Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly · Recipes

Tomato Tortellini Soup

New weeknight staple alert! This is a 20-minute meal that tastes like scratch (and mostly is), and provides delicious, warm little lunches. That is, assuming you even have leftovers. It really is that scrumptious.

We had parents night at Georgia’s school recently, and we got home that day with less than an hour to spare before we had to turn around and head back out the door. Patting myself on the back for buying fresh tortellini a few days earlier, I quickly realized I had the makings of a fast, filling dinner that would also serve the dual purpose of helping us move through our tomato stash. Which, if you’ve been following my Instagram since late August, is significant.

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Even with the cooler temperatures slowing down the ripening in our garden, I’ve put up 68 ounces (!!!) of tomato sauce, and made countless batches of creamy tomato soup for freezing and eating since September. I probably gave out 100 tomatoes to co-workers, too, and am now moving on to bringing in the green ones for folks who have good recipes for things like relish, fritters and stew. And all that came from just two plants!

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I did tons of caprese salad and homemade pizza during the weeks of late summer and early Autumn, but eventually that gets repetitive, and in the fall soup just starts to feel right. Georgia has never been a big fan of the texture of soup or stews, but I figured if anything could change her mind, it would be something chunky, creamy, and filled with cheesy pasta. And I was right.

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Inspiration for this recipe came from The Kitchn, but I made my own modifications and tweaks because I like more tomato chunks and a little less heft than heavy cream.

Tomato Tortellini Soup

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 TBSP butter + a swirl of olive oil for the pot
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
  • salt and pepper to taste (don’t be shy)
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 or 3 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 cans (4 cups/32 ounces) chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 package (about 14 ounces) cheese tortellini
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
  • grated parmesan cheese, to taste

DIRECTIONS

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil together over medium until warm, then add the onion. Cook until soft, then add the garlic, making sure it doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the vinegar, then add the crushed tomatoes (with the liquid in the can) and the broth, cream and bay leaves to the pot. Add in some chunks of fresh tomato. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the tortellini and cook for about 3 minutes (5 minutes if using frozen). Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves, and stir in the basil. Serve topped with fresh grated Parmesan. Enjoy warm!

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Notes

You can use either fresh or frozen tortellini; just adjust the cooking time up a bit for frozen to give them time to thaw by cooking in the sauce.

Subbing vegetable stock is fine; I like the taste of chicken stock better. You can also use another type of shredded cheese on top, such as pecorino.

Feel free to put that heavy cream back in there if you want it extra rich!

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For me, this kept in the fridge just fine for 5 days. I also froze two small containers of it for later. To reheat, either warm over low/medium on the stovetop or microwave for about one minute, covered.

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I hope you are having a wonderful fall getting ready for Halloween, Thanksgiving and (gulp) Christmas. I am actually already starting to shop for the holidays! Starting early is the only way I can stay on budget. We just took our annual family photos with our favorite photographer — here’s a sneak peek of one image so far ūüôā I can’t wait to get the full package so I can start designing my photo album gifts and Christmas cards.

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kid-friendly · Recipes

Butternut Squash, Sage & Sweet Chicken Sheet Pan Meal

Years ago, I saw this on one of those online Trader Joe’s recipe forums where folks share the meals they make using only TJs ingredients. It took me until now to try it, with a few tweaks to suit our tastes, and it’s a definite keeper for weeknight cooking. It involves minimal cleanup and barely any prep, especially if you buy those grocery packages of chopped fresh butternut squash instead of rasslin’ with a whole one yourself. I chose to use poultry seasoning here because it’s quick to grab in the produce section pre-packaged and we like the taste of it; you could swap it for something you like better. It WILL make your house smell like Thanksgiving morning!

I’ll also point out that you can swap another kind of squash, too. This recipe isn’t fussy. We really like caramelized red onions, but again, any type will do.

Butternut Squash, Sage & Sweet Chicken Sheet Pan Meal

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 a butternut squash, cubed (or buy pre-cut;¬†it’s much easier)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 package chicken sausage, halved (I used TJ’s apple maple flavor)
  • 1 packet poultry seasoning (thyme, sage, rosemary)
  • 4-6 garlic cloves (peeled and left whole)
  • olive oil for the pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350F. Prep the squash, sausage, garlic and onion.

