Grant McWilliams

14 items tagged "Pasta"

  • BBQ Chicken Pasta

    There's a restaurant in Kirkland WA called Cafe Veloce thats a pretty cool place with old Italian racing motorcycles placed sporadically around the restaurant and the walls plastered with racing memorabilia. It also serves some decent food including one not so Italian dish - BBQ Chicken Pasta. I skimmed over that menu item quite a few times without ordering it because I'm in an Italian restaurant and I'm pretty sure that Kansas City is nowhere near Rome so the idea of putting BBQ sauce on pasta makes little sense. However, one day I did my normal routine and asked the Waitress to just bring me her absolutely favorite thing on the menu and this is what showed up. She was spot on the money.  Considering that BBQ sauce is just tomato sauce with a little molasses added the Italians only missed it by that >< much. Had they thought a bit more about this (and a few other situations in the last 100 years, namely a couple of wars) they could have been on the winning team. 

    I suppose a shout out should got to the Mexicans since most great foods in the world require ingredients originating from that area which gained global distribution soon after their illegal immigrant problems got really bad (1521).  If it were not for them the Italians would still be eating wheat porridge three times a day and tomatoes - the Italian Love Apples would still be unknown.

    I'm not sure why people (myself included) are so against BBQ Chicken Pasta because we'll rip apart a BBQ Chicken Pizza and then when there's nothing left snort the crumbs with a straw to get our fix. I'm to the point that I don't eat pizza unless it has BBQ Chicken on it, why would I? Tomato sauce and pepperoni? Can you get more boring?

    I don't have a recipe for BBQ Chicken Pasta even though it's a favorite in our house and I make it often just because I'm not happy with it yet.  For the most part you just swap out one starch - bread for another - pasta. However, I've found the sauce to be a much pickier thing with the pasta because there's so much more of it. You don't want a smokey/tart/hot or very sweet sauce with this dish which leaves me experimenting on it. I've come to the conclusion that excessive heat is out and so is the amount of vinegar that a lot of BBQ sauces have. I lean more to a honey BBQ sauce with the dominant flavor being tomatoes and a hint of molasses. As soon as I'm satisfied I'll be uploading the recipe. 

    The other components are grilled chicken breasts, onions and sweet peppers grilled until caramelized and cilantro. I serve this with either a Penne or Farfalle noodle because both hold the sauce well. Four cups of sauce, two onions, two red bell peppers and 1 lb of chicken works well for 1 lb of pasta as a general rule.

  • BBQ Pasta! Whatever happened to that?

    This is what I get for going through old food photos. I was looking for a photo of Boniatillo - a dessert made with sweet potatoes. The further I dug the more I saw photos of dishes we used to make but  have embarrassingly forgotten.

    BBQ Chicken Pasta is one of those dishes. I don't know why I stopped making it but I did. It's been long enough that nobody remembered eating it. While I was nearly finished with the sauce and had the noodles boiling Jade asked what the noodles were for and then in response to my pointing to the sauce he asked "They're going in there? That's weird". I'm not sure why it seemed weird, maybe because he already has the categories in his mind as to what's allowed or not. The way I look at it we eat BBQ Chicken pizza so why not replace the crust with another starch, in this case noodles.

    So the pasta goes something like this. Combine a tomato flavored BBQ sauce with roasted red peppers, carmelized onions, chopped tomatoes and cilantro, add grilled chicken and toss over pasta. It's a very fresh vibrant dish that takes you a bit by surprise. The BBQ sauce you need to make because virtually everything in the store is going to either be too sweet, hot or smoky. Even a little bit of smoke will ruin this dish.

    On first bite Jade gave me two thumbs up and Natalya said she really liked it too.

  • Butternut Squash Ravioli with Pistachio Cream

    There's a small restaurant in an Italian town very few have heard of that serves a butternut squash ravioli in pistachio cream sauce that's so good the clouds part and the angels sing – or so they say. Modena is a town sparse with foreign tourists but famous among automobile enthusiasts as the home of passionate car maker Maserati. Not only does Maserati reside here but a few miles down the road Ferrari makes some of the most beautiful machines the earth has ever seen. If that weren't enough a few miles in the opposite direction is Ferrari's arch rival and raging bull Lamborghini. That as they say is a lot of Italian Passionein one spot. Everywhere in Modena you get the feeling of vibrancy. It's in the narrow cobblestone streets lined with bright orange, yellow and pastel pink houses, the music and the food. If one strolls to Piazza Giacomo Matteotti at the heart of the city they will come upon this famous restaurant serving the aforementioned pasta that brings forth the angels – or so they say.

