Penne with Vodka Sauce

This pasta tastes like you cooked up a storm, but it really couldn’t be easier.

Penne with Vodka Sauce | A Nerd Cooks

I originally intended to post this on Valentine’s Day, but then again I intend to do a great many things and never get around to it. Also this recipe doesn’t requires the occurrence of a Hallmark holiday for you to make it.

This pasta is very simple to make, requiring not much more than a bit of chopping and stirring. Despite its simplicity, it’s delicious and tastes like you made a real fuss.Penne with Vodka Sauce | A Nerd Cooks

I originally blogged about Penne with Vodka Sauce about 3 years ago, here. I’ve updated the recipe (and photos!) pretty significantly.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium-sizes shallot, minced
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plain vodka
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • cooked shrimp, scallops, or chicken (optional)

Add the olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the garlic and shallots, and sauté until the shallots are translucent.

Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute, stirring it around a bit. Add the crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano, sugar, and vodka, stirring to combine.

Turn the heat heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce reduces by about 1/4; about 20 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to directions on the package. Strain and set aside.

Add the cream, stir to combine, and simmer until heated through. Add the Parmesan cheese, stir, and heat until melted.

Add the cooked pasta, stir to coat all noodles with sauce, and serve. Top with additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Add some protein, too, if you’d like. Shrimp, scallops, or chicken would all be very good.

Penne with Vodka Sauce | A Nerd Cooks
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Citrus Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese – Updated!

Citrus zest and rosemary were made to be included in the cheesy goodness of macaroni and cheese.Citrus Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese | A Nerd Cooks

I was somewhat skeptical of this recipe when I first saw it, but was intrigued nonetheless.  I mean, I think that rosemary makes enough sense, but citrus flavors in mac and cheese?

It totally works.  Trust.  You can also mix it up based on the citrus that you have on hand.  I just happened to have lemons and oranges in the house, but grapefruit zest would probably be pretty great too.Citrus Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese | A Nerd Cooks

I blogged about this this mac and cheese before, and my original post can be found here.

You’ll need:

  • 1 lb short cut pasta (I used whole wheat mini shells here)
  • 3 tbs butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 3/4 cups milk
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 8 oz shredded cheese*
  • 2.5 oz shredded parmesan cheese

*I’ve used a mix of cheddar and gruyere, and also all cheddar. It’s all good.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Cook your pasta according to the directions on the package, but undercook it by just a couple of minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In the same pot that was used to cook the pasta, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and whisk together.  Cook the roux for about 30 seconds.

While whisking constantly, slowly pour the milk in.  Whisk occasionally until the white sauce starts to thicken up.  Add the citrus zest, rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Whisk to combine.  Add the cheese (not the parmesan) and whisk until it is melted into the sauce.  Taste and adjust your seasonings as needed.

Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to coat everything.  Pour it into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the top with the shredded parmesan.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until everything is bubbly and lightly browned.  Let it cool for a few minutes before digging in.

Citrus Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese | A Nerd CooksCitrus Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese | A Nerd Cooks

Tzatziki Sauce

This Tzatziki Sauce is tangy and herby, super easy to make, and a healthy alternative to heavy tailgate and football party foods. #MadeWithChobani
Tzatziki Sauce | A Nerd Cooks

I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like there’s often a lack of healthier snacking options at tailgates and football parties.  I mean, obviously I can get down on some fried chicken wings or some super cheesy dips with the best of them.

But every now and then it’s nice to lighten things up, no?

Enter: tzatziki sauce!  Believe me when I say that this is the perfect dip/spread/what have you. You can slather it on stuff (meat! veggies! sandwiches!), dip stuff in it (veggies! pita wedges! falafel!), and drizzle it on a Greek salad as a dressing (stay tuned later this week!).  Whip up a bowl of this stuff and your friends and taste buds will thank you.  Trust.

Check out Chobani’s recipe section for more great ideas on ramping up your tailgate!!

I found this recipe on the blog The Busy Baker.

  • 1 1/2 cups Chobani Greek yogurt (I used 0%)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 of a cucumber, grated and excess water squeezed out
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbs fresh mint, chopped
  • salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

And that’s it!  Get to dipping, slathering, and drizzling!

Hot Sauce and Garlic Compound Butter

Seriously, this is magic.  Just magic.

Trust me on this one.

Garlic and Hot Sauce Compound Butter | A Nerd Cooks

This was inspired by a recipe I saw in an issue of Bon Appétit a couple of years ago. It took me a while to get around to making it, but I’ve been doing this every time we’ve had steak this year.

