Whole Wheat Penne with Caramelized Vidalia Onion, Fennel, and Pancetta

I've had a bit of a love affair with fennel lately. It started last fall after I picked up a bulb at the farmers' market on a whim, hoping it would turn out to be the missing ingredient to my stuffing recipe. I've been tinkering with my stuffing recipe for over five years now, it's tasty, but not quite perfect— something that has been a source of frustration every time the holidays roll around. At least with this latest iteration I learned something new about my husband, he enjoys fresh fennel nearly as much as I do. 

Since this discovery fennel has become become a staple in our house, so I wasn't surprised to find a forgotten bulb when it came time to clean out the fridge before my trip. I gathered up all of my leftover bits and bobs— scraps of parmesan, Vidalia onion, and bell pepper, plus a pint of cream a little past its prime, then spun a little kitchen magic. Today's recipe, born of nothing more than leftovers and a box of whole wheat penne I bought by mistake, turned out to be something worth making again. I ran out to the store in the middle of the night so I could share it with you. It's a little labor intensive for a week night meal, but if you're looking for comfort food or a special dish to share with someone, then look no further because this is it.

Whole Wheat Penne with Caramelized Vidalia Onion, Fennel, and Pancetta

Whole Wheat Penne with Caramelized Onion, Fennel, and Pancetta
makes 4 - 6 servings

Ingredients

3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 cup Vidalia onion, thinly sliced (see notes)
1 cup fennel, thinly sliced
½ cup red bell pepper, diced
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound whole wheat penne pasta
¼ cup salted butter
½ cup whipping cream
1 cup parmesan, freshly shredded
sea salt, to taste

Directions

  • In a skillet, over medium-low heat, cook pancetta until crispy. Set aside on paper towel to drain. Do not drain the grease from the skillet, you'll need it for cooking the veggies.
  • Add thinly sliced onions and fennel to the skillet. Cook for 30 minutes, over medium-low heat. Give the pan a good stir every 10 minutes to help everything cook evenly. 
  • After 30 minutes add bell pepper and shiitake mushrooms to the skillet, cook for 10 minutes.
  • While the peppers and mushrooms are cooking, boil your pasta according to package directions. Once the pasta has cooked, drain the water and add a tablespoon of salted butter to keep the pasta from sticking.
  • Remove the cooked veggies from skillet and add to pasta. Leave the heat for the pasta turned off so you don't overcook the veggies.
  • In the skillet add three tablespoons of salted butter and two cloves of minced garlic. Cook for several minutes, until the garlic turns slightly translucent.
  • Add whipping cream and parmesan, then turn heat to medium. Use a whisk to stir the sauce until it thickens. Add the finished sauce and the pancetta to the cooked pasta. Stir until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed and top with salt to taste.

Notes

My husband and I disagree about how much salt this pasta needs. I'm content not to add any additional salt, there is already a fair amount from the pancetta and salted butter, but he insists that this benefits from a pinch or two of salt. So, take a taste of the final dish and salt it to your preferred tastes.

Vidalia onions have a short growing season, if you can't find them feel free to substitute with yellow onions.

Garlic Parmesan Green Beans

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who appreciates green beans. They're one of my favorite vegetables, so it always makes me sad when people turn their noses up at them. I know a surprising number of people who won't touch them with a ten foot pole, they automatically assume the only way to serve green beans is how we had them in grade school, mushy and tasteless. When I make these I like to leave them just a little bit crunchy, then add some olive oil, garlic, sea salt, red pepper flakes, and parmesan cheese. When prepared this way you have a side dish worthy of a holiday meal, yet easy enough for a busy week night. With this recipe mushy and tasteless green beans are a thing of the past.

