New Year’s Eve Pasta – 2009 Edition

My wife made a wonderful pasta dish for tonight’s New Year’s Eve supper. She made it up as she went along – something she likes to do and is very good at! I tried to capture the process in real-time!

Here’s the gist:

  • Bring 6 qts water to a boil over high heat, add 2 Tbsp salt, add 1 lb fettucine. Cook al dente and drain pasta.
  • While waiting for the pasta water to boil, heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.
  • Add 3 diced shallots and 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes and saute quickly.
  • Add 8-10 oz sliced cremini mushrooms, season with salt and pepper. Saute the mushrooms until softened, about 5 min.
  • Add 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth, 5 cut-up pieces of cooked bacon, 1/2 lb thin, sliced asparagus and 6 Roma sliced tomatoes (peeled or peel after cooking a bit).
  • Cook stirring gently for 2 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup heavy cream (or 1/2 cup cream and 1/4 cup red wine). Immediately reduce heat and cook until thickened.

That’s it – a very tasty pasta dish for New Year’s Eve. Serve with a special red wine (we served ours with a wonderful Copain Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that was a Christmas gift from good friends)

Happy New Year! Best wishes for a wonderful 2010!

Scott’s Sunday Afternoon Braised Short Ribs with Pasta

This is a perfect recipe for a lazy Sunday afternoon! The short ribs need about 3 hours to cook – so start around 2 PM and you’ll be ready for a great dinner about 5:30 or 6 PM. Have a bottle of good Zinfandel handy – it’s a perfect match to this dish!

The inspiration for this recipe came from Giada De Laurentiis – but I made a bunch of modifications – basically to make it simpler and easier. I really don’t like recipes that use amounts that result in wasting portions of ingredients you buy in standard size packages. So, I adjusted – and simplified using some Trader Joe’s items – and the result was great!


  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 oz chopped pancetta (Columbus Salame package – available at Draeger’s)
  • 2-1/2 lbs short ribs
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 package Trader Joe’s Mirepoix (combination of chopped carrots, onions, and celery)
  • 2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (prefer Muir Glen organic)
  • 1 small can tomato paste (prefer Muir Glen organic)
  • 1 Tbs Herbs de Provence
  • 1 quart Trader Joe’s Organic Beef Broth
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1 pound flat pasta – fettucine, tagliatelle (if you can find it), etc.


  1. Season the short ribs with flour, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook the pancetta until golden brown – about four minutes. Remove using a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Brown the short ribs in the same pot – on all sides. Remove and set aside.
  4. Add the Mirepoix to the pot. Add the garlic and parsley. Cook for 5-7 minutes until vegetables have softened a bit.
  5. Add the diced tomatoes and the tomato paste. Stir.
  6. Add the Herbs de Provence, beef broth, and wine. Add back the pancetta and the short ribs. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  7. Remove the lid and simmer for another 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  8. Remove the short ribs and bones from the pot. Discard the bones. Shred the meat and return it to the pot. Season to taste.
  9. Cook the pasta (8-10 minutes in boiling, salted water for dried pasta).
  10. Drain pasta, combine into pot with meat and sauce. Stir.
  11. Serve in bowls – optionally add 1 tsp shaved dark chocolate (we tried this – it was too much – we’d skip the dark chocolate!). Serve with a good Zinfandel!

[First posted: March 14, 2009]

Update: Baked Penne using Whole Wheat Penne

I made the Baked Penne with Sausage, Beef and Red Wine Sauce recipe that I posted last weekend again today – this time substituting whole wheat penne pasta for the traditional penne.

While whole wheat pasta is undoubtedly healthier, we all seemed to agree that the original version of this particular recipe was preferable from a taste standpoint.

If you’re into the “nuttiness” of whole wheat pasta, you’ll probably find the substitution works just fine – otherwise, stick to the original recipe!

At the local market I also noticed that DeCecco makes a spinach penne – called “penne rigate con spinaci” – we might try that next time! Note that DeCecco doesn’t make a whole wheat penne.

Baked Penne with Sausage, Beef and Red Wine Sauce

This baked penne dish has quickly become a favorite in our household – we first made it last weekend – and, in this modified version, again today.

It’s a great comfort food dish. Takes me about an hour to prepare it from start to serving. The inspiration for this recipe came from Lynne Char Bennett’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle titled “Dry Creek Zinfandel makes a penne-wise partner” – January 23, 2009.

I’ve modified the recipe to a) reduce the mushrooms, b) add red wine to the sauce, and c) simmering the sauce longer to reduce the extra liquid (from the wine addition) and concentrate its richness – along with some other minor tweaks. But the core of the recipe remains Bennett’s.


