Super Taster: Greek Gigante Beans with Tomatoes & Pasta

Gigante Beans & Orrechiette

I have to start out this post by saying that my husband is a super taster. I am somewhat envious because he can detect subtle flavors in foods that I can’t. As a cook and a lover of food, the sense of smell and taste play a significant role when preparing and enjoying food. Anyway, Bruce and I took his Mom out to lunch a few weekends ago. I had it all scoped out to go to a Chinese restaurant in a cute little Main Street town in New Jersey. I checked out their website the day before and was excited about their extensive menu. There was something for everyone! When we showed up for lunch, the restaurant was closed and looked like it had gone out of business. We decided to take a stroll down the block to see if there was another place to eat. Pizza, coffee house, Mexican, more pizza, Thai food, another coffee house, Irish pub. On one corner was an unassuming Greek restaurant. We took a quick look at the menu and decided to give it a try. What I love about the Greek restaurants I’ve been in is the white and blue decor that makes you feel like you’re in the Mediterranean. It’s both invigorating and serene at the same time. I ordered a dish that was made with gigante beans, tomatoes and pasta. It was aromatically seasoned and absolutely delicious. I gave Bruce a taste and he mentioned that he detected some tarragon in the dish. I thought it might have some marjoram. I didn’t think that tarragon was an herb that’s commonly used in Greek cuisine, so I asked the waiter how the dish was seasoned. He said that that they use oregano and dill in this particular dish. Before I left the restaurant I was determined to make this recipe at home. I consulted a few recipes on the internet and one of them added ouzo to the sauce. Ouzo is an anise-flavored liqueur that’s made in Greece. The taste of tarragon reminds me of licorice. I’m sure that what Bruce thought was tarragon was, in fact, a splash of ouzo. The recipes I used as reference had these ingredients in common: gigante beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs. Since gigante beans are grown in Mediterranean countries I used large lima beans because they are easy to find in the US. As I mentioned, one of the recipes I found uses ouzo, but I opted to use anise seed. Many of the recipes called for chicken broth, so I used water “souped up” with one teaspoon of Better Than Boullion’s No Chicken soup base. The dish I had at the restaurant was made with “quartini” pasta, which means “little squares”. Since these are hard to find I used orrechiette (“little ears”) instead. I love, love, love this dish! The beans and pasta make for one substantial meal, yet the light sauce and delicate flavors make you want to come back for more. I went ahead and ordered authentic gigante beans and tried using crushed instead of diced tomatoes on my second attempt at this recipe. While the gigante beans tasted great, the crushed tomatoes made the dish too much like a heavy tomato sauce. If you do use gigante beans, you will need to increase the cooking time to about two to three hours. Whether you use lima or gigante beans, one taste and you’ll want to shout “Opa!” Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Gigante Beans with Tomatoes and Pasta

8 oz. dried gigante beans or dried lima beans

Olive oil (optional)
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups (or more) water or vegetable broth (1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon No Chicken base)
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon anise seed or 2 Tablespoons ouzo liqueur
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
½ cup chopped fresh dill

8 oz. dry pasta, cooked according to package directions

Place beans in large bowl. Pour enough water over to cover beans by 3 inches; let soak overnight. Drain beans; set aside.

Heat a small amount of olive oil or water in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and garlic and sauté until onions are golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Add beans, 4 cups chicken broth, tomatoes, vinegar, anise seed (or ouzo), oregano, and crushed red pepper to pot; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until beans are tender, adding more broth by cupfuls to keep beans submerged and stirring occasionally,(about one hour for lima beans or 2 to 3 hours for gigante beans) depending on freshness of beans. You will need to keep testing the beans about every 30 minutes and adding more water as needed. When beans are done, uncover and cook until tomato mixture thickens and liquid is slightly reduced. (If you want to serve the beans without pasta, simply reduce the sauce longer.) Season beans to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place beans, pasta and dill into large serving bowl and toss gently.

DO AHEAD: beans can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm beans before continuing, adding more chicken broth by 1/2 cupfuls if beans are dry.


