sausage and fennel rigatoni (gluten + dairy-free)

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Last night, I spent time with new friends who probably love food more than I do. They’re all about the hunt. Forget the fancy pants, reservations-only eateries, they’re more into the hidden gems–L.A. institutions and incredible Korean BBQ in strip malls. Yesterday, we feasted on Greek food that was full of flavor and low on price.

While we were chowing, my friend’s husband and I talked for a good half hour about chicken. How to make it, the unlimited permutations, and the glory that is homemade stock. I made stock last week from a leftover chicken carcass, and believe me when I say that if my home could smell like chicken soup 24/7, I’d never leave. Anyway, we got to talking about cookbooks and I said that I got really into cooking in 2002 when I started to watch The Food Network. Ina, Giada, Mario, and Nigella–I spent hours learning recipes and technique, and I’d discovered a true passion.

So call me nostalgic, but I tuned into Ina today and she made this pasta recipe that nearly made me fall off my couch. I was hesitant because cream makes me violently ill and then there’s the issue of my fennel fatwa. However, I assure you that faux cream can be made and the fennel flavor is subtle, at best.

Trust me, you will want this pasta in your life.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey, modified.

  • 1 cup cashews + 1 cup water + 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bulb of fennel, chopped
  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, divided
First, you want to make the cashew cream. You’re probably thinking…what? Cashew cream? Surely, you jest. However, it’s one of the few nuts that really delivers on the texture of heavy cream. Unlike coconut cream or milk, the flavor of cashews is subtle and it typically takes on the stronger flavors/seasonings of a sauce–kind of like tofu. Anyway, if you have a high-powered blender, soak 1 cup of nuts in water for 2 hours. If you don’t, soak the nuts the night before you make the dish. After you soak the nuts, drain, rinse, and add to your blender along with 1/2 cup of water + 1 tsp of salt, to start. I start with a 1/2 cup because you can make a sauce thinner but it’s challenging to thicken it. Blend for 2 minutes on high, and add water as you go to get the consistency you desire. Set aside.

Now, we’re all about making the sauce. Saute the chopped fennel and shallots in a large pot (I used a Dutch oven) on medium heat for about 7 minutes or until the mixture is translucent and slightly browned. Add the sausage and gently break apart with a wooden spoon. DON’T overwork your meat by continuously stirring. It takes about 8 or so minutes for the pork to cook, so I come back every few minutes, break apart, stir again.

While that’s cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (read the package directions, and cook for a minute or so less). Drain the pasta and set aside.

Once the sausage is cooked through, add the garlic, fennel seed, red pepper, and wine. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the cashew cream and tomato paste and stir until completely combined. I like my sauce super thick and luscious (see Exhibits A and B, above and below), but if you like your sauce on the thinner side, you can add more wine or stock. And if you’re not feeling wine, you can use chicken stock, no big deal.

Add your pasta directly to the meat sauce and stir until completely coated. Remove your pan from the heat and you can add freshly grated parmesan (I used a vegan kind, which is actually pretty decent), and chopped parsley if you’re feeling it. Candidly, I was so into the pasta that I ate it directly from the pot and forgot about the parsley.

Chow down, people.

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creamy tomato basil pasta (vegan/gluten-free…I know, but it’s really good)

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You should know that I used to be addicted to pasta. As someone who used to drink men under the table, under the floorboards, I know a bit about compulsion, about the need to feel anesthetized. To be here, but not really, and you know how it is. It got to a point where I went through several boxes of pasta a week. I’d have a pesto pasta for lunch and gnocchi for dinner, and I’d only post a photo of a kale salad or green smoothie, but you know all about that faux Insta life–it’s proliferated all over the internet to a point where one could call it a disease.

When my doctor and nutritionist broke the news, that even after these nine months of living gluten-free I can never eat like I had before, I was practically catatonic. I kept asking how did this happen? How did I allow myself to get to this place? How had I substituted a glass of red wine for a seemingly demure plate of cacio e pepe? Had I been asleep for the bulk of my waking life to only wake to a smack in the face? When I learned that I could only have gluten OR dairy once a week, that pasta would soon be relegated to an occasion meal, it took a while to accept this. It took a good two weeks to overcome my withdrawal from gluten.

Even now, even when there are so many terrific gluten-free pasta options (I found Bioitalia while I was in Spain and I’m hooked), I have to be careful. Because I’m swapping out gluten for rice, potato and other starches, which are fine in moderation but don’t for a healthy, balanced diet make. And I’ve got this thing for developing unhealthy attachments to specific foods (Exhibits A, B, C: pasta, avocados, chickpeas–all of which required individually-deployed fatwas). So know that when I post a pasta recipe it better be a DAMN GOOD ONE because I can’t have it for another week or two.

