Pasta e Fagioli Soup

Pasta e fagioli – pasta and beans – is a staple of Italian cuisine My initial encounter with it was when I tried a recipe in a cookbook by Dom DeLuise. It was love at first taste.

Recipes for pasta e fagioli can vary greatly from region to region in the Mediterranean country, depending on available ingredients. The consistency of the dish also can vary, with some being soupy and the others much thicker, like the DeLuise recipe.

Over the years, I looked at a number of other pasta e fagioli recipes but never have tried any of them. That’s until today, when I decided to make a soupier version of the dish. I added a couple of my own twists to the recipe: tortellini instead of elbow macaroni or ditalini and some diced or julienned carrots.

Pasta e Fagioli Soup
2 tablespoon olive oil
3 carrots, chopped or julienned
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
3 cups chicken broth
1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
10 ounces tortellini
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook celery, onion, garlic, parsley, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes and salt in the hot oil until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, tomatoes and tomato sauce and simmer on low for 15 to 20 minutes.
Add pasta and cook 10 minutes, until pasta is tender.
Add beans and mix well. Heat through. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6.

Linguine and Spinach Pesto

Pesto and pasta are a natural. Nothing flavors a good pasta dish than a dollop of pesto. And when it comes to pesto and pasta, nothing beats fresh.

Recently, Therese and I were talking to a friend who told us about making fresh pasta. He said there was there is no comparison between fresh and store-bought pasta.

The same can be said of fresh pesto. I can attest to that firsthand. At the end of each summer, I make fresh pasta from the basil that we’ve grown in our garden. Combined with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil, the basil makes a rich pesto.

I’ve yet to make any pesto from this year’s crop but hope to do so soon. A new recipe I would like to try follows. The pesto also contains another favorite of mine, spinach. Here, it’s put over cooked linguine — or your favorite pasta — and topped with feta cheese. It sounds delicious.

Linguine and Spinach Pesto
1 pound spaghetti, linguine (or your favorite pasta shape), uncooked (see note)
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed, well drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons margarine (or butter)
1/3 cup water
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
In a blender (or food processor), combine spinach, oil, Parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and basil. Mix at medium speed until finely chopped. Melt margarine in water. With blender or processor running, gradually pour in melted margarine mixture until blended. Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside. Toss pesto with pasta. Sprinkle feta on top and serve.
Note: Whole-grain, multigrain or whole-wheat pasta varieties may be substituted.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 325 calories, 11grams fat (3 grams saturated), 45 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 1 gram dietary fiber, 420 milligrams sodium.

Grilled Vegetables with Rigatoni

Grilled vegetables and pasta are a great pairing. And if you’re a fan of veggies, it’s a great way to turn them into a meal — and one that is meatless. Not only do you get your boost of carbohydrates from the pasta, you also have the benefit of nutrient-rich produce — be it home-grown or from a farmers market or supermarket.

Our garden is loaded with vegetables this summer. We have an abundance of summer squash (yellow crooked neck and zucchini), tomatoes and eggplant as well as adequate onions and peppers.

The following recipe, one which I revamped from another that came to my attention this week, makes use of all of those vegetables, plus some fresh basil. And it definitely was a meal in itself.

Along with some fresh bread from our local bakery, it was a meal that the owners of any Italian restaurant would not hesitate to serve.

Grilled Vegetables with Rigatoni
¾ pound rigatoni pasta
8 roma tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thinly
2 medium zucchini, sliced
2 medium yellow summer squash, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 medium sweet banana pepper, seeded and sliced
½ teaspoon seasoning salt
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup fresh sliced basil, chopped
Preheat the grill to medium-high. While the grill heats up, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving water.
Place vegetables and basil in bowl and drizzle with half of olive oil, seasoning salt and black pepper. Put vegetables in double piece of tin foil that has been sprayed with oil and place on grill.
Meanwhile, place tomatoes on a double piece of foil. Drizzle with remaining  olive oil and sprinkle, kosher salt and pepper. Enclose the tomatoes in the foil and place on the grill after other vegetables have been cooking for 30 to 40 minutes.
After about 20 minutes, check the tomatoes; they should have burst open in the foil packet and be nice and juicy.
Remove the vegetables from grill and place in a large serving bowl, toss the hot pasta with the grilled vegetables. Add the tomatoes with all the juices and toss to coat. If the mixture is too dry, drizzle with some of the reserved pasta water or use a bit more olive oil. Add the mozzarella and toss again. Serve in bowls.
Yield: Serves 6.