29 Nov 2017

Turning into Fall: Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes & “Fried” Zucchini

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes & “Fried” Zucchini

I love this time of the year because there’s still a lot of fresh produce at the farm and with cooler temperatures creeping in I get to turn on my oven. It’s like I’m turning a corner and I still get to enjoy the good things about where I’ve been and where I’m going. I picked up some beautiful plum tomatoes and zucchini earlier in the week and put together this Pasta with Roasted Tomato and “Fried” Zucchini recipe. It’s quite simple. Just roast plum tomatoes with garlic and herbs, either air- or oven-“fry” thin slices of zucchini and toss with your favorite pasta. This recipe is what I like to call a “have-it-your-way” recipe because you can easily adapt it to your liking. I used a combination of fresh oregano and marjoram, but you can use any fresh or dried herbs you like. I used one-half pound of Barilla’s campanelle, which is a cut pasta that looks like a curled lasagna. You could probably get away with using more pasta. If you’re thinking about using this recipe as a side dish you might use a small cut of pasta, like orzo, and chop up the zucchini after it’s “fried.” This dish is fancy enough to serve on a special occasion and simple enough for a quiet family dinner. Any way you choose, you’ll have a fresh, delicious and healthy meal. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes & “Fried” Zucchini

8 very ripe plum tomatoes
olive oil to coat the pan
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
fresh or dried oregano and marjoram (or any herb you like)
salt and freshly cracked pepper

2 small zucchini

8 oz. dry pasta, cooked according to package directions

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (165ºC.)

  1. Lightly coat a large baking pan with olive oil. (Use one that’s just large enough for a single layer of tomatoes.)
  2. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally then use a sharp knife to remove the stems. Lay them cut side down in the pan, then distribute the garlic, herbs and seasonings on top. Bake the tomatoes for two hours, or until they are completely softened and wilted and start to wrinkle. Remove from oven. Use a fork and a knive to break up the tomatoes to make a chunky sauce.
  3. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Place the cut side down on a cutting board and thinly slice on a diagonal. Place the zucchini in a bowl, add one-half to one teaspoon of olive oil and toss to coat. Set an air fryer to 400F and cook the zucchini until they start to soften and get spots of brown. (See note on how to make the zucchini in a oven.) Remove and add to the pan with the roasted tomatoes.
  4. When pasta is cooked, add to the pan with the tomatoes and zucchini. Toss gently and serve.

Note: To cook the zucchini in the oven, raise the temperature to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the zucchini slices in a single layer. Bake until they start to soften and turn brown.


02 Oct 2017

Still Smokin’: Pasta Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara

This is a follow-up to my post on Smoked Shitake Mushrooms. The flavor of the smoked shitakes are so intense that a little goes a long way, so I’m still trying to come up with some recipes to use them up. I like to use cashew cream as a base for creamy pasta sauces and the smoked shitakes made me think of Pasta Carbonara. For this recipe I made a creamy sauce with raw cashews, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and a few smoked shitakes. (If you don’t want to smoke the shitakes, you can use liquid smoke.) I had about a half pound of cooked rigatoni pasta in the fridge that I “re-boiled” for 1 minute then added a cup of peas. I reserved some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce if needed. I stirred a few spoonfuls of the sauce into the pasta and peas. You can use as much or as little of the sauce as you like and add a few extra slivered smoked shitakes if you want a more smoky taste and some “meaty” texture. This dish came out creamy, smoky and oh, so yummy. It’s rich tasting, yet won’t weigh you down. This makes a nice meal to serve for a special occasion or you can make the sauce ahead of time and enjoy a decadent meal any night of the week. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Smoky Creamy Cashew Sauce

½ cup raw cashews, soaked and drained
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons tahini
1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove
A few slices of smoked shitake mushrooms

Process all ingredients in blender, adding more water to achieve desired consistency.

Use on potatoes, broccoli or other vegetables. Thin out and toss with cooked pasta.

08 Jul 2017

Pastabilities: Mushroom Walnut Bolognese

Mushroom-Walnut Bolognese

Anything is possible with a bag of pasta and your imagination. I picked up a bag of these beautiful Pappardelle noodles imported from Italy last week. Surprisingly, they were on sale for a dollar a bag. You know I just can’t pass up a bargain (I’m feeling sorry that I didn’t buy about 10 bags) or the chance to enjoy an extraordinary pasta meal. A traditional Bolognese sauce starts off with a “battato”, which is a mixture of carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Ground beef, pork and a cured meat like prosciutto are added, then simmered with milk, wine and beef broth. The sauce is finished off with heavy cream. It is delicate, aromatic and luscious. I played around with a mushroom-based version of Bolognese sauce a few weeks ago and served it with rotini pasta. I made a battato with onions, carrots, celery and ground fennel, then added in minced mushrooms and coarsely ground walnuts. For the simmering ingredients I used white wine, soy milk, tomato paste and a hearty vegetable broth. At this point, I reserved half of the mixture to freeze and added half of the cashew cream to the pot. (Warning: the sauce may not look too appetizing on its own, but when tossed with the pasta it’s quite pleasing.) The dish was flavorful, but the rotini wasn’t quite the “experience” I was after. So when I came home with this bag of Pappardelle, I remembered that I still had half of the Bolognese sauce in the freezer. I defrosted the sauce, stirred in some fresh cashew cream at the end and tossed it with the Pappardelle. Delicioso! This dish is a tasty alternative to pasta with marinara sauce for Sunday dinner yet fancy enough for a special occasion. If you can’t find pappardelle I recommend using a wide, flat pasta like fettucine or tagiatelle. I bet it would also be nice layered and baked with non-dairy ricotta and lasagna noodles. The possibilities for a plant-based lifestyle are limitless.  Just open up a bag of pasta and you can open up a whole world of pastabilities. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Mushroom Walnut Bolognese