You should know that cashew/almond cream is the best thing to have entered my life since Cup4Cup flour. The combination yields the creamy texture and taste of heavy cream without the bloat and the sickening full feeling that invariably happens when you feast on any dairy-rich dish.

Trust me on this.

Part of me wishes I’d never found this recipe because now I have leftovers in the fridge that I can’t touch until the end of the week. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE GLUTEN STRUGGLE? It’s real, friends. Real.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, with modifications
1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews (soaked for 2 hours, or overnight)
1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
9 ounces uncooked gluten-free pasta (basically 3/4 of a package)
1 tsp olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes, drained (I use San Marzano)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
3 handfuls baby kale
1 cup packed fresh basil, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Start by soaking the cashews. Place the cashews in a bowl and add enough water to cover. Soak for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse. Blitz the nuts and almond milk in a high-speed blender until smooth and creamy (approximately 1 minute). Set aside.

Boil water and cook pasta according to instructions on package.

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic for 5-10 minutes, until translucent. Add tomatoes and kale and continue cooking for 7-10 minutes over medium-high heat, until the kale is wilted.

Stir in the cashew cream, basil, tomato paste, oregano, salt, and pepper, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until heated through.

Drain the pasta (reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water) and add it to the sauce. Add the reserve pasta water, and stir to combine well, cooking for a few minutes until heated through.

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kamut pasta + sundried tomato pesto

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Back in 2004 I thought I had an allergy to gluten. For weeks on end I’d endure horrible stomach cramps and loaves of bread had me keeling over. After a series of tests my doctor informed me that I didn’t have celiac, that my sickness was likely caused by an overabundance of wheat and white flour in my diet. Essentially, I was OD’ing on paninis and pasta. For a time I tried a host of gluten-free pastas and was underwhelmed (to put it mildly) by the options. Tough noodles that fell apart when refrigerated, I couldn’t imagine corn noodles in my diet. Suddenly I became frightened. If left on a deserted island with a choice of a single food that would give me comfort, it would be pasta, and the thought of having to keep my white flour in check, the very notion that I couldn’t overindulge in my favorite food, gave me palpitations.

CUE HORRIBLE FLASHBACKS OF GLUTEN-FREE PASTA, CIRCA 2004.

Eight years later, I’m pleased to say that the options for a healthier pesto pasta are limitless. Whole wheat is now a staple in my diet, and gluten-free isn’t the cardboard it once was. And on my quest to find healthier, tasty options I believe I hit the jackpot when I scored fresh KAMUT pasta.

PROTEIN-PACKED PASTA THAT’S FLAVORFUL AND NUTRITIOUS? I’D LIKE TO THANK THE ACADEMY! [WIPES AWAY TEARS]

A kinfolk of durum wheat, Kamut is a nutrient-rich cereal grain whose kernels are three times larger than common wheat, and contains 40% more protein. Reading up on the Kamut’s health benefits on LiveStrong, I learned that:

Kamut is a whole grain alternative which is extremely nutrient-rich. A 100 g portion of uncooked kamut provides 337 calories, 15 g of protein, 70 g of carbohydrates, 2 g of fat, 9.1 g of dietary fiber and 6 mg of sodium, according to the website Nutrition Value. In addition to being an excellent food source of energizing complex carbohydrates and muscle-building protein, kamut is very high in many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B1 or thiamin, B2 or riboflavin, B3 or niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper, zinc, selenium and manganese. In fact, the only minerals kamut is not an excellent food source of are calcium, sodium and flouride, which comes from fish and flouridated water. Unlike some grains, kamut has a low oxidation level and retains most of its nutritive value even after grinding and processing.

About the taste, you wonder. Kamut reminds me of a cross between semolina and whole wheat. It’s buttery, nutty and tender, and is completely filling. Five hours later after hoovering a bowl of kamut pasta, I’m still completely full, energized and satiated.

A few friends inquired about where one could purchase Kamut. In New York, it’s available at Eataly, Whole Foods and in most health food shops that support a vegetarian/vegan diet. I also discovered that Eden Organic is now selling Kamut (of which you could also purchase on Amazon).

Today I decided to blitz up some savory sundried tomato pesto, which proved to be the perfect pairing to my Kamut spaghetti!

INGREDIENTS
4 ounces kamut pasta (fresh recommended)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes (packed in olive oil)
1/4 basil leaves
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 fat clove of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt/pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Bring a medium saucepan filled with salted water to a boil. Toss in the pasta and cook until al dente (to the tooth).

While the pasta is cooking, blitz all of the pesto ingredients until you achieve a thick paste. Feel free to add more olive oil depending upon how dry your sundried tomatoes are. Once the noodles are cooked, add a tablespoon of pasta water to the pesto and coat the noodles.

Serve pipping hot + enjoy!