Orzo with Roasted Butternut Squash, Bacon, and Sage

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When the weather cools down, I start to crave flavorful meals like this orzo pasta with sage, bacon and butternut squash. The sage pairs beautifully with the salty bacon and slightly sweet squash. The flavors are perfect for a crisp fall day.

Orzo with Roasted Butternut Squash, Bacon, and Sage

This recipe is quick and easy to put together – great for a weeknight. You could even roast the butternut squash and cook the orzo ahead of time, to make the prep even faster.

Ingredients
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup orzo pasta
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper
Shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Add the chopped butternut squash and olive oil to a large bowl, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt (to taste) and toss again. Spread the squash evenly on a large baking sheet, and roast for 30 minutes, stirring once.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo al dente, per the package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

While the orzo is cooking, cook the chopped bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate and carefully pour all but about 3 tablespoons of the bacon drippings into a glass measuring cup (or small bowl). Reduce the heat to low.

Add the sage, onion power, and crushed red pepper to the skillet and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add the roasted butternut squash, cooked orzo, and bacon to the skillet, stirring gently to combine. Gradually add the reserved orzo cooking water until the sauce reaches the desired consistency (you may not need to use it all). If needed, you can also add more of the reserved bacon drippings. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook over low heat until the ingredients are heated through.

Serve topped with shredded parmesan. Enjoy!

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Greek Pasta Salad with Sausage

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I guess I could call this a Mediterranean Pasta Salad since it has Greek and Italian ingredients, but the name isn’t as important as the taste (which is great, by the way!). Tender pasta mingles with olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, chickpeas, and Italian sausage for a main dish salad full of flavor and interesting textures. Be sure to make the pasta salad (not the sausage) in advance, so the flavors have time to develop. 

Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 pound corkscrew pasta, cooked and cooled
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 can black olives, roughly chopped
3/4 cup feta cheese
1/3 cup diced red onion
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 package Italian sausage

Wisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, oregano, sugar, and ground pepper in a large bowl. Add the cooked pasta, garbanzo beans, olives, feta, red onion, and tomatoes, and stir gently to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Add the Italian sausage to a large, cold skillet and add 1/2 cup of water. Cover and place over medium-low heat. Simmer until the water evaporates, and then remove the lid. Brown the sausage, turning frequently, until the sausage is cooked through.

Let the sausage cool slightly, and then cut into slices. To serve, fill bowls with the cold pasta salad, and place sausage slices over the top.

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Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage with a Ricotta Surprise

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I haven’t always been a fan of Rachel Ray’s recipes, but she got this one right! The flavorful sausage and broccoli are wonderful with the pasta, but it’s the lemony-peppery ricotta that makes it amazing. I really was surprised at how good this was!

You can find the original recipe in Rachel’s Express Lane Meals cookbook (another 30-minute meal cookbook – although I rarely seem to be able to complete her recipes in 30 minutes). This recipe is well worth the time, even if it takes more than 30 minutes to prepare, and I’ll be making it again soon!

Ingredients
Salt
1 pound penne pasta
1 cup ricotta cheese
Juice and zest from one lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 large head broccoli
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (approximately)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)

Bring water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, add a bit of salt and the pasta. Cook according to the package directions, until al dente (just underdone). Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, before draining the pasta.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, lemon zest, salt to taste, and a generous amount of fresh black pepper. Let the ricotta mixture stand on the counter and come up to room temperature.

Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces with a spatula. Cook the meat until brown, about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

While the sausage is browning, chop the broccoli into small pieces (discard the tough stems).

Once the sausage is brown, remove it to a paper-towel-lined plate. Return the skillet to the heat and add the broccoli and onion. Spread the veggies out in an even layer, season with some salt and pepper, and let the broccoli brown a bit before stirring, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the sausage back to the skillet along with the chicken broth. Add the 1/2 cup of cooking water from the pasta and bring it up to a simmer. Cook until the broccoli is tender and the liquids have reduced slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and cooked, well-drained pasta. Toss to combine and simmer about 1 minute to allow the pasta to soak in the flavors. Turn off the heat, add the parmesan cheese, and toss to combine.

To serve, place a large dollop of the ricotta mixture into a bowl and bury it with the hot pasta mixture. Before eating, mix it around with a fork to distribute the ricotta and sprinkle with extra parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

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Parmesan Basil Orzo with Shrimp

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This looks like something you would eat at a fancy restaurant, but it is simple to make and it tastes amazing. The mild orzo, flavored with parmesan and fresh basil, is a wonderful a compliment to the marinated shrimp which is bursting with flavor.

Ingredients
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, if you like it spicy)
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1-2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
2 cups chicken broth (maybe a bit more)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, parsley, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, garlic, ketchup, oregano, salt and black pepper. Add the shrimp and stir until they are well coated. Refrigerate for about 1 hour (I’ve heard that too much lemon juice can give shrimp a weird texture, so don’t let them sit in the marinade for too long).

About 25 minutes before you cook the shrimp, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, stir in the orzo and sauté until golden brown, stirring frequently.

Stir in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the orzo is tender. Watch the skillet carefully, and add additional chicken broth if needed.

Mix in the parmesan cheese, basil, spinach, salt, and pepper. Stir until the spinach is wilted.

Heat another large skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the shrimp to the skillet, along with about 1/2 cup of the marinade. Cook the shrimp, stirring frequently until pink and cooked through.

