Pastas, Exalted and Humble

February 24 – March 1, 2020

barley risotto

Monday:                   Baked Barley Risotto with Mushrooms and Carrots

Chicken with tomatoes

Tuesday:                   Dijon Chicken with Shallots and White Wine

squash and mushroom curry

Wednesday:            Winter Squash and Wild Mushroom Curry

baked pasta

Thursday:                 Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Tomatoes

crispy fish taco (2)

Friday:                       Crispy Fish Tacos with Avocado Crema

Image result for Photos of Pittsburgh's South Side

Pittsburgh’s South Side

Saturday:                  Dish Osteria with Billy and Emily

coq au vin today

Sunday:                     Coq au Vin


Last Saturday, Billy and Emily treated us to dinner at Dish Osteria, a wonderful restaurant tucked into the crowded, antique and sometimes distressing streets of Pittsburgh’s South Side (south of the Monongahela).  This is a place you’ll want to Uber to, even if you’re a teetotaler, because finding a parking place is like looking for a Trump supporter at Berkeley.

But the food – Lord, the food.  We began with a house antipasta and some paté on toasts and, I suppose, it being Lent, should have stopped right there.  But, we had, among us – Pappardelle with Mushrooms, Potato Gnocchi with Bolognese Sauce and Cavatelli with Cauliflower and Botarga.  Each was fantastic in its own way, and it just hit me that I didn’t share my Cavatelli, but everyone else shared with me.  I am a bit embarrassed but, on the other hand, I had a load of great pasta.

We’re not going to share any recipes for these dishes with you – just the memories.  Instead, we’re going to talk about dishes we can actually cook, with pasta we did not make in our own kitchen.  And we’re going to talk about comfort.

We’re talking about comfort because, outside of the house, during the last week, the Pittsburgh climate offered none.  Every morning I bundled up and walked Rusty who was, to both our chagrins, bundled up himself in a sort of retro-reindeer-sweater-design dog-coat.  On Saturday, I also walked him late in the day and was still cold when we met Billy and Emily for dinner.

The weather has been bone-chilling – not just cold, but wet.  SWMBO and I have been dealing with this by treating ourselves to casseroles and one-pot meals cooked in the oven.  The barley on Monday reminded me of the oatmeal my mother used to make on winter mornings – except of course, that it was savory – it had that the same, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs insulating quality.  And the Coq au Vin on Sunday was terrific – even better as leftovers on Monday.  But the baked pasta was the dish of the week – the most comforting, the most delicious and the warmest – a pot of that at the foot of your bed would keep you warm even if your furnace died.

Compared to the home made, luscious pastas of Dish, this was a fairly humble affair made with dried pasta.  But, trust us, this is what you need to console you after a bone-chilling, wind-buffeted, snow-blown walk with your dog across the Pittsburgh tundra.

baked pasta


(still cooking our way through the NYT cooking insert, 2/16/20, including this dish)

Timing:                                    50 minutes

Ingredients:                            Serves 4

(if you’re cooking for 2, you’ll have leftovers or two days worth of lunch)

12 ounces dried pasta (small shells, farfalle – we used orecchiette)

¾ lb. hot or Italian sausage (we used pork – but turkey or chicken will work)

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces

6 ounces whole-milk ricotta (3/4 cup)

28 ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes with their juices – you’re going to need to break these tomatoes up and the easiest way to do that is to pour them into a large bowl and crush them with your hands.  Keep your hands beneath the surface or you will have tomato pulp all over the counter and you.

14 oz. can crushed or strained tomatoes

1/3 cup grated Parmesan

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, thinly slice (we used 3)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely crushed

Pinch of red-pepper flakes

2 bay leaves

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

Kosher salt

Black pepper for serving (and more red-pepper flakes, if you like)


Preheat over to 425 F

Assemble all ingredients, slice garlic cloves, crush fennel seeds


In a large, ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high or slightly lower if using a high btu burner.

Crumble the sausage into the skillet and break it up with a spoon, cooking about 7 minutes until browned.

Now stir in the oregano, fennel seeds and red-pepper flakes and then the garlic and watch the temperature, you don’t want to burn the garlic.  Cook for just 1 minute.

Stir in the broken up tomatoes with their juices, then add the crushed or strained tomatoes, the bay leaves and 2 teaspoons of salt.

Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes to thicken just a little.

Now stir in the pasta and 1 cup of water and bring back to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure that the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the skillet.

Remove from the heat, pull out the bay leaves and fold in about 1/3 of the mozzarella.

Top the pasta with the remaining mozzarella and dollops of ricotta, then sprinkle with the Parmesan and transfer to the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes – a bit longer if you want a deeply browned topping – or run it under the broiler for about 2 minutes.  (It will take your broiler about 3 minutes to come up to temperature.)

Remove from oven and let cool for 2 minutes before serving.  Top with fresh basil and lots of black pepper (and more red-pepper flakes if you like).

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