Pasta Primavera with Spicy Marinara

Question: What would life be without hot bowls of savory, saucy pasta?

Answer: Sad, very sad.

Don’t worry. We won’t even discuss the next level of sadness which involves a life lacking of hot bowls of pasta and red wine. 
I trust you have most of the ingredients for this pasta primavera already in your cabinet and fridge, and you most definitely already have a bottle of red wine laying around too. If not, substitutions are easy enough. Do what you need to do. Sadness isn’t even in your vocabulary today. 

Did you realize February is the last full month of winter before the seasons change and Spring’s flowery warmth fills the air? It’s true. Springtime is just around the corner. You can make it! WE can make it! While we wait for the cold to pass (don’t hate me for calling mid-50’s cold), we can fill our bellies with comforting pasta noodles and steamy healthy vegetables for good measure.

As much as I love pasta and Italian cuisine in general, I don’t/can’t eat it often. Portion control is virtually impossible when it comes to eating Italian dishes at a restaurant. Even when making it at home, it’s easy to chomp down on more than a single serving size of noodles. So. delicious. I end up avoiding it altogether to spare myself over-indulgence on a regular basis.

I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.

I mean…….

I don’t always eat pasta, but when I do, I close my eyes, let out an “mmmmm”, savor every bite, and dream of Italy.

One day I will go to Italy. Have you been? Yes? Oh. I’m a tiny bit jealous.

This is one dreamy, happy bowl of pasta. Winter blues can get lost.


Pasta Primavera with Spicy Marinara

Makes about 4 servings

Ingredients:
For the pasta-
1 package of Trader Joe’s Garlic Basil Linguini Pasta (or 8 ounces of your choice of pasta), cooked according to package directions
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced and roughly chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced and roughly chopped
2 cups broccoli florets
1/4 yellow onion, sliced into rings and cut in half
1 medium tomato, sliced and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Italian blend seasoning (or any combination of basil, thyme, sage, or rosemary)

For the sauce-
2 cups marinara sauce
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Shaved Parmesan cheese for topping, if desired

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
3. While pasta is cooking, add bell pepper, broccoli, onion, tomato, and garlic to a large cookie sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with olive oil. In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and Italian blend seasoning(s). Mix well and sprinkle evenly over the vegetables. Cover pan with foil and roast in the over for about 30 minutes, stopping half way through to give veggies a gentle stir.
4. In a medium saucepan, add marinara sauce, Sriracha and red pepper flakes. Place on stove top over medium-low heat. Cook until sauce beings to simmer.
5. To serve, add about 1 cup of noodles to a bowl, top with about 1/2 cup of the roasted vegetables, and 1/2 cup of sauce. Sprinkle with with shaved Parmesan if desired. Stir everything up and enjoy!

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Weekend Recap – A Wedding, Family Time and a House

This past weekend I flew to Columbus for one of my best friend’s weddings. Between taking off a lot of work for Greg and I’s wedding/honeymoon earlier this year, and still a few more out of town weddings in the coming weeks, we’ve had to strategize our vacation time. That meant Greg stuck behind in Charleston while I made the quick weekend trip. I wasn’t even in Columbus for 48 hours, so I had to make the most of my time.

After my brother Austin picked me up from the airport around noon on Friday, we headed straight to Chipotle for lunch. Mmm, mmm. We do have one Chipotle in Charleston now (technically North Charleston), but it’s not the most convenient. I make the trip occasionally, but not often enough. Chipotles are all over Columbus so it’s a frequent stop when I’m there.

After catching up with my mom and lounging around her house with Austin, we got dressed up and headed to the wedding.

Being only about a year and a half apart in age, Austin and I have always been super close. If Greg couldn’t be my date, Austin made a great stand-in.

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And later at the reception, I was finally reunited with the beautiful bride! I couldn’t get over how gorgeous and happy Alyssa looked. I also couldn’t believe it had been three years since I last saw her. Congratulations Alyssa and Mark!
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Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to grab a cupcake at the wedding. So I (easily) convinced Austin to stop for ice cream on the way home. Chocolate chip cookie dough in a waffle cone for me!
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Saturday morning started bright and early at the gym with Austin, followed by a run with my step-dad and his and my mom’s two border collies. I had plans to meet up with Diane at Northstar, but unfortunately we weren’t able to make it happen (next time, Diane!!). Although we couldn’t go together, I was determined to get my fix while in town, so stopped by for a praline scone and coffee to-go on my way to my grandparents’ house. 

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It was an amazing day filled with nothing but family time…and more delicious food. 
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My step-dad picked up fresh pasta and marinara sauce from a local Italian restaurant. He’s friends with the restaurant owner (and has been for many years), so we were hooked up with the best stuff. Thom cooked us all pasta primavera, full of peppers, onion, broccoli, mushrooms, squash and garlic. Seriously, to die for. 

