basic Tomato Sauce

This is a great, basic sauce that can be enjoyed on your favorite pasta or can be part of a bigger recipe, such as the “Grown Up Spaghetti-O’s”. You can customize this recipe with your preferred tastes by adding more herbs of your liking, but this can be a great starting point wherever your saucy cooking may take you.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin) or vegetable oil
  • 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced.
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 tbsp basil, chiffonade
  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • Salt & Pepper

Instructions: 

  1. In a wide saute pan or saucepan over medium heat, add the vegetable oil and garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.
  2. Add the onion and bell pepper to the pan and saute until the onions are becoming translucent and the mixture is fragrant.
  3. Add your tomatoes, basil and a bit of salt and pepper (you can add more later) and lower the heat. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender or allowing the mixture to cool slightly and transferring to a regular blender (be careful of the heat) break up the larger chunks of vegetables to your preferred consistency.
  5. Taste your sauce and adjust the salt/pepper level to your liking and it is ready to serve on top of pasta, as a bread dipping sauce or any other purpose you’d like. Enjoy!

Wine Pairing: Although you can also wait until you choose a protein to choose your wine pairing, tomatoes can certainly be the dominating flavor of a dish. A Sangiovese might pair nicely with this sauce which is usually tart, and can be rustic with higher acidity. This can be a nice addition to the tomato sauce here. Enjoy!

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Pasta with Pumpkin Sage Sauce

While cooking is one of our passions, Amanda and I do need some kind of outlet to work off all these calories from our culinary experiments (or more so the wine pairing experiments), so we have also been excitedly training for the Nashville Half-Marathon which we successfully completed this past weekend! Currently, Amanda is excelling in the exercise department, and completed her first half marathon with ease. She was kind enough to wait to run her first half crazy distance with me as her running companion, despite our attempts to complete this distance a year prior.

We were all set to run the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon during the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, when nature intervened and the Florida heavens opened on thousands of hopeful, costume-clad runners. Dressed as the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit, we were posing for our pre-race picture in front of a giant cardboard bottle of champagne when the loud speakers sounded the alarm. We were forced to evacuate the start line and get to shelter as quickly as the crowd’s pace would allow. Since this was a night race, we racers huddled inside the Wide World of Sports complex on Disney property for the storm to pass all wondering what the rest of the night had in store. When we were finally able to start the race, it had been downgraded from 13.1 miles to 7.1 miles. Since it was then close to midnight and our pre-race fuel had long worn off, we were thankful at the time but still disappointed Amanda couldn’t get that 13.1 distance under her belt. Well, one year later in a new city, we tried it again and we were not going to make any fueling mistakes.

I have a few races under my belt and have been perfecting my ideal pre-race dinner for three years. While there are loads of runners fuel recipes across the internet, it seems that a reasonable sized (not too filling) meal with simple carbs and protein, not too much fat and not too much fiber (just this once–runner’s gut is real) is the general theme for these meals. While every runner has their own food and preparation rituals, I wanted to share my go-to meal that I eat in some variation before each long training run. This recipe has been my favorite to eat before long marathon training runs for the past two years. It is by no means magical, and may not be anyone else’s race fuel but it still is great comfort food and extremely delicious. Even if you don’t have anywhere to run tomorrow, this can still be a great dinner for two tonight:

Pasta Sauce:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 3-4 fresh sage leaves, chopped into ribbons
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1/2 dried italian herb mix or oregano
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional. I leave this out when running and it still tastes great)
  • 4-5 oz spaghetti dry, enough for two portions
  • Water for boiling
  • salt for the water

Chicken Rub (optional, but since it’s pictured I thought I’d share)

  • Two chicken breast cutlets
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • Pepper to Taste

For the Pasta:

  • Begin by boiling heavily salted water for the pasta in a large pot (the typical ratio is one tablespoon of salt to one quart of water which sounds like a lot but your taste buds will thank you).
  • As  the pasta is cooking, drizzle the olive oil in a saucepan and saute the shallot with a pinch of salt until translucent.
  • Add the sage, and stir until fragrant and no longer raw.
  • Pour in the broth and allow to come to a simmer for about 8 minutes. At this time, your pasta water should be coming to a rolling boil so it may be a good time to cook that spaghetti.
  • Stir in the pumpkin, herbs, cayenne pepper, optional cheese and salt & pepper.
  • Cover and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally as you wait for the pasta to finish cooking.
  • At this time, your pasta should be coming to al dente perfection. Before draining, be sure to save about 3/4 of a cup of the starchy pasta water and add this to your pumpkin sauce.
  • Stir your sauce with the pasta water incorporated and if it is still too watery, allow to cook for a few more minutes.
  • Optional step: If you prefer a smoother texture, you can use your immersion blender at this time to break up those shallots, or run the sauce through a blender and return to the pan to re-heat.
  • Once the sauce is a texture to your liking, add the spaghetti directly to the sauce and stir until coated.
  • Serve with parmesan cheese grated on top and I like to have mine with chicken breast.

Chicken Breast:

  • Mix all spices together and pat onto the chicken breasts until well coated.
  • Pan fry with a drizzle of your favorite higher smoke point oil (aka not extra virgin olive oil) over medium heat until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees and there is no longer pink in the center.
  • Slice, serve and enjoy!

Wine Pairing: I first tried this with a Riesling as I had intended to incorporate parmesan cheese with the dish. However, if you are omitting this portion, I would recommend something a little less aromatic and fruity in lieu of something with a bit lighter body and less acidity such as a Pinot Grigio. 

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