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

Sweet Corn Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

The flavors of sweet corn, tangy roasted cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil make this risotto taste just like summer in a bowl.Sweet Corn Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes | A Nerd CooksThis risotto is summery AF.  There’s no way around it.

Sweet corn, perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil play so, so well together.Sweet Corn Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes | A Nerd CooksThe sweet corn flavor factor is amplified in this risotto, because in addition to using corn kernels, I also used about a cup of pureed corn in place of some of the broth.  It takes up a little extra time, but is well worth it.

In search of even more risotto goodness?  This Avocado and Corn Risotto is also pretty dang summery.  You can’t go wrong with Beer, Cheddar, and Sausage Risotto, IMO.  And, really.  Pumpkin Risotto is appropriate at all times of the year, no matter what anyone else says.Sweet Corn Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes | A Nerd Cooks

This risotto was inspired by this recipe found on Celebrating Sweets.

You’ll need:

For the roasted tomatoes:

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the corn:

  • 4 ears of fresh sweet corn, shucked (sub ~3-4 cups of frozen corn, thawed, if needed)
  • 2-4 tbs vegetable or chicken broth

For the risotto:

  • 5 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • fresh basil, cut into ribbons

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Combine the cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and salt and pepper on the prepared baking sheet.  Roast for 1 hour, checking after 30 and 45 minutes, to ensure that they aren’t burning.  Set aside to cool once done.

Cut the kernels off of the 4 corn cobs.  Blend ~1 cup of the kernels in a blender or food processor with 2-4 tbs of broth.  Use just enough broth to make a mostly smooth puree. Set the pureed corn and other kernels aside for a few minutes.

Heat the 5 cups of broth in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Bring it to a simmer and then turn it to low.

In a heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter until the butter melts.  Add the garlic and remaining corn kernels.  Saute until the garlic is very fragrant.

Add the Arborio rice and  stir so that every grain gets coated in the olive oil and butter.  Allow the rice to toast a bit, stirring occasionally.  Once it starts to smell nutty, add the pureed corn.  Stir occasionally until almost all of the puree has been absorbed by the rice.

Turn the heat off under the broth, and add a couple of ladles to the rice.  Stir occasionally until, again, almost all of the liquid is absorbed.  Repeat this process until the risotto is creamy and the rice is no longer al dente (take a bite of it!).  You may or may not use all of the broth.

Add the Parmesan cheese, stirring until it has been incorporated.  Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired.  Top with roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.  Take a bite of summer.

Sweet Corn Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes | A Nerd Cooks

Strawberry Pecan Salad with Beets and Poppy Seed Dressing

This salad is fresh, delicious, and chock full of spring produce. It is topped with a tangy-sweet homemade poppy seed dressing.Strawberry Pecan Salad with Beets and Poppy Seed Dressing | A Nerd CooksSalad need not be boring.  Banish that notion from  your mind.  This salad–along with this Mediterranean Chopped Salad, Greek Power Bowl, and Strawberry Balsamic Salad–is proof.  #saddesklunch be gone!

For this little number, I loaded up some arugula and baby greens with lots of berries and roasted beets.  Then I added some crunchy toasted pecans and some salty feta cheese.  Top all of that with a tangy-sweet homemade poppy seed dressing, and you’re in business.

Strawberry Pecan Salad with Beets and Poppy Seed Dressing | A Nerd Cooks

You’ll need:

For the dressing (makes enough for 4-5 salads)-

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbs honey
  • 3 tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbs plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbs poppy seeds
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the salad (makes 1 large salad)- 

  • 3 cups greens of choice (I used a spring mix and baby arugula)
  • fresh basil, sliced into thin strips
  • 5-6 strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup roasted beets
  • 1/4 cup pecans, toasted
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese

In a small bowl, whisk all of the ingredients for the poppy seed dressing together.  Taste and add more salt or pepper as desired.  The dressing will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for ~5 days.  Set aside for a moment.

Add all of the salad ingredients to a bowl.  Drizzle with 1-2 tbs dressing.


Mediterranean Chopped Salad – Updated!

Mediterranean Chopped Salad | A Nerd CooksHaaaayyyy!  I’m clawing my way back from grant submission-induced online inactivity.