Makes enough sauce for 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of pasta

½ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 4 hours or overnight

1 small onion
1 small carrot
1 small celery stalk
½ teaspoon ground fennel

12 oz. mushrooms (white button or cremini)
1 cup walnuts

1 can of tomato paste
2 cups dark vegetable broth (either homemade or Better Than Bouillon “No Beef” base)
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup non-dairy milk (soy)
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
Dash of liquid smoke (optional)
Parsley, black pepper and salt, to taste (you can use truffle salt instead of table salt)

Drain cashews and place in high powered blender container with enough water to just about cover the nuts. Process on high until super smooth. Set aside.

Place onions, carrots and celery in bowl of food processor and pulse until minced. Heat a medium saucepot over medium heat. Add the vegetables and cook until softened, but not browned (about 10 minutes). Add ground fennel and cook another minute.

Process mushrooms in food processor until minced. Stir into vegetables in pot and continue to cook, uncovered. Process walnuts in food processor until coarsely ground. Add to pot. Add tomato paste, broth, wine, soy milk, parsley, pepper and salt. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the walnuts soften and the sauce is very thick. (You may need to use a heat diffuser to prevent the sauce from cooking too fast.) Add the cashew cream and stir to combine. Toss with cooked pasta. You can remove the sauce from the stove at this point and re-heat it later, adding the cream at the last minute of cooking. You can also freeze the sauce before adding the cashew cream.


19 Dec 2016

Mangia! Grilled Eggplant Giambotta with Pignoli Parmesan

Eggplant Giambotta

Eggplant Giambotta

Giambotta is an Italian vegetable stew. My mother and grandmother used to make it with potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions and anything else they had on hand. I got the idea for my Grilled Eggplant Giambotta from a spicy hot Indian dish called Baingan Bhartha, which is made with grilled eggplant, tomatoes and a host of aromatics and served over rice. Italian spices are much more mellow than those used in Indian food so I often wondered if I could make this dish using Italian seasonings and still have the same level of spice that the Indian version has. I grilled the eggplants on the barbeque grill, then made a chunky sauce with plum tomatoes, onions and garlic. I seasoned it with ground fennel, crushed red pepper and a combination of dried thyme, oregano and marjoram and let it all cook down to a thick and saucy stew. Since we eat so much rice, I opted to serve the Giambotta on a bed of orzo and topped it off with a sprinkling of Pignoli Parmesan. You can skip the orzo and enjoy it with a few slices (or an entire loaf) of Italian bread. This Eggplant Giambotta is so full of goodness that you can “mangiare a proprio piacimento”, which means “eat to your heart’s content”. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Eggplant Giambotta with Pignoli Parmesan

8 plum tomatoes (or 1 can Italian plum tomatoes)
1 large eggplant (about 2 pounds)
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground in spice grinder
1 to 2 tablespoons dried oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

cooked pasta, such as orzo

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Using a knife, score an “x” into the blossom end of the tomatoes. Place tomatoes in water long enough for skin to soften and peel away from the flesh of the tomatoes. Place in a colander and when cool enough to handle, remove skins. Place tomatoes in food processor and process until chunky.

Slice eggplants crosswise into 1” thick slices. Preheat outdoor grill on medium heat. (It’s not necessary to coat the grates with oil, but you may do so if you like.) Place eggplants on grill and cook until grill marks appear on both sides. Remove to cutting board and cut slices into quarters or sixths. Set aside.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they start to brown, adding water 2 tablespoons at a time to prevent sticking. Add garlic and ground fennel and cook another minute. Add remaining ingredients and cook tomatoes until start to thicken. Add eggplants and continue to cook until desired tenderness (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle top with Pignoli Parmesan. Remove from heat and serve over rice or pasta. Top with Pignoli Parmesan.