To serve, place a large spoonful of the orzo onto a plate, top with several shrimp, and drizzle some of the sauce from the skillet over the top.

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Turkey Meatballs

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These are my favorite meatballs. They are tender, flavorful, and healthy too, since they are made with ground turkey instead of beef. The crushed red pepper gives them a touch of heat, but not enough to keep my kids from devouring them. They freeze great too, so make an extra batch and store them in the freezer until your next spaghetti and meatball night.

Ingredients
1 package ground turkey (1.5 pounds)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more, if you like them spicy)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.

In a large bowl, mix together the ground turkey, salt, onion, garlic powder, oregano, crushed red pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Add the bread crumbs, milk, and parmesan cheese, and stir together until well-blended (but don’t over-mix, or your meatballs will be tough).

Using your hands (don’t be afraid to get messy), form into 1 1/2-inch meatballs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cooked through.

Serve on top of spaghetti with your favorite sauce, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

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Chicken Alfredo Lasagna

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This creamy, cheesy lasagna is made extra delicious with an easy homemade alfredo sauce. I adapted this from a recipe I found on the Allrecipes website. If you don’t want to make a huge dish of lasagna, divide this between two smaller baking dishes and store one in the freezer (after baking) for an easy dinner on a night that you don’t feel like cooking (usually Fridays for me). To reheat the frozen the lasagna, put it in the refrigerator the day before you want to eat it to let it defrost (it’s okay if it doesn’t defrost completely). Then put it in a 400 degree oven for 45-75 minutes, or until heated through.

Ingredients
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
1/2 cup butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups ricotta cheese (I used skim-ricotta)
2 cups cubed, cooked chicken meat
1 bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic in the butter until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in the flour and salt, and simmer until bubbly. Mix in the broth and milk, and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in 2 cups mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Season with the basil, oregano, and ground black pepper. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese and cooked chicken. Spread 1/3 of the sauce mixture in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish (or two smaller baking dishes). Layer with 1/3 of the noodles, then all of the ricotta/chicken mixture. Arrange 1/3 of the noodles over the chicken, and layer with 1/3 of the sauce mixture, spinach, and the remaining 2 cups mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Arrange remaining noodles over cheese, and spread remaining sauce evenly over noodles. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven.

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Alfredo-Pesto Linguine with Chicken

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In the mood for really amazing pasta? This recipe is restaurant quality, without the restaurant price. The combination of parmesan, cream, and pesto make a heavenly sauce that is to die for (not literally, I hope, but those of you with high cholesterol should probably skip this one . . . did I mention the sauce has butter too?). You can lower the fat a bit by substituting half-n-half for the heavy cream, but the sauce won’t be as thick.

This is an excellent dish to make for a special occasion, or if you want to impress your dinner guests. The recipe below will make about 4 servings.

Ingredients
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt
Black pepper
1/2 pound linguine pasta
1/4 cup butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish)
2 tablespoons prepared pesto

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the linguine according to package directions. Meanwhile, melt the butter in your largest skillet, over medium heat. Stir in the cream and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the skillet from the heat and gradually stir in the parmesan cheese. After the cheese is added, put the skillet back on the heat and reduce the heat to low or medium-low (don’t let the sauce boil). Stir in the pesto and cook the sauce, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes, or until thickened.

Add the linguine and cooked chicken to the sauce and toss gently to coat. Serve with fresh parmesan cheese and a big green salad. Enjoy!

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Balsamic Chicken Pasta with Olive Oil Toast

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I created this recipe last week when I wanted a meal that was easy to prepare and had to work with the ingredients that I had in my kitchen.  This is a quick and simple recipe, but the chicken needs to marinate for several hours, so be sure to start that step in advance.

Ingredients
1/2 cup olive oil vinaigrette salad dressing
1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (depending on how much you like it)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Spaghetti (enough for 4 servings)
Olive oil
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning, with juice
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes

Add the salad dressing, balsamic vinegar, and chicken to a large zipper bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until just under-done. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add the marinated chicken (discard any remaining marinade) and sauté until cooked thoroughly. Remove the chicken from the pan; add another tablespoon of olive oil and the diced onions.  Sauté the onions for 1-2 minutes, then add the can of diced tomatoes (including the juice). Reduce heat to low, and then run a spatula around the bottom of the pan to scrape up any brown bits. Return the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

When the spaghetti is done, drain it, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water.  Add the spaghetti and cooking water to the pan with the chicken and simmer, uncovered, for 1-2 minutes, or until the spaghetti is al-dente. Just before serving sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top. Serve with Olive Oil Toast (recipe below).

Olive Oil Toast

Crispy. Salty. Yummy. The perfect accompaniment to a hot bowl of pasta. I used a loaf of pugliese bread from my grocer’s bakery counter, but you can substitute any chewy Italian bread. Buy a big loaf . . . leftover Italian bread makes excellent French Toast!

Ingredients
Italian bread loaf (pugliese, ciabatta, etc), cut into ½ inch slices
Olive oil
Sea salt

Pour olive oil into a shallow bowl (about 1/4 inch deep). Heat a skillet over medium heat. Put a slice of bread into the bowl of olive oil and completely coat both sides of the bread. Then put the slice into the hot skillet and cook until the bottom is golden brown. Flip the bread and finish cooking the other side. Remove the cooked bread to a plate lined with a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat for remaining bread slices. Serve warm.

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