Apron Strings

Category — Pasta

Cornmeal and flour pasta from La Cucina

I’ve hit an Italiain phase with my cooking.  And I love finding really rustic peasant recipes because they often don’t call for eggs or cheese.   I reserved this book, La Cucina, sight unseen from the public library. I walked over to the library on my lunch hour to pick it up and I realized it wasn’t just a book. I was borrowing an encyclopedia. A very heavy encyclopedia. I even considered leaving it at the library rather than toting this enormous book home. But I’m so glad that I didn’t leave it there. And that I perservered in reading it, despite the annoying book binding. (It doesn’t lay flat, so it’s not a good choice for in-bed reading.)

Pitfalls aside, it is comprehensive. And as long as you don’t mind a cookbook without any photos, it is an amazing reference. And as soon as this copy goes back to the library, I’m buying one for myself.

The first recipe that I tried was the cornmeal and flour pasta. The cornmeal gives it a great yellow colour that you’d normally get with eggs. It was really sturdy and didn’t remind me at all of eating wet dough. (My first attempts at no-egg pasta were … well.. failures.) And it was easy. I had it mixed and rolled in one episode of Diego. (Twenty-three minutes… exactly.)


Look at those noodles!

August 22, 2011   2 Comments

Roasted tomato pasta sauce – easy and delicious

I wasn’t wowed by my last “Tuscan” pasta sauce.  It was too tart, too bold, too… just not right.  I guess I was looking for a lighter and more summery tasting sauce.

For second batch of tomato sauce, I decided on a roasted tomato version.  I chose this one because roasting makes things taste great and there’s no fussing with removing the tomato skins.  Less fuss is a good thing. (Wink Martha!)

I picked about 3.5 pounds of my plum tomatoes, cut them in half and scooped the seeds into a bowl.  I set them on a foil-lined baking sheet along with some garlic and coated liberally in olive oil.  Perfect.  Into the oven it went.

Roasted tomato sauce

Roasted tomato sauce

I reserved the tomato pulp that I scooped out and strained out the seeds.  I got quite a bit of nice tomato juice and planned on adding it to a future veggie stock.

Roasted tomato sauce

And then I started reading some more recipes.  Some people were  adding onions and carrots!  Good idea.  I ran to the garden and grabbed the extra ingredients and tossed them onto the baking sheet too.

Roasted tomato sauce

Back to the computer.  Other recipes called for herbs.  Herbs!  Of course, the darn sauce should have herbs.  Back to the garden.  I got a little overzealous with the thyme picking.  (Looks like I’ll be drying some thyme.)  In went the rosemary and thyme.

Roasted tomato sauce

After an hour, everything was nice and roasted.  Once the roasted veggies had cooled, they all went into the blender with some salt, pepper, olive oil and sugar.

It was a good thing that I reserved the tomato juice because I ended up needing all of it to blend the tomatoes. (If you’re using tomatoes with a thicker “wall”, you may not need to add any tomato juice.)

Roasted tomato sauce

Thick and rich. I think roasting is definitely the way to go.


  • No peeling tomatoes!
  • Great flavour
  • No stirring!
  • No boiling and adding humidity to your house


  • Need to keep a hot oven running for an hour
  • Need to clean a baking sheet (Maybe it’s just me and my tiny sink -  I hate cleaning baking sheets.)
  • Need a blender or hand blender to pulverize into sauce.

Next batch: roasted tomato and basil.  Stay tuned!

August 16, 2011   2 Comments

Tuscan tomato sauce – Saucy days recipe #1

Test batch of pasta sauce

Growing and picking tomatoes is the easy part.  The hard part is deciding how best to use your precious homegrown produce.  I’ve been thinking a lot about making pasta sauce to can for the winter, but before commiting to one recipe and going to the trouble of canning, I wanted to make sure I had the best recipe possible.  For the first batch, I turned to my Small Batch Preserving cookbook and selected their Tuscan tomato sauce – I went off recipe since I would be eating this fresh and not processing it to store.

If you’re canning sauce, you need to stick with a tested recipe… otherwise you could get sick.  Really sick.  Botulism sick.  Or you can toss your sauce in the freezer and avoid canning altogether.

Test batch of pasta sauce

Going off-recipe meant adding a few extra veggies into the sauce.  I grated a couple of homegrown carrots and beets.  The beets added lots of colour to both the sauce… and my hands.

Test batch of pasta sauce

Beet juice drama scene. Like most old school recipes, most of the work is up front: chopping, peeling, dicing.  I started out with a couple of onions and garlic and sweated them out in some olive oil.  Then added my tomatoes.