    I was in Venice on a very rainy day with nothing to do so I hitched a ride on a train to Moden to taste this wonderful pasta and hear the angels sing. Down the narrow streets, across the piazza and past the stacks of bistro chairs and deep read awnings I hurried only to be greeted by a hand written sign reading  - Chiuso. Closed? I've come 10,000 miles to taste his pasta! In Italy there isn't a reason more important than one living life the way they want to live it and apparently my troubles were not great enough for the owner to interrupt his life to make me some past. I left vowing to return another day.

    Two years later I was in Bologna tasting what is supposed to be the world's best Gelato and remembered that Modena wasn't that far away. Another train and a brisk walk lands me in front of the exact same restaurant on the exact same piazza looking at the exact same sign. Questa è la vita - such is life.

    Butternut Squash Ravioli in Pistachio Cream sounds lovely but unfortunately after 4 trips to Italy I've still not had the pleasure of hearing the angels in song. However, I have spent some time imagining the results and I've crafted my own version which you see here. Angels don't sing when you eat it but you might hear a slight murmur. I won't be putting up a recipe because I make it so rarely that I haven't had time to write down what I do to get the result I want. There's de-shelled, poached then de-skinned and finely ground pistachios, minced garlic in olive oil, brown sugar and cream in the right quantities and of course butternut squash ravioli. How much of each? You decide, they're your angels.

  • Chicken and Bacon Borsetti with Sweet Pepper cream

    On occasion I check out frozen stuffed pasta at the local grocery but almost always pass over them unless they're dirt cheap or they sound especially interesting. I've learned that fresh homemade pasta is just plain better. I have found though that there are several types of fresh (packaged) pasta available in the store - most are unaffordable by anyone but a first year Microsoft investor. QFC (our local "charge whatever they want because they have rustic tile floors" grocery store) had fresh packaged chicken and bacon borsetti that looked interesting. Interesting because it's not cheese or sausage ravioli. The pasta was usually $7 but was on sale for $4 and because of a special promo had a dollar off coupon so I bought it on impulse. The first night I cooked it I served it in the old standby - browned butter and sage sauce - and it worked fairly well. My kids couldn't place the flavor of bacon in the pasta because they weren't expecting it. The second time I cooked it I decided to put a little effort into it and make sweet pepper cream sauce. The sauce turned out very good but clashed with the strong flavors of the pasta. Oh well, live and learn.

    I do however, think I'l be spending more time with borsetti. In case you don't know what they are they look like cute little bags of gold. I thought that maybe they'd be visible in the photo but they really aren't. You can see the top of the bag all bunched up in the right side of the pasta bowl. They seem really easy to make since they're just squares of pasta bunched up with filling. I think you'll be hearing more of borsetti in the future. Next time I'll just make them fresh. It's not that the chicken and bacon ones were bad, they just don't match what I had in mind.

  • Eating lite

    Lately I've been getting more exercise and eating my lunch later. The side effect of this is that when dinner comes around I don't feel like eating as much so in the name of satisfying my desires we've been making lighter weight dinners.

    The dishes you see to the right probably look familiar because I've had them up here before. The noodles are butternut squash filled ravioli in a browned butter sage sauce. Honestly this meal takes about as much time as it takes to boil the water. You don't consume very much of the butter since you're just coating the noodles. The salad was your basic balsamic vinegarette made using whatever balsamic vinegar I had left in the cupboard. As much as people like Trader Joe's it's taken me nearly 2 years to get rid of all the crappy balsamic that I've bought there (or had given to me). I've not had the money to buy good stuff so we're using it for things like this - vinegarettes.

    Italian food in Italy is very light and refreshingly simple unlike the stuff you'll get in Italian restaurants here. I'll not beat that dead horse as I've said plenty about it in the past. Anyway this is a cheap, simplen and flavorful meal. I think the main investment is the Sage if you're buying it from the grocery. If you have an Asian market or you grow it yourself this meal is very inexpensive. I spent about $6.00 to feed four people (or $1.50 ea). Definately worth the cost.

  • Honey Barbecue Chicken Pasta

    We have some meals around our house that we cook often but there's no recipes attached to them. This is in part because it's all by taste and also because I haven't gotten serious enough to focus on making them recipes. One of those meals is Barbecue Chicken Pasta. This might seem out of left field until you realize that most people have no problem eating Barbecue Chicken Pizza. For the pasta rendition we substitute noodles for the pizza dough and add in some nice caramelized veggies. We're not exactly forging new trails here with grilled chicken, boiled noodles and sauce. However, what makes this meal a bit more complex and the reason I don't have a proper recipe for it is the sauce. There's a million jarred BBQ sauces on the store shelves but the problem is that none of them fit this dish. Most are too smokey, too hot, have too much vinegar bite or are too sweet. Since I just knocked out the four dominant flavors of BBQ sauce you may wonder what my vision is. I want a sauce with no smokiness, no heat, a touch of sweetness to complement the caramelized onions and peppers, a touch of zippiness and a whole lot of tomato flavor. What I want is a BBQ flavored tomato based sauce that's bright and lively but not overpowering. You'd think that with 30 million jarred bbq sauces that someone would have that combination but so far I've not found it.