On a sheet pan lined with foil, lay out the squash, onions and sausage links and drizzle with olive oil, shaking to coat. Nestle the garlic cloves and whole branches of herbs around the edges for flavoring. Season the entire tray with salt and pepper to taste, then place in the oven.

Cook between 20-30 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until everything looks browned and the squash are cooked through. Times may vary depending on your oven.

Discard the sage, rosemary and thyme — it’s ok if a few pieces stay on the food — and keep the garlic and the onion if you like them. They should be softened and mellowed out in taste, and thus OK to eat. Taste for seasoning and add more if you feel it’s needed. Serve warm!

I love this because it only uses one tray, so cleanup is fast.

I actually had a whole butternut squash hanging around, so I used half of it here and then roasted the other half, cubed, in a smaller baking sheet on the rack below this in the oven and ate it later in the week with a rotisserie chicken I bought on the way home from work. Done that way, you get two easy after-work dinners out of it!

Georgia loved eating the tender roasted squash and the sweet sausage, too. Trader Joe’s has so many varieties of chicken sausage and you could use any of them here. You could also use spicier sausage instead of sweet, but it will make the dish that much greasier and a tad less healthy. The whole point, though, is that it’s customizable, cheap, and doubles well if you have a larger family. If you try it, let me know what you think!

 

Blue Apron · kid-friendly · Recipes

Tomato, Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Pie

You might call this too summery, but I say we are in the midst of a warm spell and we might as well eat like it. Soon enough, we’ll be back to chili, soups, stews and risotto, so for now: bite into a tangy tomato, and a seasoned bell pepper, and enjoy the creamy goat cheese floating under this tender crust! Before you know it, the winter foods will be back in rotation, and wouldn’t you like to have this recent memory to sustain you through those days of early nightfall and windy, icy commutes? I thought so.

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This is very easy, but the most critical tip I can share is to assemble the pie right before you put it in the oven. If you put the¬†tomatoes¬†in¬†and let them sit while you prepare the rest of the filling, it will make the crust too soggy to hold together while baking, so it’s critical to prep your ingredients and then put it all together at once before placing into a pre-heated oven. As with most recipes I share involving pie, I use a pre-made, store-bought crust.¬†If you’re looking for a great homemade pie crust recipe, I like this one.

This recipe originally came from my Blue Apron delivery and I’ve recreated it using my own seasonings and garden tomatoes with excellent results. It really is easy and crowd-pleasing, and vegetarian to boot.

Tomato, Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Pie Crust, homemade or store bought pre-made
  • 2 Tomatoes (large beefsteak/heirloom variety)
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • Sweet Peppers (3-4 small ones or one large)
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1 Bunch Basil
  • ¬Ĺ Cup Crumbled Goat Cheese (or more if you really love it!)
  • 1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar (or sub another kind you prefer)
  • ¬Ĺ Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • ¬ľ Cup Panko Breadcrumbs
  • 1¬Ĺ TBSP Spice Blend: equal parts Flour, Mustard Powder & Dried Thyme

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Peel and mince the garlic (I used a garlic press). Cut out and discard the stem, ribs and seeds of the sweet pepper and thinly slice them into rings. Chop the onion.¬†Cut the tomatoes into ¬ľ-inch-thick slices. Pick the basil leaves off the stems and discard the stems.

In a medium pan, heat some olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the garlic, onion and sweet pepper; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 4 minutes, or until softened and fragrant. Stir in the vinegar; cook, stirring frequently, about a minute or until well combined. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Next, make the breadcrumb topping: while the onion and pepper cook, combine the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs in a small bowl, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in enough olive oil to moisten the mixture slightly.

Layer half the tomatoes onto the bottom of the pie crust in an overlapping pattern; season with salt and pepper. Top with the cooked onion and sweet pepper, half the spice blend, half the goat cheese and the basil; drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes, spice blend and goat cheese.

Evenly top the assembled pie with the breadcrumb topping; season with salt and pepper.

Place the topped pie on a sheet pan. Bake, turning halfway through, 20 to 22 minutes, or until the topping and crust are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Eat all in one sitting with a glass of white wine!

