Perfect pasta side dishes

The key to an amazing meal is simple. Start with good, high
quality ingredients, and make sure to include all the elements of a complete
dish: a protein, some vegetables, a starch (such as pasta, potatoes, rice,
etc.), and a sauce.

To the average person, this may seem like an obscure
equation for creating the perfect meal, but it is actually quite simple. If you
look carefully at most of my articles, or even just observe any dinner you
order at a restaurant, you will most likely find all the elements that I just
listed. Once you have mastered the art of combining these elements into single
dishes, you will find it much easier to let your culinary creativity flourish.
One of the easiest ways to introduce the combination of these elements into
your every day cooking routine is to create simple, elegant pasta side dishes,
with a protein as the star ingredient.

Pasta is a versatile
starch in any meal, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and is
complimentary to virtually any food or sauce. It is also an incredible platform
to combine with many types of vegetables, and bulks up a dinner plate without
adding unnecessary bulk to your waistline.

I know many of you may be concerned about the carbohydrate
levels of pasta, not to mention the calories and fat commonly associated with
heavy pasta dishes. This does not have to be the case. As I previously stated,
pasta works perfectly well as a side dish, to accompany a lean meat and a
variety of seasonal vegetables.

The sauce you choose to compliment and finish your dish
should be full of flavour, and should work well with whichever protein you have
chosen. Keep in mind that it is ok to have some extra richness in the sauce,
because you really don’t need more than a tablespoon or two per plate. For the
extremely calorie-conscious cooks, a simple marinara or reduction of balsamic
vinegar adds a lot of flavour, with barely any calories or fat.

At this point, however, I feel the need to make a case for
cream sauces. Although the idea of a rich, fat and calorie laden cream sauce
may make some people cringe, I can assure you that (in moderation), cream sauce
is a perfectly acceptable way to add flavour to a dish, without necessarily
adding all the fat you may expect.
Simply by cutting the cream content with wine or balsamic vinegar, the
flavour of the sauce is increased, and half the amount of cream is needed in
the sauce. This is a trick that I use frequently, as I find it adds a depth of
flavour to the sauce anyway.

Today I have two great recipes, with one thing in common-
pasta! Although these meals, and their accompanying sauces, are very different
from one another, the goal is to demonstrate how pasta can be used as a side
dish to compliment many different types of meat and veg. As you hone your
skills in the art of making sauces, and combining all the elements of a perfect
meal into one great dish, you will inevitably find it much easier to use sauces
on dishes that don’t include pasta. In the meantime, try incorporating a little
bit of Italy into some of your dinners!

The first recipe involves one of my favourite proteins-
lamb. Lamb is a rich, delicate meat that works well with a variety of herbs and
spices, and looks beautiful on a plate. The lamb shanks are accompanied with
whole wheat rigatoni, although any pasta would do, and loaded with veggies and
herbs. The accompanying sauce, which coats both the lamb and the pasta, is a
reduction of balsamic vinegar. Although any seasonal vegetables would work in
this dish, I chose to use julienned red and green tomatoes and red peppers.

My second recipe is a blend of luxury and simplicity. For
the protein, I used wild caught sockeye salmon and wild caught shrimp. I prefer
wild sea food, as it packs a much greater flavour than its farmed counterparts.
The salmon is lightly poached in a mixture of white wine, lemon slices, and
thyme. The shrimp are deveined, with the shells left on for additional flavour
and presentation (feel free to remove the shells if you like), and sautéed in a
pan with olive oil, basil, roasted red and yellow peppers, red onion, and pearl
onions. Because of all the flavour created in the pan, simply tossing cooked
penne in with this mixture would have been good enough; but the meal is punched
up by adding a drizzle of decadent white wine cream sauce at the very end, over
the pasta and sea food. To make the sauce, simply reduce white wine in a sauce
pan, and then add 35% cream and allow it to reduce further, until the desired
thickness of the sauce is obtained. By adding some sliced basil leaves and a
touch of salt and pepper, this simple sauce is the perfect finish to a
beautiful meal.

Try incorporating a bit of pasta into your next meal! Eat well, live well, be well!