    Following is the very rough recipe. I'm not happy enough with it to put it in the recipebook on this site. Later when I get the sauce dialed in I will but for now it's just a blog post. Forgive me for being just a bit vague on things.

  • I've had it up to here with frozen stuffed pasta

    All I want is food with flavor, is that too much to ask? If I eat cheese it has to taste like something (Kraft are you listening?), if I buy ice-cream I want more than different combinations of the same 4 flavors, I see no reason why Pizza can't have more than one type of sauce and 5 toppings. And the point of this article - if I eat stuffed pasta the filling should serve a purpose other than to keep two pieces of dough from sticking together. There's a restaurant in Modena Italy (home to Ferrari) that serves a butternut squash ravioli in pistachio cream sauce that's supposedly divine. I say supposedly because I've travelled to Modena twice just to eat that dish and both times the restaurant was closed. Yes, that's a true story. This brings me to the present  time and I'm still chasing this grand idea that stuffed pasta can have flavor and not just the Robin to the sauce's Batman. Pumpkin puree and Butternut squash are both seasonal so taking a page from The French Laundry's list of tricks I've been using sweet potato. The French Laundry if you don't know is a wonderful French restaurant in Napa Valley California owned by Thomas Keller, one of my favorite chefs because of his philosophy on food. He believes that the first bite is wonderful, the second is similar and by the third bite your mouth is bored so there's no reason going on. So at the French Laundry you only get the first couple of bites of a lot of dishes. He keeps you in this "Oh my God" stage throughout the entire meal.

    Anyway back to pasta. I don't like sweet potato pasta nearly as much as butternut squash because it doesn't have that bright flavor of squash nor is the flavor  as mallable because it takes too long for you to make it taste like something else than sweet potatoes. But having said that it's much easier to work with because the water content is significantly less making a firmer filling. With butternut squash I aim for (imagine if you will), bright orange flavorful meat with a touch of cinnamon, a burst of fresh shaved nutmeg and  a dash of grade B maple syrup. This makes a very flavorful, pretty and not too sweet filling for a ravioli and provides quite the visual punch in a green pistachio creame sauce. Alas, the sweet potatoes are an imposter but unlike the squash are available year round. Also even the worst sweet potato filled pasta is better than the best you can get from the store.

    Most people don't make pasta because it takes too long or it's too difficult to work with. I have a few tricks which I'll share with you that may change your mind. By myself I made 100 ravioli (about 4lbs) in about an hour (plus an hour to bake the potatoes during which I watched a movie). If you have two people working - one rolling dough and the other stuffing you can double that number. This ravioli would cost you about $25 in the store ($2.50 homemade) so maybe it doesn't pay off but the quality is better. It's imperative that you have a powered pasta roller like the attachment to Kitchenaide's Mixer line or you have a second (or third person) hand cranking. Rolling the dough even with a power roller is the most time consuming part.

    So on with it. I bought several Ravioli forms from Amazon (see the picture after the link) but what's funny is that I don't use them as they were intended. The idea is that you roll out flat dough, lay it over the form, push down with the plastic insert to create the indentions, fill, cover them with another layer of rolled out flat dough and finally seal the whole thing by rolling over the whole thing with a rolling pin. This sounds like a great idea but gets very messy with the sauce not going where it's not supposed to and it's almost impossible to avoid air pockets. If you prick the air pockets you end up with ravioli full of water when you cook it. So I take the plastic inserts, fill them with filling and throw them in the freezer for a few minutes. The result is little squash or potato ice cubes which I then lay flat surface down on the dough and fold over another layer, seal it and cut them manually. This ends up being as fast and I have more control.

    A lot of people use egg wash to seal their pasta which also is messy. I have not found that it's necessary and if you're rolling your dough as you use it you don't even need water. Just dust your area with flour, roll the dough, place filling flat side down on the dough and fold it over to cover it up. Press long the edges to seal and cut them. Now take them and freeze them for cooking later. I even freeze them if I cook them immediately as it helps them hold together.