You’ll need:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated (or minced very finely)
  • 2 tsp hot sauce (or more to taste)
  • salt and pepper

In a small bowl, mix everything together very well.

You can either cover the bowl and chill it as is, or spoon the butter onto some plastic wrap, form it into a log, and chill it that way, all wrapped up.  I opted for the log method, but really, either way would work.

Slather onto hot steak, fresh from the grill.  It will melt and coat everything and be just utterly delicious.

Garlic and Hot Sauce Compound Butter | A Nerd Cooks

Butternut Squash Fettuccini Alfredo

Sean already asked me if every meal that I make this week will include pumpkin.  Maybe?  Regardless, I’m not sorry.  It is that time of year, after all.

Even though this isn’t exactly pumpkin, it’s close enough.  The butternut squash adds beautiful color and great flavor to the béchamel sauce, along with some nutritional value.  To make things easier on whoever prepares dinner, consider roasting the squash ahead of time.  That way, everything can come together in as much time as it takes to boil the pasta!

Butternut Squash Fettuccini Alfredo | A Nerd Cooks

This recipe is adapted from the one found on Teaspoon of Spice.

You’ll need:

  • 1 (3 lb) butternut squash
  • 1 box fettuccini (or whatever pasta you’d like)
  • 3 tbs butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Take a 9×13-inch casserole dish and fill it with 1-2 inches of water.  Set aside.

Slice the butternut squash in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds.  Flesh side down, lay the squash halves in the prepared dish with water.  The water will help to keep the squash moist while roasting.  Place the casserole dish in the preheated oven and roast for 30-45 minutes, or until the squash is pierced easily with a fork.

Allow the squash to cool for 10 minutes or so.  Scoop the flesh into a blender and blend until everything is smooth.  Use a few tablespoons of milk or water to assist the process, if necessary.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.  When cooked, drain and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large, deep skillet or pot.  Once it is melted, whisk in the flour to create a roux.  Allow the roux to cook for a minute or two.

While whisking constantly to avoid creating lumps, pour the milk into the skillet/pot.  Add the cumin and curry powder, whisking to combine.  Allow the béchamel sauce to thicken a bit, then turn the heat off.  Add the pureed butternut squash, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss until the noodles are coated.

Top with more parmesan cheese, if desired.

Butternut Squash Fettuccini Alfredo | A Nerd Cooks

Broccoli Pesto – Updated!

As you can see, I’m continuing to update some older posts.  With this one, I’ve updated the photo, and also tweaked the recipe slightly.  The addition of feta cheese, along with the parmesan, is just what this pesto needed.

This pesto has no oil, and is packed with nutrients from all of the broccoli.  The Greek yogurt adds a nice bit of protein, too.  Even though all of the carb-y pasta probably isn’t ideal, you can still feel a bit better about this healthier sauce.Broccoli Pesto | A Nerd Cooks

My original blog post for Broccoli Pesto Pasta can be found here.

You’ll need:

  • 4-5 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 lb short cut pasta (I used penne)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1 cup basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium-large pot, bring water to a boil on the stovetop.  Boil the broccoli florets for 4-5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon to a blender or food processor.

In the same pot, add the pasta.  Cook according to package directions until al dente.

While the pasta cooks, pulse the broccoli until it’s chopped up a bit.  Add the garlic, cheeses, and basil.  Process until the mixture is relatively smooth.  Add the Greek yogurt and process until the mixture is creamy and smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot.  Add the pesto to the pasta and mix until the noodles are well coated.  Top with a little extra cheese and enjoy!

Spaghetti with Clams and White Wine Sauce

Clams were on sale at our grocery store this week, and I couldn’t resist.  This is an easy, delicious dinner that can be put on the table quickly.Spaghetti with Clams | A Nerd Cooks

You’ll need:

  • 50 count littleneck clams, cleaned (see this post on The Kitchn)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 box thin spaghetti
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch red pepper flakes, more if you want more heat
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • parmesan cheese

Clean the clams and set aside.  If any are open, tap them gently on the counter top.  Any that do not close right away should be discarded.

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

While the past is cooking, heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium.  Add the onion and garlic, stirring occasionally.  Cook until the onions are softened, then add the red pepper flakes, cooking for about 30 more seconds.

Add the wine, chicken broth, salt and pepper, and clams.  Cover the skillet for 10 minutes, or until all of the clams have opened.  Discard any clams that do not open.

Toss the cooked pasta with the clams and sauce.  Top with parmesan cheese and enjoy!  This serves 3-4 people.