The first recipe I wanted to show you this week is this Mediterranean Chopped Salad, which I’ve been making for a few years now.

Don’t worry, we’ll be back to donuts and cookies soon enough.

Mediterranean Chopped Salad | A Nerd CooksNeed more salad action?  Check out this Greek Power Bowl, Strawberry Balsamic Salad, and Watermelon and Avocado Salad, to name just a few.

They, along with this chopped salad, are all light enough for the warmer weather, but still substantial enough to keep you going until dinner time.Mediterranean Chopped Salad | A Nerd Cooks

My original blog post for this salad can be found here.

You’ll need (makes ~4 salads):

For the salad – 

  • 1 medium English cucumber
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 14 oz. can chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4-5 cups lettuces of choice (I like baby arugula and a spring mix)

For the vinaigrette – 

  • 3 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • salt and pepper

Cut the English cucumber in half, lengthwise.  Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.  This will keep your salad from getting watery and soggy as it sits in the fridge.  Cut each cucumber half into thirds, and chop into bite-sized pieces.

Add the cucumber to a large bowl along with the halved tomatoes, chick peas, chopped olives, crumbled feta, and greens.  Toss everything together.

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust the proportions to your liking.  I’m a big fan of super vinegary and sour, pucker-inducing flavors, but you do you.

Don’t add the vinaigrette to the salad until you’re ready to eat.

Want to make this salad even more filling?  Throw some avocado or baked falafel on top.  You can’t go wrong.

Mediterranean Chopped Salad | A Nerd Cooks

Farro Caprese Salad

This farro caprese salad is fresh and summery: perfect for upcoming warmer weather.Farro Caprese Salad | A Nerd Cooks

Farro is, hands down, my new favorite grain.  It’s an ancient grain that’s roughly nutritionally equivalent to quinoa. However, I find its chewy texture to be much more interesting.  It’s kind of nutty, and is great in salads.  I can’t lie, I even ate it as a hot breakfast cereal one morning with some brown sugar and cinnamon.  Pretty tasty.Farro Caprese Salad | A Nerd CooksThough you could definitely make this salad any time of the year, Caprese anything screams “summer” to me.  This salad is doubly summery, to me, with the addition of baby arugula.

I’ve made this to take to work all week for my lunch, but this would also be perfect for cookouts and BBQs, or as a side dish for dinner.Farro Caprese Salad | A Nerd Cooks

This salad is inspired by one that I saw on Pastiche.

You’ll need:

  • 14 oz. bag Italian pearled farro
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cubed
  • fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
  • 2 handfuls fresh baby arugula
  • 1.5 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place the farro and water in a medium-sized sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain the remaining water from the pot, add the olive oil and salt, and toss to combine.  Allow the farro to cool to room temperature.

Add the cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and arugula to the cooled farro.  Toss everything together.

Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Pour over the farro and toss to coat everything evenly.

This can be eaten cold, at room temperature, or warm (think melty strings of mozzarella).

Farro Caprese Salad | A Nerd Cooks


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

Greek Power Bowl

This salad has just about all of the bases covered: creamy, crunchy, savory, tangy, filling but not too heavy. It will fill you up and keep you powered until dinner time!
Greek Power Bowl | A Nerd Cooks

One of the things that I really like about this salad (I mean, besides all of the amazing toppings) is that I use shredded Brussels sprouts as a part of the salad base!  Just trim the stem off of your sprouts, remove the tough outer leaves, and pass them through your food processor, using the shredding disk.  Toss them in with whatever other salad greens you’d like to use.  Trust me, you want to try it.

All in all, it’s a pretty healthy salad.  The hummus might add some calories, but the tzatziki is guilt-free as long as you use 0% Greek yogurt.

You’ll need (makes 1 large salad):

  • 2-3 cups greens (I used baby kales, arugula, and shredded Brussels sprouts)
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1/8 cup feta cheese
  • 3 falafel (the Internet tells me that this is also the plural form of the word)
  • 2-3 tbs hummus
  • 2-3 tbs tzatziki sauce

Add the greens, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, feta, and falafel to a bowl.  Top with hummus and tzatziki.  Enjoy!

Greek Power Bowl | A Nerd Cooks