Test batch of pasta sauce

I roughly chopped the tomatoes and discarded a bit of the seeds and innards that fell onto to the cutting board, but didn’t concern myself with totally deseeding them or getting the skin off.  I think this may have been a critical mistake as the seeds can impart too much bitterness into your sauce.  It’s my first batch, there are bound to be mistakes.

It seems (according to my Google research after-the-fact) folks usually blanch their tomatoes first, peel the skin off and then scoop out the seeds.  Oops.

Test batch of pasta sauce

I added some dry red wine to the mix – in this case a pretty cheapo Jackson-Triggs merlot.  Merlot.  It begs to be italicized.

Test batch of pasta sauce

Here’s a look at the sauce with the beets, wine and balsamic added.  It’s pretty dark.  I sort of regret using our better balsamic for the recipe.  I think it overwhelmed the recipe and that the Small-Batch writers were probably using your grocery store “balsamic”.

Test batch of pasta sauce

Once it had all cooked, I really regretted not skinning the tomatoes.  The texture was terrible.  I decided to pull out my food mill to remove the skins.  It tasted better, less bitter.

Test batch of pasta sauce

Test batch of pasta sauce

At the same time I was tippy tapping this post, an email came into my inbox from the people at Winefox (a site that takes wine from “snobby to hobby” and features a monocle wearing fox mascot) wanting to know if I wanted to get some wine tips to write about on the old blog.  Good timing.  I definitely didn’t want a repeat of Merlot-gate for my next sauce.  So I sent along some questions about choosing a better bottle for the next batch.  Here we go…

1) Do you have some recommendation for a not-too-expensive red wine for my next batch of sauce?  (Preferably something Canadian)
Winefox wine expert (and Real Food for Real Kids “founding Dad”), David Farnell recommends a Gamay. “Just pick a producer!”

  • Henry of Pelham Gamay, $14.95
  • Malivoire Gamay, $16.95

2) Do you think people should cook with as good of wines as they drink?
“When recipes call for just a splash of wine, feel free to use the good stuff from your glass – it really will produce a better result.  If you need to use more than a cup, choose a less-expensive option from your pantry, but one that you’d still drink yourself.   Keep in mind, you’re using the wine to add flavour, so you want to make sure you enjoy it for what it is, but it’s not necessary to splurge on a top-notch bottle either. Here’s a good rule: If you can pour yourself a glass and enjoy it while you’re cooking with it, you’re all set. And, maybe, have an even better one on-hand to enjoy with your guests once dinner’s served!”


My last question was answered by Winefox’s brand manager, Lindsay Gavey…

3) How do you know if a Canadian wine has been mixed with other countries’ grapes?
In most cases, origins will be provided on the back of the bottle. With VQA wines, authenticity is clear and guaranteed, as there are very specific rules in the VQA that govern foreign content – and labeling. Some will even specify a more specific region (or appellation), such as Prince Edward County. This means that the grapes used were exclusively grown in Ontario, with at least 85% grown in the stated appellation. If a bottle has the VQA logo, then you know that the wine was made from 100% Ontario grown grapes.

Thanks for the tips Winefox! I’ll be sure to check for a Gamay next time I’m shopping.

Need to know more about Winefox?

“The goal of Winefox.ca is to be Canada’s go-to destination for anyone interested in wine, whether they want to share, learn and discuss wine, build their personal wine profiles and online cellars, or simply find a wine to take to their next dinner party,” says Dean Ostilly, General Manager of Winefox.

August 11, 2011   1 Comment

Feast of frowns

This morning I woke up and checked my Twitter stream to see all of the uproar surrounding this year’s Feast of Fields having Loblaws be their major sponsor.  I recall about a month ago when they announced the sponsorship, but didn’t take much note other than a bit of eyeball rolling.  Suuuuuure, Loblaws is interested in local food.  (Except replace the word food with money.)  Ah, that’s more like it.

My history with the Loblaws chain.. in particular the President’s Choice label soured about a year ago when I found a large strip of blue plastic inside a bottle of pasta sauce.

Things you shouldn't find in a jar of pasta sauce

It turns out it was a plastic bag.

I’m not sure why I didn’t write about this a year ago when it happened. I remember at the time not saying a lot because there was some back and forth with their customer relations to resolve the matter. I felt that I should let that play out before going mom-blog-crazy on them.  And then I forgot about it.   Did I ever say that the final solution was to return the bottle and plastic so that they could analyze it and I was able to get a refund for my purchase? That’s it. A refund.

