Thursday, March 4, 2010

Goat Cheese, Yes Please

Thursday night is often Pasta Night around here, because it's a kind of hectic evening. I do car pool after school and then hustle E off to tap class while C has guitar lessons. So I need to either have something in the crock pot ready to go, or I need to cook something that takes less than 45 minutes start to finish. (That's the window between dropping E off at the studio and having to run back to get her.) I like to mix it up; as good as marinara and meatballs are, we get sick of them pretty quick.

While browsing online for ideas, I found out this: when goat cheese comes in contact with hot pasta it melts into a perfect sauce.

Why the hell did this not occur to me before? OF COURSE it does. Goat cheese is so soft that it will melt at a much lower heat point than cheese made from cow's milk. Just leave some out on the table in the summer and you'll see what I mean. Bonus: goat milk is higher in protein than cow milk and gentler on people who have lactose intolerance.

So I stuck my head into the fridge and came up with this pasta dish. It was a huge hit, and I will definitely make it again.

Rotini With Sausage And Goat Cheese

16 oz whole wheat pasta
10.5 oz package goat cheese

28 oz can of diced tomatoes in juice, drained

1 head's worth or 1 package broccoli florets

1 small red onion, diced

1 T chopped garlic

2 T chopped fresh oregano

1# sausage (I used lamb), casings removed, crumbled

1/4 c reserved cooking water

Cook pasta according to package directions. Right before the pasta is done and ready to drain, dip a measuring cup in and pull out some of the cooking water. (You want the starch and salt in the water to help make the sauce.) Set aside. Toss the broccoli florets right in with the cooking pasta, lower the heat to medium, and cover. Cook for about a minute and drain the whole deal.

While the pasta is cooking, brown the sausage in a large skillet or wok - while breaking it up into smaller with a spoon. When the sausage has browned, add the onions and garlic. Cook until soft, 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stir, cook another minute or so. Add fresh oregano.
Toss the pasta/broccoli with the sausage/tomato. Crumble in the goat cheese, give it a couple tosses with a spoon, add the cooking water, and stir until all of the goat cheese is evenly melted. Salt and pepper to taste.

Note: Depending on the fat content of your sausage, you may want to drain the pan before adding the vegetables. Mine was really lean, so I didn't have to do that.

Tuna Casserole Of The Gods

"I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly. Tuna Fish casserole is at least as real as corporate stock." -
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

It's cold. It's dark. It's been cold and dark for months. It's winter in New England, my Vitamin D level is low, I'm so pale and the bags under my eyes are so huge that I look like a fat Lindsay Lohan, and all I want to do is lay on the floor and watch crime shows until the sun comes out and it's at least 55 degrees again. I suck at winter.

It comes down to this; I love comfort food. Meatloaf, mac and cheese, beef stew, and mashed potatoes, and that skillet chicken that you make with rice and cream of mushroom soup all have a special place in my heart. So when it's February and it's gross out and I've lost all will to go to the gym anyway so I might as well have a glass of wine and cook something that is mostly carbs I turn to my absolute favorite: Tuna Noodle Casserole.

The kind of tuna casserole that most of us grew up with was made popular by the Campbell's Soup company in the 1940's, as part of their campaign to show that their cream soups made a quick and easy sauce. Do you actually know anyone who eats canned cream soup as soup? Maybe the Cream Of Broccoli but not Cream Of Celery and certainly not Cream Of Mushroom. It gets turned into something else before consumption.

My problem is that canned soup is terrible. It's got a ton of sodium, for one thing, and the leading brand has an ingredient list a mile long. Last time I checked, one of those ingredients was MSG.* It is also in my personal opinion that canned soup tastes like ass. I eat pretty clean, and it's made me hyper-aware of the taste of preservatives and artificial colors and chemical tastes as such. (This is not always to my benefit; such as when we travel and the only place to eat is Outback Steak House or Applebee's or some such strip mall horror and I just want to have dinner and not feel like a giant douche because I can't choke down my salty salty food with my overly sweet margarita.)

On top of this, tuna casserole is not very good for you. Most people make it with egg noodles (bleached flour, fat, cholesterol), the aforementioned canned soup, and Ritz cracker crumbs. Ritz crackers are a big giant fat and salt bomb. Crackers should not leave me wiping grease off my hands like I'm eating bacon. So gross.

I figured out how to make really excellent tuna casserole that has no preservatives, is low-fat, and is just as yum as you remember. It's pretty easy, too! Not as easy as opening a couple of cans and dumping them together but come on guys - you gotta work for the good stuff sometimes.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

1/2 small onion, minced
2 stalks celery, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c unbleached flour
2 c low-fat or skim milk
2T butter or margarine
2T olive oil
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
2 cans tuna packed in water
1/4 tsp dried dill
1/2# (half package) frozen peas
12 oz whole wheat pasta
1/2 c breadcrumbs or crushed crackers

Preheat the oven to 375F. "Grease" a 9x12 casserole dish with pan spray or oil and set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, set your colander in the sink and throw the frozen peas in the bottom of the colander. That way when you drain the pasta, the hot cooking water will defrost the peas and they'll be good to go for mixing in the rest of the ingredients.

While waiting for the pasta to cook, saute' the onion, celery, and garlic in the butter and olive oil over medium high heatuntil the vegetables start to soften and turn translucent. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir. This will turn to a paste-like consistency, and you want that. Lower the heat to medium and cook for one minute while stirring. Continue to stir and slowly add the milk in a steady stream. Stir and cook for another minute or two until the sauce sarts to thicken. Add the dill. Remove from heat.

When the pasta/peas are done, mix (in a bowl) with the tuna and sauce. Transfer mixture to the casserole dish, and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs or crushed crackers. Bake for 20 minutes, let stand five minutes before serving.