  • Olive oil (1-2 Tbsp)
  • 1/2 pound mild Italian sausage
  • 1/2 pound lean (96/4) ground beef
  • 1/2 cup diced onion (1 small onion)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms (cremini if available, otherwise just white)
  • 2 tsp brandy (cheap will do fine!)
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (with basil, oregano – or Italian seasonings)
  • 1 cup red table wine (Zinfandel preferred but any will do!)
  • 1 tsp majoram (dried)
  • 1 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 1 tsp basil (dried)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Italian flat-leaf parsley (fresh, minced)
  • 1-1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese


  1. Heat oil on large skillet over medium-high heat – I use a large, 12-inch All-Clad Stainless Nonstick Fry Pan. Brown sausage and ground beef, seasoning to taste. Break the meat up into smaller pieces as it browns.
  2. After the meat is mostly browned, push the meat to one side of the skillet and add the onion – cook until translucent about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook briefly.
  3. Add mushrooms to the onion-garlic mixture. Season to taste. Cook about 5 minutes until mushrooms are tender.
  4. Stir together the meat and mushrooms. Add brandy and cook for about a minute.
  5. Add the can of crushed tomatoes, the red wine, oregano, basil and marjoram to the skillet. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally. Let sauce simmer for 25-30 minutes until richer and thicker. Taste and adjust seasonings along the way.
  6. While sauce is simmering, preheat over to 350 degrees. Boil salted water for the pasta – cook about 12 minutes in boiling water. Drain, mix into sauce along with the Parmesan cheese and the Italian parsley. Mix well together.
  7. Spoon mixture into 9-by-13 inch casserole disk, top with the grated Gruyere cheese and bake for 15 minutes until cheese has melted. Remove from oven and serve immediately.


Comfort Food: Baked Penne with Meat, Mushrooms and Cheese

This Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine section carried the latest “Pairings” column by Lynne Char Bennett titled “Dry Creek Zinfandel makes a penne-wise partner“. Zinfandel is among our favorite red wines (along with Syrah and Shiraz from Australia’s Barossa appellation) – so the article caught my eye.

Included in Bennett’s column was a recipe for “Baked Penne with Meat & Mushroom Sauce” which we made – with minor variations – tonight.

Her recipe minimizes some of the fat that might otherwise be present – we used 97% lean ground beef, for example, when we cooked it and the mushrooms help extend the flavor along with the herbs that simmer into such a flavorful sauce.

Turns out this recipe was a real family crowd pleaser – we all really liked it, helped ourselves to a couple of servings, etc. We served it along with a simple Caesar salad – yummy! We paired a Ridge 2006 Dusi Ranch Zinfandel with the penne – a great combination!

We’ll certainly be making the baked penne again – and are already looking forward to some left overs tomorrow night!

Scott’s Famous Homemade Chicken Soup with Pasta

chickensoup.jpgThis year, as the cool fall weather has moved in and the daylight is fading faster, we’ve been experimenting with various chicken soup recipes to find one that really “hits the spot.” There is something special about chicken soup – for both health and attitude! After several tries and variations, we think this one is just about perfect – and now it’s famous!

It’s a great Saturday or Sunday late afternoon treat to make in the fall and winter months. Hope you enjoy it – let us know by posting a comment!

To make it easy, you can purchase the key ingredients from Trader Joe’s and make relatively quick work out of putting the soup together. Plan on 35-40 minutes or so to get this soup ready – with some additional time afterwards to let the soup’s temperature cool down enough for eating.


  • 1 carton of Trader Joe’s Mirapoix (14.5 oz of diced carrots, onions, celery)
  • 1/2 package of Trader Joe’s Diced Onions (5 oz of 10 oz package)
  • 10 oz package of cremini mushrooms
  • 48 oz of Trader Joe’s organic free range chicken broth (1 + 1/2 32 oz. cartons)
  • 12 oz of diced chicken breast (either prepackaged or cooked chicken tenders)
  • 8 oz cooked of your favorite small pasta (we cook a 1 lb. package of
    pasta – put half into the soup and save the other half for pasta salad, etc.)
  • 1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 cup non-fat milk
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Mini-saltine crackers to accompany


  1. Bring a large pot filled with water and 1 Tbsp salt to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook for recommended duration – in parallel with the steps below. Strain and set aside.
  2. In another large pot (this one ends up holding the soup!), melt 1-1/2 Tbsp butter and mix with 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Add the Mirapoix and the diced onions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft (10-15 minutes)
  4. With the Mirapoix and diced onions are cooking, in a 10-inch fry pan, melt 1-1/2 Tbsp butter and mix with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp minced garlic.
  5. Add the mushrooms to the fry pan and sauté over medium heat for 8-10 minutes – then add mushrooms to large pot.
  6. When the Mirapoix, onions and mushrooms are done, stir in the Herbes de Provence and the flour.
  7. Add the chicken broth, diced chicken, garlic powder and onion powder. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.
  8. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes then reduce heat to low. Add the milk, lemon juice, and cooked pasta. Bring back up to a simmer for a final 5-10 mins.
  9. Serve in soup bowls with mini-saltine crackers. Suggestion – save your tongue: wait at least 5 minutes after serving before tasting!

Added: November 15, 2008 – Menlo Park, California

Lemon Garlic Orzo

The original recipe for this simple side dish came from the now defunct S. Anderson Vineyard in the Stag’s Leap district of the Napa Valley. This is a great side dish for almost any meal. It’s flavors go especially well with the Roast Chicken!


  • 16 oz. orzo pasta
  • 1/2 C olive oil
  • 1/4 C lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 lemon, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 whole green onions, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese to taste


  1. Cook the orzo pasta using package directions (typically, 8-10 minutes in rapidly boiling water).
  2. While cooking, mix the other ingredients together.
  3. Drain and pour orzo back into pot or bowl. Mix in the other ingredients. Garnish with a bit of parmesan cheese and fresh ground pepper.
  4. Serve. It couldn’t be simpler!

(Added: April 22, 2001