It’s not like I was out to get some freebies from the experience, but a token coupon would have at least been a gesture. And with a baby underfoot, I didn’t have the time to go the Dave Carrol route and write a song about my blue plastic strip on put it on YouTube. Honestly, I’m not a good singer.

Now, we try to make our own sauce. At least in the summer.

Everyone's up to something in the kitchen

Making pasta sauce with home grown tomatoes

So what does all of this have to do with the Feast of Fields? It says that actions speak louder than words (or logos).  I think anyone who has shopped in a Loblaws has seen the token “grown close to home” posters. And sure, there are some local-ish or at least Ontario produce… if you can find it. I’ve played hide and seek for the Ontario berries locating them tucked in between rows of Californian ones or shopped for asparagus that was located directly underneath a “Grown close to home” poster only to find them to actually be from Peru. It’s all so deceptive, that unless you are a dedicated label reader (I am), you’re much better off to shop at a farmer’s market.

Sponsoring the Feast of Fields event seems a desperate attempt to be associated with a movement that they do not (yet??)  completely embrace. Seeing a Loblaws logo on a poster for the event doesn’t change how I feel about your business because I visit your grocery store every week. I see with my own eyes what you offer on your shelves. I see how the local produce is marketed (ahem hidden). This greenwashing leaves me asking, “why is the uncool kid at my party? ”

So, pour the uncool kid a drink and ignore him. Vote with your wallet. Support your local businesses, farmer and producers. And look out for what’s inside your pasta sauce.

August 27, 2010   No Comments

Toddler shock and awe: broccoli udon noodle stir fry

I picked up a broccoli seedling on a whim at Home Depot. I hadn’t tried growing broccoli before in my garden, so I wasn’t sure if it would grow or die at the hands of a bug buffet (as did my cauliflower – oops).

Last year, I grew rapini (broccoli’s cool Euro-cousin), but I didn’t know when to eat it and it turned into a giant weedy looking plant. A normal old broccoli seemed like a fun idea. Because, growing broccoli is what passes for excitement chez nous lately.

Sproutwatch: July 4

But look at that broccoli! It’s perfect!

The dish of choice for my first head of broccoli: udon noodle stir fry. We LOVE fresh udon noodles – the ones I buy are made of rice and have no other allergens in them. And the kid loves slurping down a big noodle. Win! The downside? He hates green food. (Why?? How did this happen? He ate them when he was little. Gah. It’s all enough to drive a mom crazy.)

Stir fry w/ broccoli from the garden

The husband made a really simple sauce of tamari, ginger and some brown sugar. I loved the dish and the kid? Well, he ate the noodles and chicken when he had finished making an example of how completely disgusted he was by the presence of broccoli in his dish. And yes, this from the kid who will eat seaweed.

July 7, 2010   3 Comments

Mushroom risotto bake – Take 2


I wanted to try doing a baked risotto again, but without using the canned cream soup like I did last time.  Even though I used the “less salt” version in the recipe last time, I still think that it has far too much sodium (a quarter of your daily intake in one serving).  Donna Hay had a similar recipe in the last issue, but minus the canned cream soup.  I was super keen to try it and see if it would taste as good.  (Despite being full of sodium, the Campbells recipe is delicious.)  Sure enough, with help from the homemade chicken stock that I poached from the husband, this risotto bake tasted just as good.

Boyfriendly rating: 3/5

Me: what?  3/5?  really?

Him: ok 4/5

Me: that’s better

Recipe for 3-ish mealsize servings:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 300g chopped mushrooms (I used one package… it seemed enough)
  • 4 slices bacon (I used some nice peameal)
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup grated parmesan (I didn’t measure this.. I just kept grating until it tasted like enough)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Heat oil in a frying pan.  Add garlic, mushrooms, salt/pepper and bacon and cook until brown (about 5 minutes).

Using a large baking dish, combine the rice, mushroom mixture and stock.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Stir through the spinach, cheese and butter.

January 12, 2009   1 Comment

Light and creamy edamame pasta


This pasta dish is inspired by the “two pea pasta” in a recent Martha “Everyday Food”.  I meant to follow her “two pea-ness” until I arrived at the grocery store looking for sugar snap peas and only found the saddest, floppiest, unsnappiest peas ever.  I should have known better.  Why did I expect to find fresh and green sugar snap peas in JANUARY?  The frozen foods section didn’t help either – I could only find shelled peas and green beans.  Blah.