Pignoli Parmesan

¾ cup pignoli nuts
6 tablespoons nutritional yeast
½ teaspoon lactic acid or lemon juice

Place all ingredients in mini-chopper and process until grainy. Be careful not to over process into a butter.

15 Jul 2016

Hot List: Presto! Pesto!

Pesto & Hummus Sandwich

Pesto & Hummus Sandwich

As I was reading my previous post for Pasta Primavera I realized that I never posted a recipe for pesto. After all, the pesto possibilities are numerous and a little goes a long way when it comes to adding flavor to your favorite recipes. You can use it in hummus, on sandwiches, in Italian bean dishes, on pizza, tossed with pasta or stirred into sauces and soups. So, why haven’t I shared a recipe with you? Probably because pesto is one of those recipes that doesn’t have to be a recipe and I usually just “wing it”. Well, I’m offering up the following recipe more as a method of making pesto that allows you to adjust it to suit your palate. Traditional pesto contains basil, garlic, pignoli nuts, parmesan and olive oil. I’ve taken out the cheese and oil and added sun-dried tomatoes. If you’re not having a problem with sodium, then mix in a little miso paste for a salty-cheesy nuance. If you’re using it for pasta you might add some vegetable broth or olive oil to coax it onto the pasta. If you’re following an oil-free diet, try mixing it with a small amount of cashew cream. Just place the ingredients in a small food processor and you’re done. Presto! Pesto! Make some pesto and make it a Vegi-curious day.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

3 cloves of garlic
¼ cup oil-free sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup pignoli or walnuts
1 teaspoon miso paste (see note)
3 oz. fresh basil

In food process, pulse garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, pignoli and miso paste until very fine. Add basil and process basil is minced and mixed into tomato-nut mixture. Pesto can be frozen for several months.

Note: you can add a few tablespoons of olive oil if desired. If you don’t have miso paste, you can add salt to taste.

30 Jun 2016

Every Day is Princess Pasta Day: Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera

Who remembers the Prince spaghetti commercial that declared Wednesday as Prince spaghetti day? If you watched TV during the 1960’s you probably saw it. Some years later they changed their slogan to “every day is Prince spaghetti day.” (I wonder if this was to protect their products against the anti-carb movement that was made fashionable by the Atkins diet.) In our home we always had pasta on Sunday. That was when pasta was called macaroni or spaghetti and the sauce options were either tomato or clam sauce. Boy, how things have changed. I googled “whole food plant based pasta recipes” and came up with 1,910,000 results. That’s good news because I could eat pasta every day for lunch and dinner. I don’t have the patience to read through all of those recipes, so I decided to come up with another one of my own. I was in the mood for something creamy, not too heavy and with plenty of vegetables. Luckily I had everything I needed to make Pasta Primavera:  fresh peas, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots and scallions from our local CSA; raw cashews for cashew cream and gemelli pasta in the pantry; and homemade pesto in the freezer. I wanted to get the right size and shape on the vegetables to make it easy to get a little bit of everything on the fork. To do this, I used a ribbon grater for the carrots and squash. The vegetables were sauteed, then simmered in a light vegetable broth and finished off with cashew cream and a few spoons of pesto. I had enough primavera for about one pound of pasta and only two of us for dinner, so I spooned just enough sauce over the pasta in individual bowls and saved the extra sauce and pasta separately. If you have a big crowd, just go crazy and mix it all up in a big, pretty pasta bowl. If every pasta dish was as tasty and nourishing as this Pasta Primavera I would say with certainty that every day is Princess Pasta Day. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Pasta Primavera

1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1 large carrot
1 cup peas (if using fresh peas, blanch before using)

1-1/2 to 2 cups vegetable broth (or Better Than Bouillon No Chicken base)
¾ cup thick cashew cream
2 tablespoons pesto (or more to taste)

1 lb. cut pasta (ziti, penne, gemelli)

Bring a large pot of water to boil. If using fresh peas, add them to boiling water and blanch for about 2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce to simmer while preparing vegetables.

Grate zucchini, yellow squash and carrot using a ribbon grater or cut into matchsticks. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and saute scallions until they start to soften and brown slightly, adding broth 2 tablespoons at a time to prevent sticking. Add zucchini, squash and carrots and continue to cook until fork tender. Add peas and stir.

