Friday, April 29, 2011

Roasted Garlic and Pepperoni Pasta

I'm excited about this one! I'm excited because I made it without a recipe, and I was trying something for purely experimental purposes, and it totally worked! I wasn't even sure it would work, but I was willing to allow my family to be the guinea pigs in this particular experiment. You see, I had several heads of garlic, and I really wanted to roast some up. With that as my starting point, this whole meal was born.

I decided to build upon my roasted garlic idea with things I had around the house that I wanted to use up. I was feeling like creating a roasted garlic sauce, but I wanted it to be creamy and not fattening. A tall order, right? Well, wait a minute. Get this: if you put ricotta cheese in the food processor with a touch of olive oil, the whole head of roasted garlic, and some reserved pasta cooking liquid, you get a nice, healthier, creamy sauce! I'm sure somebody out there has already thought of this, and I just caught on to it late. But I was pretty proud of myself, considering I just came up with it on the fly.

I sauteed a red onion, added a huge pile of spinach and a huge pile of Swiss chard to the skillet, and wilted the greens down. Next, I added some turkey pepperoni. Now, this is the part of the recipe where I would have done it differently if I had to go back and redo it. But lucky for you, I have learned from my mistake and I wrote out the instructions to include the change. Why, you may ask? Well, because the pepperoni just ended up getting a bit droopy and limp as a result of adding it in after the veggies. It was still okay, but just a bit tasteless. Next time, I would cook the pepperoni first, until it became crispy, and then I would take it out and reserve it to throw on top of the pasta at the end. Oh well, I'm learning!

Since the sauce I created did turn out a bit thin, I thought fast and added it to the skillet that contained the veggies. By simmering it for just a few minutes, I was able to thicken it up and turn it into a nice, alfredo-y sauce. If you wanted to, you could add some Parmesan cheese to the sauce and really take it over the top. I liked it as is. Best of all, the family liked it too! My husband was none the wiser about me creating this dish, and he started raving about it over dinner. When I told him that I hadn't even used a recipe, he was pretty impressed. That made me feel good; I find that some of my favorite moments in the kitchen come when I am able to "invent." So it's great when the invention works out well!

Roasted Garlic and Pepperoni Pasta
recipe by Bri
makes 6-8 servings

5 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 whole head of garlic, outer papery skin removed and top 1/4 cut off
1 lb. pasta, any shape will do
1 medium red onion, sliced
4 cups fresh baby spinach
3-4 cups Swiss chard, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup (it's actually 34 slices, but in case you don't feel like counting!) turkey pepperoni, halved
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (I used part-skim)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle about 1/2 tsp. olive oil over the head of garlic, wrap it tightly in foil, and roast in the oven for about 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and allow it to cool slightly.

2. Heat a large pot of water to a boil on the stove. Add the pasta to the pot and cook according to the package directions. Reserve at least 1 cup of the cooking liquid to make the sauce.

3. In a medium nonstick skillet, heat 1 1/2 tsp. oil over a medium heat. Add the pepperoni and cook until just heated through and slightly crispy, about 5 minutes or so. Remove the pepperoni to a plate. To the skillet, add the red onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add in the spinach and Swiss chard gradually, allowing it to wilt some before adding more.

4. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, add the head of roasted garlic, the 1 cup reserved cooking liquid, the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and the 1/2 cup ricotta cheese. Puree the mixture until it is smoth and resembles a thin sauce. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

5. Pour the sauce into the wilted greens and allow the mixture to come to a simmer. Turn the heat back and continue to cook at a low simmer until the sauce has thickened some, about 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and combine the sauce with the pasta and pepperoni (I added everything back into the pasta pot after the pasta had been drained), tossing well to coat the pasta with sauce. Divide into shallow bowls and serve.

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