I added sweetness to the night by making a rich and decadent dessert. I don’t know what you call it, but I’ll tell you the star ingredients: Chocolate, peanut butter, Reese’s cups and Oreos. Can you ask for anything more?
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By Sunday, it was time to get back to clean eating. My flight home to Charleston brought me through LaGuardia Airport (so random), but was pleasantly surprised to find a salad bar in the food court. I loved it and I love whoever was in charge of making an airport salad bar happen. 
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I arrived home in the afternoon, shortly before Greg received a very exciting phone call. I haven’t talked much about it, but we had put an offer in on a house. Andddddd….the sellers accepted our offer! Although it’s not technically official, I can confidently say we will be moving into our first house next month! 
You can say it was a fantastic weekend 🙂

Zucchini and Spinach Spaghetti Marinara

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Are you hanging in there, friends? This week hasn’t been an easy one. I feel like bursting out High School Musical style and singing, “We’re all in this together!” Because we are. I am here for you and I know you are there for me. At least I’m pretty sure a few of you are there 😉

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With the help of some healthy whole grain carbs, you’re about to feel much, much better about this week. I mean, come on. How could you not feel better with some of this in your life. I’m about to eat my computer screen just looking at this again. 
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Look what happens when you twirl a bite of pasta out from the center of your plate. You get a spaghetti wreath! Cute, right? Now that will put a smile on your face. No? Just me? Okay.
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Bread, pasta and carbs in general have developed a bad reputation among many Americans these days. But like everything in life, moderation is key. There is nothing wrong with a bowl of pasta every once in awhile, so I don’t know why I feel the need to justify it right now. But I just want to say that by adding some veggies to the dish, it can be just as healthful a meal as any, especially if you use whole grain noodles. 
Today I give you permission, in fact I urge you, to make yourself a bowl of hot, steamy pasta and savor every last healthy bite. 
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Zucchini and Spinach Spaghetti Marinara 

Makes 3-4 servings
Ingredients:
1/2 box whole grain spaghetti
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small zucchini, shredded
1/4 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 cup marinara sauce
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoons extra spicy seasoning
2 cups baby spinach leaves 
Salt and pepper to taste, if desired 
Directions:
1. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. 
2. Meanwhile, add olive oil to large skillet and place on stovetop over medium heat. When hot, add shredded zucchini and sliced onion. Saute until vegetables become tender and brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add marinara sauce and spices to the skillet and stir. Cook 2-3 minutes, then turn heat down to low. Add spinach and pasta to the skillet. Toss everything to evenly coat with the sauce. Let cook 2-3 more minutes, until spinach just begins to wilt. Remove from heat and serve immediately. 

{Another} Vegetarian Italian Pasta Salad

A big bowl of chilled pasta salad is a must in the hot summer months. This isn’t the first Italian pasta salad recipe I’ve posted, and it probably won’t be my last. I am a pasta-loving girl. Really, I am a carb-loving girl in general. I have learned to be more careful about consuming so many carbs ever since I quit the swim team in college and haven’t been burning nearly as many calories as I once did. 

Pasta salads like this one allow me to get my pasta/carb fix while still fitting in tons of healthy vegetables. Win-win!

I love a bright colorful meal, don’t you?

This recipe is similar to my other pasta salad, but I scaled it down a bit to better fit my table for two. I also used some different vegetables and cheese. 
I am always looking for new ideas for pasta salads so please share your favorite things to mix into yours! 
{Another} Vegetarian Italian Pasta Salad

Makes 3-4 servings
Ingredients:
1 cup dry ziti noodles
1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cooked frozen peas
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 block sharp cheddar cheese, cut into chunks
1/4 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup Italian dressing
Directions:
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare vegetables and cheese by chopping as necessary. 
2. Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions (about 8-10 minutes). Drain and rinse in cold water. 
3. Pour pasta in large bowl along with the vegetables, cheese, and basil. Stir to mix well. Add Italian dressing and gently stir to distribute evenly.
(For best flavor, refrigerate at least one hour before serving)

Vegetarian Italian Pasta Salad

When I was home for Christmas, I snagged a few bites of pasta salad hanging around in my mom’s fridge. Well, those few bites sparked a month-long craving that I finally satiated yesterday.

When I make pasta salad, I like to go all-out and cook the whole box of pasta at once. It makes it much easier to portion the rest of the ingredients. The bad thing about that is that with only two people in the house, we would have to be eating pasta salad for every meal all week to get through it all. Luckily, an office party came into play that helped me get rid of most of it without having to eat pasta salad for the rest of my life or let a bunch go to waste. 
We had a “going-away potluck” for one of our employees who is moving to New York this weekend and this pasta salad was the perfect contribution. 
It might just be one of the prettiest things I have ever made. And it didn’t taste too shabby either! I loved the combination of vegetables and used a spicy cheese to enhance the flavor even more.