    • flour
    • eggs
    • sweet potatoes
    • cinnamon
    • nutmeg
    • maple syrup or extract
  • Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna

    It's been a while since I put up any recipes but I recently hosted the end of the quarter potluck for my classes and so in doing that spent most of a day cooking. On occasion I have a vegetarian student and I pull out the old favorite - Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna. It also just so happened that I had just enough pumpkin left from my second to last pumpkin of the season. The recipe calls for 2 lbs which is quite a lot and I had exactly that.

    The nice thing about this recipe is that it's nice, light and a bit exciting. The reaction you have after eating this is the same as the reaction from Butternut Squash Ravioli - you wonder why people limit themselves to boring meat/cheese and red sauce noodles. The flavors are bright and exciting, meat or cheese lasagna is boring and drab. Maybe it's not for everyone but so far every person I've fed it to really liked it and in addition it's good for most vegetarians (has dairy and eggs) and like many non-meat foods, it's cheap. In fact as I made it the cost is roughly $1 per slice of lasagna and half that cost comes from cheese. Shop around and you may be able to make it for less. 

    The Recipe: Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna

    Note for anyone not willing to eat eggs they can just leave them out of the Bechamel. It will be less fluffy but still very nice.

  • Ravioli in Pummelo Cream. Who comes up with this stuff?

    Everytime I walk by a Pummelo in the store I have to pick it up and smell it. This wonderful fruit is the grandfather to the grapefruit and according to the scientists a Pummelo and an Orange had too much to drink one night and before the Pummelo finished school and saved enough money to move out of the trailer the orange had given birth to a grapefruit. The grapefruit seemed like it was going to be a complete failure at first but both of it's parents saw something in it and with encouragement it went on to become a star even if it's temperament was a bit sour at times. Or so that's what the scientists say.

    The reason I pick up Pummelos and smell them is because they have a nice grapefruity smell that's sweet, not sour. I've been envisioning Pummelo garlic sauces for chicken and Pumelo cream sauces for stuffed pasta. Up until lately they've been too green but the Asian markets have nice yellow ones now so it was time to see what I could do with this fruit.

    First of all I think most of the flavor is in the meat. I drained the juice and added it to my shallot/sherry mixture and the Sherry completely overwhelmed it. Next time I'll cut the shallots in half and ax the Sherry completely. If I keep the wine I'll probably go for a nice mild Riesling. Anyway I was also candying orange peals for the garnish in a cardamom syrup so I added that to the cream and it perked up quite a bit. While I was plating it and getting the camera situated the parmesan started to cool giving the sauce a lumpy look. I'll address this next time. Overall it was a good first start but it will take a few more swings before I hit the ball out of the park. My judges (kids) scarfed it all down and licked their plates so I guess it wasn't complete loss.

  • Simple Italian

    Although we're out of our "travel to Italy" phase (you can thank the Italians for that) we still eat Italian food. Just so everyone knows Italian is pronounced with a short Iand not eye-talian (there is no country pronounced eye-taly). Now that I have that off my chest I'll continue. We still eat Italian but we rarely ever go out to eat at Italian restaurants because just as French food get's lost in the translation to America so does Italian. In Italy most dishes are very simple to make and have a nice clean goodness to them. At italian restaurants in the States the same dishes are complex, expensive and heavy. It doesn't seem to matter if the owners are actually from Italy either because they do the same thing. Mexican's make crappy food in America and wonderful food in Mexico, Italians make crappy food in America and wonderful food in Italy. I'm not sure what the source of this is but it exists nonetheless. So anyway we wanted a simple meal tonight so we fixed Italian (remember Italian = simple, say it three times).

    Usually we make our own stuffed pasta but this time we cheated. We bought frozen butternut squash filled ravioli. The problem with store bought ravioli is they have no real flavor. Even though you can look at the ingredients list and see everything is there they come out real bland. For the sauce we browned one stick of butter until it foamed and then added the sage leaves while removing it from the stove. While that was cooling I made some Buerre Monte which is an emulsion of water and butter. Buerre Monte is the coolest thing ever. You just boil about 1 TBs of water in a pan and then wisk in butter a TBs or two at a time. This emulsion process keeps the fats and milk solids from seperating from the butter. I mixed in some of the Buerre Monte to thicken our browned butter a bit and shredded some parmesan over the top and it was ready. The whole meal was done in the amount of time it takes to boil water.



  • Squash and Mascarpone Lasagna?