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Other things you can try if the crust comes out soggy: either pre-bake it for a couple minutes on low heat, then proceed with the recipe as usual; or, you can move it lower in your oven and thus closer to the heat source, which may solve the problem. Other solutions might include pricking the bottom of the pie with a tooth pick before baking, and/or lining the bottom of the crust with Parmesan before you add the tomatoes. If you pre-bake and are concerned about the top getting over browned, you can always cover that part with foil while it’s cooking, and it should prevent burning. But again, I didn’t have any issues with sogginess, I just noticed it was a common complaint about this recipe on the Blue Apron Facebook page.

The last piece of advice I would give is something that Blue Apron has taught me, which I must admit has improved all of my cooking: seasoning with salt and pepper throughout the preparation of any dish is essential to making sure it’s fully flavored at the end. You don’t have to be too heavy-handed with it, you just have to keep the seasonings coming at each step of the recipe. That’s definitely true of this pie as well!

Good luck, have fun cooking, and tell me how you’re getting ready for Thanksgiving!¬†I’m cooking a turkey for the first time this year, for our community’s “Don’t Be Alone on Thanksgiving” event, which feeds over 900 people on Thanksgiving each year. Some come in person for the meal at our local high school, while families in shelters and elderly or disabled shut-ins have a meal delivered to their home.¬†I’m using this helpful guide for first timers, although Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) also has an excellent one. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Something tells me cooking the bird will pale in complexity against actually delivering the darn thing to the proper location with a rambunctious two-year-old in tow! ūüôā

Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Ladies and gentlemen, we have tomatoes! (+ caprese salad)

After all that midnight watering, Mark’s garden is peaking¬†right now, with¬†basil, eggplant, and — most excitingly — tomatoes simply bursting all of a sudden!

and they are irresistible, just like someone else we know…

 

“mommy, a-mate-o’s!”Must be the new gardener we brought on board.

 Abundant tomatoes = caprese every night!

and, because I’m being so good by having salad, buttered bread alongside.

 

My mind was blown when I realized that supermarkets now sell pre-sliced fresh mozzarella balls (!!) which cuts the prep time for this salad down to almost nothing.

To assemble: layer sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil (whole leafs or shredded; it’s just a matter of how you like it) in a plate and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then season lightly with pepper and salt. Want to get a tad fancier? Make a balsamic reduction by simmering the vinegar in a pan with some honey for about ten minutes until it turns syrupy. A good rule of thumb is 4:1 balsamic and honey to make a tasty reduction, so for example you could use 1¬†cup vinegar with¬†1/4 cup honey and have some left over. Or, you can just buy balsamic reduction ūüôā This salad is served as a main dish for lunch in Italy or as a starter at¬†dinner, not as a side as we usually serve salads in America. Some recipes omit the balsamic altogether, keeping only the olive oil, and some add only pepper, not salt. Its colors are meant to evoke the Italian flag and you can find this on the menu almost everywhere in Italy, because it’s so filling and healthy. As with most fresh recipes, the better ingredients you can find (freshly cracked pepper, good olive oil, heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella), the tastier this will be.

Fantastico! Happy eating!

Recipes · Tips and Tricks

Pork in Citrus Sauce (plus, a tutorial on brining meat)

Here is the how-to¬†on brining that I promised a couple posts back. It’s very easy! And it makes cooking potentially tough meats impossible to screw up. I’ve never had dry pork chops since learning to brine before cooking.¬†

I used to do this a lot back when we’d have dinner parties and I was a very strict vegetarian, and it always got rave reviews from our guests. So if you can make something good without even tasting it, it’s got to be a fairly decent¬†method.

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How to: Brining

Brining is a process of soaking meat in brine, a.ka. salty water, often alongside onions and other vegetables or seasonings to draw in flavor, moisture and to tenderize cuts of meat that tend to dry out while cooking. Generally speaking, you can brine any meat using the following ratio: 4¬†TBSPs of salt for every 4 cups of water.¬†You want to use enough water and salt to completely submerge your meat, so keep adding water and salt in a ratio of 1:1 (tbsp to cup) in whichever container you are going to use to brine. Since my fridge is small, I use a large plastic¬†freezer bag sealed and nestled into a mixing bowl. Any container that closes will do. I brine overnight or while I’m away at work, but you can brine in as little as one hour! Just make sure you rinse off the meat between brining and cooking or the salt taste will be overwhelming. And as far as seasonings go, you can look to aromatics like fresh ginger, thyme, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, garlic, even sugar. If you are hoping to brine a holiday bird, like a large turkey, or a roast, definitely make sure you give it overnight to soak. For the following recipe, I used sliced red onions, since I was planning to use them in the finished dish as well.