Return water to a boil, add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain. Add 1-1/2 cups of broth, cashew cream and pesto to vegetables and heat just until it starts to bubble. (Add more broth or cashew cream to achieve desired consistency.) Add pasta to skillet and mix until coated. You can also portion out the pasta into individual servings and spoon the vegetables over top. Store any left over pasta and sauce separately.

30 Jun 2016

It’s a Great Day for Spinach: Pasta with Spinach, Tomatoes & Pignoli

Pasta, Spinach & Tomatoes

Pasta, Spinach & Tomatoes

I bought a bag of spinach at my favorite Amish farm stand about a week ago. The thing about me and spinach is that while I know it’s really good for me, I’m so used to cooking it in a lot of oil that it’s hard to swallow of late. Well, that bag of spinach was facing its eleventh hour and just before Bruce was about to place it in the steamer I decided to salvage a recipe for pasta with spinach and cherry tomatoes that was laden with olive oil and parmesan cheese. The process was like a three-act play. I sauteed garlic in vegetable broth, wilted the spinach and removed it from the skillet. I then sauteed garlic in vegetable broth, caramelized the tomatoes and ground fennel and returned the spinach to the skillet. Finally, the pasta was added to the skillet and cooked just enough to soak up some of the saucy flavors of the spinach and tomatoes. Bruce commented that “this is a great way to eat spinach”, so why not make it a great day to eat spinach? Bravo! There you have it. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Pasta with Spinach & Tomatoes

Makes 2 to 3 servings

8 oz. cut pasta such as farfalle or penne (whole grain if possible)

4 large garlic cloves, minced and divided in half
8 oz. fresh spinach
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground into powder
1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Light vegetable broth

2 tablespoons pignoli nuts

Bring a large pot of water to boil, then lower to simmer until ready to cook pasta.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add one half of the garlic and 2 tablespoons of broth and saute until garlic is lightly browned. Add spinach and continue cooking until wilted. Remove to plate. Add remaining garlic and 2 tablespoons of broth and saute until garlic is lightly browned. Add ground fennel and stir, then add tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes become soft and start to caramelize, adding more broth to prevent sticking. Return spinach to skillet and remove from heat. Cook pasta until just below the “al dente” state, reserving some of the cooking water. When pasta is cooked, add to spinach and tomatoes and cook for another minute or two, adding more broth or reserved pasta water. Sprinkle pignoli nuts over top of pasta.

16 Jun 2016

Learning to Cook: Cauliflower & Macaroni in an Instant Pot

Cauliflower & Macaroni

Cauliflower & Macaroni

One of my grandmother’s favorite meals, especially during Lent, was Cauliflower and Macaroni. It was prepared the same way that she made broccoli and cavatelli. It was pretty amazing how she was able to prepare a variety of meals using the same basic approach. This was how I learned to cook. While I was testing out my Broccoli & Orecchiette recipe for the Instant Pot, I was already thinking about how I could apply what I was learning that afternoon to other recipes. And then I remembered that head of cauliflower in the fridge. Since cauliflower takes a bit longer to cook than broccoli, I had to think about floret size and cooking time as it relates to the pasta. I discovered that the sweet spot for al dente pasta in the pressure cooker is six minutes on low pressure, so everything else is based on that. My first go at the cauliflower & macaroni included large florets and a four-grain penne. The cauliflower was too hard, which didn’t allow it to absorb the garlic flavor and the four-grain pasta created a gummy coating on everything. (If you’re really big on gluten-free pasta and don’t mind the slight gumminess, then go for it.) For my next attempt, I cut the cauliflower into florets small enough to fit inside a coffee measuring scoop (remember size matters) and used a mezze rigatoni made from semolina. This was just the right combination. The cauliflower was tender and infused with a nice garlicky taste and the rigatoni was al dente. I sprinkled a portion with black truffle salt for a bit of “umami”, which can be translated from Japanese as a “pleasant savory taste”.  I also tried a portion with some black salt which simulates the flavor of hard-cooked eggs. These days I use black salt when adapting recipes that are traditionally made with eggs. Just a sprinkling on top of this dish reminded me of a pie that was made with bucatini pasta, eggs and ricotta and served on Easter Sunday, but that’s another story. Tomorrow happens to be a Friday during Lent; but even if you don’t observe Lenten traditions, it’s a good day for cauliflower and macaroni. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Cauliflower Floret

Cauliflower Floret








Cauliflower & Macaroni with Truffle Salt for the Instant Pot

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ¼ lb. mezze rigatoni pasta (or any cut pasta)
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon truffle salt (you can substitute sea or black salt)*
  • 12 oz. cauliflower, broken into pieces that would fit inside a coffee measuring scoop
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Set instant pot to saute and heat oil if using. Add garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add in red pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Turn off saute setting. Add pasta, water and bouillon if using, then place cauliflower on top. Place cover on instant pot and set to low pressure and cook for 6 minutes. Use quick release to bring pressure down and when safe remove cover. Remove contents to a serving bowl immediately to prevent further cooking. If there is extra water in bottom, you can set the pot to saute to evaporate the excess liquid.