Angel Hair with Smoked Salmon in Tomato-Herb Sauce

Discovering new recipes that just happen to be mouth-watering is one of the goals of almost every cook. Nothing is more satisfying than trying a recipe that is tastes as good as it looks.

Recently, I featured some fish recipes from Spice Islands on the Herald food page ( Two of the recipes were illustrated. Both were beautiful-looking dishes.

However, a photo for the third, Angel Hair with Smoked Salmon in Tomato-Herb Sauce, also looked quite tantalizing. It look so appealing that I had to try making it. And the result more than met my expectations, so I’ve decided to share it here.

Angel Hair with Smoked Salmon in Tomato-Herb Sauce
6 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced
8 ounces angel hair (capellini) pasta
3  tablespoons olive oil
2¼ scups seeded and chopped tomatoes, divided
½ cup white wine
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1½ teaspoons Spice Islands Basil, Sweet
½ teaspoon Spice Islands Italian Herb Seasoning
¼ teaspoon Spice Islands Garlic Powder
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cut smoked salmon, with the grain, into ½-inch wide strips; reserve. Cook pasta as package directs; drain.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 cups tomatoes, wine, capers, basil, Italian herbs and garlic powder. Cook until mixture is hot, about 5 minutes.
Toss cooked pasta and tomato mixture. Add smoked salmon and cheese; toss gently. Garnish with remaining tomatoes and parsley, if desired.
Yield: Serves 4.

Lobster and Shrimp Pasta

Pasta and seafood is a combination that’s hard to beat. And if you add some tomatoes, mushrooms and sweet red bell pepper, the result is one mouth-watering dish.

One of my favorite entrees fits that mold. It’s called Sunday Shrimp Bake. I’ve mentioned it several times in my writings over the year and have shared it with several co-workers, who always rave about it.

I’ve now come across another recipe, a one-skillet dish, that has the some of the same ingredients, including shrimp, as well as lobster. And I can’t wait to try it.

The lobster and shrimp are lightly sauteed in butter, then covered and steamed in their own juices. The rest of the ingredients are tossed in the same skillet to finish the dish.

Lobster and Shrimp Pasta with Sherry Tomato Cream
4 ounces favorite dried short pasta, such as penne
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 lobster tails (about 5 ounces each) in shells
6 large shrimp in shells
1 shallot, peeled, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
¼ pound sliced mushrooms
½ cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
Good pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup dry sherry
1/3 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
½ cup crushed canned tomatoes
½ cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons shredded Asiago or Parmesan cheese
Chopped chives or parsley or both for garnish
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain pasta and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the lobster tails and cook just until spots on their shells start to turn red, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add shrimp and cover, reduce the heat to low and cook about 5 minutes. Remove the lobster and shrimp from the skillet. When cool, remove lobster meat from shell and cut into large chunks. Remove shrimp from shells and leave whole.
Meanwhile, in the same skillet, add the shallot and garlic; saute 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, pepper and pepper flakes. Saute about 5 minutes or until mushrooms release their juices.
Deglaze the skillet with the sherry. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes and heat gently. Stir in the cream and cheese and heat through. If the sauce is too thick, thin with some of the reserved pasta water. Add the lobster, shrimp and cooked pasta and heat through. Transfer to individual serving bowls and garnish with chives or parsley. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 2 (generously).
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 595 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 24 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 57 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams protein, 696 milligrams sodium, 143 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams fiber.