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Pork Chops in Citrus Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Pork chops¬†(double recipe for larger crowd)
  • 1 red onion, sliced (you can use the same one from brining)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • flour for dredging (I’m still using and loving TigerNut)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • olive oil for the pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

If you’re brining, do that as early as the night before or as close to cooking time as one hour prior. Drain and rinse the meat and onions or whatever else you use to season the brine, reserving the pork chops and sliced onions.

Season the chops with salt and pepper on each side. Dredge in flour.

Heat a saute pan to medium-high and coat with olive oil. When the oil is hot, cook the chops until golden on each side, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

In the same pan you used to cook the chops, reduce the heat to medium and add another bit of olive oil. Add the red onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring, quickly.

Add the lemon and orange juice and zest and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by a third, just two or three minutes. Return the pork to the pan and simmer¬†until the¬†sauce is thickened, 1 or 2 more minutes. Taste the sauce and if it’s too tangy, sweeten it with a pinch of sugar or maple syrup!

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I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart using what I had on hand.

When I sent Mark for pork chops at Trader Joe’s, he got the bone-in kind, which I don’t really eat because I’m not big on country-style cuts or rib meat and lots of fat. It did, however, come out just the same as when I¬†use boneless loin chops, so you can get whatever you like! Here’s a good reference guide to pork cuts, which sometimes have non-intuitive names like “New York Chop.”¬†

pork_cut_guide

I hope you enjoy this one. I served it with a fennel & bean salad that could really be its own vegetarian main meal, which I’ll be blogging about next week! I always like to serve pork chops with mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes and applesauce. More often we have it in the fall, but I wanted to change things up a couple weeks ago and this was very light thanks to the citrus flavor profile! My family ate it up and I hope yours will, too.


Recipes · Slow Cooker

Carbonara 2.0: company edition

A few weeks ago, we were talking about having a friend over for dinner — his wife, a colleague of Mark’s, is on¬†tour¬†for over a year¬†— and Mark thought it would be really nice to hang out together and cook him a solid, stick-to-your-ribs, home-made, comfort-food dinner. And, since he really wanted to do the cooking himself, he either had to learn a new recipe or amp up the wow factor of his spaghetti carbonara, which is really the only dinner he cooks by himself.¬†

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And then! We saw an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that gave us just the inspiration we were waiting for. So, after putting Georgia to bed one night during vacation, we put our heads together to start recipe testing. And I think we finally made the tweaks that will turn this weeknight staple into a creamier, more decadent dish worthy of company.

Here are the key things we changed:

  • Cooking the bacon in a tbsp of olive oil instead of relying on bacon fat to grease the pan.
  • Using a stainless steel pan instead of non-stick, which affects the drippings and the heat level you can use.
  • Smashing the garlic instead of dicing in a garlic press, which mellows the flavor; we also added it later in the cooking.
  • Adding wine to the sauteing bacon, but making sure it burns off a bit so the flavor doesn’t overwhelm.
  • Separating the egg whites and yolks, which allows the whites to impart an¬†airiness to the sauce and prevents the risk of scrambling that arises when you add both to a hot pan. Also, adding yolks to the finished dish makes for an extremely¬†creamy sauce.
  • Adding a dash of light cream for a thicker sauce and more fancy mouth feel.
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spaghetti carbonara: notoriously difficult to photograph.

My original recipe for spaghetti carbonara is posted here. I’ll list the new step-by-step directions below. We liked this so much that we are keeping almost every aspect except the cream for our weeknight dinner version! It really takes it to the next level.

Spaghetti Carbonara for Company

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. linguine
  • 1 package good bacon*
  • 1 cup pecorino, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed/smashed
  • 2 TBSP white wine
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup light cream
  • 2 eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

* if using high-quality pancetta instead, you’ll need about 4-5 ounces, NOT the equivalent of a 12-oz. package of bacon.

DIRECTIONS

Start by placing a large pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile, chop the bacon into a large stainless steel saute pan and add a swirl of olive oil, about 2 TBSP.

When the water boils, add the pasta to the pot, stir to separate, and start cooking the bacon over medium heat. Cook about 5 minutes and then add in the garlic and stir for just a minute. Add the wine and allow to burn off for a couple minutes, then season with plenty of black pepper and finally pour the cream over the pan.