*Note: You can leave the salt out of the recipe while cooking and let everyone salt when served.





10 Mar 2016

Instant Gratification: Broccoli & Orecchiette in an Instant Pot

Broccoli & Orecchiette

Broccoli & Orecchiette

I’ve had an Instant Pot for a few weeks and have been experimenting with making pasta in it. The tricky thing about making pasta is getting it al dente (in Italian, that means “to the tooth”). The time-honored way of cooking pasta is to use several quarts of water for just a pound of pasta. This allows some of the starch to cook out of the pasta and keeps it from getting sticky. Have you noticed how the water gets cloudier the longer you cook the pasta? Many recipes instruct you to under-cook the pasta by 25% of the required time, reserving some of the cooking water, adding both to the saucepot and cooking with the sauce for the remaining time. This technique allows the pasta to absorb the sauce and for the sauce to stick onto the surface ensuring full-blown flavor in every mouthful. I’ve done it this way many times and it’s a great technique.

So I pondered the idea of cooking pasta right along with other ingredients in an Instant Pot (which goes against this code we Italians have about cooking pasta) and was happy to take on this culinary challenge. What would happen to all that excess pasta starch? Would it come out gummy? And how do you judge the right amount of water? Would it come out too dry or too watery? Would the sauce stick or separate from the pasta? It’s a lot to consider, so I figured I might as well test the waters.

I’ve always enjoyed broccoli and cavatelli which is typically made with a lot of garlic and even more olive oil. I’ve made VFF (virtually fat free) versions on the stove top, but they’ve usually been too dry and bland. Since an Instant Pot forces the flavors into foods, I figured this would be a good recipe to try. For my first attempt I browned garlic, fennel and crushed red pepper on the saute setting, then layered, in this order, small florets of broccoli, orecchiette then enough water (about 3 cups) to cover everything. (I was afraid to try frozen pasta, hence the use of orecchiette instead of cavatelli.) After six minutes on low pressure, the pasta was al dente with a nice garlicky taste, but there was too much leftover liquid and the broccoli was mushy. I drained the excess liquid and had this for lunch. For my second attempt, I put the orecchiette in after browning the garlic and added just enough water (about 1 cup) to cover the pasta. I then placed the broccoli on top so that it would just steam instead of stew in the liquid. The pasta came out al dente; with just enough liquid left so that the pasta was juicy; and the broccoli was garlicky, but not mushy. Warning: my next statement may sound a bit risque, but please read on. Sometimes in cooking, size matters. When a recipe calls for an ingredient like broccoli or cauliflower florets, it might be a good idea for the instructions to be more exact. For my first attempt at this recipe, I cut the broccoli into small florets. I believe that contributed to the mushy outcome. For the second attempt, I broke the broccoli into very large florets (you’ll see in the recipe that I used the description “bigger than a coffee scoop”) and it came out just right. If you’ve ever made a zucchini bread and the recipe called for a “large zucchini”, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it can make a big difference in the final outcome if you’re left wondering exactly how “large” something is. Looking ahead, I will be mindful to include weights and measurements in my recipes whenever it makes a difference.

I’ll sum it up with two words. Pasta. Perfection. There’s not much else to say, until next time. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Broccoli - Size Matters

Broccoli – Size Matters








Broccoli & Orecchiette for the Instant Pot

Makes 2 servings

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ lb. orecchiette pasta
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon Better Than Bouillon No Chicken base (optional)
  • 12 oz. broccoli, broken into pieces about the size of a coffee measuring scoop
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Set instant pot to saute and heat oil if using. Add garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add in fennel seeds and red pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Turn off saute setting. Add pasta, water and bouillon if using, then place broccoli on top. Place cover on instant pot and set to low pressure and cook for 6 minutes. Use quick release to bring pressure down and when safe remove cover. Remove contents to a serving bowl immediately to prevent further cooking. If there is extra water in bottom, you can set the pot to saute to evaporate the excess liquid.

01 Mar 2016

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