Slow-Cooked Italian Chicken with Noodles

There’s no doubt that spices are a wonderful way to make food tastier. They can make even the blandest food desirable without adding fat, sugar or salt.

Of course, some foods don’t need any spices, but often, they can be made even tastier with a dash of this spice or that spice.

The following recipe, courtesy of McCormick, the spice people, is for slow cooker chicken that is enhanced with some thyme and oregano leaves. It’s a recipe that looks really good to me and one that I’m sure that everyone will love.

Slow-Cooked Italian Chicken with Noodles
1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1½ teaspoons oregano leaves
1 14½-ounce can reduced sodium chicken broth
1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1½ cups thinly sliced carrots
1 large onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
3 cups uncooked no yolk egg noodles
¾ cup frozen peas
Cut each chicken thigh into 4 pieces. Sprinkle with thyme and oregano.
Place chicken broth, tomatoes, carrots and onion slices in slow cooker. Top with chicken. Cover.
Cook 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Stir in noodles and peas. Cover. Cook 15 to 20 minutes on high or just until noodles are tender.
Tip: For best results, do not remove slow-cooker cover during cooking.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 325 calories, 9 grams fat, 33 grams carbohydrates, 76 milligrams cholesterol, 454 milligrams sodium, 5 grams fiber, 28 grams protein.

Shrimp Scampi with Basil Linguine

Seafood and pasta are a great match. You can hardly go wrong, no matter which combination you choose. And there is no better pairing than shrimp and linguine.

Just recently, I came across a recipe for shrimp scampi in one of my favorite food columns, “Cook’s Corner,” written by Linda Cicero of the Miami Herald.. The recipe, which will appear in the Herald in my Chef Jeff One Byte at a Time column sometime next week, dates to 1989 and came from Dick Cami’s Seashells, according to Cicero. I can’t wait to try the recipe.

Here’s another scampi recipe that I have tried. It’s from another Miami Herald food writer, Linda Gassenheimer, the author of several cookbooks, including “More Low-Carb Meals in Minutes,” “Mix “n Match Meals in Minutes for People with Diabetes” and “Low-Carb Meals in Minutes Recipe Card Deck.”

Shrimp Scampi with Basil Linguine
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
¾ cup red vermouth
¾ pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Several drops hot pepper sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet on medium high and add garlic and red vermouth. Cook 1 minute. Add shrimp and parsley. Cook 2 to 3 minutes until shrimp are pink. Add hot pepper sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Basil Linguine (recipe follows).
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 279 calories, 23 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 grams fat (1.2 grams saturated, 3.8 grams monounsaturated), 258 milligrams cholesterol, 35.2 grams protein, 6.4 grams carbohydrates, 0.7 grams fiber, 277 milligrams sodium.
Basil Linguine
¼ pound fresh linguine
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large saucepan with 3 to 4 quarts water to a boil. Add linguine and boil 2 to 3 minutes for fresh linguine, 8 to 9 minutes for dried. Remove 2 tablespoons cooking water and reserve. Drain linguine and place back in saucepan with reserved water and olive oil. Toss well. Add the basil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss and serve.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 256 calories, 19 percent of calories from fat, 5.4 grams fat (0.7 grams saturated, 3.4 grams monounsaturated), no cholesterol, 7.3 grams protein, 43.6 grams carbohydrates, 1.4 grams fiber, 4 milligrams sodium.

Baked Penne Pasta Casserole

Casseroles are one of America’s most popular comfort foods, so it’s not surprising that a Google search of the word turns up more than 35 million results.

Of course, there are all kinds of casseroles — or hotdishes as people around here like to call them. Growing up, hamburger hotdish and tuna casserole were staples in our house and well as at the school hot lunch.

I make a lot of casseroles or hotdishes, and most of them are from scratch. Most recently, I fixed one that contained penne pasta as well as several vegetables from my garden, and it exceeded my expectations. I think that the coup de grace was the shredded Swiss cheese topping.

If the cooler weather and the snowflakes in the air have got you down, I suggest you give the recipe a try. I’m sure it will be of comfort and make you forget about winter.