When the pasta is just under-cooked, remove from the pot and add to the pan with the bacon. Stir. Turn off the heat and pour in the egg whites and half the grated cheese. Stir gently.

Just before serving, pour the yolks over the pasta and toss until the sauce it just thickened. Serve topped with the rest of the grated Pecorino cheese!

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Ways you can adapt this: use milk instead of light cream, or continue to omit dairy as in my original recipe; serve the egg yolks on top of the pasta or in a nest and allow guests to stir in themselves; add more pepper and/or red pepper flakes to heighten the heat; and of course, you can use high quality pancetta instead of run-of-the-mill bacon to make this even better-suited to a dinner party.

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I also know sometimes people like to toss in peas or some other cooked green, like broccolini or spinach, in the same way you would with fettuccine Alfredo. In Italy, pasta is never the main focus of the meal, so my serving recommendation always includes giving each person a small portion of such a heavy pasta, and pairing it with a steamed asparagus, minestrone soup to start, toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, or fresh bright greens (mesclun, arugula, etc.) tossed with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and salt. And of course, with a glass of wine! However you enjoy it, I hope this hits the spot.

Stay tuned for Mark’s Super Bowl recipe, coming soon! And, check out these great ideas for game day snacks in the slow cooker, courtesy of the Today Show. I also saw the following cute idea for serving veggies with dip in individual serving cups at a friend’s baby shower:

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Isn’t that clever? you put the dip in the bottom.

Have a great weekend everyone, and stay safe in the storm we are getting up here in Boston. I’ll be here Saturday, and then visiting my mom in the hospital (she is having surgery today ~ keep her in your prayers, please!)

Recipes

Creamy Pesto Linguine tossed with Crispy Balsamic Chickpeas

Hello! Easy healthy recipe for your New Year’s resolution to eat better and cook more. I made this on a night Mark was working and I could eat¬†whatever I wanted, which usually results in Indian food, something with mushrooms, or something spicy. Or soup, because the man just does not consider soup a meal, even if it’s hearty and homemade. Well, except for this one.

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Pesto Linguine with Crispy Balsamic Chickpeas

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 15 oz. can chickpeas (aka¬†garbanzo beans), rinsed, drained and patted dry
  • 1 pound¬†linguine (can be gluten-free, brown rice, etc. if desired)
  • About 1/2 cup prepared (or jarred) pesto, quantity to your preference
  • 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • olive oil, about 2 TBSP
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • parmesan cheese, shaved or grated, for the top
  • optional: a dash of light cream to make more decadent

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DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400F and set a large pot of water to boil. If you are making pesto fresh, be sure to do this ahead of time and set aside.

In a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven (you know the kind I like), heat olive oil over medium. Any large pan is fine, as long as it’s oven-proof.

Add beans and garlic and cook, adding salt and pepper to taste. Toss well to make sure beans get coated well with seasonings.

Transfer to the oven and bake until beans are browned and crispy, roughly 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, once water boils, cook the pasta until al dente. Once fully cooked, about 10 minutes, drain and return to the pot, off the heat. Toss with preferred amount of pesto until coated.

Remove chickpeas from oven and pour in balsamic; stir until chickpeas are well coated and the vinegar has thickened slightly.

Optional: add dash of light cream to the linguine for a creamier sauce.

Serve one of two ways — combine the balsamic chickpeas with linguine and toss, or plate the pasta and top with the chickpeas. Grate fresh parmesan cheese over the top and enjoy!

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I got three¬†lunches out of this, and it was very tasty¬†reheated. I just love the crunch of the chickpeas against the sweet-tangy balsamic sauce, and the satisfyingly filling pasta! It makes me feel like I’m indulging more than I am, and if you omit the light cream, it’s even healthier. Sometimes it’s good to have a more luxurious version of your everyday recipes in your back pocket, so I like to test recipes both ways. In fact, Mark helped me do just that for our go-to spaghetti carbonara, and I’ll be blogging about version 2.0 of that recipe soon.

I really hope you enjoy this. You might also like this¬†Mulitgrain Spaghetti with Spinach and Chickpeas,¬†or my¬†Harvest Vegetable Pasta.¬†It’s been a while since I made both of those, so I think it’s time to add them back into the rotation!¬†I hope you have a nice long weekend. Stay warm:)

This recipe was inspired by TheLiveInKitchen.