Balsamic Lamb Shanks with Whole Wheat Rigatoni and Seasonal
Veg

You will need:

4 lamb shanks

¼ cup whole wheat rigatoni, or your favourite pasta

1 roma tomato, julienned thinly

1 green heirloom tomato, julienned thinly

½ red pepper, julienned thinly

20 basil leaves, thinly sliced

10 sage leaves, thinly sliced

1 small handful parsley, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ red onion, thinly sliced

½ cup balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tbsp to coat lamb

Method:

  1. In a small sauce pan over medium heat, reduce
    balsamic vinegar for  at least fifteen
    minutes. As it begins to thicken, lower the heat to medium-low. Stir occasionally.
  2. Preheat oven to 350F.
  3. In a large pot, bring 3 cups of salted water to
    a boil. Add pasta, and cook for  7 minutes,
    until al dente (do not over cook, as the pasta will be cooked further later on).
    Remove from heat, drain, and stir in 1 tbsp olive oil. Set aside.
  4. Season both sides of lamb shanks with salt and
    pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. In a large pan over high heat, sear both
    sides of the lamb shanks for about 1 minute per side.
  5. Remove
    lamb immediately from pan, and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment
    paper. Sprinkle chopped sage over both sides of the lamb, and drizzle lightly
    with a bit of the balsamic reduction. Place in 350 F oven for 10 minutes, for
    medium-rare lamb shanks.
  6. In a large sautee pan, over medium high heat, heat
    1 tbsp olive oil. Add garlic and onion, and sautee for one minute. Add red
    peppers and tomatoes, and continue to sautee for another minute. Toss with
    rigatoni.
  7. Plate pasta and veg with one to two lamb shanks
    per plate, and drizzle the remaining balsamic reduction over the meat and
    pasta. Serve immediately.

Sockeye salmon with shrimp, penne, and
vegetables

You will need:

6 shrimp, deveined with shells left on

2 pieces of salmon

3 cups white wine

1 lemon, sliced

5 sprigs of thyme

½ cup penne

1 yellow pepper

1 red pepper

8 pearl onions, skin removed

½ red onion, sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

20 basil leaves, sliced

½ cup 35% cream

½ tbsp butter, cut into chunks

Method:

  1. To roast the peppers, place on a baking sheet
    lined with parchment paper, and broil until the skin is blackened, aprox. 15 to
    20 minutes. Place blackened peppers into a stainless steel bowl, and cover
    tightly with plastic wrap. The skin will steam apart from the peppers after
    about 10 minutes. Peel the remaining bits of blackened skin from the peppers,
    rinse to remove skin and seeds, and slice thinly. Set aside for later use.
  2. In a large pan, heat 2 ½ cups of wine over medium
    high heat. Add lemon slices, half of the sliced red onion, and thyme to themixture. Bring mixture to almost a boil, and add fish. Remove from heat
    immediately, and allow the fish to cook in the cooling liquid.
  3. In a large pot, bring 4 cups of salted water to
    a boil. Add pasta, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until pasta is al-dente.
  4. In a small sauce pan, heat the remaining ½ cup
    of white wine over medium high heat. Allow to reduce for at least 15 minutes.
  5. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high
    heat. Add half of the sliced basil, the remaining sliced red onion, the pearl onions,
    and the sliced roasted peppers. Sprinkle with a touch of salt and pepper.
    Sautee for about three minutes. Add shrimp to the pan, and cook until the
    shrimp have started to turn red.
  6. Immediately add the penne to the shrimp and
    vegetables, and sautee to incorporate all the flavours. Season lightly with
    salt and pepper, and remove from heat.
  7. To finish sauce, add cream to the white wine reduced
    in the sauce pan. Allow mixture to continue reducing for about 5 minutes. Add
    the remaining basil, and stir in chunks of butter. Continue to reduce the
    mixture until desired thickness is obtained, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning
    of sauce with salt and pepper.
  8. Plate salmon next to the pasta, shrimp and veg
    mixture. Pour cream sauce over top of the fish and pasta. Serve immediately.
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