Baked Penne Pasta Casserole
½ pound uncooked penne pasta
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 10½-ounce can tomato soup
½ cup shredded Swiss cheese
3 tablespoons prepared pesto
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
Pepper to taste
Olive oil
Saute pepper, onion, garlic and celery in olive oil in sauce pan until translucent. Add tomatoes, tomato soup, salt, pepper and sugar. Bring to boil then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add pesto.
While sauce is cooking, prepare pasta according to package directions. When done, add to tomato sauce. When thoroughly mixed, place in greased casserole and bake at 350 degrees. After 20 minutes, top casserole with shredded cheese and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes or until top begins to brown.
Serve with salad and crusty bread.

Four-Cheese Baked Penne

Cheese and pasta is a combination that’s hard to beat. It’s hearty, comforting and delicious. Many of us grew up with it. The lucky ones had a mom who made it from scratch, while others had to rely on store-bought mixes such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

I’m still a big fan, so whenever a recipe comes to my attention that features the two, my tastes buds begin to perk up.

Just recently, I came across a tasty-looking recipe in the August-September issue of Taste of Home magazine that contains four kinds of cheese and penne pasta. And with my experiences with Taste of Home recipes being generally quite positive, I’ve decided to give it a try.

And I won’t have to convince my visiting grandson to dig in, either, since he’s as big a fan of mac and cheese, just like most other kids.

Four-Cheese Baked Penne
4 cups uncooked whole wheat penne pasta
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon pepper
1½ cups (12 ounces) 2 percent cottage cheese
1¼ cups (5 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook penne according to package directions.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute onion in oil until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, parsley, oregano, rosemary, pepper flakes and pepper. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat; cool for 15 minutes.
Drain penne; add to sauce. Stir in the cottage cheese, ½ cup mozzarella and all of the ricotta. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top with Parmesan cheese and remaining mozzarella.
Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 523 calories, 12 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 37 milligrams cholesterol, 682 milligrams sodium, 72 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams fiber, 32 grams protein.

Scallops with Pesto Fettuccine

Pasta is one of those foods that can be paired with just about anything. If there’s a more versatile staple than pasta, I would like to know what it is. It goes well with red meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables, either as a side or a main course.

Just the other day, I made a red sauce with fresh tomatoes, herbs, peppers and onion from the garden. After adding some shredded pheasant thigh meat and simmering the mixture for a while, I used it as a topping for some rigatoni. It was as good as any entree I’ve eaten at a restaurant lately.

The National Pasta Association has a new website, And a quick look at the site reveals a lot more similar pairings that have my mouth watering. Also, Candice Kumai, author of “Pretty Delicious” cookbook and ambassador for the Pasta Fits website campaign, serves up several tips for one of America’s favorite foods.

One tip that caught my eye was how lean protein like fish pairs great with pasta, as is illustrated in the following recipe for Pan-Seared Scallops with Skinny Pesto Fettucine

Pan-Seared Scallops with Skinny Pesto Fettuccine
3 cups fresh basil leaves
½ cup raw almonds
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
¾ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
18 large sea scallops, rinsed
1 pound whole wheat fettuccine
½ cup dry white wine
To make the pesto: Combine the basil, almonds, garlic, and salt in a food processor and pulse until somewhat mealy. Gradually add the olive oil, processing until the mixture is finely chopped yet still has texture, about 1 minute. Pulse in the lemon juice.
To prepare the scallops: Whisk together ¼ cup of the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and ½ teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl. Add the scallops, turn to coat, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the package instructions.
Drain well.
Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallops and cook, without turning, until nicely browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook the other side until browned, another 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
Add the wine and remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice to the skillet. Scrape up any browned bits and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the fettuccine to the skillet along with the pesto. Turn off the heat and toss everything together. Arrange 3 scallops on a plate and serve hot.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 558 calories, 27 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 23 grams protein, 10 grams fiber, 1 gram sugars, 485 milligrams sodium, 52 grams carbohydrates, 15 milligrams cholesterol.