I didn’t want to shelve this recipe since I had already written it into the week’s menu plan.  And I definitely didn’t want just plain.old.peas.  Again, blah.  Instead, I picked up a bag of frozen edamame and improvised.  And it totally worked!  (Unlike the spinach muffins I tried to bake yesterday but accidentally added a tablespoon of BOTH baking soda and baking powder… wow, did they taste horrible.  Read recipes carefully.  Learn the difference between “tsp” and “tbs”.)

I tossed a bit of goat cheese in the pot as well.  I had about two tablespoons leftover from the horrible spinach muffin disaster of 09.  More cheese never hurts a recipe.  Never.

Boyfriendly rating: “really tasty” and a good alternative to a heavy cream sauce.

  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 500g smallish size pasta (I used gnocchi)
  • 500g bag of edamame
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons tarragon (fresh) or less if you use dried.
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • parmesan cheese
  1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta 3 minutes less than al dente. Add snap peas; cook 2 minutes, add peas, and cook 1 minute more. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water; drain pasta and vegetables, and return to pot.
  2. Toss pasta and vegetables with butter, tarragon, and ricotta, adding a little reserved pasta water as needed to create a thin sauce that coats pasta; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Divide pasta among bowls and grate fresh parmesan cheese over the top. Serve immediately.

January 4, 2009   4 Comments

Andouille sausage and whole wheat pasta

After shopping at the farmer’s market on Thursday, I stopped at the Glebe Meat Market to pick up lamb for a Jamie Oliver recipe.  We’ve decided to try and stop buying our meat from the grocery store and throw our support (and a few extra dollars) towards smaller (and local) producers.  It seemed a bit of a waste of my time to have gone all.the.way. to the Glebe at 37 weeks pregnant only to buy one small bag of meat.  So, I thought I’d pick up a few extras and then figure out what to do with it once I got home.

The sausage counter caught my eye – so I picked up two links of Andouille (I had no idea what it was or what it would taste like, but it looked interesting) and two links of Chorizo.

I flipped on the computer at home and started typing in ingredients that I had in the fridge.  Tappa tappa tappa.  I realized the Andouille was definitely more of a soup sausage, but I didn’t feel like making soup.  It’s August!  Finally, I found an easy pasta recipe that also required carrots – I had lots of carrots left over from the Jamie Oliver carrot recipe from the night before and they were already prepared.  Awesome.

I just wish I had bothered to take a photo because the whole meal was really delicious.  And the fresh tarragon?  YUM.  I love tarragon.

Boyfriendly rating:  5/5  Boys don’t argue when it comes to sausage for dinner.

August 30, 2008   No Comments

Mmmm Udon

After a tasty udon soup at Cafe Miga last night, I’ve got it in my head to either a) find fresh udon noodles in Ottawa or b) make my own udon noodles.  I’m hoping the little Korean grocer on Bank will have either fresh noodles (fingers crossed!) or the udon flour.  I found a nice little online tutorial and I am looking forward to trying it out…  maybe tomorrow night for dinner??? Yes.

July 10, 2008   2 Comments

Tomato-basil tortellini soup

Oh, how I wish I had taken a photo of this soup before we hoovered it down for dinner last night.  The basic recipe for this soup was in the most recent issue of Delicious in the ‘Tuesday night cooking’ section.  We made it on a Wednesday.  No matter.

I think the recipe from the magazine was a little sparse and called for a only single can of diced tomatoes.  There was no way the basic recipe was going to tide us over for dinner AND lunch the next day (especially when one of us has a little tenant moocher).  And, so the recipe took a Jamie Oliver-esque twist and I started adding extra tomatoes and herbs and reducing other things – like chicken broth.  No one like watery tomato soup.  Yuck.

This is a super quick, easy and healthy meal.  We even crumbled some of our homemade ricotta on top.  Mmm.

Boyfriendly rating: 5/5  “Just make sure you aren’t wearing your brand.new.shirt when puree-ing the soup.”


  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (798ml).  Preferably the no-salt added variety.
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 cloves garlic – chopped
  • 12 sundried tomato slices
  • 1/2 tsp each of thyme, basil, oregano
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A few stems of fresh basil
  • Package of cheese or meat tortellini

How to:

  1. Boil water in a kettle and soak the sundried tomatoes for 5-10 minutes until they are soft.
  2. In a pot, add the olive oil and chopped garlic.  Stir-fry for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, herbs and broth.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and cook the tortellini.
  5. Add the sugar, salt and pepper to the soup.
  6. Use a hand blender to puree the soup until smooth.
  7. Chop and add fresh basil to the soup, but reserve some for garnish.
  8. Spoon soup into bowls, add tortellini and garnish with basil.

Serves 4 as a main course.

June 5, 2008   No Comments