ParmesanGreenBeans.jpg

Garlic Parmesan Green Beans
serves 4 - 6

Ingredients:

1 pound fresh green beans
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced
½ cup fresh parmesan cheese, shredded
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Directions:

  • Rinse green beans thoroughly in cold water and snap off ends. Make sure the green beans are fairly uniform in size so they cook evenly. I like to leave mine whole, but you can also snap the bean into smaller pieces.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add green beans, and cook for 4-5 minutes. This will leave the green beans fairly crunchy. If you want softer green beans boil them slightly longer, just make sure they don't turn mushy.
  • Drain green beans and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process.
  • In a skillet over medium-low heat add olive oil, red pepper flakes, and minced garlic, cook for 2 - 3 minutes, but do not let garlic brown. 
  • Turn off heat, add green beans and sea salt, then stir well to coat beans. 
  • Top with freshly shredded parmesan cheese just before serving. 

Southern-Style Sawmill Sausage Gravy

This is one of those recipes I've never bothered to write down before, it's generally handed down from parent to child and made so many times over the years that it's memorized. When I was younger my grandmother would make up a huge batch of sausage gravy when we came to visit out on the farm and I would stand in the kitchen watching her work her magic. My brother and I could eat our weight in sausage gravy growing up, the only rule was that we had to clean our plate (not hard to do when breakfast tasted this good!)

I've moved over six hours from home, but every time I come to visit my parents still whip up a batch of drop biscuits and sausage gravy first thing on Saturday morning. My mom's twist to the recipe and one that I often use myself, is to use up any leftover milk we might have that is slightly past the expiration. Even if you don't have leftover milk to use up, try making a batch of sausage gravy this weekend, your family will thank you (and probably lick their plates clean.)

Sausage Gravy | Not Starving Yet

Sausage Gravy

makes 4 - 6 servings


Ingredients

½ lb hot breakfast sausage
¼ cup all-purpose flour, or more as necessary
2 cups milk, either 2% or whole
a pinch or two of garlic sea salt
black pepper, to taste

Directions

  • In a large skillet, over medium heat, cook and crumble breakfast sausage. Add flour and stir until all of the grease has been absorbed. If your sausage is particularly fatty you may need to add an additional tablespoon or two of flour until their is no visible grease left.
  • Add milk and bring the contents of the skillet to a boil, making sure to stir constantly and scrape the bottom so it does not burn. Once the gravy has thickened season with garlic salt and black pepper, then serve immediately over biscuits or toast.

Notes

If the consistency of the gravy is thicker than you prefer, add an additional several tablespoons of milk to thin it back out.

If you happen to have a large amount of milk that is slightly past the best-by date, then this is a great way to use it up.

 

Caramelized Onion Dip

I'm not a huge football fan, which is why I completely forgot that the Super Bowl was this weekend. I had originally made plans to go out thrift store shopping with a friend, but someone pointed out that my culinary talents were needed and instead I'll be home cooking up a storm for everyone who will be here watching the game. We'll be having home made pizza and potato skins, but no gathering complete without my absolute all time favorite party food, onion dip. I'm not sure what it is about onion dip that makes it so addictive, but I can easily put away an entire batch by myself. This version may be more complicated than opening up a container of sour cream and adding a packet of onion soup mix, but the complex flavors that the caramelized onions add are definitely worth the extra time and effort. Whether you're planning a party or watching the game by yourself, this dip is sure to be a hit.
Caramelized Onion Dip
makes approximately 16 servings 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large or two medium yellow onions
2 cups sour cream
2 cups Kraft mayonnaise with olive oil
 teaspoon dried minced garlic
sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Directions

  • Thinly slice yellow onions and place in a cast iron skillet with butter to caramelize. When finished set aside to cool before continuing on.

For detailed directions on how to caramelize onions, visit our instruction guide here

  • Once the onions have cooled, place in a blender or food processor and pulse several times. 
  • Add sour cream, mayonnaise, dried minced garlic, sea salt, and black pepper and pulse until well combined.
  • Place in a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours to give the flavors time to combine.
  • Serve chilled with pita chips, potato chips, or veggie sticks. Enjoy!