Pasta salad usually reminds me of summertime, but with the highs in the 70s all week here in Charleston, is sure feels like it could be summer soon!
Vegetarian Italian Pasta Salad
Makes 10-12 servings
Ingredients:
1-16 ounce box bite size pasta (I used rotini)
1 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes, rinsed
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (about one prepackaged small container)
2 cups broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)
1/2 red onion, diced
6 ounces blocked cheese, diced (recommend using a strong/sharp flavor)
1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups Italian dressing
Directions:
1. Bring large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, begin preparing vegetables by rinsing and chopping as needed.
2. Add entire box of pasta to boiling water. Cook according to package directions (about 7-10 minutes). With about 3 minutes remaining, add broccoli florets to the pot with the pasta.
3. Drain, but don’t rinse pasta/broccoli mix. Pour into large bowl and allow to cool 5-10 minutes. Add vegetables, cheese and parsley, followed by the Italian dressing.
4. Mix all ingredients well. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving.

Restaurant Week Dinner at Bricco Bracco

If you read yesterday’s post, you knew it was Greg’s birthday. Of course we always go out to eat for special occasions like this, but it’s always up in the air as to who decides. This year we decided that we would each pick the restaurant for our own birthday. As much as I looove Bricco Bracco, I really want to try somewhere new for my day. So I was happy Greg chose BB for himself!

It’s so dark in the restaurant that I can never get good pictures, but I have to at least try. And the food is so good that they deserve to be shared.

Like I said yesterday, it is the beginning of Charleston Restaurant Week, where restaurants all around the city offer special menus (mostly 3-course menus) for a set price. So we were able to each get an appetizer, main course and dessert for $20 per person. Plus, Bricco Bracco was throwing in $3 glasses of house wine if you order from the special menu.

What you see here is my most favorite restaurant bread. And it’s even made in-house!
I started with the Tuscan White Bean and Potato Soup. Not amazing, but not bad by any means. 

My main course was the Cavatelli and Broccoli, served in an olive oil and garlic sauce. I opted not to add chicken, but that would have been a nice addition. Again, I wasn’t completely impressed with this dish, but glad I tried something new and was still not disappointed.
For dessert, you could choose from tiramisu or a cannoli. We got one of each. I loved the cannoli, but didn’t care much for the tiramisu…just not rich enough for my liking. 

Luckily, Greg didn’t care for the cannoli so I got the whoooolllleee thing!
Bricco Bracco on Urbanspoon
After dinner we were going to meet some friends for a drink downtown. To kill some time until they were ready, we browsed around Barnes and Noble. 
I found this journal and I WANT this journal.
I have to say thank you again to all of my family (mom, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc….literally EVERYONE) who found the most perfect cupcake-related gifts for me for Christmas this year. They were all so thoughtful and this journal just reminded me of that again. I know there’s a big cupcake fad right now so it’s not necessarily difficult to find these things, but even so, anything cupcake related makes me smile.
Then I saw this book.

I didn’t need to read any further than the title. I get the gist of it and that is my goal for this coming week: Throw out fifty things around my house. Whether that’s clothes (I will donate those, not just throw away), or old magazines (and don’t worry, I will recycle those), or food going bad in the fridge, I really do want to de-clutter my life. 
I already got my workout in for the day, followed by a protein shake (Mmmm), so my Saturday is off to a good start. I have a lot of errands to run and de-cluttering ahead of me so I better get to it!
What are you doing this weekend?
Ohmygosh and I completely forgot…I have the brownest of brown bananas that are ready to be turned into banana bread! That might just be the highlight of my weekend and it hasn’t even happened yet!

Bricco Bracco Part 2

Was it just me, or did this past week draaaag on and on? Well, it’s finally over so I’m not going to dwell on it any longer. 

My weekend started off great. I even got off work about 45 minutes early. When I got home, Greg and I watched a couple episodes of The Office with my free trial of streaming Netflix. We have been spending every evening this way for about two weeks now. After I let Greg get his “Office fix,” we headed to one of our favorite spots for dinner: Bricco Bracco!
Bricco Bracco on Urbanspoon
We have been there a couple of times before (see my last post about it here), and every time it has been just as good as the last. 
I was already planning on ordering a bottle of wine before we even got to the restaurant and was excited to try the wine on special for $17 (originally a $30 bottle)! What a deal.
The bread at Bricco Bracco is ahhhhh mazing. I usually try to be careful not to eat too much bread in order to avoid filling up before dinner, but I couldn’t help myself. And I didn’t care one bit. 
Last time we went, Greg’s mom had some sort of butternut squash ravioli that was on special. I was hoping it would be on the menu again last night, but it wasn’t. Just as good though was the Lobster and Shrimp Ravioli.
The picture hardly does it justice, because all you can really see is that delicious vodka sauce. But take my word for it. This was probably my favorite meal at Bricco Bracco yet.
Greg had the Chicken Marsala. He commented that the chicken was bland, but the marsala sauce made up for it. 
I’m already looking forward to dinner tonight, because the leftover ravioli is calling my name.
Today my mom is hosting the family Christmas party at our house (in Columbus…not Charleston). To all of my family reading this, I wish I could be with you all today! I already saw pictures of the baking extravaganza my sister had yesterday to prepare for the party and I am so jealous. Maybe I will have a Christmas party of my own this afternoon so I feel like I’m part of it all. Ok, that probably won’t happen because I will actually be running around trying to do last minute shopping!
Hope you all have a great day!