    My cousin Robin sent me a link to a food blog that had posted one of Wolfgang Puck's creations that sounded interesting - Pumpkin Lasagna. I almost didn't try it because I've had Wolfgang Puck's frozen pizza (a word of advice to other chefs - don't!) and I've seen his junk cookware but it sounded like it would be fun and maybe even good. In Italy it's very common to have Pumpkin or Squash puree in stuffed noodles and they've become a favorite in our house. My other reason for making the recipe is that I don't really like Lasagna. This may sound counter-intuitive but it's not. Classic Lasagna is about as interesting as classic Spaghetti (sorry Spaghetti lovers) in that it's well - boring. There's nothing interesting about a tomato sauce and noodles topped with cheese. Yes, kids like it but that's because they don't know any better. Why make Pumpkin Lasagna? Because it isn't boring! So we followed the recipe as posted at the One Perfect Bite food blog which made it according to the original recipe (I assume) by using Pumpkin and Chevre. The one red flag was the amount of salt used in the filling - ONE TABLESPOON! That seemed excessive to me but I hate it when I go through the trouble of making a recipe and people substitute cheese whiz for Froie Gras then complain so in the 1 Tbsp of salt went. I didn't have enough fresh Thyme so I had to commit the ultimate evil and dig through the cupboard for the dried version. I had fresh sage and ground some nutmeg. The recipe called for "goat cheese" (whatever that is) or Mascarpone which sounded good so I used that. We had a ton of Delicata Squash in the garage so we baked it cut side down the way I do pumpkins and it turned out real nice.

    Conclusion: I think this recipe has real promise. If you like eating Squash then you'll love Squash Lasagna. However I was right on the money with the salt issue. I'm fairly certain that it was meant to be 1 tsp (teaspoon) and not 1 tbsp (tablespoon) as we had to gag it down. We'll be making it again later this week with a bit less Thyme, Sage and Salt. I believe this is the first time I've not doubled the herbs in a recipe and in fact pulled them back. Usually recipes lack flavor and need kick.




  • Sweet Pepper tortellini and prosciutto wrapped melon

    Tonight I decided not to do anything complex. I was at Safeway and they had prosciutto for half price (about $11/lb) so I picked up some and of course that led to getting some cantelope which in turn led to getting some red bell peppers and fresh cheese tortellini which were also on sale. Actually all of it was. You can't have these other things without some sort of bread so a baguette went in the bag as well. The checkout lady pointed at the prosciutto and asked me what it was. I said "prosciutto" and she said she could read it but what was it, was it salmon? It was all I could do but blink. No it's ham I said which was followed by her asking me what I do with it. I wrap it around melons along with Italian sweet basil and drizzle it with olive oil as an appetizer. I thought she was going to melt. She seemed to think it sounded very good. It's so easy I'm not sure why other people don't do things like this. A baby could do it!

    I roasted the red bell peppers under the broiler and then tossed them in a ziplock bag to steam. A mixture of fresh garlic and butter slopped on to the bagguette set it up nicely. The fresh tortellini went in a pot of heavily salted water and two shallots and a couple of cloves of garlic went in a frypan with olive oil until translucent. A can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup and an additional can of milk was then mixed in along with the pealed red bell peppers and the whole mess was thrown in the blender and pureed. Back in the pan I added a very healthy handful of basil and a dab of olive oil for good measure. As I said earlier the melon was pealed and cut in thin slices then wrapped with prosciutto, basil and drizzled with olive oil. For a quick meal it turned out really well.

  • Sweet pepper totellini


    .Years ago I ate at the Europa Pizzaria in Spokane Wa, and had the most sublime creme sauce ever. It had sweet peppers in it and was so very mild that at first it didn't grab you but after each bite my willingness to take another bite grew. By the time I got to the end I was licking my plate. Here we are years later and I'm attempting to recreate it. I've only tried to make it a few times and I'm still nowhere near but I thought I'd post a pic or two anyway...

  • Sweet potato filled agnolotti in brown butter sage cream sauce

    I've been in the mood to make some real pasta in a while and have been wanting to try out agnolotti. Agnolotti are Piedmonts version of ravioli and I have to say that I think Piedmont has something over on the rest of Italy. They're pretty easy to make and you don't need forms like Ravioli plus they hold more sauce than Ravioli do.I filled the Agnolotti with sweet potatoes as apposted to using butternut squash as usual. The sweet potatoes after being spiced up with squab spices (cloves, cinnamon, corriander, black pepercorns, allspice, white pepper toasted and then all ground in a spice grinder) and mixed with butter and diced bacon taste about the same but has more body.

    The sauce is a mix of buerre monte and creme fraiche with 1/3 cup of blanched sage leaves blended in and strained. It's then topped with jullienned proccuto, browned butter and deep fried sage leaves.

    As a side note: I've noticed my youtube videos don't show up on my main page. To see them go to Food -> Blog







































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